Dateline NBC Recap: Frame-up Angles in Bill Macumber & Brett Parker Cases

Dateline NBC features two sensational cases where the angle of a frame-up on convicted killers is investigated. The first hour discusses the incidents surrounding the double murder case of Joyce Sterrenberg and Tim McKillop on May 23, 1962 in the desert north of Scottsdale. The story (Secrets in the Desert), tracks the efforts of Ron Macumber and the Arizona Justice Project led by Larry Hammond to prove Bill Macumber’s innocence.

After Bill (whose photo appears in this article) was convicted in 1976, Ron and his siblings started a new life with their mother Carol by taking on their mother’s maiden name (Kempfert) and believing that their very own father was guilty of the deaths of the engaged couple. Way before Bill’s conviction, Ron lived with his father after Carol left her family (claiming unhappiness in her marriage where Bill was a tad too controlling). Ron remembers a good father until his mother told the police in 1974 that Bill confided in her on killing the victims. Back then, Carol was already working with the local sheriff’s office and taking classes on fingerprint analysis.

Bill’s guilt is based on several of the prosecution’s evidences, among which are: Carol’s testimony, deemed credible after she passed the lie detector test; ballistics proving that Bill’s gun matches the shell casings found scattered in the crime scene; and Bill’s palm print fitting what was lifted on the side of the victims’ car.

The court found these evidences more compelling than the defense’s proofs, including: one, Linda Primrose’s detailed written statement (given to the police a few months after the murders) on witnessing, along with another woman, a certain Ernie Salazar shooting the victims; Primrose’s accurate description of the crime scene as it was found a day after the murders; and three, Bill’s accusation that Carol tampered with the fingerprint evidences given that she was already familiar with the procedure and working in the sheriff’s office. Primrose eventually recanted her statements when she took the stand, claiming that the contents were lies.  Carol also repudiated the accusations against her, especially on giving sexual favors to policemen, an insinuation on how she was able to tamper evidence.

The most interesting fact presented is the existence of three different fingerprints lifted from the crime scene by the Deputy Sheriff/ fingerprint specialist at that time, none of which belonged to the victims. There was also a clump of hair that didn’t match the victims as well. These fingerprints match Primrose’s earlier claims of three people in the crime scene. Primrose also talks about her female companion ripping out her own hair after Ernie shot the victims, a valid explanation to the retrieved hair samples.

The Arizona Justice Project, an endeavor of volunteers who aim to overturn wrongful convictions, argues that the case against Bill is flawed, is based on opinion and lacks scientific proof. Among the Project’s evidences are Primrose’s statement and that of lawyer Thomas O’Toole who once represented Ernie Valenzuela. Following Bill’s appeal in 1976, O’Toole requested to testify for the accused on the basis of Valenzuela’s confession of having killed a couple in the desert north of Scottsdale. O’Toole was able to do so after Valenzuela’s death freed him from the attorney-client confidentiality; however, the judge refused the testimony on the basis of hearsay.

The impossibility of getting a fresh trial for Bill led the Project to work with Ron Macumber for Bill’s clemency based on his exemplary behavior of organizing activities (for the benefit of his inmates and charitable organizations) and personal endeavors of publishing novels and a book of poetry. After Governor Jan Brewer refused to sign the clemency papers, Bill took the County Attorney’s Office deal of no contest to second-degree murder charges in exchange for his freedom.

After 37 years of imprisonment, Bill now spends his time catching up with family and friends. Ron, who has reverted back to his father’s surname after being completely convinced of his father’s innocence, is trying to understand why his own mother framed Bill. The victims’ parents lament Bill’s freedom as tragic while Carol remains convinced that her ex-husband is a murderer.

Where Bill Macumber ends his time in prison, Brett Parker is in the early stages of serving life imprisonment on the murder of his wife Tammy Jo and friend/ employee Bryan Capnerhurst in the Parkers’ residence in Ascot Estates, South Carolina. The guilty verdict substantiates the prosecution’s claim that Brett was a debt-ridden man who staged an elaborate plan to implicate Capnerhurst for killing his wife in order to benefit from the proceeds of Tammy’s insurance and 401k. The defense team insists that the cover-up theory is more of a frame-up against the accused.

Brett and his defense team maintain that Tammy died for being at the wrong place and time when Capnerhurst decided to stage a robbery in the couple’s residence. Based on Brett’s account to the police, he was in the bathroom when Capnerhurst dropped by his place on April 13, 2012; Capnerhurst was to collect the $20,000 that Brett owed him from their bookie activities. Brett then asked the man to wait for him upstairs. Moments later, Brett heard a gunshot, raced up the stairs, saw his wife’s body slumped on the floor, came face to face with Capnerhurst who ordered him to go to the safe, retrieved his own gun in his safe and eventually fired and killed Capnerhurst. The police retrieved two guns and a gym bag with an empty box of ammunition which Brett claims as Capenhurst’s own.

The evidences presented by the prosecution in this episode (Mystery at Ascot Estates) include the following: one, a friend’s testimony of his affair with Tammy as a result of her unhappiness in her marriage; two, surveillance videos showing Brett arriving home with the questionable gym bag in tow; three, a video showing Brett peeking through the blinds (also proven correct by the presence of gun residue) and corroborating claims that Brett shot Tammy before Capnerhurst arrived; three, a 9-minute lag between the time that Brett claims to have seen his wife dead and his 911 call (also questionably done outside his home); four, an expert’s opinion that Capnerhurst couldn’t have shot Tammy since his hand was already badly injured from a gunshot wound; five, that the toilet seat where Brett was supposed to have been sitting on was up; six, testimony on Capnerhurst being scared of guns; and seven, that Brett did not have blood in his hands.

Brett’s defense lawyers challenged the prosecution’s evidences, including a testimony from Brett’s daughter where she claims seeing Brett and Capnerhurst talking about guns, but the jury just didn’t buy the argument that the man is not a killer.

That’s our recap of Dateline NBC today, 7/26/13. We’ll have another recap next week. Until then, please check our Dateline NBC archives HERE. 

Image Credit: Dateline NBC


  1. Adrienne says

    With regards to the Macumber case. I find it convenient that NO ONE throughout the years has even bothered to interview Scott Kempfert, the oldest “Macumber” son and my father about his memories of the events that surrounded this case. This is the 3rd televisions special I have seen on this story, and each and every single time Ron and Mr, Macumber blast Carol and villanize her to make themselves look good I want to yell at the top of my lungs. My grandmother Carol is a good woman, who is not capable of the things they accuse her of. Yet, no one wants to hear that do they?