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Woman left void, witnesses attest

Profile image for By Donna Fielder / Staff Writer
By Donna Fielder / Staff Writer

Prosecutors on Monday called 10 witnesses in their effort to show jurors in the Charles Stobaugh murder trial that his estranged wife, Kathy Stobaugh, was neither seen nor heard from again after driving to the family farm to see him the day she disappeared. Kathy Stobaugh

"Is there any indication on the planet Earth that Kathy Stobaugh existed after Dec. 29, 2004?" prosecutor Cary Piel asked Department of Homeland Security Agent Kirk Beauchamp.

Beauchamp said there was not.

Beauchamp was a Denton County sheriff's deputy for 13 years, and he agreed to a slightly different task he was asked to perform by Texas Ranger Tracy Murphree, he testified. In his job with Homeland Security, he finds people who don't want to be found, he said. At Murphree's request, he searched for the missing woman globally in 2009 and found not a single trace of her.

A man used her Social Security number in El Paso once, the federal agent said. But the man most likely made up a number to put on forms because he was undocumented.

Kathy Stobaugh never had a passport. She never was detected crossing any border or entering any other country.

"I look for people. I find them," Beauchamp said. "This is a unique situation. She is the only one I have not found in my career."

It was the first day back in court since last Monday as county offices closed because of ice and snow last week. And Judge Bruce McFarling indicated that bad weather forecast for Wednesday could possibly delay the trial again, and that he had prior obligations on Thursday and Friday.

The case had been expected to last up to three weeks, so there is no indication of when it might finish. Charles Stobaugh

Charles Stobaugh told investigators that his wife left the farm near Sanger after they argued that evening. He said he awoke the next morning to find her car back in his driveway. He said she had threatened to go somewhere no one would ever find her.

Jennifer Hunter testified that she was supposed to show Kathy Stobaugh a house she was interested in buying but she did not show up for the appointment.

Dana Ames testified that she runs a search-and-rescue operation that used 90 people to search property near the Stobaugh farm Jan. 15 and 16, 2005, and 50 people at a later date, and they found no sign of the missing woman. Ames testified that the story appeared on several national television venues as well as in extensive local coverage, and no one ever reported seeing her.

Defense attorney Derrell Comer asked Ames if her group ever searched the Haskell area for the missing woman. The defense team has tried to interject doubt about Charles Stobaugh's guilt by suggesting that a Haskell man who occasionally dated Kathy Stobaugh after her separation should have been a suspect but was not investigated thoroughly enough.

Several others spent short stints on the stand testifying to Kathy Stobaugh's reliability, her sense of responsibility and her absolute absence after that night.

Ellie Evans testified that she worked with Kathy Stobaugh at North Central Texas College in 2002 and that she already was planning to leave her husband. She believed that everything they owned belonged to her husband, Evans said. She believed she would have to finish university work, get a job and rent a house before she could leave because she would have nothing when she walked away because he had put only his name on the farm and all the equipment they bought after their marriage.

"Is it fair to say she'd been planning to leave since 2002?" asked Comer in cross examination.

Evans agreed.

Mark Munday cried as he identified a big smiling picture of his sister late in the day. While he tried to compose himself, other family members in the courtroom broke down as well. He told of a time when Kathy Stobaugh called him to come to the house where she was living while separated from her husband in 1989. She said he was there and she was afraid. Munday said he and his father both stayed at the house to protect her until Charles Stobaugh left.

Prosecutor Susan Piel showed him a part of Charles Stobaugh's initial interview with Sanger police when he appeared to be saying that the two men, in an earlier phone call, talked about her acting "different" the last time he saw her and "weird." Mark Munday said that nothing like that was discussed in that phone call and that he never thought she acted anything other than happy and excited to be starting a new life.

Comer tried to use him to indicate that Charles Stobaugh did not help with searches because he had been ordered not to by the Texas Ranger. But the judge sustained Susan Piel's objection that this was a misstatement of the facts.

The night she disappeared, Kathy Stobaugh's last work on her computer about 7 p.m. Dec. 29, 2004, was a group of lesson plans for her next school semester, a computer expert testified.

Keith Denning was a computer technologist with the Texas Department of Public Safety in the months that followed, and he analyzed three computers that came from Kathy Stobaugh's Sanger home. She had a lesson plan finished for Monday, Jan. 3, 2005, when she was supposed to return to her teaching job at Nocona Elementary School, he testified. She had lesson plans all the way into May of that year, he said.

She apparently was working on the May plan when, according to prior testimony in the trial, her husband called and asked her to come to the family farm to discuss their divorce settlement.

Denning told the jury that he checked the computers for keywords that might show she was planning a trip. There were no signs of a planned trip in e-mails, documents or downloads from the Internet, he said.

Kathy Stobaugh's sister-in-law, Kim Munday, testified the remainder of the morning. She spoke of several vacations she and her husband, Mark, and their two children took with Kathy Stobaugh and her two children. Charles Stobaugh never went along on the trips, she said, nor did he ever attend social gatherings with the Munday family.

Susan Piel showed several photographs of family vacations and Christmas gatherings. Charles Stobaugh did not appear in any of them.

Kim Munday testified that she called her sister-in-law's house Dec. 31, 2004, and asked to talk to Kathy. Charee Stobaugh, 16, told her that her mother did not come home the night before. She made light of it, Munday said, and she was not concerned when she hung up the telephone.

She learned the following Monday that Kathy Stobaugh had been missing for several days, Kim Munday said.

In late February, the family agreed that they should clean out the rental house and store Kathy Stobaugh's belongings. She had bought mostly new furniture and appliances when she moved out of the farmhouse, and she had been excited about having a nice place to live.

"She had it fixed up real cute, real homey like," Kim Munday said.

Several family members packed up everything, keeping the contents of the children's rooms separate, she said. When they were done they called the children, who were by then living with Charles Stobaugh on the farm, and told them to come to pick up their belongings.

There was an emotional meeting, she said, with her telling the children they needed to stay in touch with their mother's family. Then Charles Stobaugh's mother arrived. She was angry, Kim Munday said. She told them that they had no right to take Charles' property and that she was going to call the police.

"We told her to go ahead and call the police," she said.

Comer cross-examined the witness. All the photos shown to the jury were without Charles Stobaugh, he said. Didn't she have any pictures with him in them?

"All I can remember is one," she said.

"Didn't you turn any over to the state?" he asked.

"I just gave them a big mass of pictures. I don't know if that one was in there or not," she said.

Comer asked Kim Munday if it was not true that Charles Stobaugh worked at a factory as well as working on the farm.

"That's why Charles wasn't able to come on these vacations, wasn't it? Because he was working?" he asked.

"My husband took vacations," she retorted.

"Isn't it true that it is hard to leave a farm with animals to feed?" Comer asked.

"Not if you have relatives to help you out. That's what we do," she said.

On redirect questioning from Susan Piel, Kim Munday said that when her niece Charee Stobaugh told her that her mother had not come home that night she seemed unconcerned and did not mention that it had actually been two days and nights since she had seen her.

"And were you shocked to find out it had been that long?" Susan Piel asked.

"Charee acted like it was no big deal," Kim Munday said. "My heart hurt that she would do that to me."

DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is .