A Missouri woman will spend the rest of her life in prison after prosecutors say she killed a man as a pawn in a bizarre scheme to deflect attention from herself in a second, still-unsolved murder in which she remains a suspect.
The sentence delivered Monday to Pamela Hupp was the result of a plea deal reached in June to spare her the death penalty for fatally shooting Louis Gumpenberger, 33, in her O’Fallon home in August 2016, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Hupp, 60, had claimed Gumpenberger was an intruder who’d followed her in her SUV, jumped into her vehicle, held a knife to her throat and demanded she drive them both to the bank. She told investigators that when she knocked the knife away and ran inside her home, the man followed — and in two 911 calls, she reported a burglary in progress, and then the shooting.
Authorities who brought murder charges against Hupp later revealed it was all a lie.
In Gumpenberger’s pockets, police said they found $900 cash double-bagged in plastic, along with a handwritten note with instructions to kidnap Hupp, drive her to the bank to get “Russ’s money,” then kill her to collect the balance of a $10,000 payment promised for the hit.
Investigators later discovered she’d purchased the knife, and wrote the note on paper she’d also bought, according to St. Charles Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar. Moreover, in Hupp’s dresser was a $100 bill that was a sequential match to four of the bills in Gumpenberger’s pocket.
“Russ,” according to authorities, was a reference to Russell Faria, who had pointed a finger at Hupp as a likely suspect in the 2011 stabbing murder of his wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Faria.
Hupp had been the last person to see Betsy Faria and was made the beneficiary of her friend’s $150,000 life insurance policy just days before Betsy Faria was killed.
Prosecutors charged and convicted Russell Faria in 2013 for his wife’s murder. He served more than two years in prison before a successful appeal led to a new trial in which he was acquitted – and his defense attorneys named Hupp as an alternate suspect who investigators had overlooked, reports KSDK.com.
Hupp did not testify in that retrial, but according to NBC News, a detective who did testify said that Hupp had told police that she and Betsy Faria had been lovers.
Then came Hupp’s 911 calls and the shooting of Gumpenberger.
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In charging Hupp for Gumpenberger’s murder, authorities said she picked up the stranger – unaware he suffered from physical and mental impairments related to a 2005 traffic crash – then drove him to her house and staged the incident to make it look as if Gumpenberger was a hit man hired by Russell Faria to come after her.
At Hupp’s sentencing, St. Charles County Circuit Court Judge Jon Cunningham noted that two others said Hupp had earlier approached them as well, posing as a producer for NBC’s Dateline and asking them to get into her vehicle to help her recreate a 911 call, according to prosecutors.
“She was very calculated and looking for somebody that fit a particular profile,” Lohmar said in a 2016 news conference announcing the murder charge against Hupp. “This victim unfortunately fit that profile – somebody who may not be sophisticated, somebody who might be easily persuaded by a decent amount of cash.”
He added: “I don’t think she anticipated that it would turn out that he would have the physical and mental disabilities that he did have, and I think that’s part of her undoing, to be honest with you.”
In court Monday prior to her sentencing, Hupp appeared jovial with her attorneys, prompting Lohmar to say afterward, “She’s been manipulative the whole way. She wants everybody to believe she’s still in control. She lost control and she’s never going to have control again. So I think this was just one more way for her to try to hold on to one more last little bit she can,” reports TV station KTVI.
Krystal Conn, Humpenberger’s sister, said in court that Hupp was “not human” and a “monster,” according to the TV station and the Post-Dispatch.
“Hupp has done nothing but cause heartbreak and grief to so many families,” she said.
The judge told the killer, “He was an innocent person whose life did not deserve to be extinguished by you,” reports the Post-Dispatch.
After the sentencing, Hupp’s attorney, Nicholas Williams, said: “With her plea and today’s sentencing, Ms. Hupp will move forward with her life. It is unlikely to be pleasant, but is as fair as we could make it.”
At the time that Hupp’s plea deal was announced in June, Lincoln County prosecuting attorney Mike Wood pledged to take a new look at Betsy Faria’s murder.
Gumpenberger was a father of two. A GoFundMe page was set up to help his family with expenses after he died without life insurance.
“Louis loved to play all kinds of games with his son Trevelyan,” according to the page. “He was very good at chess and liked Uno a lot. Louis loved to exercise. He walked frequently, lifted weights, enjoyed swimming. Before his car accident in 2005, he was one belt away from a black belt. Louis thoroughly enjoyed watching his kids train in martial arts, as that used to be a big part of his life.”
“I feel at ease. I’m glad it’s over,” said his mother, Margaret Burch, after the sentencing, reports KTVI. “My grandson’s here with me and he’s never expressed his feelings about everything and I can tell he’s happy. He’s glad it’s over.”