Thunder in the Vicinity
May 3, 2017
"We have restraining orders against my son-in-law, Rick Lockett,” the grandmother says. “With what's going on, she wouldn't leave without telling me she was going somewhere."
In the call, Sherri Russell tells authorities her daughter, Kirsten Lockett, stayed up until 2 a.m. watching a movie with her son, afraid to fall asleep, afraid her estranged husband would show up during the night.
When the family awoke, Kirsten was gone.
“You've gotta understand that this is very urgent,” the grandmother says.
The dispatcher says she understands it’s urgent. A deputy is on the way. Russell hangs up. She and her five grandchildren wait for word.
Less than an hour later, Russell calls the sheriff’s office again. The deputy hasn’t arrived yet, but Kirsten is home. She is heard crying in the background as her mother relays the story.
“She just came in the house crying hysterical. And I asked her what happened,” Russell explains. “She said she'd been with Rick. That he came into the bedroom, grabbed her by the hair and pulled her out of the house. He had a gun. He just let her go and had one of the neighbor kids bring her home. This is frickin’ serious, okay?”
Over the course of four days, deputies chased leads in search of Richard Lockett. Along the way they would get bad information, hit dead ends, and endure paperwork delays. One deputy would make a critical mistake that cost him his job.
And on the fifth day, Kirsten Lockett would lose her life.
Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Curtis Wineski arrived at the home Kirsten Lockett shared with her mother and five of her six children, the home Kirsten’s estranged husband was no longer legally allowed to set foot inside.
Kirsten Lockett tearfully told Wineski a harrowing story. She woke up during the night assuming she was having nightmare. Her estranged husband was in her face, pressing a gun against her head.
She said he forced her to walk across a field to the truck he drove for a living. Inside the truck, he bound her hands and feet with zip ties. He told her to hide if police pulled them over; if she didn’t he would kill her and the officer too. She convinced him she would drop the restraining orders and take him back if he let her go. Then, she said, he called a friend of his to pick her up and take her home.
Wineski took Kirsten to the hospital. Back at the sheriff’s office, investigators set out to find Richard Lockett.
Lincoln County Sheriff’s Captain Michael Yowell sent a statewide bulletin letting other agencies know to “be on the lookout” for Lockett and his truck.
He tried to call Lockett on his cell phone – no answer. Yowell called Verizon and asked them to ping Lockett’s phone to zero in on his location. The ping pinpointed an address in Colorado Springs so Lincoln County notified authorities there Lockett might be in the area. But the address was a dead end.
Yowell then contacted the trucking company Richard Lockett worked for and learned he had access to two trucks and it was unclear which truck Lockett was driving. The company’s human resources director told Yowell the trucks did not have GPS tracking devices installed. That would turn out to be the wrong information, but the sheriff’s office wouldn’t learn that until it was too late.
That evening police records show Rick texted Kirsten a picture of a sunset with a message of concern:
In early July, Kirsten Lockett filed for divorce from her husband. In the hours after Kirsten’s murder, her mother told police that a call to human services set the separation into motion.
“The reason we ended up where we are today is because one of my grandson's friend's spent the night, took a picture in our basement...” Russell said.
Russell said Richard Lockett bounced from job to job leading to constant financial struggles. She said Rick controlled Kirsten over the years, sometimes threatening to take her kids away. Interviews with Russell and friends of Richard Lockett’s made it clear he would tell his friends stories about Kirsten, convincing some she was an unfit mother ruining a good man.
“We buy this old farmhouse that we're gonna turn into this mansion because [Richard] is a contractor and he has all these skills, and the house looks worse than it did when we moved in. We had no shower or bath facilities. The toilet ran into the basement,” Sherri Russell told police. “We've been living hard, okay?”
A friend of one of the children spent the night and took a picture of the conditions in the home, described as being full of uncompleted renovation projects. The picture made its way to human services officials who visited the family and insisted changes be made to the home.
“It was at that time though that social services got involved that Kirsten and I talked and decided - it's a sign that we have a chance for people to believe what we've been going through. We have to move forward. We have to get him out of the house.”
Kirsten filed for divorce. Both mother and daughter each filed for orders of protection against Richard Lockett.
Richard could not return to the home and was ordered to have no contact with the children. The children wrote police statements detailing Richard Lockett’s abusive behavior.
We were gonna try to get away from him, because we knew that we had the chance this time. The first two times everyone was against my mom. But this time everyone was against Rick. - Kirsten's son
After filing for divorce, Kirsten researched domestic violence. Phone records show she downloaded information about escaping domestic violence on her phone in early July. Eight days before she died, she changed her Facebook profile picture to a domestic violence awareness ribbon.
Kirsten got a job at a Limon restaurant which quickly ended because Rick showed up and made a scene. One night she said he sat in the parking lot watching her.
“We started looking for places to rent but you can't rent a place if you don't have a job and you can't have a job if you're being stalked,” Russell told police.
After the kidnapping, the family concluded Richard had parked his truck on a nearby property and slept in it for days. Investigators said the property had a clear view of the home.
“He's obviously been watching us for some time,” Sherri told the dispatcher on the day of the kidnapping.
After Kirsten returned home from the hospital after the kidnapping, her brother came and picked up the whole family and insisted they stay in his Castle Rock home.
As Denver7 Investigates was first to report in 2016, Deputy Wineski told his superiors he called Castle Rock Police to let them know Kirsten was hiding out at her brother’s home and her husband may come looking for her. After the murder Wineski admitted he never made that call. He resigned his job during an internal investigation into the matter.
But Castle Rock police did know something about the situation. Kirsten’s brother, Curt Russell, told an officer who lived nearby that his sister was hiding out from her abusive husband. That officer told the family to call Castle Rock PD and make a formal report.
