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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  July 29, 2018 12:00am-2:01am PDT

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in the last four years. it's been, it's been a very difficult four years. >> and you've got such a nice, sunny disposition. how do you do that? >> i get my strength from my mother. that's all for now. money is a motive. pride is a motive. love is a motive. lester holt: it's a tale of love turned lethal, featuring an adoring wife-- a pageant queen. she was a whole lot of gorgeous women. lester holt: and at center stage, a charismatic guitar hero. --just charming. you know, everybody loved him. he was playing us both for quite some time. lester holt: two women, one man-- a love triangle with sharp edges. jim, at one point, had told me that he wanted to know what it felt like to kill somebody. in this twisted game of hearts, how many would have to pay the price? she called and let me know that russ was dead.
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lester holt: how far would things go? i looked at her eyes and i-- i mean, she's evil. she is evil. lester holt: a manhunt which stretched from the northwest down to mexico, and runs smack into mother nature. your suspect is, quite literally, in the wind. he's gone. [theme music] [music playing] josh mankiewicz: love, according to the songwriters, is a many-splendored thing. financial empires have been built on our annual homage to hearts and flowers. but this story, is about people caught in the powerful grip of love's darker side--
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obsession. it involves talented and beautiful people. announcer: ms. washington. josh mankiewicz: smart people, whose obsessions made them do stupid things. passionate people caught in an emotional whirlwind. woman: we, the jury, find the defendant-- josh mankiewicz: and finally, innocent people who paid the price when those passions ran amok. it all began, of course, on a dark and stormy night. newscaster: they now expect, what they're calling, a worst case scenario. josh mankiewicz: it was august 2004, friday the 13th, hurricane charley was hammering florida's gulf coast, particularly the coastal city of punta gorda. our message to you now is urgency and safety. newscaster 2: get into your safe room right now and hunker down. josh mankiewicz: that night, jean huden says her life was, quite literally, in shambles.
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i stayed and rode the hurricane out by myself at the house. and watched my house come apart around my ears. josh mankiewicz: 60 miles to the south, jean's husband, jim, was holed up in a hotel-- hiding, not from the storm but from his past. he was scared, so he figured he'd get while the getting was good. josh mankiewicz: as soon as the worst of the storm had blown over, jean says she joined her panicked husband. they ordered pizza and turned on the tv. newscaster 3: the losses are substantial. josh mankiewicz: but jean couldn't concentrate on the hurricane news. the personal storm that was wrecking her marriage and ruining her life took precedence. it was a big tension fest. we talked, you know, i asked a lot of questions. you know, why? and, what were you thinking? and, what are you going to do now? josh mankiewicz: it was a messy situation. betrayal, deception, desertion-- the usual menu of dysfunction
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that all too often falls under the category of another woman. but there was more to it than that-- much more. a homicide investigation was at stake. one that, just days earlier, had led detective mark plumberg from whidbey island, washington all the way to punta gorda, florida. he was hot on the trail of a potential suspect. and then, came the hurricane. i didn't think he was going to stick around for us to come back. so the hurricane comes and goes, and your suspect is, quite literally, in the wind. he's gone. josh mankiewicz: for detective plumberg, the twisted trail that led him from whidbey island, washington to south florida began six months earlier-- just after christmas 2003. a geo tracker, a small suv, had been spotted in a secluded driveway in a remote section
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of whidbey island-- passenger door open, dome light on. the first thought was possibly a suicide. but on initial investigation, they couldn't find a weapon. josh mankiewicz: standing in the damp december cold, the detective took stock. the body inside appeared to have been dead for 24 hours. id found in the glove box indicated the dead man was named russell douglas. a ragged hole between his eyes had frozen his age at 32. if it was a robbery, whole lot of stuff left behind in the car that didn't make sense. josh mankiewicz: just inside the driver's side door, an empty 380 caliber shell casing lay on the floor. the detective thought it was a curious place for a homicide. near the end of a dead end road, parked in two bushes--
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as though he meant to be there-- with his car in gear, his emergency brake on, and casually dressed in flip-flops. sounds like he was there to meet someone. that was the only thing that really made sense to us. josh mankiewicz: but who? the detective hope russell douglas' widow, brenna douglas, might shed some light on that. but that night, when he told her the father of her two children had been murdered, the detective says he got a strange feeling. i never try to judge how people are going to react when i tell them things. but her response wasn't what i expected. as in not emotional enough? she wasn't shocked, at least not visually shocked. it was a bit matter of fact. and that did leave us, at least, wondering when we walked out of the house, yes. josh mankiewicz: and so brenna douglas, as the wives of murdered men often do, became a person of interest. the domestic situation seemed unsettled. they were separated.
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russell was living in an apartment in renton. according to brenna, they were trying to work it out-- talking about getting back together. josh mankiewicz: in fact, the new widow told the detective that her husband had spent the holidays with her and the kids. she said the last time she saw him was the morning of december 26. he left the house somewhere mid-morning. and she thought he was going to run some errands. brenna douglas have an alibi? she didn't need an alibi. at the time we went to talk to her, it was basically a death notification. she was able to answer our questions for us. who didn't like russell douglas? nobody could think of someone who really, truly didn't like him. josh mankiewicz: as winter turned to spring, the detectives investigation seemed to be going nowhere. but a routine check of the numbers in russell douglas' cell phone had yielded a tiny clue. there were a few phone calls to a number with a las vegas area code.
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and we made a phone call to that number, there was no answer. it went to an answering machine. it was a cell phone voicemail? or was it a person's voice? it was a cell phone voicemail for a woman named peggy. josh mankiewicz: peggy, that's a name you'll hear again. the detective made a mental note to have that number traced. but within minutes of hanging up, his phone rang. and there was a female who said she had just gotten a phone call from that number. and she identified herself as peggy thomas, explained that she was a friend of brenna and russell douglas. josh mankiewicz: peggy thomas told the detective she'd been visiting friends over the holidays. and explained that she had simply contacted russell in order to pass along a present for brenna. she answered all of my questions to my satisfaction. there was nothing about that phone call that made me include her in the suspect list. josh mankiewicz: but then again, the detective's suspect list was essentially a blank page.
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there were no names on it from florida, or nevada, or new mexico, or any of the other places this investigation would eventually lead him-- at least, not yet. coming up, the investigation begins close to home-- with the dead man's on-again, off-again wife. [music playing] and i said, well, is he-- is he hurting you? is he-- is he hitting you? and she said, no, really, he isn't physical. it's just emotional and verbal, but i've hit him a couple times. you don't want to believe the mother of your grandkids would ever be a suspect. josh mankiewicz: but a wife, as a potential person of interest, is just the beginning in this cross-country tale of love gone wrong. when "dateline" continues. ♪ happiness is powerful flea and tick protection from nexgard. a delicious chew that protects for an entire month. ask your vet for more information. reported side effects include vomiting and itching.
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[music playing] death never takes a holiday. as a nurse, gail o'neal knows that better than most. still she was unprepared for the news that greeted her when she returned home from a late shift two days after christmas 2003. the minute i opened the door, i saw my husband on the phone. and it was like something hit me in the pit of the stomach, just by his face. and then he said, russell's gone. josh mankiewicz: gone? gone where? as far as gail knew, her son's rocky marriage was on the mend.
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and i'm thinking, so, is this another drama filled call from brenna that they had another argument or something? and what bob had done is just repeated the words that brenna had given him, was that russell had been killed. and then all i could do is just go sit down and just sit there for a while. josh mankiewicz: russell's sister, holly, got the same call from russell's wife. she instantly assumed russell's personal troubles were to blame. my first thought was that he probably committed suicide. so i was in shock, and then realized i needed to get over to the island for brenna and the kids. josh mankiewicz: an alaskan bush pilot delivered the news in person to russell's father, jim-- who was in the wilderness hunting and unreachable by phone. he said, your son's dead. and i had to say, of course, which one? and, russell-- and i mean, he didn't know a whole lot about anything other than he knew it was important to get me out of there. josh mankiewicz: russell's brother,
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matt, was the last to know. he, too, had been out of cell phone range for several days, while vacationing in british columbia. we drove across the border in our friend's vehicle and my phone had a seizure. it started buzzing for every voicemail message and text message that had been sent. and it's, matt call, call me, matt call me, matt call me. josh mankiewicz: within days of his death, russell douglas' far flung family reunited on whidbey island. we rallied around brenna. we're sleeping on the floor in the living room. she stayed in her bedroom a lot. she definitely was, like, sad. nothing seemed to be getting done. and so i kind of ended up taking over the organization of the house, what do we do for meals. josh mankiewicz: russel douglas had left behind a lot of unfinished business. the oldest of three children born to jim and gail before they divorced, russell had been a late bloomer.
