In the early morning hours of June 14th, 2007, a man flagged down a pick-up truck along a frontage road near I-55 in Will County, Illinois. The man was bleeding and told the man in the truck “I think my wife shot me”. The police were called and responded with EMS to the scene. Christopher Vaughn was bleeding from his thigh and left wrist. He was calm and displayed no signs of panic. He explained that his wife and children were down the road in the family SUV, which he had exited after being injured. He no longer remembered how he was injured he said. However, inside the SUV were the deceased bodies of Christopher’s wife Kimberly and three children. What happened that morning along the highway?
Kimberly Phillips was born December 12th, 1972, to Del and Susan Phillips of Saint Charles, Missouri. She was one of three daughters born to Del, an attorney, and his wife Susan. Kimberly had a twin sister Jennifer and another sister named Elizabeth. She was a 1991 graduate of St. Charles West High School. She was athletic and played volleyball. She married Christopher Vaughn in 1994.
Christopher was born September 26th, 1974, to Gail in Pierre Vaughn of Dardenne Prairie, Missouri. He was one of three boys and raised enjoying outdoor activities such as camping and hiking. He is a graduate of Francis Howell High School where he played soccer. His family was less affluent than the Phillips family, which Gail and Pierre say caused tensions between the families early on. However, Christopher and Kimberly (pictured) seemed happy and welcomed their first child just months after they married.
Abigayle Elizabeth Vaughn, known as Abbi, was born December 15th, 1994. Abbi was a gifted artist and loved to play soccer. She loved to read and illustrate her own stories. She was involved in the drama club and ran track at her middle school. On March 12th, 1996, Abbi became a big sister to Cassandra “Sandi” Ellen Vaughn. Sandi was a natural leader and loved animals. She played the clarinet it her school’s band. The Vaughn family was completed on April 19th, 1999, when Blake Philip Vaughn was born. Blake was a gifted student and avid reader. He loved Cardinals baseball and being a Cub Scout. In fact, the girls had also been Girl Scouts with both parents serving as troop leaders at some point.
Left: Abbi Vaughn
Below: Sandi Vaughn
Below: Blake Vaughn
Kimberly was very involved in her children’s education and often volunteered in their classrooms. She was primarily a stay-at-home mother when her children were little while Christopher built a private security firm specializing in cyber security. The family lived in Washington State for several years where Chris grew his business, and the family enjoyed the outdoor activities readily available in Washington such as hiking and camping. In 2005, the family left Washington and Chris’s private business when he accepted a job at a cyber security firm with a salary of around $200,000 per year (Murder in Illinois, 2021).
With Chris’s new job and salary came a large family home on a cul-de-sac in a nice neighborhood in Oswego, Illinois. The home costs over $400, 000, but Christopher’s salary provided well for his family. With the children now all in school, Kimberly decided to take online classes to pursue a degree in criminal justice through the University of Phoenix. Kimberly graduated approximately two weeks before her death in 2007. Kimberly was very social and involved in her community. Neighbors remember her as an excellent mother and kind person.
Chris’s new job involved frequent business trips to Mexico and Canada. This time apart put strain on the marriage, which was further complicated by infidelity when Chris had an affair while in Mexico for business. Kim also had been suffering migraine headaches that required different medications to control. Despite the challenges in their marriage, Chris and Kim seemed to be committed to their family and were planning a romantic trip for their anniversary on June 15th. Chris said that the couple decided to take their children to a water park for some family time on June 14th, 2007. They left in the early morning hours for the road trip to Springfield, Illinois.
On the podcast Murder in Illinois (2021), Gail and Pierre Vaughn explain how they received a call from a reporter on the morning of June 14th, 2007. The reporter was asking questions about her son Christopher and his wife Kimberly. Confused, Gail asked why they wanted to know about her son and daughter-in-law. That is how they learned that their son’s family had been killed. Devastated, Gail and Pierre left their St. Louis area home and headed towards the Vaughn home in Oswego, Illinois.
