Prosecutor details father's sinister plot to kill his family

Prosecutor details father's sinister plot to kill his family »Play Video
James Speidel

BETHANY, Ore. – A senior prosecutor in Washington County says Thursday the man who pleaded guilty to a plot to kill his family wanted to collect on his wife's life insurance policy.

James Speidel, a Nike executive, plotted for weeks to kill his family. He pleaded guilty Wednesday to five counts of attempted aggravated murder – one for each of his family members he tried to kill; his wife, their 4-year-old daughter and their 5, 7 and 9-year-old sons.

"He was planning on getting away with this, collecting the life insurance policy and moving on in his life without her and the kids," said prosecutor Bracken McKey.

Speidel seemingly had it all. He was a business director at Nike with a beautiful wife, a stately house and four precious children.

Then last November signs started to surface that Speidel was increasingly unhappy in his marriage. Those signs McKey wouldn’t detail, but by Easter, with Laura and the children at an Easter egg hunt, McKey said Speidel was researching a sinister way out.

"Those Internet searches included natural gas explosions, and how to get away with natural gas arson. He also was very interested in Josh Powell," McKey said.

Josh Powell was the father who killed his two boys and himself by blowing up his Washington home. But McKey said Speidel's plan did not include himself as a casualty.

In April, a trip to Disneyland brought the family home late, but by six the next morning Speidel was up.

"He jumped out of bed, cut the gas line, redirected it under the house, went to Starbucks, got coffee and had some meetings with colleagues," McKey said.

As Speidel chatted with friends over coffee, Laura was awakened by their son.

"One of her children came in and said, 'Mom, it smells like Autotopia in here' – Autotopia is a Disneyland ride," said McKey.

That smell was natural gas. Laura got all four children out of the house, called Northwest Natural and then her husband.

"There was an incredible amount of surprise in his voice when he answered the phone and said, 'Laura?' because he was expecting that he wouldn't be getting that call from her again."

Within hours Speidel confessed his crime to Laura and later told a psychiatrist he wanted to remove from the world the mental health issues he believed he'd passed along to his children.

But McKey doesn't buy that – not when Speidel had taken out a $300,000 insurance policy on his wife.

"He was thinking about paying for divorce attorneys and dividing up the assets, and if you compare that with not having to divide up anything and collecting an additional 300,000 dollars – he very selfishly made that decision," McKey said.

Speidel was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His young child will be 25 years old when Speidel gets free.

Speidel was in the process of taking his own life when investigators caught up with him.  He had driven up into Northwest Portland, drank a whole bottle of Grey Goose vodka and swallowed some Tylenol gel caps.

He'd written goodbye letters to his family. But that was after he'd learned that his wife and children had survived his attempt to blow up their home.