Most teenagers fight with their parents, and during a heated argument, some kids might even scream, ?I hate you? at their mother or father, but such disagreements signal normal growing pains. Few teens order a hit on a parent, simply because the child feels the parent is too strict.
Matricide, the killing of one?s mother, is uncommon, and matricide by a girl under the age of 18 is extremely rare. Of the few cases in recent history where a girl under the age of 18 killed her mother, the offender either had been abused by her mother, or the killer exhibited extremely antisocial behavior. Despite what she told her friends, Rachelle Waterman was neither abused nor antisocial. She appeared to be a normal, high-achieving junior in high school. Rachelle sang in the school choir and played on the volleyball team. Residents of Craig, Alaska adored Rachelle?s mother, Lauri, who was active in her church, worked as a teacher?s aide, and was always the first to volunteer to help with any community function. Rachelle?s father, Carl ?Doc? Waterman, was a well-liked, successful real estate agent in Craig.
Not only was Lauri Waterman an unlikely murder victim, but Craig, Alaska seems like the last place such a crime would occur. Craig, with a population of 1500 residents, is the largest town on Prince of Wales Island in Southeastern Alaska. Craig is a small, close-knit community in an idyllic setting, but like every other town on the planet, Craig is not immune to violent crime. In 1982, the worst mass murder in recent history in Alaska occurred on the FV Investor, a 58-ft. commercial fishing boat tied to the dock in Craig. The massacre still haunts the residents of Craig because no one was ever convicted of the crime, and now again in 2004, a second horrible murder impacted this small town.
On Sunday, November 14th, 2004, Alaska State Trooper Bob Claus received a call from a deer hunter who was hunting in a remote area on Prince of Wales Island. The hunter said he noticed smoke on the side of a cliff, and since he knew there were no homes or cabins in the area, he investigated the cause of the smoke and found a van that apparently had tumbled off the road and was pinned against a log. The van was partially burned, and when the hunter peered through a broken window, he saw a skull resting beside a blackened human torso on the back seat of the van. The body was so badly burned, he could not tell if it was a man, woman, or child.
When Trooper Claus reached the van, he knew this was a murder scene. How else could you explain a charred corpse in the back seat of a vehicle? He immediately called his supervising lieutenant in Ketchikan and requested help with the investigation of a likely homicide. He needed a crime scene technician, a fire investigator, and a homicide investigator. These specialists would arrive the following morning, so in the meantime, Claus and a wildlife trooper guarded the crime scene, and Claus called the police in Craig and asked them to notify him if anyone on the island was reported missing.
At 9:45 pm, the Craig Police Department dispatcher called Claus to inform him real estate broker Doc Waterman had just reported his 40-year-old wife, Lauri, and her purple minivan missing. Lauri wasn?t home when Doc returned at 3:30 pm from a weekend business trip to Juneau, and his concern deepened with every passing hour Lauri did not return. When she still was not home by night, he decided to call the police. The news stunned Claus. Was Lauri Waterman the burned corpse in the van? The Waterman and Claus families were friends, and Waterman?s daughter, Rachelle, and her older brother, Geoffrey, had attended elementary school with Claus? two daughters. Claus? wife was a schoolteacher in Craig, Lauri Waterman worked as a teacher?s aide, and Doc Waterman was the president of the school board.
Claus called Doc Waterman, and Doc explained he was in Juneau for the weekend at a Girl Scout council meeting, and Rachelle spent the weekend in Anchorage at a volleyball tournament. Since Geoffrey was away at college, Lauri spent the weekend alone at their house. Doc said he tried to call his wife several times on Sunday, but she never answered the phone. He and Rachelle both returned to Craig at nearly the same time, and when they arrived home, Lauri and her van were missing from their home.
Since Doc did not see Lauri?s purse where she usually kept it, he assumed she must be running errands and would be home soon. The previous night, Lauri volunteered to help with the chamber of commerce dinner, and Doc thought she now might be assisting with the clean-up from the event.
