Tracey Richter: One Scheming, Dangerous Woman

     Tracey Richter’s adversarial and bellicose history with her husbands could be viewed as a cautionary tale for professional men trolling for wives. Her story is a real-life “Play Misty for Me” horror film featuring an attractive, soc…

     Tracey Richter's adversarial and bellicose history with her husbands could be viewed as a cautionary tale for professional men trolling for wives. Her story is a real-life "Play Misty for Me" horror film featuring an attractive, sociopathic, revenge-oriented protagonist willing to do whatever it takes to dominate, humiliate, and defeat her male antagonists. In Richter's case, her enemies were her estranged husbands. To stand between this woman and what she wanted, to incur her wrath, was like stepping in front on an oncoming train.

     In 1992, the Chicago native lived in Virginia with her first husband, a plastic surgeon named Dr. John Pitman. That year, Tracey Richter, then 27, pleaded no contest to the charge of discharging a firearm during an argument with him. In return for her plea, she received a probated sentence. Before they were divorced in 1996, Richter accused Dr. Pitman of sexually abusing their 3-year-old son, Bert. A judge eventually dismissed the case for lack of evidence. Following the divorce, Tracey Richter and her son moved back to Chicago.

     In 1997, Tracey Richter met and began dating Dr. Joseph La Spisa, a Chicago based oral surgeon. That relationship soured when, pursuant to an attempt to extort $150,000 from the doctor, she accused him of sexual assault. Although later exonerated, the scandal cost Dr. La Spisa his dental practice.

     About the time she was making life miserable for Dr. La Spisa, Richter met a man online from California named Michael Roberts. Shortly thereafter Tracey and Mr. Michael Roberts were married, and by 2000, the year they separated, the couple had two children, ages one and three. At the time of the separation from her second husband (Roberts), Richter was battling Dr. Pitman for custody of their 10-year-old son, Bert. If she lost this fight she would lose her son and the $1,000-a-month child support payments.

     In 2001, Tracey Richter, now 35, resided with Bert and the two younger children in Early, Iowa, a small town 100 miles north of Des Moines in the eastern part of the state. On December 31 of that year, Richter called 911 to report that she had just shot an intruder to death who, along with another man, had broken into her house and tried to strangle her with a pair of pantyhose.

     Upon arriving at the dwelling police discovered, in Richter's bedroom, the body of 20-year-old Dustin Wehde. He had been shot nine times with a pair of handguns Richter had retrieved from her home safe. The other man, she said, had fled the scene when she opened fire on Wehde. (The other intruder was never identified because he didn't exist.)

     Detectives identified Dustin Wehde, a resident of Richter's neighborhood, as a depressed computer nerd who lived in his parents' basement. He had no criminal record, and as a timid type, was an unlikely candidate for home burglary and assault. Investigators also found it strange that Wehde had parked his car in Richter's driveway.

     In searching the dead man's vehicle, police officers made a bizarre discovery. They found, on the front seat, a pink notebook in which Wehde had written that a "mysterious fellow" named John Pitman had hired him to kill Tracey Richter and her 11-year-old son. While the passage was in Wehde's handwriting, it didn't make any sense. Detectives couldn't find any evidence that Wehde and Richter's first husband had ever crossed paths, and the young man didn't come close to fitting the profile of a contract killer. Because the whole setup looked fishy, the police never considered Dr. John Pitman as a murder-for-hire mastermind. While detectives didn't buy Richter's account of the shooting, the Sac County prosecutor didn't bring charges against her and the case went into the books as a self-defense homicide.  Dustin Wehde's parents had to live with the fact their son had been murdered as part of the killer's plot to frame an ex-husband. Their son was dead and their lives were ruined.

     Shortly after shooting Dustin Wehde to death in her bedroom, Tracey Richter and her children moved to Omaha, Nebraska. In the meantime, the authorities in Iowa kept the existence of the pink notebook secret because to publicize it would have, among other things, scandalized Dr. Pitman. In 2002, Richter appeared on "The Montel Williams Show," a daily afternoon talkfest not unlike what Ophra Winfrey was doing on television. In response to softball questions in front of a sympathetic studio audience, Richter told the horrifying story of how she had no choice but to take this intruder's life to save herself and her children. She came off as a hero. (I don't know if she used this opportunity to accuse her first husband of trying to have her murdered.)

     In 2004, after Richter and Michael Roberts were divorced, she told the police that her second husband had been a part of Dr. Pitman's conspiracy to have her killed. The authorities still weren't buying into this murder-for-hire business and never considered Mr. Roberts a suspect in Dustin Wehde's homicide.

