May-June 2011

Vanished without a trace

A Denton County woman’s disappearance six years ago culminated in the murder trial of her estranged husband—with no forensic evidence. Here’s how prosecutors won a guilty verdict.

Susan Calvert Piel

Assistant Criminal ­District Attorney in ­Denton County

Cary Piel

Assistant Criminal ­District Attorneys in ­Denton County

A few days after Christmas in 2004, Kathy Munday Stobaugh was hours away from finalizing her divorce. Kathy had met with her attorney the previous day, preparing to go to court on Thursday, December 30 to obtain a default judgment against her husband of 20 years, Charles Stobaugh. That night, December 29, the eve of the divorce being finalized, Stobaugh called Kathy and asked her to come to his house, the marital home which sat isolated on 100 acres of farmland. Kathy drove to his house around 9:30 pm. She has never been seen or heard from since.

Kathy’s background

Kathy grew up in Gatesville just outside of Waco. After high school, she moved to Denton to attend Texas Women’s University. While cruising the “drag” in Denton one night, she met a local man, ruggedly handsome Charles Stobaugh. She eventually dropped out of school and they married in 1984. During the marriage their roles were extremely traditional, and Charles was very controlling, especially with money. He enjoyed working the all-night shift at a local factory, as it allowed him to farm during the day. But his schedule left Kathy a mostly single parent when their daughter, Charee, was born in early 1988. Son Tommy followed in 1991.

    Kathy eventually became disenchanted with their life and fearful of her husband. At one point she left Charles, seeking refuge in her hometown of Gatesville, surrounded by her family. She hired an attorney and filed for divorce. She set up house in Central Texas and got a job, but after a few months, Charles convinced her to come home, vowing he would change.

    They subsequently purchased a farm in the rural outskirts of Sanger, which is outside Denton. The deed was listed in only Charles’ name, as were all vehicles purchased during the marriage. They lived very frugally. Though Kathy always worked, her secretarial jobs did not pay as well as Charles’ factory work.

    Once the children reached school age, Kathy began again pursuing her education though Charles was not supportive of it. In addition to working full-time, doing all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and taking care of the children, Kathy took classes at North Central Texas Community College, then Texas Women’s University. She confided in a coworker that her goal was to graduate, find a place to live, and get a job so that she could divorce her domineering husband. In December 2003 Kathy Stobaugh walked across the stage and got her long-awaited college diploma.

Starting a new life

With degree in hand, Kathy then began to focus on her next chapter, life without Charles. By May 2004, unbeknownst to her husband, she hired a divorce attorney and signed a lease on a rental house in town. Her daughter, Charee, was her confidante. Though Charles did not even know of Kathy’s plans to leave, Charee had made trips to the rental house with her mom and joined her on shopping excursions for furniture for that house. This was a fresh, new beginning for Kathy, and she was thrilled.

    Charles and Kathy had approximately $77,000 in a savings account. On the eve of Charles’ being served with the divorce petition, Kathy withdrew exactly half, down to the penny, and opened her very own bank account. She hid the guns and hunting weapons in anticipation of Charles getting served, for fear of his reaction. On June 2, 2004, a process server knocked on the door and served Charles with the divorce papers. He was livid. He ripped up the papers and threw them at the process server. Charee grabbed her brother and fled the house. Ultimately Kathy was able to calm him down and leave peacefully.

    While Kathy began her new life, secured a teaching job for the Nocona Independent School District, and sparked a new relationship with an old high school classmate named Rocky, Charles did not handle the separation well. Though his entire family lived very close and was in constant contact with him that summer, Charles told no one that his wife had left him. He did not file an answer in the divorce, nor did he hire an attorney. Instead, he ignored it, wanting Kathy to come back home.

Christmas break

In December, Kathy wanted to use her Christmas break from school to finalize the divorce and work out the terms of the property settlement with Charles, but up to that point, he was not willing to accept that the divorce was actually occurring. She gave Charles numerous options, preferring to preserve the land so that the kids would someday get it. He would agree to nothing.

    Charles knew Kathy was meeting with her attorney over the Christmas break. On Monday, December 27, Charles proposed to Kathy that they sell everything they owned and split the money down the middle. Arguably, Charles did not actually want to sell “his” land but only proposed this option to be difficult. Kathy’s divorce attorney explained that because Charles had dragged his feet for so long, it was now up to Kathy to decide how she wanted to split the assets—Kathy would be granted the divorce and whatever division of property she wanted by default. The attorney told Kathy to decide and let her office know so they could draft the decree.

    Wednesday, December 29 was the last day of Kathy’s life. She spoke to her brother Chris and discussed plans to go to Gatesville that weekend to attend their grandfather’s birthday party. Kathy told her close friend Linda about the divorce and emailed her attorney the specifics of how she wanted the property divided, then spent the rest of the day working on lesson plans on her home computer, preparing for the upcoming semester. That evening her daughter, Charee, left to hang out with friends, leaving Kathy at home alone. Her sister-in-law and niece stopped by the house to get a receipt to exchange a Christmas gift, and shortly after they left, 13-year-old Tommy arrived unannounced at her door. Charles dropped Tommy off at Kathy’s house around 8:30 p.m. Charles did not go to the door, nor had he called Kathy to arrange the drop-off. He simply let Tommy out of the car and drove back home.

    Once home, Charles called Kathy and asked to speak to her about the divorce and her recent meeting with her attorney. Kathy told Tommy goodbye and headed out the door to meet Charles at his house, telling Tommy, “I’ll be back.” At 9:16 p.m., while enroute to Charles’ house, Kathy tried to call Charee. At the exact same moment, Charee tried to call her mom. The two called each other twice at 9:16, but because they were calling at the same time, none of the calls actually connected. They would never get the opportunity to speak to each other again.

    By Charles’ admission, Kathy arrived at his house at approximately 9:30 p.m. to discuss the imminent divorce. Kathy Stobaugh was never seen or heard from again, and the next morning her car sat in his driveway.

    Charee tried to call her mom late that evening with no success. When Charee arrived home at 1:15 a.m., she woke up her 13-year-old brother and learned that Kathy had gone to the family farm to talk to Charles about the divorce. Unable to sleep, by 6:45 the next morning, Charee called her mother’s cell phone again, and again the phone went straight to voicemail. She then drove to Charles’ house, where she saw her mom’s car in the driveway. She drove back to Kathy’s house and continued trying to call her mom. By 9:15 a.m. she again drove to Charles’ house. The car was still in the driveway, and this time she saw her father outside. During multiple late-night and early-morning phone calls to Kathy, Charee had never once tried to call Charles.

    Charles explained to his daughter how he and Kathy had met the night before to discuss the divorce. He said he had insisted they sell everything and split the proceeds, and Kathy indicated she did not want to do that. According to Charles, the conversation had been fairly civil, but at the end Kathy voiced frustration that “the man always had to win” and told Charles that she was leaving. “Don’t look for me,” he claims she told him, “because no one will ever be able to find me.” Charles then said he watched Kathy’s taillights as she drove down the long driveway to the road, only to be surprised to find her car parked in the driveway the next morning, with the keys in it. Charles told Charee to not worry about it, indicating that Kathy had just gone off out of frustration. Dumbfounded, the 16-year-old girl, who had always been so close to her mom, did not know what to do.

Missing for days

In the days following her disappearance, Kathy’s family and friends did not know she was missing and left numerous messages on her voicemail. Neither Charles nor Charee called anyone to notify them of Kathy’s disappearance nor to ask if they had heard from her. Charee continually called her mom’s cell phone, leaving multiple messages that became more and more frenzied. Charles Stobaugh neither called nor left any messages.

