Murder for Hire: Colorado Family Recalls Living in Fear

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

ByABC News
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."

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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.

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.