Three's A Crowd • The Murder of Susan Fassett

Three's A Crowd • The Murder of Susan Fassett

On the night of October 28th, 1999 at around 9pm Susan Fassett makes her way to her parked car after choir practice at Pleasant Valley Church in Poughkeepsie New York.  She got into her car, placed her belongings on the passenger seat, reached to put her seatbelt on and right there, in the middle of the parking lot, Susan was fatally shot five times. 

Susan Fassett was a 48-year-old mother of two teenage boys. She was tall and blonde and beautiful and she ran the Personnel Department for the Town of Poughkeepsie. Her husband Jeff Fassett, also worked for the town of Poughkeepsie, as a police officer. 

From the outside, Susan looked like a hardworking mother with a passion for her church choir, but we all know that people keep secrets, and Susan was no exception. The secrets that she kept would ultimately lead to her untimely death.

Obviously, like with every murder of a wife, the husband was looked at first 
Police immediately suspect that Jeff is the killer, they headed to his house and surround it. Jeff noticed the police outside, he is watching them watching him and he has no idea what is going on. Understandably, he was confused. Keep in mind that neither Jeff nor the sons have any idea what happened to Susan at this point.

Now, this part confuses me because Jeff was a police officer so I would think he’d know how to maneuver this situation but his actions only solidified the police's idea that he was involved. Instead of going out and asking the officers what was going on, Jeff and his sons refused to leave the home, they turned off all the lights and barricaded themselves in the home. From the police perspective, this looked like a clear guilty action, they feared that if it was Jeff he might try to kill his sons and then kill himself. From Jeff and the son's perspective, they had no idea what was going on at all and were scared. 

Eventually one of the sons decided to call the church and discovered that his mother had been shot. Finally, after an intense two hours, Jeff and his two sons surrendered and stepped outside and are arrested on the spot.

On the night of the murder, Jeff was home from work watching TV with his two sons, he left the house at some point, around the time of the murder, to pick something up from the station - I think it was a check but I’m not sure.

Jeff denied any part in the murder but he really didn’t have a strong alibi, and it turned out, everything in the marriage wasn’t fine and dandy. Jeff had recently found out that Susan had been having a long term affair. However, even with the weak alibi and a motive, Jeff didn't really seem like a great fit for the crime, there wasn’t really a lot to indicate that he would do this.

Jeff and Susan had decided that they were going to work on their relationship and start completely fresh. They went so far as to get rid of their wedding bands and order new ones. He also did not have a gun matching the one that was used to kill Susan, it just didn't make sense that he would do this. And yet he was still subject to intense interrogation. During one of these sessions, Jeff basically said, look - do whatever you want to me, interrogate me for as long as you need. But when you are done, check out Fred Andros. 

Police listened to Jeff and they started their search into Fred, he was brought in for questioning only six hours after the shooting, at around 3:40 am. 

Fred ran the Water Department in the Town of Poughkeepsie he also happened to be the man that Susan had been having her three-year affair with. He was also known to be an absolute asshole and a playboy. He had been married multiple times and well soon discover, multiple girlfriends. He also drove around in his car with vanity plates that said “FREDEE”. One of the investigators in Forensic Files described him as a “self-centered, mean, nasty, prick.”

Susan and Fred had presumably met at work and began their affair shortly after, Fred was also married at the time. Susan even had two cell phones, one to communicate with her family and the other to communicate with Fred.

Fred denied any involvement in the case and he had a solid alibi, he was at home with his wife and they had friends over for dinner, a police officer friend. You can’t get a more solid alibi than that. But Fred wasn’t just an asshole, he also had some issues of his own. 

On May 27th of 1999 Fred plead guilty to conspiracy and admitted that he had been extorting money from the Water Department. He ended up quitting his job right before this trial. 

During the questioning Fred admitted that he knew that Susan had been killed and he had no idea who would have hurt her, indicating that he felt a deep love for her and she was a wonderful woman. Things went back and forth for a few months, Fred would tell one story and then tell a completely different one. Like once he was asked whether or not he had a cell phone and he responded that he didn't, later he confirmed that he actually had two cell phones. 

But there was a biggie, it was discovered when the ME found semen indicating that Susan had been sexually active within 48 hours of her death. The semen was compared to Jeff, it didn't match. When asked if he had had sex with Susan in the days before her death, Fred said he had not, and came up with an elaborate tale about how he was impatient because of some medication, he was taking and refused to provide his DNA. Police knew that he was lying because they knew that Fred would frequently pick up sex workers. 