    Kathy failed to show up at her attorney’s office Friday morning to do the prove-up on the divorce. She didn’t go to an appointment with a realtor for a scheduled viewing of a house down the street from her kids’ schools. Nor did she attend her grandfather’s birthday party in Gatesville that weekend. Family members were concerned about her absence but not alarmed, as some other people had also missed the party because of illness. This close family could never have imagined that Kathy that she had been missing for days and they weren’t notified.

    As the days passed—Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday—only Charles, Charee, and Tommy knew of Kathy’s disappearance.

    On Monday, January 3, classes resumed for Kathy’s district. Kathy, a model employee, failed to show up to retrieve her kindergarten class from the cafeteria. The school receptionist called all the numbers in the file, including Charles Stobaugh’s. Charles told her not to worry about it, explaining that Kathy “runs off all the time.” Though she had worked at the school for only one semester, this description seemed at odds with the impression she had made on her coworkers.

    After Kathy missed school, Toni Campbell, a fellow kindergarten teacher and friend, called Charee to ask what was going on. Though Charee was extremely reticent during the conversation, Toni did elicit that Kathy had been missing for five days. Toni demanded Charee go to the police, telling her that if Charee didn’t, Toni would. After that phone conversation, Charee drove alone to the Sanger Police Department to report her mother missing.

Searching for Kathy

Shaking, Charee relayed to the patrol officer, Josh Vest, that her mother had been missing for five days, after meeting Charles to discuss the divorce. Officer Vest then went to Charles’ house. The officer recorded his very casual conversation with Charles as they stood in the driveway next to Kathy’s car with his in-car camera. Each time Vest attempted to leave Charles’ house, Charles offered a new theory to explain her disappearance. He told Vest of one middle-aged woman he knew that went back to college, resulting in her having a nervous breakdown. Vest was so suspicious of the circumstances and of Charles he immediately called the Texas Rangers for help. Thus began Ranger Tracy Murphree’s pursuit of Kathy Stobaugh.

    Ranger Murphree met with Charee that night. She explained to him that she knew her father did not want her to notify the police, but she did not know what else to do. She cried and trembled as she described how close she and her mom were and how she left Charles’ house that night without telling him she was going to the police. She was clear that Kathy had never left before and would never leave her and Tommy.

    In his three-hour interview with Ranger Murphree, Charles denied any knowledge of his wife’s whereabouts. But as he had previously told Officer Vest, he claimed Kathy would periodically run off, though he was very short on details of these alleged trips. At first Charles claimed to have called Kathy during the first few days she was missing, leaving voice messages, but later admitted that was a lie. Charles claimed that Kathy had insisted on coming to his house to talk to him that night, but 13-year-old Tommy told the police that Charles initiated the meeting. Charles also explained he took Tommy to Kathy’s before the meeting because Tommy wanted to play a new video game at his mom’s house. This contradicted Tommy’s version to police that Charles took him to Kathy’s so he could talk to Kathy alone about the divorce. In that interview, Charles conceded that Kathy would never have walked down the road that night, and he reluctantly agreed that he believed something bad had happened to her. Soon after that interview, Charles retained an attorney.

    A search warrant was executed on Charles’ property two weeks after Kathy’s disappearance, but no evidence was recovered. Family members from both the Munday and Stobaugh sides organized searches of Charles’ property and the surrounding areas. Charles participated in no searches.

    Kathy’s family members descended on the Sanger area to search, put up fliers, and look for any clue as to her disappearance. Charee notified her father that some of Kathy’s family intended to search Kathy’s computer. Years later, during our office’s investigation of this case, Charee confirmed that Charles took Kathy’s computer to hide it from law enforcement and Kathy’s family.

    During the searches and investigation of Kathy’s disappearance, a schism occurred in the Stobaugh family. The extended family had been very close, often farming and working the family dairy together. The entire Stobaugh crew had gathered for New Year’s Day 2005 at Charles’ mother’s house, including Charles and the kids. Neither Charles nor the children mentioned Kathy’s disappearance three days earlier. After the police were notified and Kathy’s disappearance became headline news, some members of Charles family found his talkative and upbeat behavior at the New Year’s gathering suspicious. Those suspicions only grew as family members spent hours walking in organized searches of Charles’ farm that cold January as Charles stayed locked up in the house. Some wanted to protect Charles, while others were bent on discovering the truth of what happened to Kathy.