In the kitchen of their house, Doc found an empty wine bottle on the counter, and since Lauri rarely ever drank alcohol, he found the presence of the wine bottle curious. In the master bedroom, Doc noticed the bed was unmade, and Lauri always made the bed first thing in the morning. In the bathroom, he found his wife?s wedding ring set, and he said while she often took off her rings before going to bed, she always wore them when she left the house. Still, Doc was not too worried about his wife, and he believed when she returned home, she would be able to explain her unusual behavior. As the hours passed and she did not return, though, his concern turned to fear and dread. Doc called friends and neighbors to ask about Lauri, and they told him they saw Lauri on Saturday night at the chamber of commerce dinner, but no one remembered seeing her after she left the event.
Trooper Claus knew the corpse in the burned-out van must be Lauri Waterman. There were not many minivans on Prince of Wales Island, and no one else had been reported missing, but since neither the remains nor the van had been officially identified, Claus refrained from telling Doc Waterman about the wreckage. As Claus guarded the van while he waited for the other investigators to arrive, he wondered who would want to kill sweet Lauri Waterman. In most investigations, the husband is the first suspect, but Doc Waterman was 220 miles away in Juneau for the weekend. Lauri?s children were also both gone that weekend. Her son, Geoffrey, attended college in Washington State, and her daughter, Rachelle, was at a volleyball tournament in Anchorage over the weekend. Who, on their sparsely populated island, would want to kill Lauri Waterman?
Monday morning, homicide investigator Sergeant Randy McPherron, a deputy fire marshal, and a crime scene tech arrived at the scene of the homicide. The fire marshal determined the blaze started in the back seat of the van, and most of the flames stayed inside the van. The thorax, the pelvic girdle, the leg bones above the knees, and the large arm bones were all that remained of the body. The skull was also intact but very brittle due to the high temperature of the fire followed by rapid cooling from the near-freezing ambient temperature. Investigators found several teeth in the ashes of the van. The fire marshal noted the scent of gasoline in the rock and soil samples he collected to be analyzed.
Sergeant McPherron found the VIN (vehicle identification number) tag in the wreckage. Claus called the DMV and confirmed the van was registered to Carl and Lauri Waterman. Chief See with the Craig Police Department volunteered to deliver the bad news to Doc Waterman.
On the morning of Monday, November 15th, Rachelle Waterman went to school rather than stay home and worry about her missing mother. Rachelle was a good student and a talented singer and athlete. She was popular with her peers, but over the past year, she had changed. She began wearing all black clothes and polished her nails black. She still spent time with her girlfriends at school, but over the past summer she took a job at a computer store and started hanging out with a new circle of friends, including two men in their twenties. These friends shared an interest in video games and the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Even after the computer store went out of business, Rachelle continued to spend time with the D&D crowd.
Rachelle?s behavior at school on Monday morning seemed understandably odd for a teenage girl whose mother was missing. Students reported that Rachelle remained quiet and sullen for most of the day, but then she casually asked one of her friends if she had seen her mother. All the kids had heard about the burned-out van and knew the corpse found in the back was probably Rachelle?s mother. Rachelle told at least one friend she feared her mother died in a drunk-driving accident, citing as evidence the empty wine bottle Rachelle and her father found when they returned home on Sunday. When several friends gave her a sympathy card for the loss of her mother, Rachelle lost control. The secretary of the high school called Don Pierce, a friend and neighbor of the Watermans and a special-education teacher. Don came to the office and told Rachelle he wanted to take her home, but Rachelle said she could not leave with him because her friend, Jason Arrant, was coming to the school to be with her.
Pierce knew Jason Arrant was one of Rachelle?s friends from the computer store. Jason was a heavy-set man in his mid-twenties who worked as a janitor at the school in Klawock, another town on the island. Jason had a reputation as a washout who still lived with his parents and spent his time playing video games, and Pierce knew Lauri Waterman was not happy when Rachelle started spending time with Jason.
When Jason arrived at the school, he told Pierce he would take care of Rachelle, but Pierce said Police Chief See wanted to talk to Rachelle and her father at her home, and he would drive her to her house. As Pierce and Rachelle walked out of the school, Jason ran after them, yelling at Pierce, but Pierce ignored him. Jason followed Pierce and Rachelle to the Waterman home and tried to follow Rachelle into the house, but when Chief See arrived, he told Jason to leave, and Jason finally complied.
