"I'm not crying because of you; you're not worth it. I'm crying because my delusion of who you were was shattered by the truth of who you are."
- Dr Steve Muraboli
It was the 29th of September 2015. A Tuesday. Thirty five year old Kelley Clayton was at home with her two children, her seven year old daughter Charlie and three year old son Cullen in Elmira, New York, United States.They lived in a house on Ginnan Road in the Steuben County Town of Caton.
Kelley was born and raised in Elmira but left in her twenties to pursue her dreams of becoming a model. Kelley left her teaching job and got a job as a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas. She had a fantastic time. But when she met Thomas Clayton, she moved back home to Elmira to start a life with him. He was a hockey player for the semi-pro Elmira Jackals and they married and had two children.
Thomas and Kelley Clayton with their children
Thomas spent four seasons with the Elmira Jackals hockey team. He joined the Jackals as a forward right out of Niagara University. He also began a business franchise, Paul Davis Emergency Services of the Southern Tier, a fire and water damage restoration firm and later became project manager at ServPro, a similar franchise owned by his friend Brian Laing. Kelley worked at The Woodhouse Stadium Grill in Corning. They were busy but seemed like a happy family of four.
That night, the night of the 28th of September, Thomas was at a poker game with friends. He took part in a poker game every Monday night. That night was no exception. He left his house on Ginnan Road to drive to a friend's house where the poker game was being held. It was around a ten minute drive or so.
Thomas was there until 12.20am and he got back home at 12.30am. When Thomas entered the house, he found Kelley on the kitchen floor. She had been brutally murdered. Thomas called 911. It was around 12.34am when he placed the call.
Kelley's sister, Kim Bourgeois, and their mother were at the house within an hour. It was a horrific crime scene. There was blood everywhere and the evidence indicated that Kelley was attacked in her bedroom and the attack continued down the hallway and down the stairs and into the kitchen, where Kelley's body was found.
Kelley had been beaten to death with a fiberglass maul handle. She died as a result of the blunt force trauma she suffered. Kelley's children were home during the attack. Her seven year old daughter told the police that there was a "robber" in their house that night. She gave a harrowing account of what happened that night to police. She saw her mother being viciously assaulted and her mother pleaded with her to run.
Kelley's daughter told police that "a man was hurting mommy." She said that in the middle of the night, a man came in and was hitting her mother with a pipe thingy. She told police that there was blood everywhere, even on her door and on the floor. She said that the man chased her mother downstairs and her mother was screaming at her to run. The attack continued downstairs:
“I saw the robber like hitting her until she was on the ground. She was sort of suffering. Then I hugged her leg.”
Kelley's daughter hugged her mother as she lay dying on the kitchen floor. She went upstairs then to check on her younger brother. Kelley's daughter told police that the man was wearing dark jeans, a long sleeved shirt and a mask. Police asked her if the man was little or big. She told them that he was "the size of my Dad" and that his eyes were the same.
There was no sign of any forced entry or signs that a robbery had taken place. But a family member who arrived at the scene told police that they should speak to a man named Michael Beard. Michael was an employee of one of Thomas's companies and he had been fired. Thomas was also in the process of evicting him from the apartment that he rented from him.But police who were inside the house believed that the scene looked like the result of a domestic violence situation and they asked to speak to Thomas at the station.
Police checked Thomas's alibi and discovered that he was at the poker game that night. The people at the poker game confirmed it as did his GPS. When police looked into Thomas's alibi further, a woman, Linda Miller, who had been at the poker game with him told police that Thomas used her phone around ninety minutes before Kelley's body was found. Thomas deleted that call but through phone records, police discovered Thomas had called Michael Beard.
Thomas was charged with second degree murder.
Phone records revealed there had been frequent calls and texts between Thomas and Michael. Cell phone records indicated that straight after Thomas called Michael that night, Michael was on the move. Police believed that Kelley's murder may have been the result of a murder for hire plot. Just one year before Kelley's murder, Thomas doubled Kelley's life insurance policy. It was now worth $1,000,000. Police also discovered that he was having multiple affairs and some of the women claimed he told them that if he divorced Kelley, "she would take everything from me."
When police spoke to Micheal, he admitted Thomas hired him to murder his wife in exchange for $10,000 cash. He told police where they could find the murder weapon, a maul handle. It was off State Route 225 in Southport. Michael also told them that Thomas's house keys were in a shallow creek in Elmira Heights and a bag of clothes that he wore that night were in Elmira. He repeated his confession to a Grand Jury.
Thomas and Michael were charged with first degree murder. They had separate Trials. Michael's Trial was first.
Even though Michael had confessed, he pleaded not guilty at his Trial. He recanted his confession and the statements he had made to police. Michael claimed that Thomas asked him to burn down the house so that he could collect Insurance money. But when Michael arrived at the house, he found Kelley dead so he panicked and left. But apart from his confession, there was evidence linking Michael to the murder. There was physical evidence that tied him to the crime. He told police where to find the murder weapon, the house keys and the clothes he wore that night. His DNA was on the clothes that police found and they matched the description Kelley's daughter had given to police.
