'You couldn't find more innocent people' : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|'You couldn't find more innocent people'|
|Kimberly Vaughn's parents trying to understand, cope with tragedy|
|by Tony Scott|
Del and Susan Phillips of St. Charles, Mo., sat in the Kendall County home of a friend last week, the night before their former son-in-law Christopher Vaughn was to be given four life terms by a Will County judge, and contemplated evil.
"If you were trying to go out and find three of the most innocent people in any city or community, you couldn't find more innocent people," Del Phillips said. "The very opposite of evil. And then evil struck."
Phillips was speaking of his three grandchildren - Abigayle, Cassandra, and Blake - who were gunned down by their father, Vaughn, along with their mother, Kimberly Vaughn, Del and Susan Phillips' daughter, in June of 2007. The family was living at the time in Oswego's Spring Gate at Southbury Subdivision.
Judge Dan Rozak gave Christopher Vaughn four life terms in state prison at his sentencing hearing Nov. 27. State of Illinois records now show that Vaughn was transferred from the Will County Jail in Joliet to Stateville Correctional Center, also in Joliet, the following day.
Vaughn's parents, Pierre and Gail Vaughn of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., declined to speak to the media after the sentencing.
Del Phillips, an attorney, said the crime is still difficult to comprehend.
"The tremendous shock of the multiplicity of it that makes it hard," he said. "If you have one person that dies, you say, OK, a parent dies. That's one person, they're expected to die at a certain age, and they go first and then the children. But when you reverse it and have the children die first, and the grandchildren, and not just one, not two, not three, but four..."
He added, "Once in a while it really sneaks up on you that this is really four people that should be here but for this person who took it upon himself to be their own jury and executioner, and play God in a bad way."
Phillips wondered aloud why Vaughn, who was revealed during his trial to have made plans to escape to the wilderness in Canada, didn't just leave instead of killing his family. He noted that his former son-in-law had worked as a private investigator and forensic computer expert and could have disappeared.
"The joke of it all, if he'd gone up to Canada, we would've let him go," he said. "We would've been happy to take care of these kids. And we wouldn't have asked him for a nickel. But that's the joke: why didn't he do it? Just leave. Divorce was an option, abandonment was an option, just go was an option. He did lying for a living, there was no problem; he could've disappeared anywhere."
Phillips said Vaughn was both a psychopath and a sociopath.
"I don't think he had any feeling," he said. "He couldn't have had feeling, and turned around and double-tapped those kids. And killed his wife. And if you can't feel pain, you can't feel love. So he had no love for them."
He added, "But he did have the ability to act and imitate. He would imitate what I would do with Blake. This is what a dad does: picks up his kid, throws him over his shoulder, carries him downstairs. That's what I did. So that's what he did."
Phillips said he had a chilling encounter with Vaughn, in hindsight, the weekend before the murders. The murders occurred on Thursday, June 14, 2007, and the Phillips had visited their daughter and her family in Oswego the weekend before.
"The last weekend I was there, I was playing catch with Blake in the backyard," Del Phillips said. "And there was Chris on the stairway on the backyard deck, just watching me play catch with Blake. And I asked myself, what is going on in his mind? I said, 'Hey, Chris, you want to come down and play?' Because Chris and I had played golf together, we'd traveled across the country together, I'd known him for 13 years. Never had a clue how evil he could be. And he said, 'No, that's OK. I'm fine up here.' But he was thinking something, like, 'This'll be the last time you're gonna play catch with him, old man.'"
Susan Phillips recalled other encounters that, looking back, are eerie, she said, including once when the family was watching an episode of "Walker: Texas Ranger."
"Chris walked through the room, he said, 'I can't stand that show, because good breaks out at the end,'" she said.
Del Phillips added, "Chris and Kim had some sort of attraction to these movies that were off-the-wall terror movies."
The Phillips had been in town to visit their daughter that weekend before the murders, because Kimberly was graduating from the University of Phoenix in a ceremony at the Rosemont Theater that Saturday. That Friday night, the Phillips watched their grandkids while Christopher and Kimberly had a "date night" by going to see a movie.
