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Accused husband plans to say suicidal wife killed kids, herself
Christopher Vaughn says he lost his memory of I-55 murders
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Christopher Vaughn


The Vaughn family


Kimberly Ellen Vaughn, 34


Blake Vaughn, 8


Abigayle "Abbi" Vaughn, 12


Cassandra "Sandi" Vaughn, 11


Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow, center and Capt. Carl Dobrich, center left, of the Illinois State Police announce charges June 23, 2007, against Christopher Vaughn of Oswego in the fatal shootings of his wife and three children.


Daily Herald file photo, 2007

Christopher Vaughn, arrives in Joliet July 3, 2007, with Illinois State Police authorities, after waving extradition from Missouri to face charges he murdered his wife and their young children in Will County.


Courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

Crosses in memory of Kimberly, Blake, Abigayle and Cassandra Vaughn sit in a makeshift memorial outside their home on the 700 block of Mansfield Court in Oswego shortly after their June 14, 2007 shooting deaths.


Daily Herald file photo, 2007

Police investigate the June 14, 2007, crime scene in which Kimberly Vaughn and her three children were found fatally shot in the Oswego family's red Ford Expedition parked on a secluded service road near Bluff Road and I-55 near Channahon.


Courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

Christopher Vaughn, 35


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Published: 1/11/2010 12:01 AM

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Other major 2010 trials


• The federal corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is slated to begin this year on charges he schemed to trade or sell President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat and committed other fundraising abuses.

Cook County

• Patrick Taylor is expected to get his day in court this year for the 2006 fatal shooting of a Rolling Meadows musician during a robbery, in which one other person also was shot but survived.

DuPage County

• Edward Tenney, serving life prison terms for two murders, including dairy heiress Mary Jill Oberweis, may face the death penalty if convicted of the 1992 shooting of a Aurora father during a robbery. The trial begins this month.

• Christy Lentz argues she fatally shot her father in self-defense during a spring 2006 altercation at his Villa Park business. Her trial started last week.

Kane County

• Frank A. Hill is accused in this death penalty case of killing his girlfriend and setting her Gilberts home on fire in January 2007.

• Darren Denson also may face a death sentence if convicted of the February 2003 murder of an Elgin man during an armed robbery in his home.

Kendall County

• Sandra Vasquez of Aurora will go on trial for aggravated drunken driving charges for a deadly February 2007 crash that killed five Oswego teens.

Lake County

• Jerry Hobbs III may face a death sentence if he is found guilty of the 2005 stabbing deaths of his 8-year-old daughter and her friend in a Zion park.

McHenry County

• Julian Palomo, of Lake in the Hills, faces trial on charges he murdered his infant nephew in 2006 while babysitting the 3-month-old.

Will County

•Drew Peterson may spend the rest of his life in prison if the former Bolingbrook police sergeant is found guilty of the 2004 drowning death of his third wife, whose death was reclassified a murder after the disappearance of his fourth wife sparked a renewed investigation.

Source: Daily Herald interview projections; some trials may be continued beyond 2010.

Christopher Vaughn arrived early that Saturday to bury his wife and three children.

He never made it inside the service.

Instead, police arrested the Oswego man at the Missouri funeral home on that day more than two years ago on charges he murdered his family. It was a climactic moment in a puzzling tragedy that will be the focus of one of the suburbs' biggest trials this year.

Vaughn, 35, may face the death penalty if he is convicted of the 2007 fatal shootings.

Few new details about the crime have emerged since shortly afterward when Will County Circuit Judge Daniel Rozak sealed the entire criminal case file to quell pretrial publicity.

But the Daily Herald has learned Vaughn maintains it was his wife, Kimberly - severely depressed and suicidal as a side effect of improperly taking prescription medication she used to treat migraines - who opened fire before turning the gun on herself. Vaughn also will say he suffered immediate memory loss due to the traumatic event, a source close to the investigation said.

Prosecutors lack a confession, but they said forensics, crime-scene evidence and interviews are proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the devoted mother could not have pulled the trigger.

Testimony from some on the prosecution's initial witness list, which included nearly 300 people from insurance fraud investigators to strip club workers, will focus on allegations that the husband had grown unhappy in his nearly 13-year marriage. Witnesses also are expected to detail that he had a financial motive to get rid of his family.

His trial may begin this fall.

