Did Wife Frame Husband for Arizona Cold Case Murders?
Could a divorce have driven a woman to frame her husband for murder?
Oct. 27, 2010— -- Ron Kempfert spent most of his life believing his father was a murderer. He said it was his mother who often fueled this horrible image of the man he called Dad.
"He's a murderer, he's a manipulator, he uses people, and that he didn't care about us, only cared about himself," Kempfert said his mother would tell him and his two brothers, Scott and Steve, when they were younger.
His father, Bill Macumber, who had no history of violence, was convicted in the 1970s in one of the most sensational murder cases in the history of Arizona. Macumber was sentenced to life in prison for killing Joyce Sterrenberg and Tim McKillop, both 20 years old, and leaving their bodies in the desert.
On May 24, 1962, the young couple was found shot and killed next to their car in an area now near Scottsdale, Ariz. The case went cold for 12 years until Macumber's wife, Carol Kempfert, went into the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office department where she worked and told her supervisors that her husband had confessed to the murders. Macumber was arrested a week later.
In 1975, Kempfert testified against her ex-husband, again saying that he confessed. The Arizona Republic reported that during the trial, two pieces of evidence allegedly had been collected by investigators at the scene and were also presented: a lifted palm print and bullet casings. At the time, prosecutors argued that the physical evidence linked Macumber to the murder scene.
Macumber was convicted of double homicide and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ron Kempfert, now 42, had no doubt of his father's conviction, until he spoke with a prominent Phoenix defense attorney named Larry Hammond over the phone in 2003, 28 years after his father has been sent to jail. Hammond runs the Arizona Justice Project, an organization that works to free prisoners they decide could be innocent.
"He said 'I don't know how to tell you this, there is no way to tell you this -- we know your father, we think your father is innocent and we're pretty sure your mom framed him for it,'" Kempfert said of the phone call with Hammond.
After recovering from the initial shock, Kempfert started to untangle what his mother, Carol, had told him over the years and slowly the possibility that his father was innocent began to make sense.
"I love my mother but I don't like her. She is not a nice person and I did not make that jump immediately," he said. "I don't have any doubt anymore that my mom did it -- that my mom framed my dad for the murders."
Kempfert added that he eventually came to believe that his mother had a powerful motive. Around the time she turned her husband into police, Carol and Macumber's marriage was falling apart. At the time, Carol was working in the sheriff's office, where she had access to evidence from the cold case murder, and she had recently taken classes in lifting fingerprints.