Murder-suicide has an element of ownership to it. Sometimes, as in this sad case, a murderer believes she is saving her family from the “evils of the world” by killing her children and spouse. Others murder-suicides result after years of anger and domestic violence, usually by the father who, after falling victim to suicidal impulses, is determined to take his family with him. Abusive parents don’t see their children as individuals. Rather, their offspring are mere extensions of themselves. In this case, it was the mother of the household who developed both a religious fanaticism and an obsession with a murderer, and it led to a terrible end.
Springville Utah – 2014. Kristi and Benjamin Strack were church-going Mormons who took the bible and its prophecies of an apocalyptic nature very literally. When Kristi was 6 years old, violence entered her life for the first time. Thirty years earlier, Dan Lafferty and his brother Ronald Watson Lafferty, two men in her community, grew their hair long, called themselves prophets and claimed God told them to kill their sister-in-law, Brenda Lafferty and her baby Erica, after she resisted her husband Allen‘s entry into a radical polygamous group.
Even at that age, police said Kristy developed an obsession with the case that turned into a close years-long friendship with the man, who saw himself as the prophet Elijah and the world as hell. He is serving a life sentence in prison for a double murder he believes was directed by God. Unfortunately, Kristi found the right man for her in Benjamin Strack. Benjamin was as gullible as his mentally disturbed wife. Benjamin grew increasingly bizarre, culminating with a belief that the apocalypse was near and, along with his wife, he believed a murder-suicide was necessary to save his family from the Lord’s wrath on earth.
The man who served as Kristi’s idol was born into a large family, to parents Wayne and Claudine Lafferty. Wayne was a strict, religious man who was admired for his
industriousness. By the time Ronald murdered the little family, he had been excommunicated from his church. No surprise there. Allen Lafferty had nothing to do with the murder of his wife and baby girl. Ronald and Dan orchestrated and executed the entire plan against his knowledge. Ronald’s own marriage had collapsed the year before the marriage and his wife Diana took the couple’s six children with her out of the state. Probably just as well. After his arrest Ron managed to hang himself in his cell, although doctors were able to resuscitate him. For a man who believed he was a messenger of God, he certainly was weak after his arrest. Dan claimed Ron’s miraculous recovery was due to divine intervention.
After being found guilty of all charges, Dan valiantly assured jurors that if they felt it appropriate to give him the death sentence because “I didn’t want them to worry or feel guilty about giving me the death sentence, if that’s what they thought I deserved. I was willing to take a life for God so it seemed to me that I should also be willing to give my life for God.” Dan’s bizarre rationalization seemed civilized in court but the murders must have been bloody and brutal. Had the jury been able to witness Dan the night he helped kill Brenda and her baby Erica, I’m certain they wouldn’t have needed to hear his self-indulgent soliloquy.
Dan’s life was spared when a woman who refused to send him to death row appeared to be manipulated by his flirtatious glances and “psycho-sexual seduction.” So much for his pure intent. Dan however was disappointed when he wasn’t given the death sentence. The judge offered no pretense for his dislike for the Lafferty brothers. Addressing Dan he stated, “I have never presided over a trial of such a cruel, heinous, pointless and senseless a crime as the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty. Nor have I ever seen an accused who had so little remorse or feeling.”
Only Kristi Strack herself could possibly have known why she developed an obsession with the psychopathological Dan. Kristi reached out to Lafferty’s daughter after she had a dream about him. Eventually Lafferty, Kristi and Benjamin became close friends. About Lafferty it was claimed, “He’s very fond of them. He wanted his remains to go to them.”
Lafferty communicated with Kristi Strack like she was one of his children. When she suffered a bout with ovarian cancer, she believed Lafferty could cure it. Lafferty said they fell in love and he cut off his waist-length hair and beard and sent them to Kristi. But we can’t trust anything Lafferty says can we? He claimed he didn’t know anything about their plans or their mind-set. By the time Kristi and Benjamin committed the murder-suicide Lafferty stated he hadn’t talked to the couple in years, and he didn’t generally talk about the end of the world with the Stracks.
Close, frequent communication with prisoners doesn’t generally raise the concerns of Utah prison officials but that changed after Kristi Strack tried to pass her brother off as her husband so he could come on a prison visit. Authorities revoked her visiting privileges, and Lafferty’s contact with the couple ended. Over time Benjamin and Kristi began homeschooling their children. Strangely, in spite of their religious devotion, the couple had a dysfunctional history with the law: they had pled guilty to misdemeanor forgery charges in 2008 and disorderly conduct in 2009, part of a minor criminal history that spanned about 12 years.
The couple also had gone through court-ordered drug treatment, but Elizabeth Sollis, a spokeswoman for Utah child welfare services, claimed this wasn’t necessarily a reason for state workers to intervene in a family. Kristi was being prescribed methadone for opiate addiction at the time of her death. It was methadone that she used to overdose her children, herself and her husband. Children’s Services weren’t involved with the Strack family.
The children, Benson, 14, Emery, 12, and Zion, 11, were sheltered. There was no evidence the family attended any churches, and when some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reached out to them, they politely refused. In the weeks approaching the murder-suicide they often talked with family and friends about wanting to escape what they saw as a growing evil in the world. However this was interpreted to mean they might move to a remote area.
Many in the community believed that Kristi and Benjamin Strack suffered from mental illness, as evidenced in their drug addictions. Kristi had overdosed her children by having them drink a cup of red liquid laced with her methadone. The entire family was found lying side by side in Kristi and Benjamin’s King-size bed. The children entered the world as a family, and left it the same way.
Jon Krakauer penned the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty in a biography entitled Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith.