Murder for Hire: Colorado Family Recalls Living in Fear

For 24 months, they've lived in fear for their lives.

March 29, 2013, 6:16 PM

March 29, 2013 — -- For the last 24 months, members of a Colorado family rocked by a gruesome murder have lived in fear for their lives. The man who masterminded their loved ones' killings is finally behind bars for good, but that didn't prevent him from ordering the original killings.

On the night of Feb. 23, 2011, a man dressed like a ninja entered the Castle Rock, Colo., home of Robert and Tammy Rafferty, going on a murderous rampage -- killing Robert Rafferty, 49, and his sister-in-law, Amara Wells, 39, as Amara Wells' 6-year-old daughter watched in horror.

Watch the full story on "20/20: The Ultimate Betrayal" TONIGHT at 10 ET.

Police turned their attention to Amara Wells' husband, Christopher Wells. She had filed multiple restraining orders against him, and he had violated those orders more than four times. However, in Colorado, no matter how many times someone violates a restraining order, as long as they have the funds they can keep bailing themselves out of jail with no repercussions.

"He would get arrested, he would go in with money and he would bond out," said Tammy Rafferty. "He just felt he was above the law because the law was not keeping him in jail."

In the hours after Amara Wells and Robert Rafferty were found dead, detectives identified Christopher Wells as their prime suspect. The only problem with their theory? He was in jail when his family was killed.

"Obviously [Wells] was going to be our first suspect," said Weaver. "To learn that he was in jail stopped us cold."

RELATED: Be on the Lookout for Murder for Hire

The Early Years

When she was 27, Amara Walter was working as a flight attendant, living an exciting life flying around the world and constantly meeting new people.

Her life was forever changed when she met one of those people, the dashing Christopher Wells, on a flight to Washington, D.C. The handsome man always had odd jobs, some of them less than savory. At one time he worked as a Chippendales dancer.

"She had just become a flight attendant for United," said Amara Wells' sister, Melissa Brown. "I think she was on the rebound, and he said all the right things to her that she had wanted to hear."

It was a whirlwind courtship, and in less than a year, Christopher and Amara Wells were married. They wed alone, without even their families, in Niagara Falls. Melissa Brown said she and the rest of her family weren't allowed to attend the wedding, that it was only going to be Amara and Christopher Wells and a witness.

"It just happened so fast," said Brown. "It was a very short courtship."

Eventually, the newlyweds moved closer to their families in the town of Castle Rock, Colo., a growing community an hour south of Denver.

Amara Wells was now geographically closer to her sister and her sister's husband, Jack Brown.

The same was true for Chris Wells, now closer to his sister, Tammy Rafferty, and her husband, Bob Rafferty.

The families said that, during the early years of Chris and Amara Wells' marriage, the couples grew very fond of each other, to the point where Tammy Rafferty felt like Amara Wells was more than just a sister-in-law.

"It wasn't like it was my in-law," Rafferty said. "She was my sister, you know, my heart."

Chris Wells Changes

But despite Amara Wells seemingly drawing three families together as one, relatives said, Chris Wells rarely seemed to be around. Tammy Rafferty would hold Sunday dinners at her house every other week. When Chris Wells would show up, she said, he would be distant and would separate himself.

"Chris was always distant," said Tammy Rafferty. "Chris was always in another room. When he was around us, it was always so intense. Almost like he was on something."

As the years went on, Amara Wells gave birth to her and her husband's only child, a girl. He was said to have adored his daughter while his relationship with his wife grew tense.

"He struck me as, you know, a guy who thought a lot of himself -- a very big ego," said Amara Wells' brother-in-law, Jack Brown. "He seemed to like to control the situation, whether in conversation or just interaction with Amara."

According to his family, Chris Wells was heavily involved in drugs, storing and using thousands of dollars of meth in his home, the same home he shared with his wife and young daughter, who ABC News is not naming to protect her identity.

Melissa Brown said her sister became scared of Chris Wells and afraid for her daughter.

"She was worried about her [daughter's] safety. She was worried about what he [Wells] could do," said Jack Brown. "You could sense he was very angry and that it was escalating to a completely different level."

To protect the young girl, Amara Wells took her daughter to the home of Robert and Tammy Rafferty. Over the years, Tammy Rafferty had become close with Amara Wells and said that she felt obligated to protect her sister-in-law from her own brother.

"Bob and I were adamant about her coming to live with us," Rafferty said. "It wasn't an option to go home, 'cause we were worried about her safety."

Melissa Brown said life started to get back to normal for Amara Wells and her daughter after they moved in with the Raffertys. The daughter was attending school and the mother had just started a new job at a bank.