The movie they chose was "Mr. Brooks," a film that stars Kevin Costner as a successful businessman who, in a secret double-life, is a serial killer.
'She loved him until the
minute it happened'
The Phillips also took time to talk about their daughter and grandchildren. Kimberly, Susan Phillips said, "was a joyful person."
"She just bubbled," she said of her daughter.
"She was the party," Del Phillips added.
Del Phillips described his daughter as being competitive, particularly with her twin sister, Jennifer.
"When she was a little girl she was a competitive swimmer," he said. "She was the first one of our girls to go off the high-diving board, and she was three and a half."
At swim meets, "The only person she wanted to beat was her sister," he said.
"She put her heart into everything, and she did the same thing with raising her family and going to University of Phoenix," he said.
Susan Phillips said her daughter was an officer in a local chapter of PEO (Philanthropic Educational Organization) and, in a "getting to know you" form, she had discussed how she had taken on a variety of odd jobs in college - including working as a hotel maid and at restaurants and a banquet center - in preparation for her life's dream.
"She wanted a Victorian bed and breakfast," Phillips said. "She said I worked at these places as research for when I open a bed and breakfast when my kids are grown."
Del Phillips said Kimberly was a leader in the household, even though she supported her husband. He said there were times when the family struggled while living in Washington State, prior to moving to Illinois.
"She became the leader of the family, helped stabilize them, took steps, set up policies on how to handle the house, how to save money," he said. "She became the head of the household, in effect. She had that ability, but she only exercised it when it was absolutely the last thing. Otherwise, she would be supportive of her husband and everything he did."
Susan Phillips added, "She was very proud of him; she had no clue. She loved him until the minute it happened."
While there were times Christopher Vaughn was unemployed or underemployed, Del Phillips said he was able to command a high salary when he took a job. He said Vaughn was making upwards of $230,000 a year in Oswego.
"He had a tendency to move whenever he could get more money," Phillips said. "He was getting up there. He was doing very well at negotiating himself a good salary."
Susan Phillips added, "But he'd hit the ceiling here; he told Del that."
Kimberly also was heavily involved in her kids' activities - scouting, sports, camps - so much so that her parents say they have received notes from Blake's baseball coach about how he mostly saw his mother at the games.
"(The coach) said he didn't know a boy who loved baseball more than Blake," Del Phillips said.
Phillips said one of the letters from Blake's baseball coach included a story about Blake's kindness, involving the coach's young five-year-old daughter and Blake.
"The wind was blowing the dust into his daughter's face, and before it got to her, Blake held his glove up in front of her face to protect her from the dust," he said. "That little act of kindness was a reflection of Kim teaching him to look out for somebody weaker."
Blake was known for his love of reading, and enjoyed learning new, long words, his grandmother recalled.
"In first grade, two little boys were scrapping and he told them to quit being so acrimonious," she said. "He was six years old."
Blake's sister Cassandra, or Sandi, was nicknamed "Sander the Commander" by her relatives.
"Neighborhood kids, her cousins, she could always organize something," Susan Philips said.
Just a few days after moving to Illinois and starting a new school, Sandi was elected to student council, Del Phillips said. She loved animals - especially the tree frogs she kept in her room - and was trying to talk Kimberly into starting a dog walking service, Phillips said.
The oldest child, Abigayle, known as Abbi, was "beautiful; she was a model," her grandfather said.
"Abigayle looked out for her siblings and she was charming, and she was funny; she had a sense of humor like her mother," he said.
The Phillips say their daughter was very protective of her kids, making them take walkie talkies when they'd go out into the neighborhood and play.
"The kids couldn't leave without a walkie talkie," Susan Phillips said.
To help keep their daughter's memory alive, the Phillips have founded a $1,000 college scholarship - the Kimberly Phillips Scholarship - at her alma mater, St. Charles West High School in St. Charles, Mo. The student has to have a 2.5 GPA and not be in trouble with the law, and have demonstrated outstanding character, Susan Phillips said.
Del Phillips said of Kimberly, "She was very sociable and very caring, and she was a force of good."