Chief See wasted no time breaking the news to Doc and Rachelle, telling them the burned-out vehicle was Lauri?s van. He explained they had not identified the remains yet, but he thought Lauri was probably dead. Experts would compare Lauri?s dental records to the teeth found in the van to confirm the identification.
Doc Waterman listened calmly to what Chief See said and then asked the Police Chief to follow him upstairs. Doc pointed out blood on the bed sheets in the master bedroom and showed See the items he found tangled in the blankets, including what looked to See like the tip of a finger of a rubber glove and a five-inch-long fiber from a rope. Chief See suddenly realized the house was a crime scene, and he told Doc and Rachelle they would have to temporarily move out of the house until crime scene techs could comb the premises. Doc and Rachelle packed some clothes and went to stay next door at the home of Don and Lorraine Pierce.
Investigators believed Lauri Waterman was abducted from her home sometime after 10:00 pm Saturday night when she left the chamber of commerce dinner and before early Sunday morning when Doc tried to phone her at home. The blood on the sheets, the rubber glove tip, and the piece of rope all suggested an intruder had entered the house in the middle of the night when Lauri was asleep. The intruder either murdered Lauri in the house or abducted her and killed her later. Rachelle told the police she last spoke to her mother on the telephone around 4:00 pm on Saturday. She said she and her mother had a good conversation and her mother seemed happy. Rachelle admitted she sometimes argued with her mother and said her mom did not like her hanging out with the much older Jason Arrant.
A forensic odonatologist in Anchorage compared the jaw and teeth found in the van to dental X-rays of Lauri Waterman?s teeth and conclusively identified the corpse as Lauri Waterman.
Trooper Bob Claus knew the Waterman family well, and he knew Lauri had been unhappy when Rachelle began dating Jason Arrant. During the summer, Rachelle hung out with Jason at the computer store where she worked. Jason was best friends with her boss, Brian Radel, and Jason spent much of his time at the computer store playing video games. From the beginning of the investigation, Claus suspected Arrant was somehow involved in the murder of Lauri Waterman. Rachelle began dating Jason during the summer, but once school started, they were rarely seen together, and many around town assumed Rachelle had come to her senses and had broken up with the older man. Both Jason and his friend, Brian Radel, were big men. At the time of Lauri Waterman?s murder, Brian stood 6-foot-5-inches tall and weighed 280 lbs., and Jason also weighed well over 200 lbs. When Trooper Claus began to suspect Jason might be involved in Lauri?s murder, he wondered if Jason?s buddy, Brian, also participated in the crime. The two big men easily could have subdued and abducted the much smaller Lauri Waterman.
Troopers questioned Jason Arrant and Brian Radel. Jason told them he and Rachelle dated for a while, but they broke up because Rachelle?s parents were not happy about their relationship. Jason and Brian both claimed they were together at Brian?s house drinking all night on Saturday, November 13th when someone abducted and murdered Lauri Waterman.
At 7:30 pm on November 17th, Sergeant Randy McPherron, and Troopers Bob Claus and Dane Gilmore arrived at the Waterman house to again interview Doc and Rachelle. McPherron told Doc he would like for Dane to stay at the house to interview Doc while he and Claus took Rachelle to the police station for an interview. Doc readily gave McPherron permission to talk to Rachelle without his presence, and Rachelle went willingly with the troopers to the police station. Since Rachelle was 16 years old, the troopers did not technically need her father?s permission to interview her, but McPherron hoped that by asking her father for consent, he would ease Doc?s mind and keep him from calling a lawyer to accompany Rachelle to the station.
Once the officers reached police headquarters, they took Rachelle to an interrogation room and videotaped her interview. McPherron began by asking Rachelle about her mom, and the easy questions seemed to relax Rachelle. McPherron asked Rachelle about her relationship with Jason Arrant, but she said they were only friends. She said her mother did not like her hanging out with Jason, and she agreed with her mother and began spending less time with him. McPherron suspected Rachelle was being less than truthful with him about her relationships with her mother and Jason, but he moved on to another topic.