However, Chris Wells was furious at the living arrangement, as he was angry that his wife left and took their only child.

"[Chris Wells] called and said, 'I just want to let you know that I packed up everything she has and left it at the bottom of Tammy and Bob's driveway," Melissa Brown said. "All of the sudden I heard [Amara Wells] scream. She was standing there holding her wedding dress and he urinated across it and wrote a profanity."

According to police reports, Amara Wells received a restraining order against her husband. He was arrested four times for violating the restraining order, but was bailed out with the help of his friends each time.

Melissa Brown said nothing would stop Chris Wells from coming after his wife and that the police couldn't do anything about it.

"She [Amara Wells] said, 'I think he's going to kill me,'" said Brown. "And the police officer looked at me, and he said that he [Chris Wells] is not going to stop until he puts a bullet in your sister's head. At that point, I knew. I knew it was going to happen."

"We were getting contacted from Amara saying she's afraid that Mr. Wells is going to come kill us," said former Douglas County Prosecutor Brett Cochran. "There was really nothing the police could do."

Deadly Escalation

On the night of Feb. 23, 2011, as she sat in a hotel room during a business trip, Tammy Rafferty got a call she said she will never forget. Police were at her home and her husband and sister-in-law were dead.

"I was out of town on business and I was talking to Bob on the phone, and he said to me, 'Things are getting bad, and I have this feeling that we need to take some bigger steps and measures to protect ourselves,'" said Tammy Rafferty. "It was just a day too late."

Amara Wells' sister, Melissa Brown, said as soon as she was told police were at the Raffertys' house, she knew what had happened to her sister.

"I got a phone call from a mutual friend," said Melissa Brown. "She said, 'Tammy's house is on the news!' and right then I knew. I said, 'He did it!'"

Sgt. Jason Weaver of the Douglas County, Colo., Sheriff's department, knowing the history of the Wells' relationship, immediately pegged Chris Wells as the chief suspect. The only problem was that Wells was in jail in a different county for an unrelated drug charge.

That news didn't stop Weaver from keeping tabs on Wells, which revealed a web of plans detailing how Wells wanted his wife and family murdered.

The Gruesome Scene

Immediately after the killings, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office got a 911 call from a neighbor's home and responded to the Rafferty house.

"Once they got inside, they found a deceased male, a deceased female and the house had been lit on fire," Weaver said.

Weaver got a call at home telling him of a gruesome murder scene at a Castle Rock home.

During pre-trial hearings in 2011, Weaver testified that he entered the home and found teeth scattered on the main floor that led to Robert Rafferty's body. Weaver said he found Rafferty in a pool of blood, shot in the chest, beaten and stabbed in the neck multiple times.

Weaver then found Amara Wells' body covered in blood near stairs, he testified. He said he couldn't see any gunshot wounds at first because there was so much blood. But he noticed her neck was slit open.

Weaver saw obvious signs of a struggle inside the Rafferty home. He later concluded Bob Rafferty fought to his death to protect Amara Wells' then-6-year-old daughter, who was inside the home and watched the killings.

"One of the most beautiful things we heard shortly after was from the sheriff, who said Bob was an incredible hero that night, that he fought with everything he had," said Tammy Rafferty.

The other hero of the night seemed to be the 6-year-old girl who escaped after watching a man kill her mom and uncle.

"I have never seen a child go through such trauma and be so strong," said Weaver. "That little girl is absolutely nothing more than amazing."

Weaver was convinced that Chris Wells, despite being in jail, had something to do with the killings.

That hunch led investigators to a Colorado Springs, Colo., car dealership where Chris Wells worked, Rocky Mountain Auto Dealers. There, they met Josiah Sher, who was physically wounded with a mark on his forehead that looked like it could match a ring Bob Rafferty was wearing when he was killed.

Sher was taken into the Douglas County Sheriff's Office for questioning. In a taped interview between Weaver and Sher lasting more than two-hours, Sher admitted he killed Rafferty and Wells.

Sher said he had been approached about a week before the killings by a man named Micah Woody who bore an offer allegedly from Christopher Wells, though Sher said he never met Wells or spoke with him directly.

The alleged offer was to kill Wells' wife, brother-in-law and sister, Tammy Rafferty, for $5,000 per killing.

Sher said that after using cocaine in the preceding hours, he entered the Rafferty home armed with guns and a knife and found Amara Wells' room downstairs. He told Weaver he shot at Wells with a revolver and tossed away that gun. Wells tried to run but Sher said he stabbed her at the bottom of a staircase.

Sher described what happened next in the interrogation transcript.

