Christopher Vaughn and Kimberly Phillips are married in St. Charles, Missouri, where they will start their young family.
December 15, 1994
Their first child, Abigayle Elizabeth Vaughn is born.
March 12, 1996
Less than two years later, Abigayle’s sister, Cassandra Ellen Vaughn is born
April 19, 1999
The last of the Vaughn Children- Blake Phillip Vaughn- is born.
Christopher and Kimberly Vaughn made the move from their home in St Charles to a brand new home in Oswego, Illinois with their three children. They quickly became a valued part of their new community. Neighbors would later say that they were a loving family that would do anything for their kids. Kimberly volunteered at the subdivision’s clubhouse and had just received a degree in criminal justice administration.
8 year-old Blake had just finished the second grade. He loved baseball and PlayStation.
11 year-old Cassandra was heading into sixth grade and had just started playing clarinet.
12 year-old Abigayle had just finished sixth grade. She loved to draw and had just joined a traveling soccer team. The children all rode their bikes daily through the neighborhood with their new friends.
Christopher Vaughn owned a computer company that specialized in computer forensics, including missing persons investigations and cyber-crime prevention. He was quiet, but loved yard work and was well-liked. The Vaughns were so much the picture of an idyllic family that they were even featured in a Chicago Sun-Times real estate article, highlighting their new construction home and the child-friendly Oswego neighborhood.
Nobody could have foreseen the horror that would soon shatter the perfect veneer of the Vaughn Family portrait.
June 14, 2007
After announcing a surprise family trip to a water park in the state capitol, Springfield IL, Christopher Vaughn and his family set out on interstate 55. The 175 mile trip would have taken about three hours, but the family never reached their destination.
Police received a 911 call from a passer-by that found a wounded man wandering he interstate’s frontage road near Bluff Road in Channahon Township, just 22 miles south of Oswego. He was supposedly muttering the words “killed the kids” repeatedly.
The man was Christopher Vaughn. He had been shot in the leg.
When police arrived, they were led to a service entrance that was shrouded by trees. There they found the Vaughn’s 2004 red Ford Expedition. Inside the vehicle were the bodies of 34-year-old Kimberly and her three children. All four had been shot to death. The children had been shot multiple times, while Kimberly had a single gunshot wound under her chin.
A handgun was found at the scene, but answers were slow in coming. It was initially assumed to be a domestic incidence according to Channahon Mayor Joe Cook. While the crime scene was secured and inspected, Christopher was treated at nearby Joliet hospital.
At the hospital, he told police that Kimberly had been feeling sick, so he pulled off onto the frontage road. He said as he was outside of the vehicle adjusting the luggage, he noticed his leg was bleeding. He didn’t remember anything else and didn’t hear any gunshots. Christopher reportedly asked hospital attendants if his wife had been notified he was there, as she quote unquote gets upset when she doesn’t know where I am.
When asked about the gun, Christopher said that he hadn’t placed it in the vehicle. Friends and relatives of Kimberly were adamant that she was very anti-gun, and even refused to allow Christopher to keep a gun in their house.
Christopher was released from the hospital and voluntarily stayed with Police for questioning.
When asked by reporters if Kimberly Vaughn had been murdered, authorities refused to say who they suspected fired the gun. Rumors swirled that Kimberly had killed her children and shot her husband before turning the gun on herself.
Late that night, states attorneys and state police investigators met at state police headquarters. They were being tight-lipped, but it seemed they were close to filing charges in the case.
Very few details of the case were initially released, leaving reporters and the family’s loved ones to speculate.
State police covered all bases by deploying canines and aircraft to search the area. They spoke to a woman who lived less than half a mile from where the bodies were found. She said she had heard several “loud cracking sounds” around 10:00PM on June 13th– the night before the killings were believed to have taken place. They were so loud that she got out of bed and looked out her window, but didn’t see anything. When speaking to police, she said she believed the cracking sounds were the gun shots that killed Kimberly Vaughn and her children.
It soon became apparent that the details of Christopher Vaughn’s story weren’t adding up.
Jun 15, 2007
Christopher was released from Police Custody.
Sources told a local news channel that Vaughn “initially claimed to be a victim of a drive-by shooting, but then shifted the blame to his wife.” Investigators refused to confirm any of the rumors. Instead, they told the public that they had no grounds to charge anyone at this point, but that could soon change.