Awhile later, McPherron reminded Rachelle of her rights and said she could end the interview at any point. He then told Rachelle he thought Jason Arrant might be responsible for her mother?s death, and he again asked Rachelle about her relationship with Jason and told her he needed to know the details of their relationship. They asked her if she ever had sex with Jason Arrant or Brian Radel. She said she had done nothing more than kiss Jason on the cheek. McPherron lied to Rachelle and told her both Jason and Brian claimed they had sex with her. Rachelle initially denied the claims, but as the questioning grew more intense, she finally admitted to having sex with Jason several times during the summer and once with Brian Radel the previous spring.
McPherron then asked Rachelle if she ever said anything to Jason or Brian about fights she had with her mother. She said she might have mentioned being mad at her mother a few times, and she told Jason her mother sometimes hit her, but she claimed she never told Jason or Brian anything to make them want to kill her mother, and she did not believe either man would want to harm her mom. As McPherron and Claus pressed her, Rachelle finally admitted she and her mother frequently argued about her clothes, her choice in boyfriends, and her recent interest in Wicca, a religion some believe to be related to witchcraft. Rachelle said her mother hit her legs with a baseball bat and once tried to push Rachelle down the stairs. Rachelle also claimed her mother threatened her with a knife. Rachelle confessed she reported these incidents to Jason Arrant and Brian Radel.
McPherron and Claus believed Rachelle was trying to portray herself as the innocent victim of an abusive mother. Rachelle seemed to suggest that if Arrant and Radel killed her mother to protect Rachelle from more beatings, the murder was their idea, and she had nothing to do with it. The troopers did not believe in Rachelle?s innocence. They thought she used sex to manipulate the older men into killing her mother for her.
The troopers interviewed Rachelle?s other friends, including past boyfriends. Some said Rachelle also told them her mother abused her, but none believed Rachelle?s claims and said Rachelle was prone to exaggeration. Doc Waterman flatly denied that Lauri abused Rachelle. He said they sometimes argued, but Lauri never got physical.
The murder of Lauri Waterman made national news when reporters discovered Rachelle had been blogging about her life for the past two years. In 2004, blogging was in its infancy, and although teenagers around the world embraced the idea of writing an online journal to share their thoughts, habits, and lives with total strangers, most parents remained unaware of what their children did on their computers. The Waterman case and Rachelle?s blog alerted the media, and this small-town murder case spawned waves which spread far beyond the shores of Prince of Wales Island.
Rachelle Waterman loved to blog and did not censor her feelings about her family or her town. She titled her blog, ?My Crappy Life,? and referred to Craig as Hell, Alaska. She candidly discussed sex, used profanity, described arguments with her parents, and her disdain for her community. Her last entry in the blog on Wednesday, November 18th, 2004 shocked not only Craig, Alaska but the entire country and caused many residents in Craig to suspect Rachelle had ordered her mother?s murder.
?Just to let everyone know, my mother was murdered. I won?t have computer access until the weekend or so because the police took my computer to go through the hard drive. I thank everyone for their thoughts and e-mails, I hope to talk to you when I get my computer back.?
Five thousand people commented on Rachelle?s post, and people in Craig were stunned when the blog came to their attention. Rachelle casually mentioned her mother?s murder as the reason why she would not have access to her computer for the next few days.
Sergeant McPherron soon cracked Jason Arrant. In his third interview, Jason said his friend, Brian Radel, killed Lauri Waterman, but Jason insisted he knew nothing about the murder until it was over. Jason said Rachelle was not involved in the murder of her mother. When McPherron and Claus interviewed Jason again, later the same night, he admitted he was part of the murder plot. Rachelle told Jason her mother was abusing her, and Rachelle also mentioned she and her dad would be out of town for the weekend. Jason said he was in love with Rachelle and couldn?t bear to think of her enduring more abuse. He said the opportunity presented itself, and he asked his friend, Brian, to murder Lauri Waterman. Brian agreed to do the murder because he did not think Jason had what it took to kill another human being.