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but adulthood intruded early. shortly after he started dating brenna, she became pregnant. marriage and parenthood did little to help him mature. i think he was mourning and missing being an 18-year-old who had a lot of dates, and drank, and went out with the guys. he did a little of that in college but not a lot. josh mankiewicz: russell and brenna fought often-- over children, money, and russel's affairs with other women. she had called me after a really rough, supposedly, argument. and i said, well, is he-- is he hurting you? is he-- is he hitting you? and she said, no, really, he isn't physical. it's just emotional and verbal, but i've hit him a couple of times. josh mankiewicz: earlier that year, russell had separated from brenna. he'd taken an apartment near seattle and had a new girlfriend. for his family, the ongoing drama of russell's life was exhausting. he stopped talking to basically all of us.
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i think he was so angry with the whole situation he was just saying, i am cutting off everything. josh mankiewicz: but then, just after thanksgiving, all that seemed to change. russell had recently changed jobs and was close to completing an online master's degree program. and as christmas approached, russell reached out to family members and told his brother matt that he wanted to reconcile with his wife. he said, you know, i think i need to start doing the right things. brenna wants me back. i want her back. i want to be involved in the kid's life. josh mankiewicz: then, for reasons they could not fathom, their son, their big brother, was dead. and the family became defensive when detectives suggested that russell's wife, brenna, may have had something to do with his murder. you don't want to believe that anybody that you've known for that long, that is a mother of your grandkids, would ever be a suspect. josh mankiewicz: so gail offered to help her daughter-in-law
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hire a lawyer. one of the detectives seemed a little strong armed. and i said, you know, you also need to get an attorney for all of your business affairs. let me see if i can find somebody for you. josh mankiewicz: the financial picture for brenna and the children was murky. russell and brenna had filed for bankruptcy a few years earlier. and though brenna owned her own hair salon in this upscale shopping center, russell had handled the business end of things. if there was a bright spot during those dismal days, it was that russell douglas did have some life insurance. i think, when it comes down to it, he had a total of three life insurance policies-- each one a couple hundred thousand dollars, i want to say. josh mankiewicz: in fact, the face value of those policies was more than half a million dollars. that money would come in handy, particularly since brenna was under pressure to buy the house she'd been renting from a woman who used to work at her hair salon.
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the landlady's name was peggy, peggy thomas. in those last dying days of 2003, russell douglas' family had no idea how large that name would loom them for them in the months and years to come. [music playing] coming up, detectives get a call from a mystery man who says he knows who the killer is. but getting him to talk won't be easy. it sounds as if he's afraid for his own life. he said, if i told you what i know, the shooter's going to know that i told you. josh mankiewicz: when "dateline" continues. at&t provides edge-to-edge intelligence, covering virtually every part of your retail business. so that if your customer needs shoes, & he's got wide feet. & with edge-to-edge intelligence you've got near real time inventory updates. & he'll find the same shoes in your store that he found online he'll be one happy, very forgetful wide footed customer.
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by the spring of 2004, detective mark plumberg has been working the phones and knocking on doors for months but getting nowhere. i actually decided to just start over and do the entire investigation from step one, all over again. josh mankiewicz: he had a murder and a good address on his hands and many more questions than answers. who had brought russell douglas to this remote area of whidbey island on the day after christmas? who put a bullet between his eyes? and why? we ran out every lead i could run out, and none of them connected to russell douglas. money, love, pride, talk to homicide
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detectives they say those themes come up all the time. all the time. any of that seem to fit? we did find that russell had several hundred thousand dollars in life insurance on him. obviously, like you said, money is a motive. love is a motive. pride is a motive. josh mankiewicz: for the detective, those factors seemed to point in the direction of russell's wife, brenna douglas. not only had she been cheated on and publicly humiliated by russell, but she was the main beneficiary of three life insurance policies he'd taken out on himself. the problem was, brenna's alibi was solid. there were plenty of people who could confirm that they had been with her at the time russell douglas was killed. the detective knew he needed a break. and in july 2004, exactly seven months to the day after the murder of russell douglas, he got one. i was actually out canvassing and interviewing again.
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and i got a phone call that said we had a tip on the russell douglas homicide. josh mankiewicz: plumberg's partner on the investigation, mike beech, took the call. he just said, hey, i'm just calling to see if you have any unsolved homicides from december 2003. and i said, well, yes sir, we actually have two in december of 2003, which one are you referring to? and he says, the guy who got shot in the head. josh mankiewicz: beech says he didn't know if the caller was the killer or someone related to the killer. but he knew he didn't want to lose it. i'm doing everything i can to keep this gentleman on the phone because, at that point, he still hadn't given me his name. josh mankiewicz: the caller was using an untraceable calling card. and on the phone, he seemed nervous. he said, if i told you what i know, the shooter is going to know that i told you. josh mankiewicz: that first call lasted more than an hour. but the cops learned neither the name
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of the caller nor the killer. he was still afraid to give us any more information. so i'm doing everything i can to gain his trust, just keep talking to him. josh mankiewicz: the informant agreed to call again the next day. and this time, he was more forthcoming. he started telling me that i needed to look for a girlfriend of the shooter that was from las vegas. he kept saying the shooter is where i am. josh mankiewicz: the caller told beech that he was a retired air force serviceman and played in a band with the shooter. the shooter, he said, was his best friend. i asked him, again, to call the next day. and he said, i have to work, but i can call on thursday. and i said, ok, well, i'll be here waiting. and he almost whispered, the shooter is jim huden. josh mankiewicz: jim huden, in the age of google, that was all the break mark plumberg needed. by the end of the day, the detectives knew that jim huden lived in south florida and played in a band.
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and according to the band's web site, one of its members was retired air force. and so the next time the caller phoned, detective beech was ready. he was asking me, were you able to do anything with what i gave you? and i said, well, yeah. but i think i'm looking at a picture of you. and the phone went quiet. and he goes, you guys are good. i go, we're not good. it was just simple google searching. josh mankiewicz: at last, the detectives had a solid lead-- one that raised plenty of questions. who was this jim huden? and why was their tipster so willing to give him up? the cops knew the answers to those questions could not be found in a google search. they would have to fly to southwest florida, at a time of year when violent storm clouds always seemed to lurk just over the horizon. coming up, was this a case of love turned lethal? detectives learn about an affair between this beauty queen--
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she was a whole lot of gorgeous woman. --and a guitar man with a dark side. jim, at one point, had told me that he wanted to know what it felt like to kill somebody. josh mankiewicz: when "dateline" continues. back pain can't win. now introducing aleve back and muscle pain. only aleve targets tough pain for up to 12 hours with just one pill. aleve back & muscle. all day strong. all day long. happiness is powerful flea and tick protection from nexgard. nexgard kills both fleas and ticks all month long. and it comes in an easy-to-give tasty chew. so you'll be happy you're keeping your dog protected with nexgard. no wonder it's the number one choice of vets for their dogs and yours. see your veterinarian for more information on flea and tick protection you and your dog will love. nexgard. the vet's #1 choice.
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nearly 500 years ago, a middle-aged spaniard came to this part of florida searching for the fountain of youth. ponce de leon never found it. but in 1982, it seems jim huden did. like de leon, huden was a middle-aged wanderer. but unlike the conquistador, the locals loved jim huden. jim was always a happy-go-lucky, fun guy.
