A tale of true crime and true love, in which all is forgiven
The News & Observer Raleigh, NC
ANNE SAKER, STAFF WRITER
14 March 1999
Ricky Guthrie, the chief of police of Eureka, N.C., population 294, was coming off duty one morning a year ago when a sheriff’s deputy called to tell him about a case.
Eureka, about an hour east of Raleigh in Wayne County, is a nice town, and Guthrie, 37, and his wife, Suzanne, 32, like living there. It has its problems, but it’s been a long time since anyone committed a major crime, and no one can remember the last murder. So Ricky was curious when the deputy said a felony arrest had been made that morning in Eureka.
As the deputy kept talking, though, Ricky could not believe what he was hearing. The charge: solicitation of another to commit murder.
The intended victim: Ricky Guthrie. The accused: his wife, Suzanne.
The deputy said they had Suzanne on tape, plotting, giving out Ricky’s location, promising to pay the hit man. When deputies went to the Guthries’ double-wide mobile home, they found Suzanne standing on the front porch, apparently waiting to hear that Ricky had been killed in the line of duty.
Ricky the cop understood there was a solid case. Ricky the husband asked himself, “Why? Why me?”
He turned the evidence over in his head, time and again, and realized that as good a cop as he was, he missed all the clues. He just didn’t see them, or he didn’t want to.
His eyes were open now.
Ricky said last week that when he looks back on everything, he feels sure his mother would have noticed something wrong, and she would have said what she thought – no holds barred. She could make a family work. He didn’t get a lot of hugs and kisses when he was young, but he knew his mother loved him.
At age 10, Ricky decided he wanted to be a police officer. At 21, he followed his dad into the Marine Corps. While posted at Camp Lejeune, he married a woman for all the wrong reasons – she wanted out of the house, and he wanted out of the barracks. When Ricky left the service after six years, he got a divorce. His ex-wife got their two children.
To earn money and gain experience, Ricky went to work for the Lenoir County emergency service. The crews took dinner breaks at Tommy’s Restaurant in Kinston, and one night Ricky joined them. As he opened his menu, he watched a plump, dark-haired waitress approach his table, and when Ricky looked into Suzanne Dixon’s green eyes, he fell in love.
In the next few weeks, Suzanne listened over the police scanner at Tommy’s for Ricky to sign off for a dinner break, and she made sure he sat at one of her tables. Ricky took that as a sign that a not- very-good-looking guy like him might actually have a chance with this wonderful person.
One day in February 1991, Ricky drove the ambulance to Lenoir Memorial Hospital and unloaded a patient. He started to clean up and when he turned around, he saw Suzanne, smiling, standing at the back of the ambulance to surprise him. He leaned into her, she leaned into him, and they kissed.
By the end of the month, they had moved into an apartment together. He took her to a really nice restaurant in Kinston, and as dessert was served, he dropped to one knee before her and asked her to marry him. She said yes. They had the wedding at their apartment June 6, 1992. That year, they had a son.
Ricky’s mother thought so much of Suzanne, she called her a daughter, not a daughter-in-law. On the day in 1994 when they buried his mother, Ricky could see Suzanne was as full of grief as the rest of the family.
Suzanne put Ricky through the police academy at Pitt Community College. For his first job, Ricky joined the LaGrange force and right off the bat, he got assigned to undercover narcotics and stayed there three years. In 1995, Ricky heard that the longtime police chief of Eureka had retired.
Ricky didn’t even realize Eureka was Eureka; he’d only known it as a nameless little farm crossroads. But it was a great opportunity, and he took the job.
As soon as he arrived, the workload crashed over him. The weeks quickly stretched to 50, 60, 70, 80 hours. When he wasn’t on duty, he was on call. He patrolled, caught speeders, made drug busts, wrote federal grant applications. With Suzanne’s help, he arranged Eureka’s fall festival and the town’s Christmas parade. The sheriff’s department made him a special deputy.
The job ate up his life. Ricky thought Suzanne understood, although they didn’t talk as much as they once did. Ricky promised her that the pace would let up, but the late nights got later still.
In 1996, a federal grant came through, and the Eureka police acquired a K-9 dog. Ricky went out of town for the training. Well, Ricky started flirting with a woman, and one thing led to another. He came home, packed a bag and told Suzanne he was leaving her.
Two months later, he begged her to take him back. Dumbest thing he’d ever done, Ricky said. Ricky heard Suzanne say she forgave him, and he took her at her word, although on some days, she couldn’t get off the couch, and some days, she told Ricky to leave her alone. No, she said, nothing was wrong. She was just tired.
They renewed their wedding vows, this time in a church with a covered-dish reception. Things felt like they were getting better. A few weeks before Christmas 1997, Ricky’s ex-wife called. She was having money problems, housing problems. Could he take the children? He said yes without talking to Suzanne first.
The children arrived, enrolled in grade school and adapted, and Suzanne managed the extra housekeeping, cooking and child care. But she spent a lot of time in bed, tired. For the first time in their marriage, she showed a temper. Ricky worried, but he figured Suzanne would snap out of it eventually.
