A Kentucky doctor allegedly hired a hitman to kill her husband

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published May 6, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • According to court filings, a Kentucky pediatrician attempted to hire a hitman to murder her ex-husband—she allegedly tried to organize the murder-for-hire soon after a lengthy custody battle, which ultimately granted the ex-husband full custody of their two children.

  • The doctor pleaded guilty to the charge in April 2024; her lawyers argued that she was acting under "extreme emotional disturbance," alleging that she was unable to be culpable for the criminal charges.

  • Stephanie Russell, MD, is now facing up to 15 years in prison for her crimes; she will be sentenced on July 21, 2024.

Kentucky pediatrician Stephanie Russell, MD, former owner of the now-closed Kidz Life Pediatrics Hospital in Louisville, KY, was indicted in 2022 on charges of attempted murder-for-hire of her ex-husband.[]

On April 20, 2024, Dr. Russell pleaded guilty to the charge, as well as an additional charge of stalking. Russell entered the guilty plea just before her trial was scheduled to begin. 

How it went down

In 2022, Dr. Russell reportedly contacted an undercover FBI agent posing as a hitman. She agreed to pay the agent $7,000 for the murder, and left a partial payment of $3,500 in a dropbox outside her medical office—she agreed to pay the remaining half after her ex-husband’s death.[] Authorities later searched Dr. Russell’s home and found $2,000 in cash.

Court documents show that Dr. Russell was allegedly engaged in efforts to harass, stalk, or physically harm her ex-husband beginning in 2018.[] Dr. Russell and her ex, Rick Crabtree, reportedly began divorce proceedings that same year.[] The former couple share two children; legal custody was reportedly a contentious issue during their divorce. 

Between December 2018 and August 2019, Dr. Russell and an accomplice—referred to as J.S. in court documents—harassed Crabtree. Documents show that Dr. Russell had J.S. travel between Kentucky and Michigan to take harassing actions against Crabtree.[] These actions included showing up at Crabtree’s residence and place of work, using a burner phone provided by Dr. Russell to leave Crabtree threatening voicemails, leaving documents containing private information about Crabtree on cars at Crabtree’s office, and pretending to be a reporter and leaving accusatory voicemails on Crabtree’s phone.

Dr. Russell loses custody of their children

In 2019, Dr. Russell accused Crabtree of child abuse, but a detective assigned to the case found no evidence of abuse in the home.[] When the divorce was finalized, Crabtree was awarded full custody of the children.[]

After that, Dr. Russell’s time with her children was reportedly limited to twice-weekly supervised visits. 

According to court documents, Dr. Russell began plotting to kill her ex-husband in 2019. She was said to have brought the subject up with the children’s nanny, identified as K.S. in documents, by repeatedly telling them that she wanted to “get rid of” Crabtree. K.S. initially thought Dr. Russell was kidding but grew suspicious when she directly asked K.S. if she knew any “really bad people” who could help, then began discussing details, such as preferred timing and locations of the murder.

Dr. Russell reportedly also asked multiple staff members at her healthcare practice, Kidz Life Pediatrics Hospital, if they knew any hitmen.

Between 2021 and 2022, she communicated with two nurses and asked them for assistance in killing her ex-husband. Text messages between Dr. Russell and one of the nurses were later given to the police. In the messages, Dr. Russell and the nurse used the code “Christmas flowers” to refer to the murder of Crabtree. 

The nurse-turned-accomplice

In these messages, Dr. Russell agreed to pay $4,000 for her ex-husband’s murder. She asked for the hit to occur by the week of December 12, 2021, during a time when the children would not be with Crabtree. Days before the scheduled attempted murder, the nurse told Dr. Russell in a text that the man set to carry out the act had been killed. Dr. Russell then asked the nurse if she was willing to shoot Crabtree. The nurse declined and later left Dr. Russell’s employment. 

Additional text messages between Dr. Russell and former employees show repeated attempts to arrange the murder of Crabtree. In 2022, she resumed contact with the nurse with whom she’d used the “Christmas flowers” code.

By this time, the nurse had reported Dr. Russell to authorities. When Dr. Russell reached out to her again, the nurse gave her the number of an FBI agent posing as a hitman.[]

Dr. Russell unknowingly contacts an FBI agent

Dr. Russell had multiple recorded conversations with the man she believed to be a hitman. In their talks, she stated that she wanted Crabtree “completely gone” from her life.[] Additionally, she reportedly told the agent that she wanted them to hold Crabtree “hostage and force him to text her an apologetic suicide note before being killed” and to make his death appear as a suicide.[]

During this time, Dr. Russell also attempted to pay a Brazilian "spiritual healer" to cast a Voodoo death spell on Crabtree.[] Reportedly, in April 2022, Dr. Russell contacted the spiritual healer on WhatsApp and asked her for help killing her ex-husband “using supernatural means.”[]

In messages, Dr. Russell asked the spiritual healer questions about a death spell, including the price, whether a sacrifice would be used, and how effective the spell would be. The spiritual healer responded that the spell had an “85% death rate” and that Dr. Russell would get her money back if the spell was not successful. 

In court filings, Dr. Russell’s lawyers presented her conversations with the spiritual healer as evidence of her mental state.[] They argued that Dr. Russell acted under “extreme emotional disturbance” and that she was “delusional” at the time of her crimes, rendering her unable to be culpable for the criminal charges. Additionally, they stated that she became increasingly delusional because of her belief that her children had been abused by her ex-husband. 

Dr. Russell will be sentenced on July 21, 2024.[] She faces up to 15 years in prison. 

What this means for you

Stephanie Russell, MD, a pediatrician from Kentucky recently pleaded guilty to charges of attempting to hire a hitman to murder her ex-husband, Rick Crabtree. According to reports, Dr. Russell contacted an undercover FBI agent in 2022 and agreed to pay $7,000 for the murder. The doctor's lawyers argued that she was mentally disturbed due to her belief that Crabtree had been abusing their children. Dr. Russell is now facing up to 15 years in prison, with sentencing set for July 21, 2024.

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