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he was just a-- just a wonderful human being. very witty guy, just charming. you know, everybody loved him. josh mankiewicz: a native of washington state, huden's first fans in punta gorda were customers at his computer store. former mayor marilyn mooney, was one of those. he was brilliant with computers. in fact, you could go in there and they would build a computer for you. josh mankiewicz: but it was huden's band, buck naked and the exhibitionists-- bnx for short-- that made him one of the most popular people in punta gorda. tim goodman played keyboards in the band. we had two names to decide on. it was buck naked and the exhibitionists. or less moore and the contradictions. so we packed buck naked, but he came up with both names. i mean, that's the way his brain worked. he was a brilliant guy. josh mankiewicz: bill hill, the band's bass player, says huden was also a guy who never liked to let wives or girlfriends get in the way of a good time.
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i had a lot of fun. safe to say that you were kind of his wingman. he covered for you. you covered for him. yes, indeed. josh mankiewicz: golden oldies, like wilson pickett's "634-5789," were the band's bread and butter. lead singer, al holland, used to perform with the platters. he said that whenever buck naked played, people would dance. we would pack the place every single friday and saturday night. and it would just be one very big party. most have been fun to be part of the big band in town. it was. oh yeah, it was. josh mankiewicz: the band was so hot, in fact, that jim huden eventually turned over the computer store to his top assistant, jean spender, so he could concentrate on music. i kind of pushed him towards doing that because i knew that was his love and that's where he was most happy. were you in love with him? very much so. i loved that man very much.
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josh mankiewicz: so much so that in december 2001, after six years of living together, jean and jim got married in las vegas. and i was asked, by jean, if i would walk her down the aisle. was she happy? oh, yeah. all smiles, both of them were all smiles. josh mankiewicz: but the smiles did not last long. in june 2002, jim huden returned here to washington state for the funeral of an old friend. and it was here that fate intervened. a tall, red-haired beauty caught jim's eye. it was the beginning of a love triangle, one that would wreck the lives of all the people who were involved-- and some who were not. the woman in question was peggy thomas-- a whidbey island hairstylist who also dabbled in beauty pageants. in fact, in 2001, thomas represented the state
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of washington in a las vegas pageant, winning the evening gown competition. leslie birkland got to know peggy thomas a few years earlier, when she was just breaking into the beauty pageant circuit. birkland, who was once on the reality tv show "big rich texas," i still consider myself new to dallas. josh mankiewicz: says peggy thomas was working as an auto mechanic at the time. you couldn't not notice peggy because she was a whole lot of gorgeous women. would you say she's a typical pageant contestant? no, not 1998. here's this beautiful, voluptuous, red-head, gorgeous woman and she was a mechanic. she had this guy kind of a job. it just sort of added to her sex appeal. josh mankiewicz: though jean says she knew nothing of her husband's budding affair at the time, she did notice that he had returned from his friend's funeral a changed man-- secretive, sullen, and withdrawn.
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i think jim's sister-in-law had mentioned peggy to me. and i didn't quite put two and two together. she had made some comment about them being there at the funeral. and it just didn't click because i didn't want to acknowledge it. josh mankiewicz: jean says she later found e-mails and letters from this peggy. and that the woman even called her home looking for jim. but jean says that jim told her peggy was simply a music contact who could get him gigs in las vegas. worrisome, to be sure. but jean says it was her husband's heavy drinking that really had her concerned. he started drinking constantly at home. and drinking to obliterate himself, basically-- to numb himself. and then he started making trips out west. did you, at the time, think that there was another woman? no. i had no idea. josh mankiewicz: there is, of course, no cure for willful blindness. but bill hill, huden's faithful wingman, knew the truth about those out of town trips
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because sometimes he'd been along for the ride. we came out to las vegas. the reason that he asked me to go was to cover for him. he was seeing peggy. yes. tell me about jim's relationship with peggy. oh, it was all love and kisses. really? mm-hm. more so than with jean, who was waiting for him back home? yes. josh mankiewicz: before long, other band members say that they too began seeing the same changes in jim that troubled jean-- heavy drinking and erratic behavior. he'd go through a fifth of crown royal in a night. and one night, i'm calling chord changes to the bass player and he hollers at me in the middle of a song, quit criticizing the bass player-- or something like that. and i hollered back to him, why don't you just keep your mouth quiet. i'm doing my job over here. and he shut his guitar off and walked off stage, which is about the most unprofessional thing you can do. josh mankiewicz: after that, the band's days were numbered. and seemingly, so were the days of jean huden's marriage.
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but jean says the drinking and philandering were not the worst of it. jim, at one point, had told me that he wanted to know what it felt like to kill somebody. he told you that he had wanted to know that? yes. one of his deep, dark secrets. and you say, what? sure, great idea, honey? i didn't know what to say. josh mankiewicz: who would? jean could only guess at what was behind this sudden change. he lost his dad when he was, i believe, 10 or 11 years old. and his mom dated a series of men throughout that were abusive drunks, and he saw his mom get beat up many, many times. he wasn't able to do anything. and he always swore he would get this guy. but the man who mostly beat her has since passed away. josh mankiewicz: jean didn't know if something back in washington had triggered her husband's black moods, but she says she remained determined to pull him through. i loved that man more than life itself, at the time. i was so in love with him. i thought he was the one.
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even though he was in the process of treating you like dirt. right. i was hoping there it could be salvaged. josh mankiewicz: then, came the day in june 2003, when the cold, hard facts of her husband's affair could no longer be denied. jim moved out, telling jean that he needed a change of scenery for his music. jean knew better. i was like, they're going back to see peggy. i was like, go, get out. and don't ever come back again. and he didn't want to hear that. he still wanted me to be hanging on while he had peggy as well. josh mankiewicz: that moment of clarity, it turns out, was short lived. all that summer, while jim huden set up housekeeping with peggy and her two daughters out in las vegas, jean says her husband kept her dangling with promises that his dalliance with peggy thomas was over. he'd soon be home, he told her. and for jean, that was a reason to believe. i thought there was some hope. i didn't want to let go. josh mankiewicz: and for a brief moment in september of 2003,
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jean says it looked as if her perseverance would pay off. jim invited her out to las vegas for her 40th birthday. for several days, he wined and dined her. but her dreams of a happy ending, she says, vanished when her husband turned to her in bed one night and told her he intended to make his darkest dreams come true. there was a man out in washington, he told her, who needed to die. [music playing] coming up, not the kind of thing a wife wants to hear. but jean has an even bigger shock coming. it was like getting kicked in the stomach. life, as i knew it, was over, at that point. josh mankiewicz: when "dateline" continues.
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they say that what happens in vegas, stays in vegas. no one wanted that slogan to be true more than jean huden did, especially since vegas was where her husband had told her he intended to kill a complete stranger. he wanted to know what it would feel like to kill someone? kill somebody, yes. nobody's ever said that to me before. yeah, me either. josh mankiewicz: but this was not to be a thrill killing. according to jean, her husband believed murdering the victim he had in mind would be a kind of public service. he just said he beat his children. and beat his wife. and didn't take care of his family. and just an abusive-- made him sound exactly like the guy that jim had grown up with. exactly.