When investigators arrested Brian Radel, he told McPherron and Claus he planned to plead guilty and was willing to make a full statement on video, explaining in detail how he kidnapped and killed Lauri Waterman. Brian said he broke into the Waterman?s garage at 12:30 am on Sunday, November 14th. He entered the house and climbed the stairs to the top level where he saw Lauri asleep in the master bedroom. He hovered outside her bedroom until 3:00 am and then decided to act. He approached the bed, put a cloth over Lauri?s mouth and pinned her to the bed. He duct-taped the cloth to her mouth and made Lauri change from her nightgown into street clothes.
Radel said his original plan was to make Lauri?s death look like a drunk driving accident, so he took her downstairs, opened a bottle of wine and told her to drink the entire bottle. Lauri meekly complied. He then took the keys to Lauri?s minivan from her purse and told her to lie on the back seat of the van. He bound her hands and feet so she could not move and then drove for an hour to a secluded area of the island. He took Lauri out of the van and set her down on the gravel on her knees. He hoped to break her neck, put her back in the van and send the van over the edge of the cliff, making it look as if she broke her neck in the crash. He said he tried to break her neck with his bare hands, but although he heard a crack, she was still breathing. Next, he pummeled her neck with a flashlight, but still, she did not die, so he covered her mouth with a cloth and pinched her nose until she stopped breathing.
Brian said during the assault, Lauri never resisted or screamed; she just kept repeating the words, ?Can I ask you a question?? Brian asked her what the question was, but she just repeated, ?Can I ask you a question?? Once she was dead, Brian put Lauri back in the vehicle, drove the minivan to the edge of a cliff, doused Lauri and the vehicle with gasoline, and set it on fire. The minivan slid part way down the embankment. Brian said Jason was not with him until at the very end when he set the van on fire. He claimed Jason took no part in the murder and said Rachelle was unaware of the murder plan. McPherron and Claus did not believe Brian Radel when he said Jason and Rachelle were not involved in the murder. They thought Brian was trying to protect his friends.
McPherron and Claus interviewed Jason again and convinced him Rachelle lied to him about being abused. McPherron told Jason he believed Rachelle asked him to kill her mother, and he enlisted Brian Radel?s help. Jason finally caved and admitted Rachelle told him she wanted her mother dead. He said she called him before she left for Anchorage to go to the volleyball tournament and asked Jason if he and Brian were all set. She called Jason again when she arrived home and found her mother missing, and he said he told her it was done.
Jason told McPherron and Claus that he and Brian tried to kill Lauri one other time. Their plan then was to gun down Lauri after she dropped off Rachelle for volleyball practice, but when Brian experienced problems with his gun, they were forced to abort the plan. After the plan failed, Jason said he e-mailed Rachelle and told her they had to cancel the hunting trip but promised they would try again.
Jason confessed he lied when he claimed he met up with Brian after Lauri was dead. He now said he joined Brian when Lauri was still bound and in the back of the van. Jason repeated Brian?s sickening story of Lauri?s murder, and Jason said at one point, he told Lauri she would never hurt Rachelle again.
Investigators knew the case against Rachelle Waterman was weak, so they decided to interview her one more time. Rachelle willingly accompanied McPherron and Sergeant Habib to the police station. McPherron read Rachelle her Miranda rights and asked Rachelle if she understood her rights and knew she could have her father present for the questioning. Rachelle said she wanted to talk to the investigators without her father or lawyer present.
McPherron told Rachelle both Jason and Brian admitted to killing her mother, and he said both men implicated her in the plot. This last statement was not true; Jason said Rachelle asked him to kill her mother, but Brian Radel steadfastly maintained Rachelle had nothing to do with the plan. McPherron and Habib went at Rachelle hard for two-and-one-half hours, and finally, she admitted she asked the two men to kill her mother, but she said they told her nothing about the plot. She suspected the murder would happen when she was at the state volleyball tournament, and her father was in Juneau, but neither Jason nor Brian shared any details of their plan with her.
