Man Framed for Wife's Murder Hopes for Conviction of New Suspect: 'Finally Getting the Person That Did This'

Russ Faria served three years for wife Betsy's 2011 killing, which a prosecutor now alleges was carried out by Betsy's friend over a $150,000 life insurance payout

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Betsy, left, and Russ Faria. Photo: Courtesy Russ Faria; Kevin A. Roberts/St. Louis Magazine

His arrest for his wife's 2011 stabbing murder left him shocked. His conviction left him "flabbergasted."

"I wasn't the guy," Russ Faria tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.

Jurors disagreed. Based on the evidence presented to them, they set Russ up to be sentenced to life in prison for killing Elizabeth "Betsy" Faria, 42, in the couple's Troy, Mo., home. Russ served more than three years before an appeal set him free and a retrial found him not guilty.

Now he hopes that remaining skeptics finally will accept he didn't do it, after a murder charge was filed against a woman who Russ, 51, and his defense attorney suspected early on: Betsy's friend Pamela Hupp, 62, who was the last person to see the victim alive, and whom Betsy named as the sole recipient of a $150,000 life insurance policy four days before she was killed.

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"I believe her motivation was simple," said new Lincoln County prosecutor Mike Wood at a news conference. "For greed."

Through a decade of marriage Russ and Betsy had experienced ups and downs in their relationship, Russ says. But when Betsy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and doctors said she likely had just three to five years to live, the couple decided to make the most of the time they had left together. They went ahead with a planned cruise in November 2011 as "a celebration of life," Russ says, and Betsy fulfilled a long-held dream to swim with dolphins.

"Betsy had an award-winning smile and one of the biggest hearts of anybody you ever met," he says. "I know she loved me, and I loved her. You just never forget the people you love."

So he was horrified the next month to come home on Dec. 27, 2011, after a night out with friends and find Betsy lifeless in the den, in a pool of her own blood, a kitchen knife protruding from her neck.

Pamela Hupp
Pam Hupp. Missouri Department Of Corrections

In his shock, Russ told a 911 dispatcher that he feared Betsy had acted on suicidal thoughts she'd expressed due to her terminal cancer. But after an autopsy revealed 55 stab wounds, he was charged and convicted.

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His attorney, Joel Schwartz, says he was prevented at the first trial from pointing a finger at Hupp or even cross-examining her when she testified against Russ -- even though Hupp was the one who guided detectives to find a document downloaded to Betsy's laptop in which Betsy allegedly expressed fears about her husband. And it was Hupp who convinced Betsy to sign over her life insurance proceeds, on the promise that Hupp would give the money to Betsy's two daughters from a prior relationship.

Hupp never did; afterward she successfully won a legal challenge to keep the money.

But what helped to spin the case around against her, said Wood, was Hupp's 2016 shooting murder in her home of another man, Louis Gumpenberger, 33. Authorities quickly concluded that Hupp had recruited Gumpenberger, who had diminished mental capacity, as part of a plot she concocted to make it appear Gumbenberger was a hit man hired by Russ to kill her.

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Pamela Hupp's mother Shirley Neumann, left, and Louis Gumpenberger.

After that, authorities decided to review the 2013 death in a fatal plunge off a balcony of Hupp's mother, Shirley Neumann, 77, whose daughter was the last to see her. In 2017, a medical examiner changed the manner of Neumann's death from "accidental" to "undetermined." The investigation remains officially open.

Hupp is currently serving life in prison for Gumpenberger's murder. Wood says he intends to pursue the death penalty on the latest charge against her.

Wood, who was elected to office after Russ' original conviction, alleges the prior investigation was mishandled and has launched his own review into it, after Russ won a $2 million settlement in a civil suit against the prior prosecutor and detectives for ignoring exculpatory evidence.

Neither the prior prosecutor, now in private practice, nor Hupp's attorney responded to PEOPLE's call for comment.

As for Hupp, Russ says, "I don't know what this woman has in for me. I've only met her maybe a half dozen times, if that, but she wants to keep throwing me under the bus for something I didn't do."

"The only words I can use to describe her," he says, "are evil incarnate."

Betsy, according to her sister Julie Swaney, "was just simply the most colorful person in our family. ... She lit up a room with her smile and charisma."

"For nine and a half years, we have been praying for the truth to come out about Betsy's murder," Swaney, 54, and Betsy's daughters, Mariah, 27, and Leah Day, 30, said in a statement to PEOPLE. "And now, we await the upcoming trial of Pam Hupp, and true justice for Betsy will hopefully prevail once and for all."

Russ says he has patiently prayed for the same. "They're finally getting the person that did this," he says.

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