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what did jim say he was going to do? well, he said that peggy's friend, brenna, had approached him and that she would share the insurance money with him. murder for hire? yes. did you try to talk him out of this? i did. i thought he was just talking. i was just hoping he would get over it. josh mankiewicz: it had been a tough year for mr. and mrs. huden. the death of a childhood friend had sent jim huden spinning off into a hall of fame worthy midlife crisis, that ran the gamut from alcoholism and adultery to vague notions of murder. i just didn't think he would follow through with it. i mean, he didn't even know how to shoot a gun. josh mankiewicz: by christmas 2003, things seemed to have hit rock bottom. instead of returning home with jean after their romantic reunion in las vegas, jim had stayed out west. did you think he was with peggy? i, at that point, i thought so. yeah. i mean, i knew what was going on. and i knew it was over. and i just-- there was no point in confronting him because he
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would lie about it anyway. josh mankiewicz: abandoned and alone, jean spent the holidays waiting for word from jim. then in early january, jean says her phone rang. her husband was on the line. but jim huden wasn't calling to wish his wife a happy new year. according to jean, he was calling to tell her that dreams do come true. he had killed a man in cold blood. he just said, it was done. and he's coming back. the murder? yes. what did you say? i think i was speechless at the time. i just-- i just-- i think i asked if he was ok. and does anyone know? are they after you? i just had basically asked if he was ok. your husband had just confessed that he had committed a murder for hire. mm-hm. i was just-- it was like getting kicked in the stomach. i just-- i mean, i knew it was-- i knew life, as i knew it, was over, at that point. josh mankiewicz: jean says her husband drove through the night, pulling into their garage in punta gorda
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after dark the next day. he basically told me how they had lured russell to a certain spot on the island. and how he had came out of some bushes and walked up to him and just shot him in the head. and he made it sound like, you know, it was kind of gentle and peaceful. and that his just head just tilted over and he walked away. jim had told you that he had this dark secret, that he wanted to know what it would be like to kill someone. right. did it live up to his expectations? no. at first, he said, for a few days he felt like a big man. and, you know, it was exhilarating. and he thought he had accomplished something and rid the world of someone who didn't need to be there anymore. but then it started to close in on him. and then he wasn't such a big man. and that, you know, he knew he had made a terrible mistake. based on what jim told you, did brenna douglas offer any shred of proof that her husband was abusive? or did jim just kind of commit that murder,
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pretty much, on faith. pretty much on faith, as far as i knew because i had come to find out later there were no records of him-- there were no reports of domestic abuse, as far as i understand. josh mankiewicz: after laying low for a while, jean says, jim gradually started picking up the pieces of his old life in punta gorda. as the weeks passed, jean says she even allowed herself to think that, perhaps, the ugliness of the past two years was in the past. that is, until the april day when a tall, red-headed stranger appeared on her doorstep. jim was doing a local radio show here in the morning. and i was at home. and there's a knock on the door and opened the door and it's peggy thomas standing on my doorstep. josh mankiewicz: in that icy instant, jim huden's complicated double life collapsed. as the women talked, jean says, it became clear that both had been lied to. both believed jim was done with the other
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and committed to them. he was playing us both for quite some time, trying to keep us both apart from each other. so there you are with peggy, and jim's not there. mm-hm. for how long? not long because i called the radio station and suggested he get home real fast. he stopped the show and came home. and peggy and i are sitting there on the couch. how did he look? not good. so what happens at that meeting? there was a lot of yelling. the two of you yelling at jim? or at each other? a little of both. i was yelling at her because she knew he was married. and she's saying, what? i was led to believe that there's nothing left of your marriage anymore. right, and it was like a knife in the heart. it was. and at that point, he needed to make a choice. and he said he was going to stay with me. josh mankiewicz: although, jean says, peggy agreed to leave them in peace and return to las vegas, a few weeks later she was back. this time, showing up unannounced at a reunion gig for jim's old band, buck naked and the exhibitionists.
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bill hill says the moment he saw her face in the audience, he knew it was trouble. trouble because shortly after returning to punta gorda, jim huden had told him that peggy had helped jim murder a man, who reminded jim of someone he'd known as a child-- a man who had allegedly beaten and abused jim's mother. he says, i would have done him in if he was still alive. and he says, i found a person that met his description, as far as abusiveness. and i says, yeah? and he says, well, i shot him in the head and killed him. no chance that he was kidding or not telling the truth? i knew he was telling the truth. he says, peggy found a person that, supposedly, was abusive. and it happened to be the husband of a woman that owned the hair salon in whidbey island, i believe. where peggy worked? where peggy worked, yes.
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so peggy knew all about this? she helped him. josh mankiewicz: for five months, bill hill says he struggled under the weight of that confession. then, in late july 2004, his conscience finally got the better of him. i decided to make my first call. your first call? to whidbey island. to the police. yes, to the island county sheriffs. i felt guilty i was giving up my friend. but i knew something had to be done. josh mankiewicz: within days of that call, detectives mark plumberg and mike beech were sitting face-to-face with both their tipster, bill hill, and their suspect, the artist formerly known as buck naked. [music playing] coming up, the interrogation gets tough. you know what you've told bill. the guy is falling apart over the guilt he's carrying around because you told him what you did. josh mankiewicz: will jim crack? or will detectives realize they have the wrong man?
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for seven months after russell douglas was shot between the eyes, police had little more to go on than a corpse and an empty shell casing. with their case at a dead end, whidbey island detectives desperately wanted to believe that bill hill--
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the tipster who had led them to florida-- was something other than a crackpot with an axe to grind. when we first landed in florida, we met with bill hill. confirmed the story. we wanted to meet him face-to-face, obviously. what was his mood? he was a bit nervous. i think he was still in that mode where he knew he was turning in his best friend. josh mankiewicz: once again, bill hill told the detectives what he knew-- that his best friend, jim huden, had told him he'd killed a man in whidbey island. and that huden's girlfriend, peggy thomas, had helped set up the whole thing with the knowledge of the victim's wife. it was a compelling story, but with no murder weapon or any other physical evidence connecting him to the murder of russell douglas. the detectives were no closer to being able to make an arrest. the next day we decide we have no cards other than to just go talk to jim huden. and see what he'll say to us.
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after arranging to have a second team of detectives visit peggy thomas simultaneously in las vegas, the detectives drove over to jim huden's house. jean answered the door. i showed her my badge and my id. and said, i was from island county, washington. jim was there? yes. he was sitting on the couch. and he says, what? what's island county, washington doing all the way here in florida? oddly enough, he didn't say anything like that. josh mankiewicz: the detective didn't beat around the bush. and i looked him right in the face, and i said, mr. huden, i know you're the man who pulled the trigger and killed russell douglas. and his only response was to say, i don't know why someone would say that. i was sure, at that moment, i was in the room with the right man. because an innocent man would say, well, you're crazy. i didn't kill him or anybody else. i don't know what you're talking about. he never once made a denial of my accusation. josh mankiewicz: huden admitted to being on whidbey island with peggy thomas over the christmas holidays, but denied ever owning a gun.
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he admitted to having briefly met russell douglas. but said it was only to drop off a present at his apartment near seattle for brenna, from peggy. i asked if he'd be willing to come down to the police station with us. i said, we'd like to get your story on tape. he agreed. he's under no obligation to do that. he doesn't have to go anywhere with us. detective: need a soda or anything? no, i'm fine. if the coffee is ever done, sure like to have [inaudible].. detective: [inaudible] coffee? josh mankiewicz: once again, with tape rolling, jim huden freely admitted to being in washington at the time of the crime, to meeting russell douglas there, and to being a lousy, two-timing husband. but that's where jim huden drew the line. i'm a son of a bitch, but i'm no killer. but i'm a son of a bitch. josh mankiewicz: for nearly an hour, the interview covered old ground-- with occasional interruptions from detectives in las vegas, who were, at that very moment, grilling huden's girlfriend, peggy thomas.
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detective: what do think peggy's reactions are going to be to my guys out there? i'd be surprised if it's any different than mine. josh mankiewicz: and he was right. like jim, peggy wasn't giving the police anything in her interview. so detective mike beech decided to shake things up. but with this tactic get jim to talk? [music playing] coming up, it's peggy's turn to be interrogated. will she give up her lover? he said, you know what? just know that i love you and you're never going to see me or hear from me again. josh mankiewicz: and peggy herself? she's on to the next man. the biggest mistake i ever made in my life. i mean, she's evil. josh mankiewicz: and the whole case goes south, with a manhunt in mexico. when "dateline" continues. ♪ happiness is powerful flea and tick protection from nexgard. a delicious chew that protects for an entire month. ask your vet for more information. reported side effects include vomiting and itching.