In an article from the Chicago Tribune on June 15th, Kimberly’s sister Elizabeth, Nikki, states “she would be shocked if her brother-in-law had anything to do with the deaths of her sister and their children” (Napolitano & Dardick, 2007). At that time, police had not named any suspects in the case but indicated that the crime appeared to be domestic in nature and no one outside the family was suspected of being involved. Kim and Chris’s neighbors and family expressed disbelief at the tragedy that occurred. Meanwhile, Christopher Vaughn was being questioned by police following medical treatment for his wounds.
Chris told investigators that while he was driving to the waterpark along I-55, Kimberly said she was nauseated. According to Chris, this happened frequently related to her migraine headaches. He said he stopped at a rest stop, but Kim did not want to get out there because she was shy (Illinois V. Vaughn, 2015). He said he couldn’t remember where he ended up pulling over, but the SUV was found on a frontage road off the highway near a wooded area. He said he exited the vehicle to check the luggage rack. After returning to the vehicle, he realized his leg was bleeding, exited the vehicle, and walked down the frontage road to find help. At this point, he showed no concern or emotions regarding his wife and children. He spoke of them in present tense and did not ask where they were until after police informed him they were deceased. At that point, he started to speak of his wife and children in the past tense, something the defense would later say would be hard to fake.
Chris admitted to owning a gun and being at the gun range the day before the murders, but indicated his gun was at his home in Oswego. He admitted to having an affair while in Mexico but stated he and Kim were trying to repair their marriage. He was planning a romantic trip that very weekend to repair the relationship. Chris Vaughn denied killing his family but showed little emotion when investigators put pictures of their dead bodies in front of him, raising their suspicions.
In subsequent interviews in the days following the murders, Chris indicated that Kim was not capable of killing her children, but he believed she had shot him when he re-entered the vehicle that morning. He claimed that he could not remember the events clearly. He said after he was shot “his mind shut off and he ran” (Illinois V. Vaughn, 2015). He also stated this is why he failed to use the cell phone inside the family vehicle to call 911. Although not cleared as a suspect, Christopher Vaughn was not under arrest at this point and remained free to plan the funerals of his thirty-four-year-old wife Kimberly and children Abbi, 12, Sandi, 11, and Blake, 8.
In the days following the murders, investigators searched the Oswego home of the Vaughn family, confiscating computers and other evidence. Neighbors and the press began to speculate as to what happened, with many pointing the finger at Christopher Vaughn. Most who knew the family described Chris as quiet and mild mannered, an introvert. There was no history of domestic violence calls or anger issues. According to Christopher’s family, however, Kim was easily angered (Murder in Illinois, 2021) although I could find no evidence to support this claim.
On the morning of June 23rd, 2007, Chris, his family, and Kim’s family gathered in a St. Charles, Missouri funeral home before services for the family began. According to Chris’s parents, there was a noticeable divide and uncomfortableness between the two families. Before services began, police placed Christopher Vaughn under arrest for the murders of his wife and children. Chris’s parents expressed outrage on Murder in Illinois podcast because Chris was not allowed to attend the services despite not yet being convicted of a crime (Murder in Illinois, 2021).
The Vaughn family accuses Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow of strategically arresting Vaughn at the funeral home to take advantage of the media coverage. However, Glasgow said “The moment I have probable cause and believe I can prove my case, then I move forward” (Murderpedia), insisting the timing was coincidental. Chris’ parents described how difficult that day was because not only had they lost their daughter-in-law and grandchildren, but now their son was arrested and unable to grieve his family. Furthermore, they felt the Phillips family showed a lack of concern for them as they celebrated Chris’s arrest (Murder in Illinois, 2021). The family of Kim said to the media “We are heartened that police worked so quickly. We are glad her name has been cleared for any responsibility for the deaths of her children. We are very sorry for Chris, both for the legal process he faces and for the sense of guilt he’s going to feel when he realizes what he’s done to destroy these four innocent lives” (Murderpedia).
Christopher Vaughn was charges with eight counts of first-degree murder and plead not guilty to all charges. He insisted that his wife shot him and must have killed their children before committing suicide. He maintained that he had memory lapses from that day, leading to a defense theory that he had traumatic amnesia. While awaiting trial, investigators determined that Christopher Vaughn has a one-million-dollar insurance policy on Kimberly.