Investigators knew they had to get his DNA and knew they had to get a bit creative for this one so they offered to bring Fred a burger and a drink to his home to chat. 
When they got to the house Fred went out to the car and sat down and started to have a conversation, investigators thought he would start sipping on his drink but he didn't touch anything. So they decided to turn up the heat, they got the car really really hot and finally, Fred decided to take a sip of his drink. All this to say that they got his DNA and they discovered that Fred was lying and he did, in fact, have sex with Susan in the days before she died. 

On December 21st, things really started to change in the conversations they were having with Andros. After admitting that he had had sex with Susan, he was asked who he thought killed her. He initially stated her husband, Jeff, then he said he thought it could be this guy William Paroli Sr. (he was someone involved in the conspiracy lawsuit), then he said that he thought it could be a woman by the name of Doreen or Darleen. Finally, Fred admitted that he knew who had killed Susan, a woman named Dawn Silvernail. And this is where the case gets interesting. 

Dawn, 50 at the time, was a local who had been having an affair with Fred for almost 20 years. The relationship seemed to have some abusive qualities, supposedly he would also offer her up to friends of his as well. It turns out that Dawn also knew Susan, in fact, the three of them had had multiple sexual encounters together. Fred admitted that he introduced Susan to Dawn after Susan had expressed interest in having a threesome, supposedly he asked Dawn and she initially turned it down but then later accepted after being offered $300 - not sure this is true though. They had a total of five or six encounters, some of which happened near the water pump, others were recorded by Andros. Fred claimed that Susan and Dawn had been carrying on an affair without him and that the killing must have been some kind of lovers' quarrel. 

On December 28th, Dawn is arrested and brought in for questioning. Dawn initially denied having anything to do with the murder. She was a college-educated, upstanding citizen who had never been in trouble before so investigators felt that maybe she wasn't involved. But they did have one thing that could potentially connect her to the murder, Dawn owned a .45 caliber handgun.

When they went to retrieve the gun they found that it had been tampered with, so they were unable to compare it to the bullets from the crime scene. But they got a break, they decided to ask Dawn's neighbors what they knew of Dawn and her husband. They discovered that Dawn would often shoot her gun at trees in the backyard. They were able to recover bullets from the backyard and compared them to the ones from the crime scene. They turned out to be a match.

When faced with the evidence, Dawn finally admitted that she was involved in the killing. She said over and over again “I shot that poor woman.” In the Forensic Files episode, Dawn says in her own words what happened that night “I rolled down the window, and when she reached up to fasten her seatbelt, I pulled the gun up and I fired and I shot her”. It turns out that Dawn actually had tried to kill Susan on multiple occasions but always backed out.

But why?

Dawn denied having a relationship with Susan, she said the two never spent time together unless they were with Fred. Dawn claimed that it was Fred that had wanted Susan dead and that she was manipulated into killing her. There are a few different stories, and to be honest, there isn’t a super clear answer as to what the motive was. Dawn claimed that Fred believed Susan knew some information about the extortion case he was under investigation for and that he wanted her dead so that she wouldn’t come forward with that information. The other thought is the affair. Susan had ended the affair in September and was genuinely trying to rebuild her relationship with Jeff. Maybe Fred wasn’t ready to let her go and it was one of those, if I can't have you, no one can situations. 

Either way, Dawn claimed that Fred threatened her and her children. Supposedly she owed Fred money and he said that if she killed Susan her debts would be forgiven and if she didn't kill Susan, her own life and her family's lives could be in danger. Dawn is charged with murder the next day. 

On December 29th, the next day police head to Fred's home to serve a search warrant. While they are walking up to his house, they hear a gunshot. Fred had attempted suicide, but he survived. 

Dawn pleads guilty to second-degree murder and agrees to testify against Fred.

Fred is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree conspiracy - he pleads not guilty.

On Feb 23rd, 2002, the jury finds Fred guilty of both charges and is sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was also sentenced to 33 months in prison for the corruption charge from before.

Dawn ended up only being sentenced to 18 years to life in prison since she testified against Fred.

It turned out that after the killing, Dawn grabbed the gun and left it in a predetermined location where Fred soon came to pick it up. He altered the gun and then returned it to Dawn in a paper bag saying that it was fish.

Dawn ended up handing over the gun when she was arrested.

Fred didn't even make it a year, he died of an apparent heart attack in his cell on November 28th, 2002 he was sixty-two.

I couldn't find much information on where Dawn is today, I think I may have found her on Facebook if it is her she was out as of last year.

One of the saddest things about this case is how Jeff and Susan were genuinely trying to repair their marriage, remember those new rings? Jeff had gone to pick his new one up on the day that Susan was shot.

At the end of the Forensic Files episode dawn says “people look at me like I'm a monster, and maybe I am. But I am a monster-filled with remorse, I let myself get manipulated by this man”

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