Investigators arrested Rachelle Waterman, and her bail was set at $150,000. Since her father could not raise the money, Rachelle stayed in prison until her trial. Jason Arrant and Brian Radel also remained incarcerated.
On Wednesday, June 8th, 2005, Brian Radel pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He was sentenced to a maximum of 99 years in prison, but with time off for good behavior, he could be released in thirty-three years. Jason also pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, but since he did not commit the actual murder of Lauri Waterman, his sentence was capped at fifty years, making him eligible for parole in sixteen years.
Due to the notoriety of the Lauri Waterman murder case, the judge decided a fair trial for Rachelle could not be held in either Craig or nearby Ketchikan, and the trial was moved to Juneau. Jury selection began on Monday, January 23rd, 2006. Both Brian Radel and Jason Arrant testified at Rachelle?s trial. Brian stated Jason asked him to kill Lauri, and while Brian acknowledged Rachelle often complained about her mother abusing her, he stated she never asked him to kill her mother.
Jason testified Rachelle told him she wanted her mother dead, and he said the two of them talked about various murder plots. He said when she knew she would be in Anchorage and her father would be in Juneau for the weekend, she called Jason and told him it would be a good weekend to carry out the plan. When Rachelle called Jason after she returned home from Anchorage and found her mother and the minivan missing, Jason said Rachelle was disappointed to hear they destroyed the minivan because now she would not be able to inherit it. Jason said he asked Rachelle to wipe down the hand railing on the stairs and the doorknobs in her house in case Brian missed anything, and Rachelle agreed to do it.
Rachelle?s defense attorney hammered McPherron for his tough interrogation of a 16-year-old girl, and then a psychologist hired by the defense testified Rachelle was immature for her age and did not fully understand her Miranda rights. The psychologist said McPherron intimidated Rachelle, and she was afraid to ask for her father. This characterization of Rachelle as a naive child did not match the smart-mouthed, intelligent, self-assured, young woman McPherron remembered questioning. Rachelle?s attorney portrayed her has a normal teenager who complained to her friends about her mom. In his closing statement, her attorney stated Rachelle loved her mother and did not want her dead. He maintained the real villain was Jason Arrant. He said Jason was angry because Lauri Waterman did not want her daughter to date him, so Jason convinced his friend, Brian, to murder Lauri. Rachelle Waterman chose not to testify.
On Tuesday, February 14, 2006, the jury in the Rachelle Waterman case sent a note to the judge saying they could not reach a unanimous verdict, and the judge was forced to declare a mistrial. Ten jurors believed Rachelle was not guilty, while two believed she was guilty. Rachelle was released on reduced bail.
On January 24, 2011, Rachelle Waterman was retried for the murder of her mother. In the intervening years, she attended college in Florida, as far away from Craig, the town she once dubbed ?Hell, Alaska,? as she could get. The second trial took place in Anchorage. This time, the jury returned a unanimous verdict. Rachelle was acquitted of murder but found guilty of criminally negligent homicide. The jury determined Rachelle was so negligent and deviated so far from what a reasonable person would have done, she caused her mother?s murder. Rachelle was sentenced to three years in prison and is now a free woman.
Fleeman, Michael. 2011. Love You Madly: The True Story of a Small-town Girl, the Young Men She Seduced, and the Murder of her Mother. St. Martin?s True Crime.
Larson, John. Teen Blogger Murder Trial. How could Rachelle Waterman?s fantasies spiral into her mom?s murder? Dateline. NBC. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/13962555/ns/dateline_nbc/t/teen-blogger-murder-trial/#.XmQ-QEBFweE
Demer, Lisa. 2011. Convicted killer testifies at Waterman trial. Anchorage Daily News. https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/article/convicted-killer-testifies-waterman-trial/2011/01/27/
Kheiry, Leila. 2015. Alaska Court of Appeals Denies Rachelle Waterman Appeal. Alaska Public Media. https://www.alaskapublic.org/2015/02/06/supreme-court-denies-rachelle-waterman-appeal/
American teenage girl charged with murder of her mother. 2004. Wikinews. https://en.wikinews.org/wiki/American_teenage_girl_charged_with_murder_of_her_mother