Christopher remained behind bars for five years while he awaited trial. At first, Christopher Vaughn was facing the death penalty. This meant he had access to capital defense funds, meant to ensure defendants facing the ultimate punishment are given every opportunity to defend themselves. With these funds, Chris had two attorneys working to build a case for his innocence. The defense theory was that Kimberly was experiencing personality changes related to Nortriptyline and Topamax that she took for migraine headaches. As a result, the defense said that she shot Christopher, killed her children, and then committed suicide. The gun shot trajectory seemed to support this theory, indicating that the children were shot from the passenger side of the vehicle.
However, before this case could go to trial Illinois abolished the death penalty. As a results, the State of Illinois was no longer paying for the high-priced attorneys for the defense. Chris’s parents state that he was assigned a public defender and the defense’s case was severely damaged by losing his originally attorneys, who required $250,000 to complete the trial (Murder in Illinois, 2021). It remains unclear, however, why Christopher didn’t hire his own attorney given he seemed to have the financial means to do so.
The trial of Christopher Vaughn began in 2012 right next door to another high-profile trial, the trial of Drew Peterson for the murder of his third wife Kathleen Savio. With heavy press coverage, the prosecution began to present its case. They presented evidence that Christopher Vaughn purchased the gun used in the murders and practiced shooting at a shooting range on June 6th and June 13th of 2007. Emails from Kimberly Vaughn’s accounts were presented and showed her life typically revolved around going to school and taking care of her children. Several witnesses testified that Christopher Vaughn was introverted and rarely showed emotion.
Evidence was presented in relation to the interviews Chris gave to police in the days following the murders. This evidence included his affair in Mexico. He had also admitted to trust issues in his marriage related to that incident of infidelity and his tendency to go to strip clubs. The investigators provided testimony on Chris’s lack of emotion during the interview process.
Forensic evidence included a firearms expert who stated that the muzzle of the gun was very close, less than six inches, from Christopher’s thigh when the shot was fired. He also had four bullet holes found in his jacket. The scientist testified that “these holes were consistent with the passage of a single bullet made when the jacket had been wrapped or layered around the gun before it was fired” (Illinois V. Vaughn, 2015). However, the defense challenged this, and the expert admitted it was possible the holes were caused by separate shots.
Stephen Willott was the next witness for the prosecution. Stephen lives near Ottawa, Canada and had met Vaughn in an internet chatroom in 2006. Stephen and Chris exchanged a long series of emails and online messages regarding living in the remote wilderness, camping, and survival skills. “The emails tended to indicate that the defendant was frustrated with his life and wanted to live permanently in the Canadian wilderness” (Illinois V. Vaughn, 2015). Chris had even asked the witness to help him fake his own death, but Willott was uncomfortable with that. In an email dated May 23rd, 2007, Vaughn mentioned someone named Maya that he may want to bring along with him to Canada.
The next witness was Maya Drake, an exotic dancer who claimed Chris frequented the club she worked at. She said he told her he wanted to leave his wife and live in the Canadian wilderness. She testified that Chris said, “He was going to leave his wife everything, that she was going to get what she deserved, and she was not going to see it coming” (Illinois V. Vaughn, 2015). Another dancer testified that Chris claimed to be single with no children and spend over $4,000 on her in the weeks before the murders, contrasting Chris’s claims of being committed to working on his marriage.
Dr. Larry Blum, pathologist, testified about the findings of the autopsies. He testified that the gun was in contact with Kimberly’s chin at the time it was fired. She had one gun shot, from under her chin, and this was a fatal wound. Each of the children had been shot twice from approximately 18-24 inches away. He was questioned on cross-examination if it was possible Kim committed suicide, stating he could not rule that out. He also testified that she had nortriptyline and Topamax in her system. The nortriptyline was near toxic levels, but he said this could have been caused by redistribution of substances that can occur after death. Nortriptyline is an anti-depressant medication that carries a warning as it can increase suicidal thoughts. Topamax carries a similar warning, supporting the defense’s theory of the crime.
