In 1995, 30-year-old Angela Nolen married 46-year-old Paul “Jay” Strickler. She taught kindergarten at the Sontag Elementary School in the western Virginia town of Rocky Mount. He worked as an administrator in the Franklin County Sc…
After 17 years of marriage, Angela Nolen, in October 2012, asked a Franklin County Juvenile and Domestic Relations judge for an order of protection against her estranged husband. Nolen, in asking for the protection order, accused Strickler of physically abusing her and their 9-year-old daughter. The judge, believing that Nolen had "...proven the allegation of family abuse by a preponderance of the evidence" (a civil standard of proof less rigorous than proof beyond a reasonable doubt), granted Nolen's request. Pursuant to the protection order, Strickler could not have any interaction with his estranged wife, and could only contact their daughter by phone for five minutes, three times a week.
Two months after the issuance of the domestic protection order, Nolen and Strickler were divorced. The judge granted her full custody of the child, and he agreed to sell her his share of the house. Not long after that, Angela Nolen decided to have her ex-husband killed.
Early in February 2013, the kindergarten teacher and her friend, Cathy Warren Bennett, the nurse at the Sontag Elementary School, began plotting Jay Strickler's murder. Like most aspiring murder-for-hire masterminds, these middle-class women didn't have a clue where to acquire the services of a hit-man. Cathy Bennett, on Nolen's behalf, reached out to a man she hoped would do the deed. In furtherance of the deadly plot, the 37-year-old school nurse handed the candidate for the contract killing a sheet of paper containing information about the target of the homicide.
As is often the case, the man Cathy Bennett approached to commit the murder for money went directly from the mastermind's intermediary to the police. As a result, on the night of February 19, 2013, the man who accepted Angel Nolen's advance payment of $4,000 for the hit was an undercover police officer. According to the audio-taped murder-for-hire conversation between the undercover cop and the mastermind, the hit-man would receive another four grand when he completed his mission.
Police officers arrested Nolen on the morning after she met with the man she thought was going to kill Jay Strickler. Charged with solicitation to commit murder, the authorities incarcerated Nolen at the Western Virginia Regional Jail. She was held without bail. If convicted as charged, Nolen faced a maximum sentence of forty years behind bars.
The Franklin County prosecutor charged Cathy Bennett, Nolen's intermediary, with conspiracy to solicit murder. A judge set her bail at $60,000.
Both employees of the Sontag Elementary School were suspended without pay. Strickler, the 63-year-old target of Angela Nolen's alleged murder plot, had recently retired from the school system. In speaking to a reporter with the Roanoke Times, Strickler said that his ex-wife had wanted him dead so she wouldn't have to pay for her share of the house. "That scares the hell out of me," he said. "I am just so glad the state police found out about this [plot]. I'm afraid for my life. I still feel that way. If someone knocks on my door, I won't answer it. I'll call 911. I'm extremely sad and I'm extremely worried."
On June 26, 2013, Angela Nolen pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit murder.
On December 23, 2013, the Franklin County judge sentenced Angela Nolen to five years. However, pursuant to the plea bargain, the murder-for-hire mastermind would only have to spent 18 months of that sentence in prison.
Murder-for-hire cases are not shocking because people hire hit-men. The surprising part often involves who these masterminds are. When we think of kindergarten teachers and school nurses, murder-for-hire doesn't spring to mind., Perhaps it's reasonable to assume that a desperate Angela Nolen felt she had run out of options. But the school nurse, what was she thinking?
It's a shame that someone didn't convince this amateur premeditated homicide plotter that murder-for-hire was not an appropriate remedy for any problem. Aside from the morality issue, amateur masterminds are always caught and convicted. Moreover, in cases where the target is actually murdered, they get the longest prison sentences. Judges and juries usually hate the murder-for-hire mastermind more than they do the hit-man. As it turned out, the mastermind in this murder solicitation case got off light.