Local News

Investigator fights to keep Durham woman locked up for 1988 murder

Posted March 7, 2012
Updated March 8, 2012

— More than two decades after a high school baseball coach was killed while he slept, a Durham County Sheriff's Office investigator remains committed to keeping the man's wife in prison for his murder.

Russell Stager, a baseball coach at what was then Durham High School, was fatally shot on Feb. 1, 1988. His second wife, Barbara Stager, told authorities she accidentally jostled a gun he kept under his pillow, and the gun went off, killing him.

A jury didn't believe Barbara Stager's story, deliberating for less than an hour before convicting her of first-degree murder in 1989.

The case became the subject of a book, "Before He Wakes," and a television movie.

The former Sunday school teacher is serving a life sentence and gets her second chance at parole next week after being denied her release three years ago.

Maj. Ricky Buchanan of the Durham County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday that he went with Russell Stager's family this week to ask a member of the state Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission not to release Barbara Stager.

"I told him, in all my years of experience, she's the most cold-blooded killer I've ever encountered, and she is right where she needs to be," Buchanan said.

He still keeps evidence from the case in his office, including the gun and illustrations that prosecutors used at trial.

Maj. Ricky Buchanan, Durham County Sheriff's Office Durham deputy doesn't want woman who killed husband paroled

"She was above and behind him when she pulled the trigger. It could not have happened the way she said," he said.

Buchanan said he believes Barbara Stager killed for financial reasons. He points to a signature on a will that he says doesn't match Russell Stager's handwriting.

"We can't prove that she signed Russ' name, but we can prove Russ didn't sign it," he said.

Part of the evidence against her was the fact that her first husband, Larry Ford, also was killed in his bed in what she said was another accidental shooting.

Randolph County authorities ruled Ford's death an accident and have never found additional evidence to file any criminal charges in the case.

Barbara Stager, 63, declined a WRAL News request for an interview.

Buchanan describes her as a predator and said he believes if she is free she could kill again.

"She is a dangerous person. She is cold-blooded, and she kills without remorse," he said.


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  • barbstillkickin Mar 9, 2012

    Life means life not a chance to parole a woman who is so cold blooded you can even see it in her eyes. I feel sorry if she is set free for her next victim and there will be a next victim.

  • COPs eye Mar 8, 2012

    I worked at NCCIW for two years where she was housed. She is manipulative and cold blooded...Keep her locked up til she dies.

  • samr Mar 8, 2012


    She was sentenced under different guidelines than exist today. After her death penalty was overturned, she received life but not life without parole so that is why we are here. It is distressing but I think she will remain behind bars until she dies.

  • barbstillkickin Mar 8, 2012

    She was sentenced to life. What does that mean. Dies it mean she is given more rights then the person she killed. Correct me if I am wrong but I am under the impression life means for as long as you live. More tax money at work.

  • Con Amor brings luv and laughter Mar 8, 2012

    "For Life" Should mean.. "Until the day that you DIE!" No if's and's or but's about it... Keep her behind bars/walls and fences until her last breath is taken. PERIOD!

  • oneday8035 Mar 8, 2012

    I was in the family by marriage at the time Russ was murdered and there was a feeling in the family that she was going to kill him. I just wish that he had gotten away from her before it was too late. The woman has no heart and should have been not only charged with the first husbands murder but executed. She will kill again if allowed to go free and if she is allowed to go free the blood of her next victim will be on the hands of those that let her out.

  • Lightfoot3 Mar 8, 2012

    "She was a seqence knockoff of the states deadliest woman, VelmaBarfield who did in fact save the state a bunch of dough when they put her to death in I wanna say '88 lol." - bigt16701

    It was 1984. I remember her execution. The defense played up the grandma angle in trying to get clemency. She's in Heaven now. All the other Christians can tell her "hey" when they get there.

    Barbara Stager not only shouldn't get parol, but she should have been executed years ago.

  • sunshine1040 Mar 8, 2012

    There should be no fight involved she was sentenced to life that should mean the rest of her life behind bars

  • RaleighPirate Mar 8, 2012

    I too remember this case. She should never see the light of day or what the world looks like outside of the prison walls she occupies.

  • lisa4 Mar 8, 2012

    DON"T RELEASE HER!!!!!!!!!!