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the murder of russel douglas. then came a question investigators thought would certainly get jim's attention-- interrogator: who's bill hill? he's a friend of mine who lives here. bass player. interrogator: mm. does that surprise you, that i brought up that name? ye-- yes. interrogator: why? because you're from-- whidbey island? interrogator: would it surprise you that i've been talking to him almost daily for the last week and a half? yeah, it would surprise me. i just wanted to see a reaction. up until that point, he was playing it pretty cool. and i think i got the reaction i was hoping for. it kind of deflated him a bit. so we're at truth or dare time, jim. yeah. you know what you've told bill. he's your best friend in the whole world. the guy's falling apart over this-- literally, falling apart over the guilt
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he's carrying around because you told him what you did. i don't buy that for a minute. josh mankiewicz: if revealing bill hill as their source was intended to shock jim huden into confessing, it failed. with no murder weapon, no warrant, and no authority to make an arrest in the state of florida, the detectives had to let their primary suspect go free. were you worried at all about bill hill, now you've disclosed that he's the source of all this? we made sure before we went back to washington that bill understood that we had to give his name. but my hope was that jim huden would be far too worried about his own skin than to have to worry about taking retribution on bill hill. josh mankiewicz: easy for him to say. bill hill remembers being terrified when he heard that his former friend now knew that he'd been the one who'd called the police. bill hill: oh, yeah, scared to death.
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watching your back. oh, yeah, yeah. josh mankiewicz: that terror was amplified a few days later when hurricane charley, which had been churning up the gulf, suddenly made an unexpected turn and slammed into punta gorda. packing 150-mile an hour winds, charley leveled parts of town, taking out electricity and giving plenty of cover to someone like jim huden, who might want revenge. bill hill: i slept on the couch in the living with my 357 under the pillow, literally. because you thought jim was coming. yes. how'd you sleep? not very good. josh mankiewicz: as it turns out, though, the detective was right. jim huden had plenty on his plate and no intention of sticking around. in the days after two whidbey island detectives knocked on his door and accused him of murder, the man who had once performed under the name buck naked,
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suddenly felt very exposed. jean huden says her husband was sure of only two things-- the cops would be back and he had no intention of ever wearing prison orange. jean huden: he'd tell me, you will never see me in a jumpsuit, meaning jail or prison clothes. he was like, no. he had every intention of killing himself before it came to that. josh mankiewicz: which brings us back to that hurricane, hurricane charley. jean says that after the storm passed, jim asked her to drive him to miami. he told her he wanted to spend one last night alone, drinking and gambling in a casino there, before he committed suicide. and i'd left him with about $4,000 or $5,000, a bunch of pills, and he was going to go off and take himself out somewhere. you were crying. i was hysterical. was he crying? jean huden: yes, he was. he was.
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and so i drove away thinking that was the last time i was ever going to see him, and that i would be getting a knock on the door asking me to identify his body. josh mankiewicz: for weeks, jean says she waited amid the ruins of her storm-ravaged home for word of jim's fate. she assumed he was dead, and that's what she told the whidbey island cops when they called to follow up. there were several messages on the machine from them. and i called them back and i told them what had happened. it's like, well, now you've got your man. he's dead and there you go, case is solved. josh mankiewicz: but shortly after telling the police that jim had probably killed himself, the phone rang again. it was greyhound buslines in houston, texas. jean huden: they found a bag that was left on a bus with jim's name on it, with a bottle of crown royal, his clothes, and a gun in it. how long-- when did you hear from him? i got a phone call from my attorney
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saying that they had heard from jim and jim was at a motel down in houston. josh mankiewicz: the lawyer put jean in touch with jim and filled her in on his latest plan, a plan that could only succeed if jean agreed to send jim money. his plan was to get across the border and go from there. and so i'd send him yet more money, and allowed him to get out of the country. josh mankiewicz: which wasn't, at that point, a crime since there were no charges against jim. at this point, no. josh mankiewicz: and here's where our story takes another bizarre turn. while jean huden, the wife jim had cheated on for years, was willing to stand by her man and help him escape the mexico, police learned that peggy thomas, jim huden's lover and alleged accomplice, was now willing to give him up. i'm not involved in this. ok. josh mankiewicz: in this interview with detectives, peggy thomas said that in a phone call shortly
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before he fled to mexico, jim had confessed to killing russel douglas. with jim gone and no evidence tying peggy to the murder, the detectives asked the public's help in documenting the couple's movements in december 2003, when russel douglas was murdered. mark plumberg: we put out descriptions of the vehicle that they were driving. just a few days after it hit the media, we got a phone call from the dona ana county sheriff's office in new mexico saying someone had turned in-- has a firearm that they believe might have been used in a homicide on whidbey island. talk about luck.
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it doesn't get any better than that. josh mankiewicz: the gun came from a former las vegas sheriff's deputy who'd recently retired to new mexico. the deputy had known jim huden and peggy thomas in las vegas. and in october 2003, the deputy said huden had come to his house and asked to be shown how to shoot the gun. according to the deputy, the next time he saw either huden or the gun was in january 2004, when jim huden handed it to him in a paper bag and asked him to hold it for safekeeping. we took the weapon for testing and it was matched to the shell casing from the tracker, and also matched to the slug that was pulled from russel's brain. the murder weapon. that's the murder weapon. and you have a guy telling you that jim huden gave it to him. right. not just that jim huden gave it to him, but that he taught jim huden to fire the weapon, and that jim huden gave it back to him
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just a few days after the murder of russel douglas. if you had had that information before you went to florida, you could have brought jim huden back in cuffs. you bet. instead, now you've got the proof, and jim huden's nowhere to be found. right, we have all we need. now we just need jim. josh mankiewicz: coming up-- with jim out of the picture, his lover, peggy thomas, needs a new man, a millionaire cowboy who's about to be taken for a wild ride. mark allen: she said, but i didn't have nothing to do with it. and i said, well, did you take a lie detector? she said, no, my lawyer told me not to. and i went, if you're innocent, why wouldn't you take a lie detector? and she never gave me a good answer. i looked in her eyes and i-- i mean, she is evil. josh mankiewicz: when "dateline" continues.
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for nine months, the mystery of who killed russel douglas and why weighed on his family. then, as it often does in this story, a ringing phone brought momentous news. mother: i got the call from the prosecutor who said i'm telling you first that they thought they knew who it was. josh mankiewicz: jim huden's name meant nothing to russell's family, but the name of huden's girlfriend, peggy thomas, did. brother: peggy thomas is the owner of the home
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that russel and brenna rented, that they had a verbal agreement that they were going to buy if they could just come up with the capital. josh mankiewicz: given that brenna was the named beneficiary on russel's life insurance policies, russel's family wondered if his death was, in some way, part of a real estate deal. mother: i guess some of our family members kept thinking, did peggy maybe do this, or set this all up because she thought that if brenda got insurance money, she would buy the house and peggy would then have that instant cash? josh mankiewicz: peggy thomas appeared to be the only link between jim huden and russel douglas, and it wasn't just a circumstantial connection, either. on page 14 of the murder weapon's owners manual, investigators had found a fingerprint belonging to peggy thomas. troubling, but what concerned russel douglas' brother and sister most was the fact that brenna didn't appear
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to be the least bit upset about the prospect of her friend peggy being involved in her husband's murder. sister: you've worked with her and you're not saying a peep. you know, if it was your friend-- something, either disbelief, or i can't believe my friend did this. i want to make sure that they, you know, get punished, or you know, like-- let's go after her. let's get her, yeah. and i said, you know when you were really mad at russ, did you ever say to peggy, while you guys were working together, that russ had some insurance money and that he'd be better to you dead than alive? and she said, well, i might have. and at that point, i just kind of looked at her and i thought, man, did this not give somebody a motive somewhere along the line? josh mankiewicz: was this a case of angry words having unintended consequences, or as some suspected, had brenna actively recruited russel's killers?