Outing turns tragic

Vaughn is accused of the shooting deaths of Kimberly, 34, and their three children - Abigayle or "Abbi," 12, a gifted artist and soccer goalie; Cassandra or "Sandi," 11, a budding entrepreneur who wanted to start a dog-walking business and often performed basement plays; and 8-year-old Blake, an avid reader and wordsmith with a photographic memory who knew baseball statistics like the back of his hand.

The police investigation began about 5:30 a.m. June 14, 2007, after Christopher Vaughn flagged down a passing motorist near the Bluff Road interchange at I-55 near Channahon.

Vaughn, bloodied with superficial gunshot wounds to his thigh and wrist, asked the motorist to call 911.

After police responded, they found Vaughn's slain wife and children inside their red Ford Expedition parked on a nearby but secluded service road. Abbi, Sandi and Blake each were shot twice. Kimberly Vaughn, in the front passenger seat, suffered a single fatal gunshot wound that entered underneath her chin.

The 9 mm gun, found inside the SUV, legally belonged to Christopher Vaughn, a private investigator and computer securities expert.

In the hours and days after the shootings, police said Vaughn voluntarily spoke to them at least three times. His defense team at trial will argue he suffered a form of amnesia triggered by the traumatic event immediately afterward, the source said.

Initially, Vaughn told detectives that his family was on its way to a Springfield water park when he pulled off the highway because his wife, who suffered migraines, felt sick. Vaughn said he could remember exiting the SUV only to adjust luggage in a roof rack, then going for help after noticing he was bleeding, the source said. Vaughn could not at the time explain his injury.

But his version of what happened became more detailed with each police interview. He later said his wife shot him and that he fled, according to the source. To explain how Kimberly Vaughn had his gun, Vaughn said he must have forgotten to lock it back up in his closet - his usual practice - after recently using it for shooting practice.

His defense team argues the wife had used Nortriptyline and Topamax, both of which can be taken for depression but also are commonly used to treat migraines. Medical experts warn of possible suicidal side effects if users suddenly stop taking the medication rather than being weaned off properly.

Topamax also has garnered public debate since the recent death of actress Brittany Murphy, 32, after it and other prescription drugs were found in her Hollywood Hills home.

The Will County coroner's office has not yet publicly released the toxicology results of Kimberly Vaughn's autopsy, but the Daily Herald source said traces of at least one of the two prescription drugs was found in her system.

Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow and defense attorney John P. Rogers also would not comment. Rogers did, though, repeat what he already revealed earlier in court.

"We have consulted with many experts and are exploring a defense consistent with the theory that the physical evidence implicates Kimberly and not my client," he said.

Experts examined blood-spatter patterns, bullet trajectories and gunpowder residue.

The latter did not reveal conclusive proof of the actual shooter, the source said, because gunpowder routinely spreads when a weapon is fired in a contained area, such as an SUV. An analysis of the bullet trajectories showed the gun was fired from the passenger area into the back seat, where the three children sat, according to the source.

The defense maintains that's proof Kimberly shot the gun; the prosecution argues Christopher fired the shots through the passenger window while outside the SUV.

The source could not confirm results of blood spatter and whose - if any - fingerprints were found on the gun.

Members of Kimberly Vaughn's surviving family, which includes her parents and two sisters, one of whom is an identical twin, said they could not discuss the criminal case while it is pending in court.

In the past, though, her family and friends told reporters Kimberly Vaughn was a devoted mother who would never harm her children. They said she hated guns and was far from depressed or suicidal.

Christopher Vaughn remained free in the initial days of the police probe as detectives investigated the nearly 13-year marriage of the couple, who met while growing up near each other in Missouri, and their finances. Detectives searched their Oswego home, computers, cell phone, credit card and bank records; they also conducted interviews with relatives, friends and neighbors in Oswego and former residences in Aurora, Sammamish, Wash., and Missouri.

The police probe revealed the Vaughns had significant debt on their Oswego home, purchased about one year before the shootings, and that Christopher Vaughn was the beneficiary of his wife's $1 million life insurance policy. Though Vaughn denied killing his family, the source said, he did admit to having extramarital "indiscretions" and frequenting a particular strip club.

Vaughn, who stayed at his parents' home in St. Louis after the murders, was arrested nine days afterward as he showed up for the funeral in the nearby suburb of St. Charles. He did not resist arrest.

At the time, Glasgow said he charged Christopher Vaughn after reviewing Illinois State Police crime lab forensic results of the evidence, some of which conflicted with the defendant's account of what he said happened.

Vaughn has no criminal record. He is being held without bond in the Will County jail.

He is due back in court today.