Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Christopher Hightower

Problems at Home

Christopher Hightower's wife, Susan, knew nothing about her husband's failed business deal with Brendel. All she knew was that her husband was a loser.

All his life, Christopher Hightower had seen his dreams come crashing down around him. His first marriage failed miserably. So had his plans for becoming a doctor. Now, after seven years as an unsuccessful commodities broker, his marriage to his second wife was in shambles.

Susan Hightower was sick of all the broken promises. She was tired of being left penniless by a husband who depended on the generosity of her parents to provide food and shelter for her family. And she was sick of her husband's constant accusations that she was being unfaithful.

Sure, her husband was a good father. He coached her son's soccer team and was active in the youth group at the Barrington Congregational Church, where the family attended religious services regularly. He was even a well-respected member of the congregation where he taught Sunday school, headed the Junior Pilgrim Fellowship and worked to counsel troubled teenagers.

But there were things in his past that even those closest to Hightower didn't know.

He had falsified his resume, claiming to have graduated "Magna Cum Laude" from the University of Rhode Island with a near-perfect grade point average. In fact, he was a mediocre student. He faked his job history, claiming to have increased sales by 35 percent at the pharmaceutical company where he worked. In truth, he was a terrible salesman with an abysmal sales record. He also submitted a forged transcript and letters of recommendation in order to get into the master's program in medicine at Wright State University in Ohio. Although he dropped out before he received his master's degree, on his resume he listed a Ph.D. degree.

But his lies weren't limited to his resume.

He also was a suspect in a fire at his Ohio home that destroyed much of the school books he used in his master's program. The fire allowed him to postpone his oral exams. He eventually dropped out of the master's program without ever taking them.

Then there was his questionable business dealings.

While living in Ohio shortly after his marriage to Susan, he ran a small investment club, losing almost all of the $102,000 entrusted to him over a period of four short months. Despite those losses, he had provided statements to his unsuspecting clients which showed that their investments were highly profitable. When they learned of his deception, the irate Ohio investors threatened to take legal action and file complaints with the CFTC.

Once again, however, Hightower managed to talk his way out of a sticky situation by offering to put his home up as collateral.

But financial troubles continued to plague him.

By the time of the murders, he was at least $100,000 in debt. His office telephone had been disconnected, he was behind $1,800 on the rent and his computer equipment was about to be repossessed. Now, Brendel had filed a complaint with the CFTC that was sure to end his brokerage career forever.

All his life, Christopher Hightower had been a failure. He was also a liar, a braggart and a man who wasn't above forging documents if it met his needs.

Yet, to the outside world, Hightower was a decent, upstanding citizen, a struggling businessman and a doting father who was well-liked and well-respected.. But Susan Hightower knew otherwise.

She knew about his fits of rage, his insatiable jealousy, his brooding moods and his financial ineptitude that had drained her parents of nearly $100,000 in money they had given her husband to start his failing commodities business.

By August 1991, Susan was sick of it all. She told him she wanted a divorce.

Hightower's world was beginning to collapse.

His first wife had started nagging him that he was late again on the child support payments for his two daughters, payments which Susan had been making from the small salary she made as a church secretary. He also was three months behind on the $600 monthly rent for his office, even though Susan's parents had been giving him $1,000 every month to pay his business bills. The check for the rent had bounced and the financial service that provided him daily stock quotes was threatening to cut off his access. Slowly, the financial noose was tightening.

In September, after a violent verbal confrontation, a terrified Susan filed for divorce.

But that move did not come without a price.

Angered and upset by what he considered his wife's betrayal, Hightower told Susan he had contracted with a hit man to have her killed.

"Do you know how much a human life is worth," he asked her one day, shortly after she announced her intentions. "It's worth $5,000. That's what I have paid to have someone kill you if you take my children away. And I paid an extra thousand dollars so it would look like an accident."

Susan was terrified. She knew from the look on her husband's face that he was serious about the threat. Two days later, she filed for a restraining order.

But long before that restraining order could be served, Hightower began to set his deadly plan in motion.