The small town of Craig, Alaska, was the last place its residents thought would ever end up the center of a national murder scandal. They were even more surprised when the victim turned out to be the well-liked, church-going, special-education teacher’s aide, Lauri Waterman.
The Waterman Family
In 2004, when Lauri wasn’t busy helping children with special needs, she spent her time volunteering at functions for her church or working with civics groups. Her husband, Carl “Doc” Waterman, a real estate business owner, spent his spare time serving on the Girl Scout council and as the president of the school board.
The couple’s daughter, Rachelle Waterman (above), was 16 at the time of her mother’s death. By all accounts, Rachelle seemed to be a well-adjusted teen. She played volleyball for her high school team, sang in choir, and performed in an academic decathlon. Somewhere along the way, however, Rachelle began displaying signs of rebelliousness and aggression that her parents weren’t accustomed to, that were totally out of character for Rachelle.
Part of the answers to her inexplicable behavior surfaced in her online blog, “My Crappy Life.” Like many angst-ridden teens, Rachelle complained about being upset over her parent’s rules, being grounded, and other common adolescent problems. It was other posts, however, that showed a darker side to Rachelle, a side her parents were likely unaware of.
“I had a bad night, and a bad day. This is my warning to all of you. If you piss me off, you die,” she wrote on April 6, 2004.
Rachelle’s Older Men
The change in Rachelle reportedly began when she started hanging around with a group of older guys, a few of which she dated. Brian Radel was 24 when he began dating teenage Rachelle. The relationship didn’t last long, but it lasted long enough for Rachelle to meet one of his friends, Jason Arrant, also 24 at the time.
Jason and Rachelle began dating shortly after meeting each other, and it wasn’t long before their relationship became a bit too serious for Rachelle’s parents. Lauri was understandably upset and concerned about her daughter’s choice in boyfriends. She felt that Jason was bringing her daughter down. He didn’t seem to have any discernible goals, and appeared to be happy living in his mother’s basement and working part-time as a janitor. “There’s nothing wrong with being a janitor, but my wife had the impression that he had no desire to go any further,” Doc Waterman later testified.
Additionally, there were rumors that Rachelle was practicing Wicca with Brian and Jason. According to Doc Waterman, his wife was a strict Catholic and became highly upset when she learned about it. Further, Rachelle ranted online about how her mother called her overweight and controlled every aspect her of life.
On Sunday, November 14, 2004, Lauri Waterman settled down for the night, alone at home. Doc Waterman was away on business, while Rachel was in Anchorage, at a volleyball tournament. As she dozed off in her bedroom, she didn’t notice the six-foot-six frame of Brian Radel lurking in the shadows. Jason also stood close-by. They waited until Lauri fell asleep, then crept over to her, and with a towel, began gagging her.
Lauri, startled awake, started crying. Brian told her he wouldn’t hurt her as long she did as she was told. Apparently, at least in his mind, Brian felt that having Lauri drink a bottle of wine would set the perfect stage for a drunk-driving accident (despite the fact that she rarely, if ever, drank).
The initial plan, according to court documents, was for Brian to bludgeon Lauri, then place her in her van and drive it to a remote area, making it seem as if she had had a fatal drunk-driving accident. Yet, Lauri proved stronger than the men anticipated, and their plan quickly changed.
When Lauri didn’t die after a “throat punch,” Brian smothered her. He realized that authorities would likely see the handprints left on her neck, and the plan had to be altered once again. The pair decided to place her in the van, drive her away from the home, set the van on fire, and flee.
Police found the smoldering van around 40 miles from the Waterman home. Inside the van, Lauri’s remains were discovered — a pile of ashes and a human skull lay on the front seat. When investigators examined evidence, it became abundantly clear that Lauri had not been in an accident, but was instead a homicide victim.
Did Rachelle Have Her Mother Killed?
Brian and Jason were eventually arrested and charged with Lauri Waterman’s murder, but the question that remained was if Rachelle, who knew both men intimately, was involved in any way. Detectives suspected she played a large role in her mother’s death, but at first, the suspects, particularly Brian, didn’t want to place any blame on her. He told police that Rachelle was scared for her life, and he had to protect her from her own mother.
“I said I’d protect Rachelle. If I don’t go through with this, I’m really not willing to protect Rachelle like I said I was,” Brian told detectives.
When Rachelle was interviewed, she was adamant that she had nothing to do with her mom’s death, although she alleged to authorities, just as she had to Brian and Jason, that Lauri abused her.
“People in public probably think my mom would never lose her temper. Probably think she never cusses or anything. But, you know, behind closed doors, other things happen,” Rachelle said.
Feeling that no one would believe her story, Rachelle admitted that Brian and Jason were her only confidants. Yet, although she confirmed that she told them that Lauri abused her, she wouldn’t take any responsibility for her death. She admitted that they told her they would “take care” of her mother for her, but Rachelle said she didn’t believe they would actually kill her.
“I didn’t think they had the balls to do it. I thought, I mean, how can you stop people who are protective? I thought the worst they could ever do is talk to her,” she said.
After an exhaustive interrogation, Rachelle still wouldn’t break. A trial was imminent.
Trial and Conviction
After spending a few years in a juvenile facility, Rachelle Waterman was tried as an adult for her mother’s murder. It wasn’t an easy trial. The prosecution and defense passionately argued back and forth at the Craig Superior Court on whether Rachelle should be charged with first- and second-degree murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit murder. The result: a hung jury.
In 2011, during her retrial, Rachelle faced charges of conspiracy to commit murder, murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, kidnapping, burglary, attempted murder, and criminally negligent homicide.
After deliberations, the jury found Rachelle guilty of only one of the charges: negligent homicide. She was given just three years in prison. However, with previous time already served, she didn’t have much more time behind bars before she walked free. She’s now on out on community supervision.
Brian Radel, convicted of first-degree murder, received 99 years behind bars. Jason Arrant, who helped implicate Radel in the crime, received a cap of 50 years behind bars.
Meanwhile, Doc Waterman tries to stay strong and remember the good things about his wife, despite the horrific way she met her fate. A year after her death, he told the Los Angeles Times that he’ll continue to cherish the 25-plus years he had with Lauri Waterman. “One of the things you do is you try to remember and dwell on and focus on the good parts. I’ve lost something, but I had 25 or 30 years that were fantastic,” he said.
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Main photo: Rachelle Waterman talks with family friends before the start of her trial Wednesday, January 25, 2006, in Juneau, Alaska. [AP Photo/Seanna O’Sullivan]