The Court heard that Michael entered the Clayton house that night using a key. He entered via the garage door and went upstairs. Kelley was asleep in her bedroom and Michael attacked her there. He struck her twice with the maul handle but she managed to fight back and Kelley ran out of the bedroom. She ran towards her daughter's bedroom at the end of the hallway. Kelley fell down the stairs trying to escape Michael and crashed into the wall on the landing. Kelley ran across the dining room into the kitchen. But Michael caught up with her and began striking her again with the maul handle. The strikes were vicious and brutal and he savagely beat her on the head and face.
Michael was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Thomas Clayton and Kelley Clayton
Thomas's Trial was not as straight forward as Michael's Trial was. In Michael's case, there was direct evidence linking him to the crime but there was only circumstantial evidence in Thomas's case.
Thomas pleaded not guilty.
It was the Prosecution's case that Thomas wanted out of the marriage. He was tired of being married to Kelley and was having numerous affairs and gambling. He wanted the freedom to do as he pleased. It was their case that he hired Michael to kill Kelley so that he would have that freedom and also collect on the Insurance policy. He told some of the women who he was having affairs with that he couldn't divorce Kelley as she would take everything.
Some of the women that the Prosecution claimed Thomas was having affairs with testified at the Trial. They told the Court that he made disparaging remarks about Kelley to them.
The Court heard that Thomas told Kelley's niece:
"This is going to be the last Christmas with me around and us being together as a family."
The Prosecution had to show the Jury the connection between Michael and Thomas and establish how they knew each other. That part was easy as it was not in dispute that Michael worked for Thomas. Michael did work around the Clayton house too and knew the property well and the layout of the house. The difficult part was to present enough evidence to show that Thomas hired Michael to kill Kelley.
The Court heard that just twelve days before Kelley's murder, Michael's employment was terminated and due to that, he could no longer afford to pay his rent. He rented an apartment from Thomas. Michael did not own a vehicle and did not have a driver's license and a few days before Kelley's murder, Thomas bought a bicycle for him. During those twelve days, Thomas and Michael had frequent telephone contact.
Thomas Clayton and Kelley Clayton
Six days before Kelley's murder, a person from Thomas's company called the storage facility that was next door. That person asked whether the company's property was within range of the surveillance cameras that were outside the storage facility. Three days later, Thomas called an acquaintance and asked him whether there were surveillance cameras outside an inn that was in Elmira. He told Thomas he was unsure but could find out but Thomas told him there was no need to follow the matter up. That inn was where Michael would later discard some of the items from the night of the murder.
On the night of the murder, Thomas was at the poker game. But he didn't drive there in his own car. Instead, he drove there in one of the company's trucks. He and one of his employees had exchanged trucks earlier that day to facilitate the unloading of an ATV.
The Jury were shown surveillance footage. The footage was from the cameras at the storage unit next to the company and showed Thomas's personal truck leaving the parking lot at noon. The truck Thomas was driving, a maroon truck, was seen leaving at 1.09pm and it returned at 6.04pm. A few minutes later, it left again and so did another company truck. Thomas arrived at the poker game at 8pm that night in that same company truck. The truck that left the same time that the maroon truck left.
It was the Prosecution's case that the maroon truck was used by Michael to drive to the Clayton house. After Thomas called Michael, Michael went to the Clayton house. And he wasn't alone. Michael picked up Mark Blandford in the maroon truck on his way. When they reached the Clayton house, Michael got out of the truck and went inside and Mark stayed in the truck. Michael was inside for around 15 minutes and when he returned, he was breathless, sweating, and carrying a maul handle.
Michael and Mark drove back to Elmira and discarded the maul handle on the way. At another location, Michael threw a bag of clothes into water. The maroon truck arrived back at the company parking lot at 12.55am. Surveillance footage showed someone leaving the parking lot a few minutes later on a bicycle.
When Thomas returned home after the poker game and found Kelley on the kitchen floor, he called 911. Police believed he was involved and asked him to go to the station with them. He told police:
"Well, you'll know where I am because my vehicle has GPS on it."
Thomas was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
He appealed his case and an Appeals Court upheld his conviction.
Mark Blandford pleaded guilty to second degree manslaughter for his role. He claimed that he was not aware of what would transpire that night. He was sentenced to three to six years in prison as part of a plea agreement. He testified against Thomas as part of that deal.
Police believe that the night Kelley was murdered was not the first plan that had been put in place. They believed that Thomas planned to be out of town in Ohio during the week of the 21st of September 2015 and that Michael was supposed to kill Kelley then. On that occasion, he drove a company vehicle to Ohio and left his personal truck parked close to Michael's home. Nothing happened that week. Instead, the plan was pushed forward to the following week and Kelley was brutally murdered in her own home. Not only were her children present , but her daughter witnessed the violent and vicious murder.
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"When someone just disappears for no reason, it's shocking, it's devastating. I just feel like my life stopped that day and I've just been in a tailspin ever since."
- Adam Vaughan, Janine's brother
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