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Kentucky Pediatrician Who Allegedly Asked FBI Agent to Make Ex-Husband ‘Text Her an Apologetic Suicide Note’ Is Indicted in Murder-for-Hire Plot

Dr. Stephanie M. Russell appears in an Oldham County Detention Center mugshot.

Dr. Stephanie M. Russell.

A 52-year-old pediatrician in Kentucky was formally indicted last Wednesday for allegedly attempting to hire a hitman to murder her ex-husband after he was given custody of their two children.

Dr. Stephanie M. Russell faces one count of using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, court documents obtained by Law&Crime show.

According to the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, the investigation into Russell’s alleged murder-for-hire plot began when Russell made false child abuse accusations against her ex-husband, Rick Crabtree. A detective with the Louisville Metro Police Department in late 2019 interviewed Crabtree and the couple’s former nanny as part of the investigation into the abuse allegations.

“During this interview, CRABTREE stated he believed RUSSELL was attempting to hire an assassin to kill him in order to take full custody of their two children. CRABTREE’s attorney produced a sworn affidavit from K.S., a former nanny for the couple’s child, in which K.S. stated she was approached by RUSSELL on multiple occasions in which RUSSELL alluded to getting rid of CRABTREE,” the federal complaint states. “Initially, K.S. assumed RUSSELL was joking, until RUSSELL asked K.S. if she knew ‘really bad people’ who could get rid of CRABTREE. RUSSELL went into additional details with K.S. on preferred timing and locations of the would-be murder of CRABTREE.”

Russell and Crabtree officially split in 2020 after initially filing for divorce in 2018. Following the divorce, Crabtree was awarded full custody of their kids when a judge found that Russell was “coaching” the kids and causing “emotional harm,” as previously reported by Law&Crime.

The case was referred to the FBI. In March 2022, a cooperating witness who worked at Russell’s office, Kidz Life Pediatrics, told the investigating agent that Russell had “approached several employees in her medical practice about helping locate someone to kill her ex-husband,” per the complaint. Russell even allegedly exchanged text messages with one of the nurses at her practice, identified in the complaint as “CW2,” about finding a hitman.

“In the text messages, RUSSELL discussed hiring someone to deliver ‘Christmas flowers.’ CW advised ‘Christmas flowers’ was code for killing CRABTREE,” the complaint states. “CW knew this to be code for killing CRABTREE because CW2 explained the meaning of ‘Christmas flowers’ to him/her. CW2 told CW RUSSELL had decided on using the term ‘flowers’ when discussing her ex-husband’s death to make the messages appear discreet.”

Messages between CW2 and Russell allegedly show the pediatrician was willing to pay $4,000 for one of CW2’s friends to kill Crabtree before Christmas. When CW2 told Russell that the potential hitman had himself died, Russell allegedly asked CW2 if they “would pull the trigger themselves.”

CW2 in May gave Russell a number belonging to an undercover FBI agent posing as a hitman.

“RUSSELL informed [the undercover agent] she was looking to find someone who would get rid of CRABTREE. [The undercover agent] asked if she wanted CRABTREE killed, to which RUSSELL responded that she wanted him gone,” the complaint states. “[The undercover agent] then asked how she would want it done. RUSSELL responded she would rather discuss methods in person. RUSSELL offered to meet [the undercover agent] in Indiana, after stating she knew he/she was approximately four and a half hours away from Louisville. RUSSELL and [the undercover agent] agreed to a payment of $5,000 to get rid of CRABTREE.”

Following the call, Russell allegedly sent the agent Crabtree’s name, address, and a description of his vehicle. She later requested that the agent make Crabtree’s death look like a guilt-riddled suicide by holding him hostage and forcing him to “text her an apologetic suicide note before being killed,” the complaint continued.

Russell entered a plea of not guilty last week. Her trial is currently scheduled to begin on Aug. 22 before U.S. District Judge David J. Hale. She faces up to 10 years in a federal prison if convicted.

Russell’s attorney David B. Mour declined to comment to Law&Crime on particulars of the criminal case, but he did say the defense believes the justice system failed Russell in the child custody case. Mour also said the defense believes there is more to the story than the one being told by the government.

Read the complaint and indictment below:

[Image via the Oldham County Detention Center]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.