Another expert witness testified about where blood and DNA evidence was found at the scene. Chris Vaughn’s blood was found on his jacket, Kimberly’s seatbelt and buckle, the passenger side of the center console, the driver’s seat, and Kimberly’s clothing. Kim’s blood was found on the right lower portion of the defendant’s jacket, the right side of the driver’s seat back, the center console, and her own clothing. If Christopher had left the vehicle while his family was still alive, how did Kim’s blood get on his jacket?
An expert in shooting scene reconstruction testified that the pistol was semi-automatic and had fully cycled after the last shot and was ready to be refired. According to the expert, “In order for this to happen, the gun had to have been fully supported through its firing action” (Illinois V. Vaughn, 2015). He went on to explain that in cases of suicide, the gun is often not supported through a full cycle and jams. He believed this finding was inconsistent with a suicide.
The gun did not have any blood splatter consistent with suicide, no blood at all on the trigger guard, and Kimberly’s hands only had one small drop of blood on them. This finding also supported the prosecution’s theory that Chris Vaughn had committed this heinous crime and attempted to frame his wife. An article was found in his home about staging crime scenes (Huffpost, 2011).
The prosecution continued its case presenting forensic evidence that indicated the wounds Christopher Vaughn suffered were contact or near contact wounds, contrary to the theory that Kim shot him from the passenger side of the vehicle. Furthermore, blood smearing indicates that something smeared Kim’s blood from the center console shortly after she was shot. The State concluded this was from Chris reaching over her to shoot his children from the passenger side of the car.
The defense fired back stating there was a transfer stain of Chris’s blood on Kim’s thumb, presenting this as evidence that Kim unbuckled her own seatbelt after Chris was shot. The defense also presented an email Kim wrote to Chris a week before her death stating she had informed her doctor of “a big personality change and anxiety change” (Illinois V. Vaughn, 2015). Medical professionals who treated Kim testified that she suffered from migraines, high blood pressure, and stress. However, they were not aware of any suicide or homicidal thoughts.
Crime scene reconstructionist Tom Bevel testified for the defense that it would have been possible for Kim to shoot the defendant, children, and commit suicide. However, on cross examination Bevel admitted that the evidence at the scene did not support Chris’s claims that he left the vehicle before his family was shot. The defense relied strongly on the theory that Kimberly’s medications caused her commit murder and suicide. Chris maintained his innocence.
Christopher Vaughn was found guilty on all counts after less than an hour of jury deliberations. He was sentenced to four life sentences without the possibility of parole. “There isn’t a punishment that fits this crime. You could lock him up for 500 lifetimes and it would not compensate the victims in this case or the family members” States Attorney James Glasgow commented after sentencing (Schmadeke, 2012).
Several questions remain that point to Chris Vaughn’s guilt. Why didn’t he call 911 from the car? Why was the family visiting a water park 3 hours from their home when there are multiple water parks closer to home? Why did the family leave at 5 am when the water park, which opens at 10 am, is only a 3-hour drive? Why would he leave his children with Kim if she had just shot him? Why did he show such little concern for his children or their whereabouts when being treated for his own injuries? Why were they using a luggage rack for a day trip? Why would you stop on a frontage road in a remote area? Why would Kim be too shy to use a rest stop if she was sick?
A podcast called Murder in Illinois debuted on iHeart Radio in 2021. The Investigating Innocence group, an advocacy group that fights wrongful convictions, and Gail and Pierre Vaughn gave much of the content for the podcast. Kim and her family were presented in a poor light with jabs at their personalities that were not relevant to the case. Towards the end of the podcast, Vaughn’s parents share a letter Chris wrote after he pulled back from the podcast. He now claims he never lost his memory and remembers that morning well. He states that Kim killed the children when he was outside the car, then shot him and told him this was his fault before committing suicide.
A crime scene investigator spoke on the podcast that he originally felt this was a murder suicide and Kim was the shooter, but he was removed from the case after expressing this opinion (Murder in Illinois, 2021). It should also be noted that this investigator was also the lead investigator at the crime scene of Kathleen Savio, whose death was originally ruled accident despite several pieces of evidence indicating it was a homicide. Her death was later ruled a homicide in 2007, shortly after the Vaughn family murders. Perhaps his expertise was not appreciated in this case due to being discredited in the Savio case.
