Emails shed light on Christopher Vaughn’s desire to run off to Canada
By ERIKA WURST AND JON SEIDEL Sun-Times Media August 31, 2012 6:20AM
Stephen Willott, a witness in the Christopher Vaughn trial, leaves the Will County Courthouse in Joliet, IL on Friday August 31, 2012. He is from near Ottawa, Ontario in Canada, and was the "Flea" to Vaughn's "Flint" in their correspondence online. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 2, 2012 6:06AM
If Christopher Vaughn did shoot his family in cold blood, his motive for doing so became clear to jurors on Friday as they read in detail about the Oswego man’s plans to ditch society and his life of obligations for a life in the Canadian wilderness with a man he met online.
“I’m wondering what it says when the biggest thing I’ll miss is my Jeep,” Vaughn, using the pseudonym “Flint,” wrote to 31-year-old Stephen Willott of Canada. The two met online in October 2006 on a website where they bonded over their mutual desire to leave civilization behind. For Vaughn, that included a steady job, a wife and three kids.
In the series of emails, which Willott read to jurors on Friday, Vaughn mentions a wife, but no children. Instead, the two spent nearly eight months making plans for their departure, which they planned for spring 2008.
As each day passed, Vaughn seemed to obsess more and more about leaving, unable to focus on much else.
“I don’t think I can wait until next year,” Vaughn wrote as he planned a May 2007 trip to Canada to scout the terrain. “The trip may change the timeline.”
Within a month of his return to the United States from that trip, Vaughn’s wife and three children were found shot to death in the family’s SUV.
Abby, 12, Cassandra, 11, and Blake, 8, were found shot along with Kimberly Vaughn on June 14, 2007, in the family’s red SUV. It was found parked on a desolate frontage road off Interstate 55 in Channahon, where Vaughn said he had pulled over on the family’s way to a Springfield water park.
Defense attorneys maintain it was a suicidal Kimberly Vaughn who shot her husband, causing superficial wounds on his wrist and leg, before killing her children and then herself. But prosecutors claim Vaughn shot his family so he could live life in the wilderness without obligations.
The emails read Friday shed light on that motive, but not the actual deaths of his family. At one point, Vaughn mentions faking his own death so his wife would get his life insurance money and be taken care of after he left.
“Without following through with the plan, I can’t go with a clear conscience,” Vaughn wrote. But upon his return from his scouting trip, it appeared that the following spring couldn’t come soon enough.
“If I had stayed much longer, I wouldn’t have come back,” Vaughn wrote on May 14.
On Friday, jurors saw pictures Vaughn had taken during his Yukon trip. From his seat at the defense table, Vaughn stared longingly at the screen as each photo was displayed. If convicted, that could be the closest the wilderness lover ever comes to the trees again.
The lengthy email exchanges took place almost daily until Willott suddenly quit hearing from Vaughn in June 2007. Prior to that, they discussed writing a book about their adventures, or videotaping themselves like other survivalists have done for television.
Willott said he believes Vaughn was absolutely going to disappear for good, and that for Vaughn it was no “camping trip.”
“The lists, the gear, the maps, the ways to get in (to Canada) and the ways to stay there,” Willott said, were all indicative of a man who was planning to permanently escape.
“For me, it was pretty much an extended camping trip,” Willott told jurors, but Vaughn’s reference to staging his permanent disappearance seemed odd.
“I’ve attached my mug shot,” Vaughn wrote on March 15, 2007. “If you see it at the post office, keep in mind it was all just a big misunderstanding (kidding.),” he wrote.
He also lamented his failing marriage.
It was “really just a few years ago when I woke up and realized it wasn’t going to work,” Vaughn wrote the day after Valentine’s Day 2007. He said Kimberly would start talking about things she wanted to do in the upcoming years and “I just shrug it off.”
“You shouldn’t do something because everyone else does,” Vaughn wrote. “I started down that path, but unlike most people, I realize I have a choice.”
In one email, Vaughn mentions a woman he met at a club who might be interested in coming along for the “long walk,” but he doubted her commitment to being able to do so.
“Feel free to talk to some sense into me, man, because I am starting to think that it wouldn’t be too bad bringing her along,” Vaughn wrote.
At the conclusion of Vaughn and Willott’s first face-to-face meeting Friday, the former friends gave each other a slight smile. Willott told prosecutors Vaughn was a good listener, enjoyed a good laugh and was someone he considered a friend. But as much as they seemed to have in common, there was one big difference between them, Willott told the jury.
“I wouldn’t permanently go live up there, I’d just try it for a couple of months … I’d miss my family too much,” he said.