By Janice Gregorson
Financial woes allegedly led a rural Dover couple to a scheme that authorities say included conspiring to kill a relative.
Brenda Kay Shorter, 35, and her husband, William James Shorter, 36, are now charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder with premeditation.
The two were arrested Friday at their rural Dover farm and arraigned in Olmsted District Court late Monday morning.
This is Brenda Shorter’s second trip before a judge in recent weeks. She was charged with two counts of second-degree assault, accused of assaulting her 44-year-old brother-in-law with the blunt end of a hatchet and with a lariat on April 24. That criminal complaint has now been amended to add the murder conspiracy count. Judge Kevin Lund set her unconditional bail at $150,000 and conditional bail at $40,000. He set William Shorter’s bail at $150,000 without conditions. Both return to court June 2.
Olmsted County Sheriff Steve VonWald said an intensive three-week investigation by his detective division uncovered new evidence leading to the new charges.
Specifically, the criminal complaints say detectives learned that William Shorter had obtained a Fidelity Life insurance policy of $300,000 on his brother’s life without his brother’s knowledge or consent. That was in March, 2008. William Shorter is the sole beneficiary.
The couple live in a mobile home on the farmstead with their two sons, ages 2 and 4. William Shorter’s brother lives in the main house with their elderly parents.
The complaints say that William and Brenda Shorter handle all of the finances for the Shorter Farms operation.
William Shorter allegedly told detectives that he did take out the life insurance policy on his brother and that he forged his brother’s signature on the policy. He said he got the policy because his brother is "very accident prone and reckless,’’ the complaint said.
The complaint said William, Brenda, the victim, and their parents all cosigned a loan from Equity Bank. The loan was for a dairy business called Shorter Farms. William told investigators he and his wife are in debt and four months behind with the Shorter Farms loan payments.
On April 29, a search warrant was executed at William and Brenda Shorters’ residence at 5610 85th Ave. S.E. in Dover. During the search of the residence, three life insurance applications in the victim’s name were found. They were from Fidelity, Mutual of Omaha and Colonial Penn. There were also letters showing delinquent or non-payment of bills for loans and farm equipment and seven Shorter Farm checks out for $1,000. The checks were written out to William Shorter, allegedly signed by his brother, the victim, according to the complaint. The brother told detectives he has no involvement with the Shorter Farms finances and has never signed any checks for Shorter Farms. He also said he has never taken out a life insurance policy from any of the three firms.
During the investigation, detectives learned that other life insurance policies had been taken out on the victim in 2006, but lapsed due to non-payment of premiums. William Shorter was listed as the sole beneficiary on those policies, too. One was for $750,000, which lapsed in April 2006. A second had a maximum benefit of $1 million, activated in April 2006 and lapsed in March 2007 for non-payment.
The complaint said detectives spoke to the chief executive officer Insure.com, who said his company is an insurance brokerage firm for all types of insurance. An agent had initial contact with someone from Shorter Farms on Oct. 9, 2007. There were 40 telephone calls between Oct. 9, 2007, and April 24, 2008, all to the William Shorter residence. Several of the calls were recorded. The complaint said on Feb. 28, 2008, the agent received a phone call from a male claiming to be the victim, asking to obtain an insurance policy and have William Shorter as the beneficiary. The male initially asked for a $500,000 policy. That call was recorded. On May 7, 2008, detectives had the victim listen to the recording. The victim said he recognized the caller’s voice as that of his brother. The victim also reviewed copies of all three life insurance policies, which had his name. He said the signatures were not his, but the handwriting was that of his brother, William.
The complaint noted that on March 31 there was a sheriff sale of the Shorter Farms and that Equity Bank purchased the property for $349,030.59. The Shorters have until March 31, 2009, to make a full payment of approximately $375,000 to keep the farm.
Detectives interviewed the victim and asked if he had been involved in any accidents or life threatening events in the last several years. He said that in March or April of 2006 he and Brenda Shorter were moving hay bales on the farm. He said Brenda was driving the tractor and he was removing the come-along once the bales were set down. The victim said he was standing between the tractor and the hay bale while he was removing the come-along. He said all of a sudden, the tractor began to roll backward toward him. He said his right arm became caught on the tire and he was pulled under the tractor’s tire. He said his right arm was trapped under the tire and that it took Brenda several minutes to come to his aid and move the tractor tire off of him. She told him she thought she had put the tractor into park.