IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

How a slasher movie spawned real-life horror

A low budget horror film has production and financing problems. Later, the cameraman's wife is brutally murdered. Did art imitate life in the worst way? Dennis Murphy reports.

A first-time filmmaker was burning with ambition to make a blockbuster horror movie — the next "Blair Witch Project." Blaine Norris hoped his small film would really hit it big.

And that's when this Hollywood dream turned into the worst kind of nightmare: The cameraman's wife was stabbed to death.

But this was no random killing. Was someone willing to commit murder, just to make a movie?

In the spectral remains of an  old coal mining camp, it’s not that hard to imagine ghosts and creatures of the night lying in wait.

There was a time when Sean Gaston could look at this bleak stretch of the Appalachian trail in central Pennsylvania and see the bright lights of Hollywood just beyond. A few years back, he and a handful of others were starring in a low, low budget horror flick being shot there. 

Sean Gaston, first time actor: It's a ghost story— a horror film where we systematically get hunted down by a ghosts throughout the night and so, in many scenes, somebody gets killed. 

Back then, Gaston and his fellow no-name actors assumed this flirtation with the dark side would be a ticket to instant stardom or, more likely, a week of harmless fun away from the grind of their day jobs.

But no one knew then that the cheesy little slasher movie would spawn a real-life horror all of its own—a truly scary story, a plot filled with greed, deception and most important of all: a killer ending.

For Gaston, who runs the projectors at his local multiplex, it all began three years ago when he spotted a blurb in his hometown paper.

Gaston: It was a call for independent film actors.  It said that there was an independent film being shot in Lancaster county and actors and crew were needed.Dennis Murphy, Dateline correspondent: You had an itch for whatever this thing might turn out to be, huh?Gaston: I had a big itch.  I’ve always had an itch for film.

Within minutes, Gaston was on the phone with the movie’s writer and director. 

Gaston: Blaine Norris was the director of the film.  And told me the title of the film was called “Through Hike: A Ghost Story.”

Blaine Norris, director, was not exactly a marquee name in filmmaking— far from it as it turns out.  From 9 to 5 p.m., Norris worked as a computer tech for a Harrisburg insurance company. But for Sean Gaston, Norris’ passion for the genre more than made up for his total lack of directing experience. 

But to the other aspiring actors who answered the ad, Norris wasn’t so much a horror movie fan — more like as a horror movie geek.

That was Erin Lampart’s first impression of him. Still, she admits the director’s nerdiness put her at ease, especially at her audition.

Murphy: Did you have any expectations of what a director was supposed to be?Erin Lampart, actress: I’d never did film before so from the audition through, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t know what to expect.  I had no expectations.

She got the part. Mostly, she says, because she had the necessary chops for any respectable horror queen — she has a reputation as a screamer.

That same audition session also scored a part for Sean Gaston, who, like most of the actors cast had more desire than resume. One of them did come with some credits.

remembers giving a lousy audition but was hired anyway, she thinks because she was a professional actress. Soap Opera diehards may remember heras Maggie Cory in the old “Another World” series.

Her professional experience told her there would be serious problems with this project, starting with the script.

Robyn Griggs, actress: I really think it needed a lot of work. Lampart: It was bad.Murphy: Cheesy?Lampart: I always said it was like a “Scooby Doo” episode.

Robyn, the soap actress, says the story about five hikers chased through the woods by a ghost was simply too threadbare as Norris had written it. Yet, she says the wanna-be director seemed convinced his film could match the astounding success of a well-known horror indie:  “The Blair Witch Project,” also set in the woods, also shot on the cheap.

The director did have a few things in his favor, not the least of which was a backer willing to pump $18,000 dollars into the project. And there was a buddy from work, another computer guy named Brian Trimble who offered to shoot the film on his own personal camera equipment.

But that was a weird thing, none of the actors ever saw Trimble the cameraman, or his camera— not at the auditions or rehearsals.

Robyn, the pro of the ensemble, asked "What’s up with this?"

Griggs: I mean you can’t block a scene without the director of photography. It’s gonna be based on lighting and all that, you know.  Naturally you need the camera there.

Brian Trimble did actually shoot something— a few publicity head shots of the actors. They turned out to be such a mess that they gave the moneyman cold feet. Actor Sean Gaston says when the director refused to fire his cameraman and best friend Brian Trimble, the investor took his $18,000 off the table and walked away from the movie.

So now there was a movie with no major investor, and then just before cast and crew were supposed to hike up the Appalachian trail to start shooting, the other shoe dropped: It was about the hapless cameraman, Brian Trimble.

Gaston: Blaine told us that Brian suffered from multiple sclerosis and he wouldn’t be able to make the hike. He said that Blaine told us that his doctors told him it wouldn’t be a good idea to be out in the sun for five days...

No Brian Trimble meant no camera gear either. Sean, the actor, says the cameraman claimed his wife had put her foot down and ordered him to forget his fantasies about making movies and go back to fixing computers.

If the story’s true, the reluctant wife unwittingly set off a lethal chain of events.

But that would come later.

For the novice director it was decision time— here he had no investor, no camera gear or cameraman: Should he pull the plug on the movie and call it quits? Or figure out some other way to come up with the money that would get his little film all the way to a final cut and in the can?

Blaine Norris went for it.

Gaston: There should be red flags popping up everywhere. But at the time, in the situation, there wasn’t any. We are gonna make a movie. “Come hell or high water, we will make a film.”

An “A” for desire and ambition maybe, but those early pre-production setbacks would creep up on Blaine Norris and cause the rookie director to contemplate horror in a whole new way.