    Law enforcement’s focus was in finding Kathy’s body. Ranger Murphree knew that she never made another cell phone call, accessed credit cards, or withdrew money from the bank after her meeting with Charles December 29. Despite extensive media coverage and distribution of fliers, there was no evidence that anyone had seen or spoken to Kathy since Charles had. Ranger Murphree’s investigation revealed Kathy to be a very responsible, devoted mother who maintained close ties with her family. Despite numerous exhaustive searches for her body, Kathy could not be found. Ranger Murphree had been told by the DA’s office at that time that without a body, there would be no murder case.

    Over time the Munday family became frustrated with law enforcement’s efforts. The family put up reward money and rented a billboard with Kathy’s picture; it was located on a stretch of I-35 driven every day by Charles Stobaugh on his way home from work.

    Eventually, the family accepted the fact that Kathy was never coming home. They knew Charles was responsible for her death. In 2008 Jeanne Munday, Kathy’s mother, died. Jeanne had been devastated by the loss of her only daughter and tormented that Kathy’s killer was not held responsible for her death. In 2008 the family erected a headstone for Kathy next to Jeanne’s grave; the date of death was December 29, 2004.

The family made every effort to maintain contact with Charee and Tommy, who lived with Charles. They managed to avoid the constant elephant in the room: the knowledge that the kids’ father killed Kathy. The Munday family held out hope that someday Kathy would get justice, though at that point, it seemed unlikely.

Cold case investigation

In August 2009 we tried a domestic homicide of a Denton police officer who shot his wife, State v. Robert Lozano. (See the November-December 2009 issue of this journal for an in-depth story on that trial.) Ranger Murphree was one of our primary witnesses in this cold case. When the jury was deliberating Lozano’s guilt, Murphree sat with us in a conference room as we all nervously awaited the outcome. Cary asked him, “What’s next?” Did he have any other cold cases worthy of a second look? Murphree clearly had one in the forefront of his mind. Kathy had been missing for almost five years at that point, and Murphree did not hide his regret that law enforcement had let her down. Murphree had been told time and time again that a murder case was impossible without a body. Before the ink was dry on Lozano’s conviction, the pursuit of justice for Kathy Stobaugh had begun.

    Though the Munday family had never given up hope that Kathy’s case would be pursued, they were unaware of these developments. They were pleasantly shocked to get our call. We began interviewing all of the family members, including the Stobaughs. Everyone, without exception, described Kathy as devoted to her children, hard-working, and reliable.

    We met with Tommy Stobaugh, who was now an 18-year-old high school graduate. Tommy was hostile from the beginning of the meeting, understanding that his father was the focus of the investigation. He told Cary to “go back to giving traffic tickets or whatever it is that you do.”

    Charee presented much differently. A student at Tarleton State University, we met with her in an office at Ace Hardware in Stephenville where she worked. The two meetings with Charee were heartbreaking. She could not speak of her mother without crying. Charee was steadfast that she did not believe her father was responsible for her mother’s disappearance, but she knew her mother would never leave them and had no alternative explanation. She was very forthcoming that her father had not wanted her to go to the police and how as a scared 16-year-old kid she was overwhelmed when her mother disappeared. She readily admitted that her mother was scared of her father and acknowledged his controlling nature and explosive temper. When asked, Charee was clear that she wanted us to pursue this case regardless of the outcome.

