For this tragic tale of youth, greed, and murder, we head to the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Mansfield, Texas. Specifically, we head to the town’s local IHOP, where dark schemes were plotted alongside vats of syrup and stacks of breakfast meats.

Suzy and Rick Wamsley were a well-liked couple in their mid-40s. They lived a comfortable, upper-middle-class life, and didn’t seem to have any enemies. But in the wee hours of December 11, 2003, just days after they’d hung holiday decorations around the home they’d lived in for 10 years, the unthinkable happened. Police, responding to a hang-up 911 call, found the home’s garage door, and the door leading from garage into the house, standing wide open. The scene inside was awful, writes the Dallas Observer in a detailed piece published in July 2004:

Suzy was lying on the living-room couch. The attackers had shot her in the left ear with a large-caliber weapon, according to an autopsy report, and then stabbed her at least 18 times in the chest and neck.

Rick—6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, wearing only boxer shorts—had been shot in the face and back and stabbed numerous times. Police found two sets of bloody shoeprints throughout the living room, dining room and entryway. There was no sign of forced entry, and nothing appeared to be missing.

Their neighbors were shocked (who could have killed those nice Wamsleys?) and horrified (will we be next?) The Mansfield Police Department assured the community that the brutal crime was an “isolated incident,” not the work of a crazed killer on the loose. But it took months for any arrests to be made—enough time for rumors to spread that the Wamselys had been targeted by some kind of organized-crime ring for reasons unknown. Perhaps they were in the witness protection program, and their cover had been blown?

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The truth was far less exotic—but no less distressing. In April 2004, law enforcement arrested a 19-year-old high school student named Susana Toledano after DNA tests determined Rick Wamsley held a clump of her hair in his lifeless hand. Once they had Toledano, the cops nabbed her best friend Chelsea Richardson, 20, and Richardson’s boyfriend, Andrew Wamsley, 19—Rick and Suzy’s youngest child. Also arrested was 24-year-old Hilario Cardenas, who was the night manager of a nearby IHOP that served as an after-hours hangout for the group.

It was there that the plan to kill the older Wamsleys—as well as Andrew’s older sister, Sarah, who had her own issues with her parents, but never conspired to kill them, and fortunately wasn’t at their home the night of the murders—was hatched. There was a Romeo-and-Juliet angle, which was that the well-off Wamsleys apparently disapproved of Andrew’s relationship with the more working-class Chelsea. But the stakes were higher than that, owing to the $1.56 million Andrew stood to inherit from his parents’ untimely demise.

Of course, he’d only get the money if he could get away with murder, and that didn’t happen. As Mansfield Detective Ralph Standefer told the Dallas Observer before the 2005 trial, the motive was crystal clear:

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“He’s been spoiled rotten all his life, given everything on a silver platter. Once he realized he can’t do what he wants to do without having those things, Andrew decides he doesn’t need his parents anymore.”

The twist in the case, though, was that the jury decided Chelsea Richardson—not the son of the victims—was the “murder mastermind.”

Cardenas, whose connection to the crime (other than facilitating the venue to plan it) was that he’d supplied the gun that became the murder weapon, was conviced of conspiracy to commit capital murder, and given a 50-year sentance. Toledano, who wielded the gun the night of the murders, pled guilty and testified against Wamsley and Richardson in exchange for a life sentence. Her testimony said that Richardson “coached” her through the killings, and that the December 11 crimes were the third time the Wamsleys had been targeted for murder by the trio.

Andrew Wamsley refused a plea deal, was convicted of murder, and got a life sentence. Richardson also refused a plea deal and was convicted of murder—but despite her age, and the fact she’d never been arrested before, she received the death penalty.

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She became one of 10 women on Texas’ death row. It took until 2011, but she received a new penalty hearing after it was determined that prosecutors had withheld evidence at her original trial: notes from a psychologist’s interview with their star witness, Toledano.

According to NBC News:

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Toledano told the psychologist she was “more guilty than either of them,” referring to Richardson and her boyfriend, Andrew Wamsley, that she “did wrong” and “probably could have prevented” the killings.

In early 2012, Richardson was removed from death row and received a life sentence instead; her attorney, who said his goal was to just “get her off death row,” and that he’d “come to an agreement” with the victims’ family (presumably Andrew’s sister Sarah, who also presumably received the inheritance her brother was willing to kill to get). Richardson will be eligible for parole in 40 years, minus time already served.

Top image: US 287 on-ramp between Midlothian and Mansfield, Texas by Lothar1976 via Wikimedia Commons.