On July 14, Kirsten’s sister called Castle Rock police letting them know that Kirsten was hiding and Richard was on the run. Records show Castle Rock police increased patrols near the home on the 14th and 15th. A Castle Rock spokesperson said the department believes increased patrols continued for several days after that, but the department does not have documentation to show that.
Curt shored up the windows in the house, putting conduit inside the tracks so Richard would have to break a window to get in. He removed garage door openers from the vehicles, telling police later he “wanted Rick to have to make noise if he wanted to get into the house.”
Kirsten made arrangements to have a friend take care of one of her dogs while she was hiding out. In Facebook messages she told the friend she was in Castle Rock and asked that she not tell anyone where she was.
Meanwhile, deputies in Lincoln County continued trying to track Lockett with his cell phone. For 48 hours they could ping his phone simply by asking Verizon for his location under what is called an emergency situation disclosure. For those 48 hours investigators said they kept getting the same ping back, pointing to the same address in Colorado Springs that had previously proven to be a dead end.
After the 48 hour window closed, Lincoln County would have to get a warrant to keep tracking Lockett’s phone. Paperwork shows Wineski signed a search warrant application on July 17 (one day before the murder) but did not fax it to Verizon until July 22nd (days after the murder.)
The sheriff’s department explains the delays by saying it took several days to get the district attorney’s office and a judge to sign off on the warrant. Investigators did not consider the cell phone data to be a priority because for 48 hours the pings did not move so they assumed Lockett was no longer using the phone. That would prove to be the wrong assumption. The phone data obtained after the murder showed Lockett arrived in Castle Rock on July 16:
That same day, Kirsten Lockett texted her husband, trying to convince him to call her so police could catch him, not knowing they were both hiding out in the same town.
“I really do want to talk to you soon. I'm having a really hard time dealing with what happened Monday. I'm not sleeping and every time I do fall asleep I wake up in a panic and I can feel the gun against my head and see your face above me. I'm scared about how you are doing. Please call me.”
He never called.
After spending two days hiding out in Castle Rock, Richard Lockett made his way to Curt Russell’s home sometime in the early morning hours of July 18.
The lock on the back gate at Curt Russell’s home did not keep Rick from entering the back yard.
Police later found damage to the doggie door and figured Rick first tried and failed to get in the home that way.
Lockett said he spent the night watching his kids through the basement window.
The children told police about their fear Richard would show up. They described hearing sounds in the night. One child said, “We were all worried. I had a feeling in my stomach those two nights he was definitely coming.”
Each child also vividly described hearing the window above them shatter, sending glass falling on the bed where they slept with their mom. One child said it appeared Richard used a broken piece of fencing to break through the window.
Curt Russell called police, who arrived and began shouting through the door, asking if Kirsten was okay. Hearing no answer from Kirsten and only muffled answers from Richard, Castle Rock police officers kicked in the door.
Inside they said they found Kirsten Lockett in a pool of blood with a stab wound on her neck. Richard, lying partially on top of her, had smaller lacerations on his neck. He was bleeding but conscious. She was not.
In their interviews with police in the hours after the murder, Kirsten’s family members lamented that they had been unable to save her.
“I wish I had stayed - at least hit him with the bat,” one child said, referencing a bat hidden under the bed where Kirsten and her kids slept.
“I just wanted somebody sent and I didn't want to sit on the phone with her because I thought I could be doing something else. But I understand they have a job to do, so whatever,” Curt Russell recounted of his call to 911 after Richard broke in. “They were doing what they were trained to do and I was useless because I was on the phone. I should've given the phone to one of the kids.”
“I failed her. That's all. I failed her,” Sherri Russell said.
Police spent the days after the murder trying to figure out how Richard Lockett got to the house in Castle Rock. There was no sign of his truck nearby. Friends denied giving him a ride. Lockett wasn’t talking.
On July 20, the sheriff’s office received a call from the owner of the trucking company Lockett worked for. His trucks had GPS tracking installed after all. It appeared the company’s human resources director did not know about it when they told the sheriff’s office on the first day of the manhunt that there was no way to track the truck.
Investigators found Lockett’s truck parked in Colorado Springs. Inside the truck they found zip ties similar to those Kirsten Lockett described being bound with during the kidnapping five days before her death.
Police also recovered Richard Lockett’s phone and found he wrote several messages that appeared to be suicide notes on the phone. He did not mention any plans to kill his wife but did specify who he wanted to take custody of his children after he was gone and who should take the blame for what would happen.
“I know I will look like the abuser but I was not I am protecting my kids from the life she will give them she makes bad choices.... if the state will not protect my kids I will ...I just asked them to take them out of the house till they could look at both side but the (sic) refused so. ....this is on them.”
In the hours after the murder, Kirsten Lockett’s brother told police Richard Lockett probably would not go down in court without a fight.
And Lockett did in fact briefly pursue a mental health defense. But in January, Richard Lockett stood before a judge and admitted his guilt to a charge of the felony murder of Kirsten Lockett. The decision would spare Kirsten Lockett’s children and family from having to endure a trial and testify about the night of the murder. The judge sentenced Richard Lockett to life without the possibility of parole.
After the sentencing, a defense attorney told Denver7’s chief investigative reporter Tony Kovaleski Richard Lockett wanted to tell his story on camera.
Behind bars and in front of the cameras, Lockett presented a story much different than that detailed in the police files. He said he did not abuse his wife. He did not kidnap her. He loved her. And he did not kill her.
Much of his story is not supported by the evidence gathered by police. Prosecutors and investigators are forcefully refuting many of his claims. But he gave insight on his state of mind in the five days police were on his trail and his reasoning for breaking into the home that night, saying he chose to do it because he planned to end his life and thought his spirit would stay with his kids.