February 07, 2005 12:00 PM

Rachelle Waterman called her online journal “My Crappy Life,” and she filled it with bleak riffs about her looks, her grades and her Alaskan hometown of Craig, which she called “Hell, Alaska.” The diary also chronicled the 16-year-old honor student’s battles with her mother, Lauri, over her weight. “I’ve been cranky because my mom’s making me go on a diet,” she wrote.”…[She] wants to send me to fat camp this summer.”

But Rachelle never revealed the depth of her anger. That became apparent last Nov. 19, when Alaska state troopers arrested the teen for arranging to have her mother murdered by her boyfriend and his pal. Within weeks she will face trial for a crime that has the tiny town of 1,400 reeling. “What she did was so beyond anything that anyone here can fathom that we’re all speechless, confused, mad and heartbroken,” says family friend Mike Bush, a general contractor.

Bright and outgoing, Rachelle played on her high school volleyball team and sang in the choir. After a difficult transition to high school, “she seemed like a normal teen,” says Gail Slentz, a bookstore owner in Craig. “She’d quit wearing Goth clothes. Her rebellious period seemed behind her.” But tension continued to grow between the teen and her mother, a 48-year-old special-education teacher’s aide who volunteered at her church, Little League and Girl Scouts. Some residents say Rachelle had become more defiant of her mother and father, real estate agent Carl, 61. Her parents realized there were problems, but “they were determined to make their own best effort to deal with it,” says a family friend who asked to remain unidentified.

In her journal Rachelle complained that her mother would insult her because of her weight. “I have this awesome, black velvet Japanese dress that’s for [prom], though female parental unit spent a while on how I’m ugly and fat and then went on to how I couldn’t pull it off,” she wrote on March 30. Still, friends thought Rachelle might be exaggerating her misery. “When Rachelle would tell me about their fights, I’d think, ‘Hey, who doesn’t fight with their mom?’ ” says a teen friend.

In addition to weight issues, investigators say Rachelle and her mother had another major flashpoint—Jason Arrant, the teen’s 24-year-old boyfriend. She and Arrant met through Brian Radel, 24, whom Rachelle had briefly dated and worked for at his computer repair shop last summer. According to Sgt. Randy McPherron of the Alaska Bureau of Investigation, Lauri felt Arrant, a janitor at a nearby high school, was too old for her daughter. Rachelle convinced her mother that the romance had cooled off, but investigators say she was plotting Lauri’s murder, asking Arrant to do the job. “She convinced him that her mother was physically abusing her,” says McPherron. Authorities say Arrant told Radel about Rachelle’s plea and the two of them planned the murder. “They both believed they were saving Rachelle from her mother and this was some kind of a mission.”

According to cops, Radel snuck into the Waterman home shortly after midnight on Nov. 14, knowing that Rachelle would be at a volleyball tournament in Anchorage and her father would be away on business. He attacked the sleeping Lauri, bound her with duct tape, then drove her to a remote area 30 miles away. Troopers say Radel and Arrant were supposed to make Lauri’s death look like a drunk-driving accident, but the plan went awry when Radel beat her to death. He and Arrant set fires to hide evidence.

A hunter found Lauri’s charred body later that day, but it wasn’t positively identified for three days. Then investigators caught a break. Trooper Robert Claus was a family friend of the Watermans’ and knew of the mother-daughter conflicts and immediately targeted Arrant. Troopers picked him up for questioning on Nov. 17 and he led them to Radel. Rachelle was taken into custody on Nov. 19, but hours before her arrest, she expressed more pressing concerns in her final blog: “Just to let everyone know, my mother was murdered. I won’t have computer access until the weekend or so because the police took my computer …I hope to talk to you when I get my computer back.”

That could be a while; Rachelle and the others were charged with first-degree murder and face up to 99 years in prison. Her father attended her arraignment, sitting behind his daughter and reaching to touch her elbow before troopers led her away. A friend says that Carl Waterman goes into his office every day, coping as best he can, like the rest of the town. “I just can’t imagine what was going through their heads,” says bookstore owner Slentz. “How on earth they thought their lives would be better off by killing Lauri, I can’t even begin to understand. Nobody here can.”

Bob Meadows. Johnny Dodd in Los Angeles

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