    Could a jury convict someone of murder with no body, no blood, no crime scene, no murder weapon, no confession, and no eyewitness? Though we lacked a body or any forensic evidence, we felt we had an extremely compelling circumstantial case—strong enough to take to the grand jury. After reviewing all of the evidence, our elected Criminal District Attorney, Paul Johnson, agreed we had enough to proceed, but he wanted to ensure Kathy’s family was fully informed of the consequences of going forward without a body. We would take the case to the grand jury, but only if the family appreciated the uniqueness of this case and the finality of the jury’s determination. At a meeting with the family, presented with all the possible alternatives including losing at trial, Kathy’s father James Munday, with tears in his eyes, said, “But we’ve already lost now.” The family was on board with pursuing the case despite any physical evidence. Kathy deserved her day in court, for a jury to at least be given the opportunity to decide.

    On November 12, 2009, Charles Stobaugh was indicted for intentionally or knowingly causing Kathy Stobaugh’s death or by committing an act clearly dangerous to human life with the intent to cause serious bodily injury to Kathy Stobaugh, with death resulting. Both paragraphs alleged a manner and means unknown.

    The motive for the murder? Kathy met with her attorney the day before she was killed. Her lawyer, Tiffany Haertling, explained to Kathy that the property would be divided according to Kathy’s wishes because Charles had chosen to sit on his hands. The day she was killed, she emailed her attorney her request for the property settlement: She wanted to be paid half the value of the farm equipment, which was extensive. She wanted half of Charles’ 401(k). Charles would get the house, but she wanted half the farmland. She intended to lease it back to him for a nominal fee. Nominal or not, Charles Stobaugh would have to pay her to farm his own land! For a man who took extra steps to have the deed to that community property put exclusively in his name, that was a slap in the face—apparently too much for him to take.

Taking it to trial

Our focus in preparing for this trial was presenting the overwhelming evidence that Charles was the last person to see Kathy alive and was the only person in the world with motive to kill her. It was also necessary to disprove any other explanation for her disappearance.

    Though a homicide, this case had a strong white-collar-crime component to it. To have voluntarily vanished, Kathy had to have money. We obtained every check, credit card record, and bank statement and accounted for every dollar she spent. She paid all her bills and had no suspicious charges. Kathy had almost $20,000 sitting in her separate checking account, with the only activity the earning of interest. Right before trial, because the money had been dormant for so long, Kathy’s money was escheated to the State of Texas. It was clear she had not set aside any money in anticipation of leaving, nor had she made any purchases after she left.

    If she didn’t take any money with her or charge anything on credit cards, Kathy would have had to get a job to support herself. The Texas Workforce Commission had only one record of Kathy Stobaugh’s Social Security Number’s use after her disappearance. One time, in 2006, her Social was reported in Tornillo, Texas, by someone named Morales. DA Investigator Dugan Broomfield made the long trip to West Texas to follow up the hit. The business in question employs migrant workers to pick cotton. Broomfield was able to confirm that Kathy had never been employed or seen at the business, nor had they ever hired anyone who remotely resembled her.

    At Broomfield’s request, Department of Homeland Security Agent Kirk Beauchamp searched federal databases for any sign of Kathy Stobaugh. Beauchamp was able to confirm that Kathy had not worked, applied for a passport, been arrested, been fingerprinted for any purpose, or crossed any United States port of entry since her disappearance. In this post-9/11 era, the federal government could find no evidence of her existence. Beauchamp’s testimony at trial was absolutely amazing. He was clear that to exist in this country, regular people leave traces of their activities and movements, but there was no trace of Kathy.

    At trial, Ranger Murphree spent four grueling days on the stand. He testified that any and every possible lead had been followed, and none had led to Kathy Stobaugh. Kathy had never worked, made a phone call, made a credit card purchase, withdrew any money from the bank, or contacted any known person since the night she met with Charles. Her car, left in his driveway, was fully functional. Murphree had investigated Rocky, the classmate with whom Kathy had a long-distance relationship, and found that work records showed him to be at work and writing checks in his hometown, four hours away, in the days leading up to and following Kathy’s disappearance.