Kimberly’s mother, Susan Phillips talked to her son-in-law for the first time since the shootings. They spoke for two minutes. Susan said “He sounded groggy and said, ‘I don’t know what to say,’ and I said, ‘I don’t know what to say, either.’ ” – “She said she thought Kimberly and the children “should be brought home” to the St. Charles area for a funeral and burial, and he agreed. She gave him the name of a funeral home. That was the end of the conversation.
At this point, there were more questions than answers. Police revealed that there were cell phones found at the scene of the murders. Why didn’t Christopher use one of them to call 911 for help?
Christopher had a firearm owner’s identification card while Kimberly did not. Had Kimberly ever even fired a gun before? Why would she use Christopher’s gun to kill her family? Why did she spare her husband?
Why had the family driven so far off the interstate to fix whatever problem they were having?
Answers slowly started to be revealed.
Christopher now told investigators that his wife began firing the handgun when he got back into the SUV after securing the luggage. When he was shot in the thigh, he fled the immediate area to seek help. When he returned, he saw that his wife and children had all been shot and were dead. His story had changed slightly from the account he gave the day before.
Gunshot residue tests were run, as were tests to determine the angle and proximity of the shots that killed the Vaughns. Evidence was sent to the state crime lab in Joliet Illinois.
June 16, 2007
Christopher’s parents, Pierre and Gail Vaughn, drove in from Missouri to visit with him at a hotel. According to Christopher’s aunt, they got him something to eat and tended to his gunshot wounds.
His aunt said “He’s suffering from these wounds, and he’s in a state of shock. He’s quiet. He’s just hurting. He’s devastated. He didn’t want to go to his home.”
Jun 20, 2007
Investigators searched the Vaughn home and removed three computer hard drives, two printers and numerous other computer components along with TV and cable equipment, including a TiVo- a device used to digitally record television programs.
This may seem odd, but there was a reason:
Police had noted an uncanny similarity between the Vaughn murders and an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit that aired just a month previous. The TV show featured the wife and children of a man leading a double life being gunned down. The man survived and blamed his wife for the crime, but was later charged for the murder himself. Investigators tried to determine whether any of the family members had watched this particular episode.
The bodies of Kimberly Vaughn and the three children were transported to St Charles, Missouri, in preparation for a wake. Christopher Vaughn was there to help prepare for the weekend funerals.
Stories surfaced of Christopher possibly having an affair shortly before the murders.
In fact, it was said that Vaughn had actually confessed to his wife that he had an affair while on an out-of-town business trip.
Jun 22, 2007
Hundreds of people gathered in the suburbs of St. Louis to remember Kimberly and her three children. Christopher Vaughn was among the mourners. He arrived under heavy security at the visitation, where he stayed for six hours, speaking to fellow attendees. Police were escorting Vaughn for two reasons. To monitor his activity, and protect him from someone who might try to take the law into their own hands. Many people believed Christopher killed his family. Everyone who knew the family was positive that Kimberly could never have hurt her children. And Christopher’s story was changing yet again. The Chicago Tribune had reported that day that Vaughn was now telling the police he did not remember what happened.
June 23, 2007
After an intensive weeklong investigation, 32-year-old Christopher Vaughn was arrested in St. Charles as he arrived at the funeral home where services for his wife and children were to be held. He was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder.
Authorities had built the case against Vaughn from many interviews and forensic evidence as well as computer and phone records.
Vaughn was held in Missouri on a 1 million dollar cash bond and would be held without bond once he was extradited to Illinois. He was potentially facing a death sentence if convicted.
Kimberly Vaughn’s family asked for privacy, but released this statement:
“We are heartened that police worked so quickly. We are glad her name has been cleared for any responsibility for the death of her children. We are very sorry for Chris, both for the legal process he faces and for the sense of guilt he’s going to feel when he realizes what he’s done to destroy these four innocent lives.”
July 5, 2007
Vaughn was being held at Will County Jail in Joliet IL, where he was on suicide watch.
Prosecutors focused their case from eight first-degree murder counts to four. The dropped charges alleged that he opened fire knowing he would likely cause death or great bodily harm. The four counts that were now being pursued alleged that he shot his family with intent to kill.
Jul 27, 2007
Christopher Vaughn pleaded not guilty
Dec 21, 2007
Documents were revealed that money may have been the motive for the murders.
Christopher Vaughn stood to gain $1 million from Kimberly’s life insurance policies.