Ricky’s mother would have seen the problem right away, long before the sheriff’s department ever got involved.
In early March 1998, the owner of a Princeton pager company went to the Wayne County sheriff with transcripts of telephone messages Suzanne had sent to the pager of a family friend, a farmhand named Linwood Boylan. The messages left the plain impression that Suzanne wanted him to find someone to kill her husband.
Deputies picked up Boylan and they believed him when he insisted he thought Suzanne was joking all along. He said Suzanne mentioned a life insurance policy that would pay close to $500,000 if Ricky were killed in the line of duty. With the deputies and a tape recorder listening in, Boylan called Suzanne at 5:20 a.m. Sunday, March 8, 1998, and pretended that his hit man from the West Coast was in town. The 12-page triple-spaced transcript of the tape later became state’s exhibit No. 1.
Boylan: You absolutely, positively sure this is what you want?
Suzanne: Yes, honey.
Boylan: What do you want really?
Suzanne: What do you mean, what do I want?
Boylan: Do you really want him dead?
Soon after, the deputies pulled up to the Guthries’ doublewide. Suzanne stood on the front porch, watching them. When they handed her the arrest warrant, she wept.
All that day, Ricky paced around the sheriff’s department hoping to talk to Suzanne or at least to see her, but that wasn’t allowed. Suzanne’s mother bailed her out and took her in while Suzanne underwent psychological testing.
Three days later, the doctor reported to Ricky that Suzanne was severely depressed. She had no memories of her childhood before age 11, after her father left home, and she didn’t comprehend what was happening to her now. The doctor said she was more a danger to herself than to anyone else, and he was quite amazed she was alive.
Finally, the doctor said Suzanne wanted to come home.
Well, Ricky said, I want her to come home.
This problem can be corrected, the doctor said, but it will take time.
Ricky told him they had all the time in the world.
Ricky saw things more clearly. He had put his job before Suzanne. He had hurt her when he left for two months. He had placed a big burden on her by taking in his two older children.
Suzanne was guilty of the crime, but Ricky wasn’t innocent. He was responsible.
After talking with the doctor, Ricky brought her home and made dinner. They didn’t talk much, but they held hands.
Over the next year, Suzanne took an antidepressant and talked to a therapist regularly. To keep her company, Ricky and the kids got her a miniature poodle named Buffy. Ricky went to a Goldsboro parlor and had “Suzanne” tattooed over his heart.
Last month, Suzanne appeared in Wayne County Superior Court and pleaded guilty to one count of soliciting another to commit murder. A judge sent her to the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh for a 90-day pre-sentencing evaluation.
Suzanne won’t talk about what happened except with her doctor, her lawyer and Ricky. When she returns to court in May, she faces up to 44 months in prison. The district attorney wants her to serve an active term. It’s a serious crime, especially since the target was a police officer.
Eureka’s chief of police knows better than most people that the D.A. is only doing his job. But Ricky wants Suzanne to get probation. Folks in Eureka have assured Ricky that what happened between him and Suzanne is none of their business, and she’ll be welcomed back. They’re circulating petitions on Suzanne’s behalf to offer at her sentencing.
Even with the good will in Eureka, Ricky also knows some people think he is the biggest idiot to put his head down on a pillow with a woman who actually tried to have him killed.
All Ricky can say is: He’s made his mistakes, too. Nobody’s perfect.
He knows where they went wrong, and he won’t let it happen again. He’ll turn in his badge, if that’s the price for Suzanne. She is his true love.
EUREKA — The Wayne County woman who hired a hit man to kill her husband will go to prison. Wednesday afternoon Suzanne Guthrie got a 44-month sentence, even though her husband, Eureka Police Chief Rick Guthrie, asked the judge for leniency.
Guthrie testified his wife is dealing with several mental problems that are being controlled with medication. He says the two are actually closer since the murder attempt. It was like a made-for-TV movie. Suzanne Guthrie was trying to hire a hit man when police uncovered her plan. But Tuesday, Guthrie was in court with his wife and said he has forgiven her.
Guthrie came into the courtroom with his wife in hopes of persuading the judge to give her probation instead of up to three and a half years in prison. The two walked hand in hand into a Wayne County courtroom so that Suzanne Guthrie could be sentenced. Her husband says they have never been closer.
“We’re stronger now than when we first got married,” Guthrie says. “We like the same things; we did the same things…Now it’s like we can’t make a move without the other.” The first witnesses were Rick’s young children, and one after another they told the judge that they need their stepmother at home.
“Because she gives us a whole lot of love and attention and everything we need. We love her so much,” said one child. A court appointed psychologist says Suzanne Guthrie suffers from extreme depression and six personality disorders but is not a danger to others.
“I would think think that, if indeed the action in question had been carried out, she would have lasted 30 days,” said Dr. Kurt Lutke. The defense is doing its best to show the Guthries as a loving couple in hopes that the judge will choose probation instead of prison.
Even the youngest child said the family should stay together. “She helped me take a bath, and sometimes she helps me wash up, and that’s all,” said the youngest child.
Rick Guthrie said he does not want to talk about the case until it is over.