Authors: Wensley Clarkson
‘I can assure you, ma’am, that no husband in his right mind will mess with one of those things.’
By the time Kathy Gaultney enrolled at a nearby shooting range for expert training on how to handle that gun, her husband’s threat to blow the whistle on
her illegal activities was constantly ringing in her ears. She did not know if he would carry it through or not, but she wanted to be prepared just in case he really did. No one was going to destroy her life. She would see him go to hell rather than allow him to get away with ruining everything for her and the kids.
Back at their little house in St Jacob, Keith Gaultney was becoming a very lonely, isolated character. Kathy and the kids had moved out to live in Collinsville. He had no company. His only conversation was with a near-empty bottle. Perhaps it was not really that surprising when his addled, paranoid mind convinced him that the way to get Kathy back was to blow the whistle on those evil drug barons who had destroyed their life together.
Keith Gaultney picked up the phone and dialled the directory enquiry service.
‘Internal Revenue Service, please.’
He only meant to scare Kathy into seeing sense and coming back with the kids. The IRS would rap her on the knuckles and then go after the really big boys. Keith Gaultney did not even consider the fact that the US Drug Enforcement Agency would automatically get involved.
18 March, 1988, seemed like a pretty ordinary day at the New Way Toning Salon in Collinsville. There was a handful of women customers going through
their $20-a-head skin-toning session, and no sign of the illegal activities that were a daily routine in the backroom of the premises.
Neither of the women even noticed the black van parked up across the street from the beauty salon. But they certainly realised something was wrong when six Drug Enforcement Agents rushed through the front and back exits. Kathy’s first reaction was to deny any knowledge of the drug den hidden behind the main store. Under her breath she muttered: ‘You bastard, Keith. You bastard.’
As the well-dressed officers made a clean sweep of the premises, Kathy and Martha looked on with blank expressions. But beneath their surprised faces lay a fury that was virtually uncontrollable. Kathy looked over at her friend and said:
‘That shit. I could kill him.’
By the time the agents had taken away various bits and pieces of evidence of the drug packaging that was taking place behind the salon, Kathy was steaming mad. She had to get even – somehow.
‘I know you did it, Keith. I just know.’
Keith Gaultney hardly even bothered to deny it either.
As his wife tried to extract a confession from him that he had sparked the DEA raid that morning, he just let it all hang in the air. But his refusal to admit it just helped convince Kathy that there had to be a
way to stop him before he destroyed everything she had built up so carefully.
Her drug bosses were not that worried by the raid because the agents could not find any actual narcotics. They decided that Kathy and Martha would have to continue dealing from their cars or homes rather than using the backroom of the salon. The two women really had little choice in the matter as they both desperately needed the money to survive. There was no turning back.
But there was a very real danger that Keith Gaultney would stir up even more trouble for his wife, especially since the whole of St Jacob now knew from local newspaper reports of the raid that his wife was a suspected drug peddler.
All it needed was another call from him to the IRS and then Kathy’s world would well and truly come tumbling down like a pack of cards. But Keith Gaultney was satisfied for the moment. He genuinely hoped that his wife would stop her involvement in drugs after the raid on the salon. But Kathy was in way too deep.
And she had already devised a plan to keep a much closer eye on her informant husband.
Keith Gaultney was delighted when Kathy announced she was moving back in and putting the divorce plans on ice. He actually believed that her decision was evidence in itself that he had done the
right thing by informing on her to the authorities.
For the first few months after she reappeared, he even tried to slow down his drinking so they could resume a normal family life together with the kids. They actually seemed to start enjoying each other’s company again.
Kathy wondered whether she had been wrong to condemn Keith in the first place. Maybe he wasn’t so bad after all.
But soon his own self-doubt began to return and the booze battled its way back into a dominant position in his life once more. Many believe it was brought on by the reality of the situation that Keith found himself facing – his wife was even more heavily involved with the Roy Vernon Dean drug cartel than before. Now she was delivering vast quantities of cannabis around the county. If anything, she was in much more deeply than before.