Investigating Innocence has a webpage showing photos of the bullet trajectory in the vehicle, that is supposed to demonstrate Kim was the shooter. However, the shot appears to have come from above where the crime scene investigator demonstrates in another photo on the site, further supporting the prosecution’s theory of the crime. The trajectory appears to be from high on the passenger side and angled downward to the backseat, supporting the theory that Christopher fired the shots that killed his children. (Photos below are credited to Investigating Innocence)
As a result of this podcast and Investigating Innocence’s efforts to show Kimberly Vaughn as the shooter, there are currently efforts being made to prove Christopher Vaughn’s innocence. Gail and Pierre Vaughn recently appeared on the Dr. Phil Show, on which they explained Christopher does not want a retrial because he doesn’t believe he can get a fair trial. However, the Vaughn family is currently petitioning the Governor for clemency so he can come home. Pierre Vaughn claimed on the show and on Murder in Illinois podcast that Christopher was mentally and physically tortured in jail while awaiting trial.
This case was beyond interesting to research. I attempted to keep an open mind throughout my research and consider the possibility that Christopher Vaughn was innocent. Initially, I considered it a possibility that Kimberly had annihilated her family as a result of mental health issues and medication side effects. However, after examining all of the facts, including those presented in defense of Christopher Vaughn, I am thoroughly convinced of his guilt. Regardless of my, or anyone else’s opinion, a jury of his peers found him guilty and sentenced him to four life sentences. I believe it would be an abuse of power for the Governor to circumvent the judicial process and show Chris Vaughn leniency to the extent that his family is seeking: to get him out of prison. This is a case of family annihilation, the most brutal crime a person can commit.
Above: Christohper Vaughn
Dr. Phil (2021) Convicted murderer Chris Vaughn says he doesn’t want a new trial to prove innocence- what does he want?; Dr. Phil Show; Retrieved at: Convicted Murderer Chris Vaughn Says He Doesn’t Want New Trial To Prove Innocence – What Does He Want? (msn.com)
Investigating Innocence (2021) Christopher Vaughn; Retrieved at: Investigating Innocence
Huffpost (2011) Christopher Vaughn had article on staging murder in his home: accused of killing wife, 3 kids; Retrieved at: Christopher Vaughn Had Article On Staging Murder In His Home: Accused Of Killing Wife, 3 Kids | HuffPost null
Murderpedia (2021) Christopher Vaughn; Retrieved at: Christopher Vaughn | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers
IDOC (2021) Vaughn, Christopher; Retrieved at: Individuals in Custody (illinois.gov)
FindAGrave (accessed 2021) Kimberly Ellen Phillips Vaughn; Retrieved at: Kimberly Ellen Phillips Vaughn (1972-2007) - Find a Grave Memorial
Abigayle Elizabeth “Abbi” Vaughn; Retrieved at: Abigayle Elizabeth “Abbi” Vaughn (1994-2007) - Find a Grave Memorial
Cassandra Ellen “Sandi” Vaughn; Retrieved at: Cassandra Ellen “Sandi” Vaughn (1996-2007) - Find a Grave Memorial
Blake Philip Vaughn; Retrieved at: Blake Philip Vaughn (1999-2007) - Find a Grave Memorial
Murder in Illinois (2021) Murder in Illinois: Who Killed the Vaughn Family?; iHeart Radio; Retrieved on Apple Podcasts. Website: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-murder-in-illinois-84071522/
Schmadeke, S. (2012) Vaughn: 4 life terms, no parole; Chicago Tribune; 28 Nov 2012
Napolitano, J. & Dardick, H. (2007) Another ridiculous tragedy in the Midwest; Chicago Tribune; 15 Jun 2007
Napolitano, J. & Ford, L. (2007) Neighbors witnessed troubling signs; Chicago Tribune; 24 Jun 2007
Grimm, A. (2012) Defendant’s account disputed; Chicago Tribune; 11 Sep 2007\
Illinois V. Vaughn (2015) The People of The State of Illinois V. Christohper Vaughn: Appeal from the circuit court of the 12th judicial district, Will County, Illinois; Appeal No. 3-12-0996