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‘I knew what she was capable of’: Joel Schwartz on the evil of Pam Hupp

022322_provided_BosworthSchwartz.jpeg
Kensington Books
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Attorney Joel Schwartz (right) with "Bone Deep" co-author Charles Bosworth Jr.

Ten years ago, when St. Louis defense attorney Joel Schwartz agreed to represent a man accused of killing his wife, he thought it was an open-and-shut case.

“The truth of the matter is I thought this case would be out of my life in about a month, maybe two months, because the evidence was simply so overwhelming,” he explained on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “Not that he was not guilty, or not that they couldn't prove it, but simply that he was innocent and could not possibly have committed this heinous act.”

022222_provided_russfariabetsyfaria.jpg Russ Faria and his wife Betsy, enjoying a "celebration of life" cruise a few weeks before her murder.
Kensington Books
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Russ Faria and his wife, Betsy, enjoy a "celebration of life" cruise a few weeks before her murder.

Instead, Schwartz’s involvement with Russ Faria and the murder of his wife, Betsy, has been a constant in his life for a decade — and that’s thanks to Pam Hupp. A suburban mom with frumpy clothes and a reputation as the neighborhood “buttinski,” Hupp got herself named the beneficiary on one of Betsy Faria’s life insurance policies. And then, prosecutors now say, she killed Betsy and clumsily framed Betsy’s husband. It would take Hupp being implicated in two more deaths — one in which she was also the insurance beneficiary — for her to be arrested.

In his book “Bone Deep: Untangling the Betsy Faria Murder Case,” Schwartz details his attempt to exonerate Russ Faria and bring attention to Hupp. Co-authored by veteran true-crime author Charles Bosworth Jr., the book chronicles Schwartz’s frustration with members of Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis as well as the judge in Russ Faria’s first trial, who refused to allow any evidence of Hupp’s insurance windfall, despite a mountain of legal precedent to the contrary.

Joel Schwartz on Pam Hupp and untangling Betsy Faria's murder

Schwartz was so frustrated by law enforcement’s unwillingness to treat Hupp as a suspect, he called then-U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan. If Hupp wasn’t stopped, he urged, “someone else is going to die.” Someone did.

From the beginning, Schwartz said: “I knew what she was capable of. And I was certain that she had something to do with the murder, even if she wasn't the one who plunged the knife into Betsy.”

He continued: “I can't give you a reason why the police listened to her. I can't give a reason why the prosecutor did. And to this day, I still don't know. She not only would lie over the course of time and change her story from month to month or year to year — she would change it in the course of one conversation, almost minute to minute. And the authorities just continued to ignore that like it meant nothing.”

Dateline has now devoted no less than six episodes to Hupp and the Faria case, with ratings that rival its coverage of O.J. Simpson. A podcast, “The Thing About Pam,” will soon become a scripted NBC series, with Renée Zellweger playing Hupp.

Schwartz said the public’s fascination with the case isn’t just the twist of realizing the Karen next door might be a killer — “one of the most evil people I've ever encountered,” in Schwartz’s parlance. The twists and turns also provide dramatic possibilities. And, Schwartz concluded: “Maybe beyond that, if it can happen to Russ Faria, it can happen to anybody. And that may be the fear as well as the fascination.”

Schwartz is played in the new NBC series by former soap opera star Josh Duhamel (“Las Vegas,” the “Transformers” franchise). He said he was in frequent contact with the actor. “I can’t imagine a nicer guy playing me,” he said.

The defense attorney even made a cameo in the series, though he had to be disguised so as to not to look too much like his TV doppelganger. “They took my hair and spent about an hour and a half making it perfectly straight, which was kind of fun, because I've never seen it like that,” Schwartz said, laughing.

Related Event

What: Joel Schwartz and Charles Bosworth Jr. book event

When: 7 p.m. Feb. 26

Where: St. Louis County Library Headquarters, 1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63131

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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