‘I told you to stop dealing drugs, Kathy. I won’t have it.’
Kathy Gaultney tried to humour her husband by promising that she was not involved any more. But he knew she was. Mind you, it was the only way they could scrape together enough money to survive.
‘Drugs are going to be the death of us, Kathy. You mark my words.’
Keith Gaultney had a habit of putting his foot in his mouth. But this time he was putting ideas into his
wife’s head. She looked over at him, droning on and on through the alcohol, and thought about that Saturday Night Special she purchased even before the DEA raid on the salon.
She knew she could not bear the thought of listening to his drunken accusations for much longer. Something had to be done to silence him for ever. But it wasn’t until almost a year later that Kathy Gaultney actually built up the courage to shut him up for good. They had many ‘near misses’ – with Keith threatening to go to the authorities virtually each time she came home late. But somehow he kept quiet, although the ranting was becoming less and less coded. Now he was getting pretty blunt.
‘One day, I’ll go to them and then that’ll stop that bastard Dean.’
Kathy knew all the danger signs were there. She had to do something before it was too late.
Rachel was delighted when her mom told her and a friend to ‘get lost’ for a few hours on the evening of 22 September, 1989. St Jacob was the sort of place where kids could safely play on the streets until all hours.
But there was one small problem. Neither Rachel nor her pal had any money and they wanted to go down to the late-night store and buy themselves some sodas and a packet of potato crisps.
So the two girls sat down in the empty breaker’s yard opposite their house in Second Street and
waited for Kathy Gaultney and Rachel’s half-brother Walter to leave on a shopping expedition. The plan was to then slip in and steal a few dollars from Keith Gaultney’s wallet. He was always so far gone on booze by about seven that he’d have long since collapsed in bed, out to the world.
But as the two girls waited patiently for Kathy to leave the house, they could not possibly have had any idea what was happening inside.
Kathy Gaultney looked down at the snoring man who called himself her husband and sneered. As he lay there in his drunken state, she felt no qualms for what she was about to do, She had locked her son out of the bedroom and told him to wait in the hall before they went shopping. Now she had some unfinished business to attend to.
The .22 Saturday Night Special was rock steady in her hand. Just seeing him there in that comatose state convinced her that what she was about to do had to be right.
She cocked the gun, leant down silently and pressed the barrel right into the fatty folds of skin on his forehead. Still he did not stir. Even with the ultimate killing machine pointed right into his head, he could feel nothing because of all the booze he had consumed.
She prodded the barrel one last time just to see if he would notice. But there was nothing there.
Perhaps if he had stirred then Kathy Gaultney might not have seen it through. But somehow she imagined he would hardly feel a thing because he was already out cold anyway.
As her finger tightened its grip on the trigger, she placed her left hand over the gun to help steady it. She did not want it rebounding back on her. All those lessons at the gun club had given her a good basic knowledge of the mechanics of guns.
Now it was time. She pressed hard and felt the gun tremble as it fired. The bullet went through his head in a split second. But he was no longer asleep. The full force of that bullet had somehow awoken him from his drunken stupor.
For a moment, Kathy was taken aback. She had not expected this by any means. With the gun still firmly in her hands she pulled back a few inches and aimed again at his head. This time it would have to work.
In those few moments between shots, her eyes explored every inch of his body, trying to establish whether his apparent consciousness was just a
phase. But she could not take any chances. She fired again from close range. This time the bullet tore a gaping hole in the side of his head and took off on a helter skelter of a ride around the inside of his brain.
Without even a flicker of emotion, Kathy Gaultney pulled out a drawer from the chest next to
the bed and dropped it on to her husband’s corpse. It seemed the perfect way to make sure it all looked like a robbery that had gone tragically wrong.
Ten minutes later she was leaving the house with her young son, completely unaware that her daughter Rachel was lying in wait across the street.