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the family couldn't know for sure, but that question now complicated their relationship with brenna and the grandchildren. and we've tried to be as supportive as we could, especially for the kids. but i know she listens in on all their conversations, so it's a very controlled conversation. josh mankiewicz: but when it comes to awkward telephone conversations, none could have been more strange than the ones that took place between jim huden's lover and jim huden's wife after he fled to mexico. you call her first or did she call you? no, she called me. and what did she want to talk about? well, she wanted to know what-- you know, how much the cops had been bugging me and what they knew, and if i had heard from jim, or anything like that. and you, what, told her? i told her what the cops had said. i remember that i didn't tell her anything about jim. why just not hang up the phone? i don't know. i don't know.
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i mean, this isn't even jim. this is jim's mistress. jean: yeah, i know. i'm an idiot. josh mankiewicz: but that's not all. jean says that she was able to stay in contact with jim while he was in mexico, and that jim asked her to fly out to vegas to meet with peggy face-to-face and keep her in the loop. jean: we did have jim in common. i never told her where he was. i did tell her that i knew he was ok. it was just very weird. i mean, we went out and had drinks and saw a band, and i really found it hard to hate her as much as i wanted to. josh mankiewicz: as months passed and jim huden's trail grew colder, the lives of the women who had loved him took drastically divergent paths. while jean grew steadily poorer supporting jim, the ever-resourceful peggy, now a limo driver in vegas, hit the jackpot. in 2007, one of her fares turned out to be this man, mark allen, a new mexico horse breeder
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and heir to an oil fortune. mark allen: the limo people asked me, do you want some guy, or do you want the ex-mrs. washington? i went, i'll take the ex-mrs. washington. josh mankiewicz: five months after meeting peggy thomas, allen says he asked her to marry him. the biggest mistake i ever made my life. josh mankiewicz: within months of moving to his new mexico ranch, allen says peggy was nosing her way into his horse business, pressing him to fire longtime employees and hire friends of hers. you know, she wanted her people to do the accounting and stuff. josh mankiewicz: when he refused, allen says, the man-magnet turned into a man-eater. she'd get on me, and this is like, a dang-- you know, this is like a man getting on you. she's a pretty good-sized woman. i looked in her eyes and i-- and i mean, she's evil.
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she is evil. josh mankiewicz: but if peggy thomas married well, she divorced even better. allen says he gave her money and an 80-foot houseboat just to go away. the divorce took way longer than the marriage did. josh mankiewicz: looking back, mark allen says he should have known better. he says a few days before their wedding, peggy let him in on a little secret. mark allen: she said that she was accused of being involved in a murder, and that her ex-boyfriend had killed a guy. she said, but i didn't have nothing to do with it. and i said, well, did you take a lie detector? she said, no, my lawyer told me not to. and i went, if you're innocent, why wouldn't you take a lie detector? and she never gave me a good answer. josh mankiewicz: it should be noted that although mark allen says his brief marriage to peggy thomas cost him dearly, she did give him at least one chuckle.
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in 2009, after one of his horses won the kentucky derby, allen says he saw peggy quoted in the press. mark allen: well, she said she was done here training horses and breeding horses. [chuckles] peggy can't even step up on a horse. josh mankiewicz: coming up-- whatever happened to jim, the fugitive from justice, and his wife, jean? jean huden: i was getting ready to leave and not be able to come back to this country for the rest of my life. maybe you could have died in a shoot-out with him? yeah, exactly, you know, it probably would-- that's what would have happened because who knows, he probably would've taken me out next. josh mankiewicz: torn between joining jim on the lam or turning him in, which will she choose? jean huden: you know, the man cost me everything i had. i've spent every dime i had. i lost my house. i lost my livelihood. (voice breaking) i'm sorry. josh mankiewicz: when "dateline" continues.
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by the spring of 2011, russel douglas had been dead for more than seven years. his suspected killer was still on the loose because the only person on earth who knew his true whereabouts wasn't talking to detectives. jean huden: i mean, they've been watching me for years. they've tapped my phones. and police we're pretty sure that you were still in contact with jim? well, sure, they had a good idea. and they were right. of course they were. [music playing] josh mankiewicz: the man no longer known as buck naked had been able to build a new life for himself in mexico, and even played the occasional gig. jean huden: well, he was in vera cruz, mexico. i actually went down there a few times to see him, and of course, to bring him more money. he was teaching music to kids in a music school down there.
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i'd fly up to dulles airport and then out to kansas and then to mexico city and change planes, you know, so they couldn't track how i was going and how i was getting to him. or we'd meet in other cities. you know, i never flew directly to him so they couldn't trace me to get to him. josh mankiewicz: but that kind of devotion doesn't come cheap. jim's life on the lam has taken a toll on jean's health and it's devoured the inheritance she received when her mother died. jean huden: you know, the man cost me everything i had. i spent every dime i had. i lost my house. i lost my livelihood. (voice breaking) i'm sorry. josh mankiewicz: and yet, after her father died in 2007, jean says she seriously considered joining her husband in mexico, where he was known as maestro jim, and sharing his life as a fugitive.
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jean huden: i knew what border crossing i was taking. i had a new id. i was getting ready to leave and not be able to come back to this country for the rest of my life. maybe you could have died in a shootout with him? yeah, exactly, you know, that's probably what would have happened because, who knows, he probably would have taken me out next. josh mankiewicz: that did not happen for one reason. just days before she planned to join jim, jean met this man, bill bruner, and fell in love. jean huden: and he finally made me see what a foolish thing that would be to do. and for some reason, i listened to bill. and no, he saved my life, basically. so love kind of wrecked your life and then love also saved your life. yeah, i guess it did. it sure did. yep. josh mankiewicz: because of bill, jean gave up her dream of rejoining jim huden. but it wasn't until the spring of 2011 that bill bruner convinced her to give up the addiction that was jim. jean huden: i had just, finally, had enough.
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you know, it's-- i know jim doesn't love me. he didn't care about me when he did what he did. and he still doesn't care about me, and probably even less so now that i'm out of money. josh mankiewicz: more than that, jean had, herself, gotten into some legal trouble after jim fled to mexico. in exchange for immunity from prosecution on some drug and check forgery charges, jean told authorities all she knew about the murder of russel douglas, and just where jim huden could be found. jean huden: they're not interested in me. they wanted jim. no, they said they would not prosecute me, and i certainly hope they stick to their word. josh mankiewicz: in june 2011, mexican authorities picked up the man variously known as buck naked, or maestro jim, in veracruz and quickly turned him over to waiting us marshals. when the plane carrying jim back to washington state landed in seattle, he was greeted by a familiar face.
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and you said what, jim, nice to see you again? i said jim, i'm not sure if you remember me, but i'm here to escort you back to island county. i said you're under no obligation to talk to me. and he immediately said, i don't want to. something he should've said years earlier. probably would have been a good idea. josh mankiewicz: for the foreseeable future, jim huden would be wearing exactly the ensemble he had for so long sought to avoid. immediately after huden's arrest, detectives began trying to track down his former lover, peggy thomas. a routine computer data search led police to this lake in new mexico, where they discovered peggy thomas kept an 80-foot houseboat that she'd gotten in her divorce from mark allen. they said she was a really nice person, that she was single, and that she had put the name off the hook on her boat due to the fact
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that she was single. josh mankiewicz: captain bryce current of the san juan county sheriff's office says peggy thomas was lured back to the marina with the bogus promise that there was a package waiting for her. current says she didn't seem all that surprised when he placed her under arrest. she had an attorney, and that she'd been waiting for this day and was kind of ready to get it over with. josh mankiewicz: peggy thomas was all business, current says, and wasted none of her legendary charm on him. no, just enough time for her to make fun of me and make fun of my braces and how young i looked. she thought it'd be somebody older, she said. josh mankiewicz: after waiting seven long years, russel douglas' family was elated that his suspected killers were in jail. but russel's wife, not so much. and i called brenna, and it was kind of a stunned silence for a little bit. and then it was like, oh, well, good. but it was not the ecstatic thank god something that i
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was really wanting to hear. josh mankiewicz: in july 2011, when russel douglas' family gathered in solidarity for jim huden's first court appearance, russel's widow was conspicuously absent. i asked her, i was like, are you going to go? she was like, why would i go? it doesn't concern me. it just didn't quite seem right. josh mankiewicz: it would take another year before jim huden and the wife of the man he was accused of killing sat in the same court room. and when they did, all eyes would be on her. coming up-- brenna douglas-- could she have anything to do with the plot to kill her husband? brenna douglas: he had a lot of issues-- throwing furniture around and different things. and how he treated the kids and i, it just wasn't ok. lawyer: when you and russ went through a separation, is that the sort of thing that you might have talked to peggy about?