Weaver: OK. And they, he [Bob] came out, what was he carrying?

Sher: A rifle.

Weaver: Shotgun, right?

Sher: Shotgun.

Weaver: Shotgun. Fight on?

Sher: Yea.

Weaver: Yea. See that little L mark right there (gesturing to Sher's forehead)?

Sher: Um hum.

Weaver: Matches the ring he had on.

Sher: (nodding head yes)

Weaver: Got you pretty good at least a couple time, didn't he?Sher: Yeah.

Weaver: Yeah. So with him ... was it you that caused the big dent in the wall or was it him?

Sher: Me

Weaver: He pushed you into the wall?

Sher: Um hum.

Sher eventually managed to kill Rafferty, shooting him in the chest.

"Bob was an incredible hero that night," said Tammy Rafferty. "That's the person he was, how deeply he loved his family."

During the lengthy interrogation, Sher said he wasn't alone and that his friend, Matthew Plake, had actually helped him scout the home and then drove him there the night of the killings.

Weaver knew he needed to get a confession from Plake. He mentioned the victim's 6-year-old daughter to help get it.

"We're gonna let you write and apology letter to the 6-year-old girl who watched her mother die," Weaver said.

Plake replied, "Oh, Jesus," and started telling what he said was the truth.

"I did not know he went in there to do that," Plake said. "I thought he was gonna just try to make some money."

Plake told investigators there were moments during the crime when he didn't know what was going on, but he'd known Sher since he was 13 or 14 years old.

"I've always followed Josiah," Plake said to investigators. "Josiah says to do something, he's always looked out for me, he's always been there for me."

Plake eventually told investigators that he drove Sher to the Rafferty home in the early morning of Feb. 23, and when they got to there, Sher got out of the car and entered the front door.

Police believe Plake never entered the Rafferty home, but waited outside in the get-away car.

Plake said he turned the car around so it was in the driveway facing the street, and later Sher came running out of the house and said, "We gotta go."

"This is the biggest ... mistake I've ever made in my life," said Plake to sheriff's investigators. "I wasn't thinking and I wasn't questioning him [Sher]."

Finding Justice

After the murders, both families -- including Tammy Rafferty and her two children, and Jack and Melissa Brown and their children -- were put into protective custody by police along with Chris and Amara Wells' 6-year-old daughter. Investigators feared someone else might be out there with orders to kill them.

As the defense attorneys for the four co-defendants -- Christopher Wells, Josiah Sher, Matthew Plake and Micah Woody -- began to defend their clients, Amara Wells' brother-in-law, Jack Brown, said despite all the evidence pointing to Chris Wells as the mastermind behind the heinous crime, he would never admit he had anything to do with it.

"He [Wells] never apologized," said Jack Brown. "It was as if he really doesn't even think he did anything wrong."

The surviving members of the two grieving families had a decision to make: Did they want to see the men who conspired to kill their loved ones tried and face the death penalty, or would they allow them to take a plea deal so that Amara Wells' 6-year-old daughter, the only witness to the murders, would never have to take the stand?

The families chose not go after the death penalty, saying they had to protect this 6-year-old, who had already witnessed the unthinkable.

There was one catch. Wells said he would only plead guilty so that his daughter would not have to testify if he could record a message that the young girl would be required to watch. The family reluctantly agreed to the video and the young girl watched it.

"He put together a very short, cold videotape, basically that he wouldn't be able to see her anymore and, oddly enough, that, you know, she should be a good girl and stay out of trouble and not to do bad things," said Jack Brown.

Still Living in Fear

Christopher Wells is serving the rest of his life behind bars with no chance of parole, and so is Josiah Sher.

Micah Woody and Matthew Plake will not be released from prison for another 46 years for their roles in the murders of Amara Wells and Robert Rafferty.

Family members, however, said they are still not safe and still fear for their lives -- though they have been out of protective custody since soon after the murders.

Investigators told ABC News that Wells, though he is imprisoned, is receiving multi-hundred-dollar payments from a longtime friend of his. When contacted by ABC News, the man who police said is making the payments denied having any involvement and had no further comment.

Officials with the Colorado Department of Corrections said that Wells is receiving a large amount of money, but that they have control over what Wells does with the funds.

However, the family and the lead prosecutor who brought the charges against Wells believe the family is in danger as long as Wells is alive.

"I know what Chris does when he has access to money," said Tammy Rafferty. "His job isn't done, I think he wants to come after me because I wasn't home that night. And I think he wants to come after Melissa and Ed because they are now the parents of my niece."

Watch the full story on "20/20: The Ultimate Betrayal" TONIGHT at 10 ET.

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