     While residing in Nebraska, Tracey Richter ran afoul of the law. In 2009, among other accusations of criminal deceit, she was convicted of welfare fraud and sentenced to probation.

     In 2010, Ben Smith, the new Sac County prosecutor, took office. As he had promised in his campaign for the job, Smith asked the Iowa Division of Criminal Justice to investigate the almost ten-year-old Dustin Wehde homicide. As part of that investigation, a forensic ballistics expert determined that Wehde had been shot three times in the back as he lay on Richter's bedroom floor. This comprised, in the prosecutor's opinion, circumstantial evidence inconsistent with Richter's claim of self-defense.  

     At the conclusion of the state investigation of Dustin Wehde's suspicious death, prosecutor Ben Smith charged Tracey Richter with first-degree murder. Under Smith's theory of the case, Richter had lured the young man to her house, forced him at gunpoint to write in the pink notebook that her first husband, Dr. John Pitman, had hired him to kill her and her son, fired nine shots into his body, then planted the notebook in his car in an effort to frame her former husband for solicitation of murder. Pursuant to this scenario, Dustin Whede had been nothing more than a sacrificial pawn in Richter's evil scheme to win the custody battle she was having with the father of her first-born child. If this was what happened, Tracey Richter was one cold-blooded sociopathic killer. A dangerous woman, indeed.

     Granted a change of venue, Tracey Richter's murder trial got underway on October 23, 2011 in the Webster County town of Fort Dodge, Iowa. The defendant, now 45, and living in Omaha, had the support of her 20-year-old son Bert and the man she was currently engaged to marry. On November 7, 2011, the jury of six men and six women, in rejecting Richter's self-defense/contract murder version of Dustin Wehde's death, found her guilty as charged.

     Following this stunning verdict, Mr. Michael Roberts, Richter's second husband and father of her two younger children, praised the jurors. He told reporters that Richter had once tried to murder him through drugs and suffocation. Mona Wehde, Dustin's mother, in speaking to reporters on the day of the verdict, said that her son's murder had destroyed her marriage and after the divorce her ex-husband committed suicide. She called the jury's decision "a blessing."

     In January 2012, shortly before Judge Kurt L. Wilke sentenced Richter to life in prison, she sent a letter to a Wisconsin prison inmate named James Landa. Landa, who had been convicted of sexually molesting a 12-year-old girl, had written to Richter following her conviction offering his moral support. (Whatever that meant.) Richter's letter to Landa contained personal information about her second husband, Mr. Michael Roberts. Among other pieces of information, Richter revealed his Social Security number, date of birth, physical description, and home address. When Sac County prosecutor Ben Smith learned of this letter he suspected Richter of soliciting Mr. Roberts' murder. To reporters, Smith said, "I fear for Michael and his kids."

     In June 2012, Tracey Richter appeared on a "Dateline NBC" two-hour special on the Dustin Wehde murder case. To correspondent Dennis Murphy, she stuck to her story of self-defense. Her son Bert appeared on the show to back up her account of the shooting. Her lawyer announced that the convicted killer had filed an appeal.

     From her cell at the Mitchelville, Iowa prison, Richter launched a child custody battle with second husband Michael Roberts over her two younger children, now ages 12 and 14. Roberts had the children with him in California and planned to escape Richter's reach by moving his family to Australia.

     On September 13, 2012, Iowa Judge Nancy Whittenburg, the judge who presided over this child custody fight, ruled that notwithstanding Richter's murder conviction she had not lost her right to regular visits with the children. This meant that Mr. Roberts, to satisfy the judge's decision, had to make visitation trips from California to Iowa and back. When Sac County prosecutor Ben Smith learned of Judge Whittenburg's ruling, he called it "mind-boggling."

     In July 2014, investigators in Iowa searched Tracey Richter's mother's computer on suspicion that Anna Richter and her daughter had harassed and defamed Dr. John Pitman and other prosecution witnesses, people who had helped put Tracey behind bars. According to the search warrant affidavit, the suspects accused these former witnesses of theft, perjury, fraud, computer hacking, and child molestation.

     In August 2014, Anna Richter's attorney, Julie Ofenbakh, argued that her client's computer contained attorney-client privileged communications, and asked the court for an in camera hearing to review the contents of Richter's computer. As of this writing, this aspect of the Tracey Richter criminal saga remained unresolved.

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/