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brenna douglas: yeah. i said, who all knows about this? lawyer: did he tell you? bill hill: yes, he did. josh mankiewicz: when "dateline" continues.
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advil is relief that's fast strength that lasts you'll ask... what pain? with advil [chatter] jim huden and peggy thomas were charged with the murder of russel douglas in the summer of 2011. from that moment, whidbey island prosecutor greg banks had been hoping they would turn on each other and spill the details of what had happened on the day russel was killed. that was the plan. but that didn't happen. did not happen. josh mankiewicz: because why? they're still in love? they wouldn't rat on each other? greg banks: you know, if you get a chance to interview them, you could ask them. josh mankiewicz: because jean huden was still married to jim, the prosecutor decided to split the case, and tried jim and peggy separately. greg banks: we needed jean to testify against peggy, but washington has a rule that says you can't call the spouse against a defendant.
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so if you tried jim and peggy separately, jean can testify against peggy. right, and we didn't need her against jim. josh mankiewicz: and so in july 2012, more than a year after his wife had given him up, jim huden went on trial for the murder of russel douglas. the opening statement of the island county prosecutor set the tone. ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this case is about the assassination of russel douglas on the day after christmas, 2003. josh mankiewicz: banks promised the jury that the evidence would show that jim huden and an accomplice had lured russel douglas to his death with the promise of a christmas gift for his wife brenna. greg banks: james huden did not even know russ douglas, but his accomplice did. josh mankiewicz: jim huden, he declared, was the trigger man. greg banks: mr. huden walked up to that car. he opened the door. he looked him right in the face, and at a distance of less than four inches, used a 380
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semiautomatic handgun to put a bullet between his eyes. josh mankiewicz: the prosecutor began by calling the one person that police still believed knew more about this case than she was saying-- the state calls brenna douglas. josh mankiewicz: --brenna douglas, the dead man's widow. on the stand, brenna identified a picture of peggy thomas and said they used to cut hair together. in 2003, she said, she rented a house from peggy. greg banks: did you two become close? brenna douglas: yeah, we'd talk. it was just girl talk stuff. greg banks: did you talk about personal things with her? yeah. josh mankiewicz: according to brenna, her rocky marriage to russel douglas was among the things she talked to peggy thomas about. brenna douglas: he had a lot of issues-- throwing furniture around and different things. and how he treated the kids and i, it just wasn't ok. greg banks: when you and russ went through a separation, was that the sort of thing you might have talked to peggy about? yeah, that i talked to most people about, probably too much.
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greg banks: and why do you say that, that you talk to most people too much? are you a person who likes to share? brenna douglas: i just chat. greg banks: brenna, do you know james huden? brenna douglas: i've met him, yes. greg banks: and how is it that you met mr. huden? through peggy. josh mankiewicz: it was on that connection to huden and those woman-to-woman conversations between brenna and peggy that the prosecutor based his theory of the murder. brenna told peggy her husband was violent. peggy told jim and jim pulled the trigger. the prosecutor explained why. greg banks: mr. huden pulled the trigger on russel douglas as a way of exercising his own personal demons. josh mankiewicz: that point was underscored when huden's old bass player, bill hill, took the stand and told the court about the day jim huden shared his darkest secret. bill hill: he says, i need to tell you about something that's on my mind. josh mankiewicz: as jim huden clenched his teeth and stared daggers at his former close friend,
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bill hill continued. bill hill: and he proceeded to tell me that my stepfather that used to beat me and beat my mother-- and i have always hated that man-- wanted to find somebody else that fit mo. and then he said that they did find a person that fit and said that they murdered him. josh mankiewicz: in halting language, hill told the same story he told police eight years earlier, that peggy thomas aided in the execution of russel douglas, and that russel's widow, brenna, had known about it. i said, who all knows about this? greg banks: did he tell you? bill hill: yes, he did. he said the only people that knew was him, peggy, his wife jean, and the woman at the hair shop. that she didn't play much of a part, but she knew it was going to happen. josh mankiewicz: no evidence was offered to buttress that charge-- no incriminating e-mails, no cell phone records,
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no suspicious money transfers. the question of brenna douglas' possible involvement in her husband's murder was simply left hanging in the air for everyone to ponder. state's next witness is keith ogden. josh mankiewicz: next the prosecutor presented the story of a gun. keith ogden, a retired las vegas lawman, told the court that jim huden came to his home in late october 2003, just two months before russel douglas was killed, to talk about a gun jim had just purchased. he told me that he purchased it from somebody in the newspaper in las vegas. did you ever see it? keith ogden: yes, sir. when jim huden brought it over to my house to show me-- show him how to use it. please raise your right hand. josh mankiewicz: a ballistics expert testified that the bullet taken from russel douglas' head came from jim huden's gun. ballistics expert: this bullet was fired from this bersa 380 auto.
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josh mankiewicz: given those facts, it seemed odd that the murder weapon wasn't simply dropped into puget sound. but keith ogden told the court that in early january, just days after the murder, jim huden had asked him to keep the gun in a safe place. please take the stand. josh mankiewicz: the last witness for the prosecution was detective mark plumberg. he told the court that while he was questioning huden at his home back in 2004, huden asked a rather odd question of him. he said, is peggy angry enough at me that she would implicate me in this? greg banks: had you told mr. huden that peggy thomas had implicated him? i did not. i had not implicated peggy thomas and i had not suggested that she had any knowledge or part in the crime. josh mankiewicz: in closing, the prosecution played the videotaped statements huden later made to island county detectives down at the punta gorda police station. i'm a son-of-a-bitch, but i'm no killer.
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but i'm a son-of-a-bitch. josh mankiewicz: that would be the only time this jury heard the sound of jim huden's voice during this trial. jury: would please give your attention to the opening statement of-- josh mankiewicz: attorney matt montoya began his defense of jim huden-- thank you, your honor. josh mankiewicz: --with a quote from the musical, "man of la mancha." ladies and gentlemen, facts are the enemy of truth. josh mankiewicz: you heard right. he told the jury in a first-degree murder case that facts are the enemy of truth. perhaps it's fitting that montoya, who had just recently appeared in a local production of "man of la mancha," quoted don quixote, who famously imagined windmills to be giants. from this witness stand-- josh mankiewicz: his defense of jim huden would also require a fair amount of imagination. i'm not telling you that his side is wrong or my side is right. i want you to address the facts critically.
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because the facts will show you more than one outcome. josh mankiewicz: among the possible conclusions that montoya suggested might be drawn from the known facts in the case was that russel douglas had shot himself. matt montoya: did anyone request that you test or preserve his hands for possible gunshot residue? no. we do preserve things for trace evidence, but that's why the sheet was used inside of the body bag. ok, so no one tested his hands for gunshot residue. forensic analyst: not to my knowledge. [music playing] josh mankiewicz: a 'gotcha' perhaps, but no gun was found in the car, and the fatal bullet had been traced to a gun known to have belonged to jim huden. ok, was mr. douglas' body still in the vehicle at that time? forensic analyst: it was. josh mankiewicz: next, montoya suggested, russel douglas was killed somewhere else, perhaps by someone other than jim huden, and then placed in the car at the crime scene.