    From the time Kathy received Charles’ call, cell phone records indicated she did not call anyone, except for the unsuccessful attempts to reach her daughter. Bottom line: Kathy didn’t make any arrangements in advance for anyone to pick her up from Charles’ house, nor did she contact anyone after she allegedly left his house. Since 9:30 p.m. on December 29, 2004, there was absolutely no evidence Kathy existed.

Dismantling the defense

Murphree walked the jury through every statement Charles had made to law enforcement and a private investigator hired by the Munday family. Every inconsistency was highlighted. He also explained to the jury how Charles, not Kathy, had reason to be upset about their pending divorce. Charles stood to lose his property the following day. The defense theory was that Kathy had walked away from her children, family, career, friends, and possessions because Charles wanted to sell the property and split the land. In reality, due to his own inaction, Charles had no say in how the property would be divided, and he knew it.

    Citing his extensive law enforcement experience and 13 years as a Texas Ranger working primarily homicide cases, Ranger Murphree explained to the jury different methods of murder that did not necessarily leave blood. He also noted that DNA evidence, unlike blood, would not be useful in a domestic homicide in the marital home. The defense had made an issue of the lack of DNA evidence in the case, and Murphree explained to the jury that because Kathy and Charles had both lived in that house for 16 years, a search for DNA alone would not have had any evidentiary value.

    Murphree walked the jury through every possible explanation for Kathy’s disappearance. Could an evil third party have intervened? Using aerial photographs, Murphree demonstrated for the jury the remoteness of the farm. He explained the unlikelihood that a boogeyman would stalk his prey on this hill in the middle of 100 acres of farmland. What are the odds that a stranger would have nabbed Kathy moments after she uttered what Charles said were her final words, “Don’t look for me, because no one will ever be able to find me.”

    By presenting evidence of how Kathy conducted her life, who she was, all of her household records, and the testimony from those who knew her personally and professionally, we were able to rule out a pre-planned or spontaneous voluntary departure. Our approach was just like the old jury instruction on circumstantial evidence: step-by-step analysis of any other possible explanation for her disappearance ruled out all other reasonable theories of the case. By disproving every other alternative, there was only one possible explanation: Charles killed her.

Charee Stobaugh

From the time the indictment was returned until trial, we made several unsuccessful attempts to set up meetings with Charee. Charee had been through an unimaginable ordeal. After losing her mother, her confidante, Charee moved back in with Charles. At 16, all of her mother’s household responsibilities became hers. But she was Kathy’s child, and she rose to the occasion. She graduated salutatorian of her high school class before heading off to college to obtain a teaching degree, just like her mom. By the trial date, she had graduated from college and moved back home with Charles and Tommy, and the wagons were circled. Gone was the crying, conflicted girl we interviewed in November 2009. She was completely under her father’s control by the trial date.

    Four days before trial she finally agreed to meet. We had not interviewed her in 14 months. She picked the location of our meeting, a Texaco station on the side of the interstate near the Stobaugh farm. This was not going to be an in-depth meeting. The last time we met Charee had wept as she described her mom. This time she described new memories of her mother leaving her as a child. She was clearly entrenched in her father’s camp and admitted she had met with the defense attorney more times than she could count. Her tears for Kathy were gone, replaced with open hostility for our office. She changed significant details of her story, all benefiting Charles. Charee was lying, and she wasn’t doing it very well.

    During the trial, Charee’s initial statement to the police was admitted in the missing person’s report. In a move that obviously shocked some of the jurors, we did not call Charee to testify. We were not going to sponsor this witness. Instead, Charee was the defense’s star witness. In fact, the responsibility of keeping Charles Stobaugh out of prison was placed squarely on the shoulders of his 23-year-old daughter.