Rachel and her pal crept in the back door of the house in silence just in case they woke Keith Gaultney. The youngsters opened the door to the bedroom like two cat burglars on the prowl.
When she looked inside that bedroom where her step-father lay dead, she had no idea of the brutal killing that had just taken place. No one knows if there was even a flicker of life left in his body when she snooped around the room looking for his wallet. But one thing is sure – she took no notice of the drawer emptied over his body. It was all pretty much par for the course for the ever-drunken Keith Gaultney.
Once she found what she was looking for, Rachel left the room, completely unaware that she had been just a few feet from the body of her dead step-father.
But the timing of her secret snoop around that room was to be the crucial evidence in convicting her own mother of first-degree murder.
‘Is that the police? My husband’s been shot. You better come quickly.’
Kathy Gaultney sounded distraught to the telephone
operator who took her emergency call later that evening. She told officers she had returned home from late-night shopping at a number of local supermarkets to find her husband shot dead in their bed. It seemed like a robbery that had gone terribly wrong.
As the paramedics, medical examiners and assorted police milled around the Gaultney house, one figure stepped back into the shadows and found herself examining her own conscience – Kathy’s 13-year-old daughter Rachel.
For she had witnessed her mother leave that house with her half-brother and she had seen what later transpired to be the body of her step-father. Basically, this scared young girl was withholding the key to his murder and she just did not know what to do.
While the flashing lights of the police cars disappeared into the distance some hours later, she retired in silence to her little bedroom, haunted by the role she had played in the whole tragic scenario.
It was only a few weeks later that Rachel decided to call the police and tell them what had happened that fateful night. Detectives later admitted that without her testimony it is entirely possible that Kathy Gaultney might never have been arrested.
For those first few weeks after the murder of her husband, Kathy Gaultney cut a pretty confident figure in St Jacob – still reeling from the first deliberate killing in its hundred-year history.
People may have been whispering behind her back, but Kathy did not care. She had got rid of her drunken, nagging husband and that was all that mattered in her mind.
Even when a friend advised her to contact a lawyer just in case police tried to haul her in for questioning, she was super cool about the whole business.
In fact, when she motored into nearby Edwardsville with a friend one morning, she did not feel in the least bit threatened by the vicious gossip that was sweeping the area about her involvement in Keith’s death.
As she slowed down at a crossing, she even smiled when she spotted two state police detectives and an attorney leading the investigation into her husband’s murder.
‘Aren’t you guys having a busy day?’
Kathy Gaultney really was pushing her luck. Here were the top law enforcement officers involved in her husband’s case and she was ribbing them mercilessly.
Unfortunately, what Kathy Gaultney did not realise was that the case against her was now sufficient to warrant her arrest. A few minutes later, police pulled up the van she was travelling in and arrested her for the murder of her husband.
In April 1990, Kathy Gaultney, aged 34, was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found
guilty of the first-degree murder of her 35-year-old husband.
Prosecuting attorney Don Weber told the court, ‘This crime was planned, but it wasn’t planned well.’ And, describing Kathy Gaultney’s own daughter’s role in her mother’s conviction, he added: ‘In any crime, the inadvertent witness is the one thing you can’t plan for.’
Some months after her trial, Kathy Gaultney contacted authorities and agreed to provide inside information on the drug cartel she worked for with Martha Young.
Twelve people, including Mary O’Guinn and her notorious one-legged drug baron brother Roy Vernon Dean, were arrested and eventually given very lengthy sentences for their involvement in one of the biggest narcotics rings in US history.
Martha Young was also imprisoned as a result of testimony from her best friend Kathy. But, amazingly, the two women still write to each other from their respective prisons in Illinois and Gaultney says that they have remained friends despite everything.
Meanwhile Gaultney herself insists that she did not carry out the murder of her drug informant husband. She maintains that he was killed by other members of the Roy Vernon Dean gang who wanted to silence Keith Gaultney before he helped authorities close down their drug cartel.