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dr. john nordby: ok, i'm not finding any blood of any sort, whether it's-- josh mankiewicz: a blood spatter expert, named dr. john nordby, was called to testify in support of that theory. according to doctor nordby, the car's interior should have been covered in blood if that was where russel douglas had been shot. dr. john nordby: the shooting seemed, to me, like it did not occur in this vehicle because there are empty spots where you would expect blood to be. permission to approach the witness, your honor? judge: yes. josh mankiewicz: on cross-examination, prosecutor banks challenged the defense's only expert witness, pointing out that in his written report on the case, dr. nordby had cited the movie "pulp fiction" as a good example of the kind of blood spatter he'd expected to see in russel douglas' car. dr. john nordby: the two characters in the film were facing in front, and they actually got back spatter. the bullet went toward the back seat, but the spatter went toward the front.
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so that's the illustration i was meaning to convey. greg banks: ok, so you chose to rely on an illustration from a fictional movie, produced in hollywood, to help describe this scenario, correct? i guess, sure. judge: mr. young, please come forward. josh mankiewicz: the final defense theory was that jim huden had an alibi-- ron young, a childhood friend of huden's, took the stand and told the court that huden was at his home near seattle at the time it's believed russel douglas was murdered. ron young: i did see him december 26, when he was stopping by on his way out of town. do you recall what time that was? ah, sometime probably between noon and 1:00. was he by himself? no. who was with him? peggy thomas. josh mankiewicz: with that, the defense rested and the prosecutor offered no cross-examination. a month shy of his 59th birthday, jim huden was facing a minimum 25-year sentence if found guilty. but just before the jury began deliberations,
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jim huden's attorney reminded them one more time of those immortal words from "the man of la mancha." ladies and gentlemen, when we started this trial, i told you facts are the enemy of truth. and i hope you wondered what that meant. you heard facts, upon facts, upon facts. i'm telling you there are other conclusions that can be made from that evidence. all right, thank y'all-- josh mankiewicz: soon enough, jim huden and his attorney would find out if anyone on that jury had reached one of those alternate conclusions and thus, save him from having to spend the rest of his life in prison orange. coming up-- judge: we, the jury-- the josh mankiewicz: --the verdict, and then, the other moment everyone's been waiting for. peggy was clearly on the fence as to whether or not to accept a deal or go to trial. what, she thought, if i just keep my mouth shut, it's worked all this way, i'm going to skate? that would be my assessment.
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josh mankiewicz: will jim testify against peggy? when "dateline" continues. copd makes it hard to breathe. so to breathe better, i go with anoro. ♪ go your own way copd tries to say, "go this way." i say, "i'll go my own way, with anoro." ♪ go your own way once-daily anoro contains two medicines called bronchodilators that work together to significantly improve lung function all day and all night. anoro is not for asthma. it contains a type of medicine that increases risk of death in people with asthma. the risk is unknown in copd. anoro won't replace rescue inhalers for sudden symptoms and should not be used more than once a day. tell your doctor if you have a heart condition, high blood pressure, glaucoma, prostate, bladder, or urinary problems. these may worsen with anoro. call your doctor if you have worsened breathing, chest pain, mouth or tongue swelling, problems urinating, vision changes, or eye pain while taking anoro. ask your doctor about anoro.
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after deliberating for approximately 3 and 1/2 hours, the jury in jim huden's murder trial reached a verdict. bailiff: please rise. josh mankiewicz: from the moment the jurors began filing in, jim huden seemed to know the news would not be good.
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in a whisper, he murmured-- god, i'm done. josh mankiewicz: --i'm done. the rest of the proceeding, for jim huden at least, seemed to be a formality. judge: we, the jury, find the defendant, james edward huden, guilty of the crime of murder in the first degree, as charged. josh mankiewicz: huden would later be sentenced to 80 years in prison. but he had scarcely been led from the courtroom before prosecutor greg banks turned his attention to a far more difficult case-- the one against jim huden's alleged accomplice, peggy thomas. charged with murder, there was only one piece of physical evidence tying peggy to the killing of russel douglas. it was that single fingerprint of hers on a page in the gun owner's manual. the case against jim was pretty strong. oh, yeah. but the case against peggy was pretty weak. it was much more circumstantial. josh mankiewicz: it was jean huden, the wronged wife, who stood to be the strongest
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witness against peggy thomas. according to jean, peggy had told her everything that time jean visited her out in vegas. the plan was peggy had talked to russel about-- she had presents for brenna and the kids, and she had talked russel into going out to the island to meet with them, to take pass these presents on. josh mankiewicz: not only that, but jean says peggy told her that after dropping off jim at the ambush location, peggy drove off to create an alibi. they made a point of her driving jim's sebring, the red car, to buy a pack of cigarettes and make sure and get a receipt with the date and time on it so it would prove that she wasn't there at the time. then she came back, picked him up. they got rid of his clothes in a dumpster somewhere, and they tried to cover their tracks as best they could. josh mankiewicz: a powerful story, but the prosecutor knew that putting jean huden on the stand
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was risky. in the years after jim fled to mexico, jean huden got into trouble with the law over drugs and check forgery. greg banks: i've talked to jean a lot, and i do believe her. but i also know what happens in a courtroom. and unfortunately, she is not as pure as the driven snow when it comes to what the defense attorney is going to be able to do with her. peggy was clearly on the fence as to whether or not to accept the deal or go to trial. what, she thought, if i just keep my mouth shut, it's worked all this way, i'm going to skate? that would be my assessment. bailiff: please rise. josh mankiewicz: on january 11, 2013, peggy thomas, who'd been under house arrest, entered an island county court room for another round of pretrial motions, and encountered a familiar face. this time, her former lover, jim huden took the stand to answer the one burning question that was no doubt keeping both the prosecutor and the defense
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counsel from sleeping at night. greg banks: mr. huden, and if you were subpoenaed to-- josh mankiewicz: would jim huden agree to testify at peggy's trial? no, i assert my fifth amendment rights. josh mankiewicz: though the two former lovers never seemed to make direct eye contact that day, jim huden made it clear that, he at least, was willing to carry their shared secrets to the grave. ok, i'll do the fifth amendment thing, here. josh mankiewicz: perhaps jim huden's gaunt appearance frightened peggy. maybe the prospect of having her wardrobe, as well, reduced to basic orange, had a sobering effect. but two weeks later, just days before her trial was to begin, peggy thomas was back in court. judge: cause number 11-1-109-- josh mankiewicz: this time, it was to plead guilty to a reduced charge. lawyer: we're here for a change of plea to an amended charge, rendering criminal assistance in the first degree with a special allegation that the defendant was
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armed with a firearm. josh mankiewicz: in pleading guilty to criminal assistance, peggy thomas was basically admitting to being an accessory after the fact. judge: miss thomas, do you make this plea freely and voluntarily? i do. if you'd gone to trial against peggy thomas, do you think you would have won? uh-- 'cause if you say yes, my next question is, then why didn't you? my take on it was we had, maybe, a 50/50 chance of guilty versus not guilty. and so it was a roll of the dice. judge: nothing less than the maximum penalty should be imposed in this case. josh mankiewicz: a few weeks later, with the family of russel douglas present, peggy thomas was sentenced to four years in prison. conspicuously absent, however, was russell's widow, brenna. i would still love to see her come forward and say, look, i really did make a mistake. i've got to own up to this, that i really did set it in motion, but i didn't mean to. i don't know that's going to happen. josh mankiewicz: though neither brenna douglas nor her attorney
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responded to "dateline"'s requests for a statement, in a lawsuit filed against an insurance company to collect on one of her late husband's life insurance policies, brenna said-- peggy thomas served her time and was released from jail in august of 2016. jim huden has chosen to keep his secrets to himself while he remains incarcerated. and as for jean, the woman whose love took her down that dangerous path, she pondered what might have compelled jim's decision to remain silent. jean huden: well, for someone who had managed to get himself 80 years because he refused to testify against peggy or brenna or anyone-- i mean, he was just-- i can't believe that he may have seen the light of day. does he think he was doing her a favor one last time? i just don't get it. i really don't get it.
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he must've really loved her more than-- than i even imagined, or he's still trying to prove what a man he was, or thinks he is. that's all for now. i'm lester holt. thanks for joining us. [theme music] a deadly crash on

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