    During direct Charee smiled at the jury and laughed as she described Chales as an attentive, loving father. She appeared happy and relaxed on the stand and very rehearsed. She explained that “we” left voicemail messages for Kathy during those first few days of Kathy’s disappearance. “We,” she explained, meant her and Charles, though the calls were from her phone, she was the only one speaking, and Charles was never mentioned. She now proclaimed that she and Charles had decided together that the police must be notified of Kathy’s disappearance. Through Charee, the defense attorney addressed virtually every blow that had been struck at Charles during the entire trial. She explained that Charles had a friend of his steal Kathy’s computer from her house with Charee’s help to have it examined forensically for clues to her disappearance. This was brand new, unsubstantiated information that contradicted what Charee had previously told us. The young woman had an explanation for everything, and her poise seemed at odds with the fact that she was testifying in her mother’s murder trial. She was a Stepford Wife on the stand for an entire day of direct testimony.

    Then came cross-examination. When confronted with all the new information, memories, and versions of events that directly contradicted the statements she had made to law enforcement between 2004 and 2009, Charee came down with a terrible case of amnesia. She could not remember anything she told anyone. Quietly asked about obvious changes in her testimony, she completely wilted on the stand. She admitted the unfettered access she gave the defense attorney while being too busy for over a year to meet with us. She described how her new memories and never-disclosed details resulted from conversations with her father and pointed questions from his attorney. Through her, the defense had focused on Kathy’s relationship with Rocky. Again and again the defense mentioned Kathy’s “secret sexual relationship” with him. In actuality, testimony showed that Kathy, months into her separation, had sex twice with Rocky, but the defense portrayed Kathy as an adulteress who abandoned her children. Charee described her new suspicions that Kathy had secret relationships with men, hiding in other rooms of their house for clandestine phone conversations. Charee’s new memories and accusations directly contradicted any information she had ever given law enforcement. If she truly believed her father was innocent, why the need to drastically change her story? It was heartbreaking.

    In the end, she went above and beyond for her father. Certainly, no more could have been asked of her.


The jury had to weigh Charee’s testimony against a mountain of circumstantial evidence and a parade of witnesses on Kathy’s behalf. Would they take the time to sift through all the details—the phone records, the bank records, Kathy’s school records, employment records, and the children’s initial account of what happened—and compare it all to Charee’s testimony? Witness after witness had adamantly described a mother that would never abandon her kids. The evidence was overwhelming that Kathy was on the brink of getting the divorce she wanted and walking away with money in her pocket, the ability to support her family, and an opportunity to begin a new life with her kids. The evidence was equally overwhelming that Charles did not want the divorce, was embarrassed that his wife had left him, and was not about to hand over half of his property.

    At the end of the trial we were confident that the evidence was there if the jury chose to analyze it. Regardless of how strong the circumstantial evidence was, however, we still lacked the traditional components of a murder case: blood, forensics, an autopsy, a crime scene, a murder weapon, and, of course, a body.

    What should have been a three-week trial had stretched into four weeks as back-to-back ice storms hit Denton County, but finally, the case was in the hands of the jury. In the first few minutes of deliberation, the jury sent out a note requesting the definition of “reasonable doubt.” It would be the only note.


As the hours ticked by, the spectators stayed. The Stobaughs convinced of Charles’ innocence paced the hallways with the other Stobaughs resigned to his guilt. The Mundays attempted to set aside the betrayal of Charee’s testimony. Despite anxiousness about the jury deliberations, the Mundays expressed satisfaction that Kathy had finally gotten her day in court.

    After 10 hours, the jury returned with a verdict. The courtroom was packed with members of both families. Ranger Murphree, his wife sitting by his side, had sat at the courthouse those 10 hours awaiting the verdict. When the judge announced, “Guilty,” that tough Ranger looked a bit weak in the knees. Tears flowed freely in the courtroom, on both sides of the aisle. Across the courtroom, Charee and Tommy wept. Though adults, they are also child victims of family violence.

    After an emotional plea for leniency from Charee, the jury sentenced Charles to 25 years in prison. The following week, on February 24, 2011, Kathy Stobaugh would have celebrated her 50th birthday. Her children spent that evening visiting Charles at the Denton County Jail.