Woman gets life term in death of mentally disabled man

Posted at 9:06 PM, Aug 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-12 22:06:56-04

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Missouri woman was sentenced Monday to life in prison without parole for killing a mentally disabled man, apparently as part of a complicated plot to divert attention from an unsolved homicide from several years earlier.

Pamela Hupp, 60, of the St. Louis suburb of O'Fallon, entered an Alford plea in June on a first-degree murder charge in the 2016 death of 33-year-old Louis Gumpenberger. The plea wasn't an admission of the crime but conceded that evidence existed for a conviction.

Hupp claimed she killed Gumpenberger in self-defense when he tried to kidnap her on Aug. 16, 2016. In reality, St. Charles Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar said, Hupp killed Gumpenberger to distract from the re-investigation of her friend Betsy Faria's 2011 death.

Faria was stabbed to death in neighboring Lincoln County after Hupp became the beneficiary of Faria's $150,000 life insurance policy.

But it was Russ Faria, Betsy's husband, who was charged and initially convicted in the killing. That conviction was overturned and Russ Faria was acquitted at retrial. He has pointed suspicion at Hupp.

Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Wood re-opened the Betsy Faria case. He said in an email that his office has hired an investigator to review it and expects the process to take at least a few months.

Lohmar, at a news conference in June, spelled out the bizarre circumstances surrounding Gumpenberger's death.

Lohmar said that Hupp first approached a woman while claiming to be affiliated with the NBC program "Dateline," and promised to pay $1,000 if the woman would record a scripted sound bite about 911 calls. The woman at first agreed but backed out when Hupp failed to show any credentials.

The woman went to police, and surveillance video showed Hupp's SUV's license plate. Lohmar said Hupp was "vetting a potential victim."

Lohmar said Hupp then turned to Gumpenberger, who was left physically and mentally impaired after a 2005 car wreck.

Hupp originally told police that she got out of her car on her driveway and Gumpenberger pulled a knife and demanded she take him to a bank "to get Russ's money," an apparent reference to the insurance money she collected from Betsy Faria's death.

Hupp told authorities she knocked the knife out of Gumpenberger's hand and ran inside, got a gun, and fatally shot Gumpenberger, who had followed her inside.

Police found $900 in plastic bags in Gumpenberger's pocket after his death, and a note that appeared to be instructions to kidnap Hupp and collect Faria's money. Authorities said the money and note were planted.

Data from Hupp's phone indicated that Gumpenberger was not a stranger as Hupp had claimed — GPS showed she was at his apartment, 13 miles (21 kilometers) from her home, less than an hour before the fatal confrontation.