More than five years after the murders, the case against Christopher Vaughn finally went to trial.
While Vaughn maintained his innocence, his defense seemed to crumble as details from Testimony emerged.
Mark Daniels owned a gun store and indoor shooting range in Plainfield IL. Daniels testified that Christopher Vaughn signed into the range on June 6, 2007, at 10:25 a.m., and again on June 13, 2007, at 5:30 p.m- the night before the murders.
Nicole Fundell, an Illinois State Police forensic scientist, testified that she was a specialist in firearms, tool marks, and gunshot range determination. She examined Vaughn’s Taurus 9-millimeter handgun, fired cartridges, and fired projectiles in the instant case.
There were also four bullet holes in Vaughn’s jacket. One was above the right front pocket, one was in the back of the jacket, and two were in the left wrist area. Fundell determined that these holes were consistent with the passage of a single bullet made when the jacket had been wrapped or layered around the gun before it was fired.
The State then called Stephen Willott. Willott lived near Ottawa, Ontario Canada and met Vaughn on a website in 2006. He and Vaughn had exchanged a long series of e-mails regarding living in the woods, survival, and camping. Willott read a number of those e-mails to the jury. They indicated that Vaughn was frustrated with his life and wanted to permanently live in the Canadian wilderness. Vaughn had taken scouting trips to the Yukon Territories in May 2007 to find a suitable place to reside.
Vaughn had even propositioned Willot to help fake Vaughn’s death so Kimberly could get the insurance proceeds. Willott was unwilling to help Vaughn with this plan. One e-mail, dated May 23, 2007 made mention of a woman named Maya, who Vaughn suggested he would like to bring along on his next scouting trip.
The woman in question was named Maya Drake, an entertainer at a gentlemen’s club. She testified that Vaughn visited the club about four or five times in 2007. During those visits, Vaughn informed her that he wanted to leave his wife and live in the woods in Canada.
Drake testified that Vaughn told her that he was going to leave his wife everything, that she was going to get what she deserved, and she was not going to see it coming.
Chrystal Miller, an entertainer at a different gentlemen’s club, testified that Vaughn visited the club in June 2007, and made a strange comment about knowing what was going to happen in the future. Miller said that Vaughn told her he did not have a family life, did not have children, and had been single for five years. Vaughn had spent nearly $5,000 over two visits to the club on June 6 and June 12, 2007.
Forensics experts testified that the blood spatter on the gun and on Kimberly’s hand did not match the typical spatter of a suicide.
Witnesses testified that Vaughn showed no emotion after the murders.
(audio clip about cowboy boots?)
While the defense feebly attempted to paint Kimberly as being sick and unstable, all signs pointed to Christopher’s guilt.
Vaughn was stockpiling camping gear and spending thousands of dollars at strip clubs in the weeks before the slayings. He had motives, whereas Kimberly had none.
Vaughn was interested in Druidism, as evidenced by the testimony of an FBI expert who translated 140 pages of runic writings that Vaughn had scribbled in a notebook while in jail awaiting trial.
Vaughn’s wife and children were never mentioned in the writings, but there was a reference to one of the exotic dancers.
November 26 2012
After a five and a half week trial, and a 45 minute jury deliberation, Judge Daniel Rozak read the verdict. Christopher Vaughn was found guilty of all charges and was sentenced to four consecutive life terms. While the death penalty was initially on the table, Illinois ended capital punishment in 2011, much to Judge Rozak’s chagrin.
States attorney James Glasgow shared Rozak’s frustration. He said “There isn’t a punishment that fits this crime,” “You could lock him up for 500 lifetimes and it would not compensate the victims in this case or the family members.”
While some say that being locked in a cell for life is the best punishment for a man who wanted to live free in the expanse of the wilderness, the lives that Christopher Vaughn took can never truly be vindicated.
Abigayle “Abbi” Vaughn had just begun wearing eye makeup. She was the first of the children to be slain by her father. She was clutching a Harry Potter book and a stuffed animal when her body was found.
Cassandra, “Sandi”, was killed next. She was an animal lover who was trying to persuade her mom to let her start a dog-walking business.
Blake was the last to be killed, and he saw it coming. Wounds indicate that he raised his arms in self-defense, to no avail. He was a kindhearted boy who collected baseball cards and had an indubitably prodigious vocabulary. That one was for you, Blake.