With almost no money, and no cameraman, first-time director Blaine Norris was getting ready to cajole his merry band of actors up Pennsylvania’s Appalachian trail to shoot a movie.

But one cast member wasn’t impressed— Robyn Griggs, the only true acting pro in the bunch.

Dennis Murphy, Dateline correspondent: Robyn, you know very well even independent films, shoe-string budgets  can be expensive. You’ve gotta have some dough to do it.Robyn Griggs, actress: Right.Murphy: Where was the money coming from?Griggs: I have no idea.

And money, or lack of it, wasn’t the only puzzle.  Norris began telling cast members that the demands of making a movie were hurting his relationship with his wife.

Griggs: The weird thing was he was starting to e-mail me about things that didn't have anything to do with the project.  It was, you know, him telling me his wife was accusing him of being with us. It was just really odd.

So Blaine Norris’ swelling list of troubles now included a strained marriage, and that list was getting even longer.  Just as cast and crew were getting ready to hike into the woods, Robyn Griggs broke her arm. Norris’ only marquee name was now out of the picture.

Fortunately, Amber Muncy was waiting in the wings. She’d done some regional theater and had already auditioned for Blaine Norris. But soon, she too, was seeing red flags.

Amber Muncy, actress: Before we started shooting there were grocery bags full of food all spread out in this room and all the equipment and everything, and I did wonder where all the money was coming from.

As it turns out, the movie was being financed on plastic. Norris was racking up huge debts, close to $18,000 on his personal credit cards. It was a chunk of change for a computer tech pulling down about $60,000 a year. But if Norris was sweating bills due, he didn’t show it to his cast and company.

The horror movie in the woods was on. In a “behind-the-scenes” video shot by actor Sean Gaston, one can watch Blaine not as a nervous rookie, but a relaxed, downright randy, first-time director.

In fact, during their five days together shooting,actors say director Blaine Norris never complained about his all too real problems —  money or marriage. Rather, he talked about his love for slash-and-splatter film classics like “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Actor Sean Gaston says he learned a bit more about Norris’ fascination with the dark side, so evident in Norris’ script.

Sean Gaston, actor: It was a horror film where the ghost or the killer, if you will, set out with this goal and accomplished it.Murphy: So the “power of evil,” if that’s what the ghost is, wins?Gaston: Yeah, he wins in the end, yes.

As filming wrapped, cast members say they had even developed an affection for the nerdy guy they called director.

But back in the routine of everyday life, the seemingly carefree Norris slipped on the tightrope he’d been walking. He announced his marriage was over.

And soon, Norris’ buoyant e-mails to cast members, updating them on the movie’s progress, trickled away.

A busted marriage, ballooning debt, and stalled film: There was no more Hollywood in Norris’ immediate future. He was back to working on computers with Brian Trimble, hanging out with his friend the cameraman who had backed out of his movie at the last minute.

Tracey Thompson worked in the same office at a desk just across from Brian Trimble, and thought he was “strange.”

Tracey Thompson, co-worker of Blaine Norris and Brian Trimble: Blaine still came around. And someone said “Hey how’s the movie going?” And they were like, “Oh, we ran out of money.”

Thompson thought Trimble and Norris made an odd pair. Trimble was subdued, whereas Norris was outspoken. And Trimble didn’t blow through money the way Norris did. He couldn’t — his frugal wife, the one who told him to bail on Blaine’s “stupid movie,” wouldn’t allow it.

Thompson: He really didn’t come out and say that his wife had all the money, but you could tell because he had to borrow money for lunch or he called his wife and asked if he could take money out of the MAC machine to go to lunch with the guys.Murphy: Did Brian talk about his marriage?Thompson: All the timeMurphy: What’d he say?Thompson: He portrayed they had a nice marriage. They went to different cruises, they liked to do ballroom dancing… they had a wonderful marriage.

But the marriage came to a shocking and bloody end on January 10, 2003. A hysterical Brian Trimble called 9-1-1 to tell a dispatcher that he’d just come home to find his wife Randi lying like a bloodied rag doll on the garage floor. There was no doubt Randi Trimble had been murdered. Within minutes, police were at the quiet suburban home.

Chip Dougherty, police detective: There was a body there, a tremendous amount of blood.  And the hair was matted with so much blood, I couldn’t tell if it was male or female...

The young husband who'd dabbled in making horror films suddenly had a very real kind of horror playing out under his own roof. Investigators sensed right away— the crime scene stunk like a bad movie.

The brutal murder of Randi Trimble stunned the residents of her modest community just outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Chip Dougherty was the lead detective assigned to the case. In more than 30 years on the job, he said, this homicide stood out.

Harrisburg police detective Chip Dougherty: That was horrific. The victim’s car was in the garage.  She was face down on the floor, tremendous amount of blood. We later confirmed an extension cord appeared to be wrapped around her neck.Dennis Murphy, Dateline correspondent: Later on, what would the medical examiner  would tell you as far as cause of death?Det. Dougherty: The cause of death was multiple stab wounds. I believe it was 27, and secondary to massive strangulation.

And the rest of the crime scene was just as jarring. Cabinets were overturned, drawers were dumped, and mattresses were upended. To the lay person, it might have looked like a robbery turned deadly. But not to investigators.

Det. Dougherty: It screamed “staged.”Murphy: Staged?Det. Dougherty: This was almost like a TV set. Like I’d walked into a movie set.

Dougherty says most burglars break in and go straight for the jewels. 

This scene was too haphazard, as if made to look like a burglary.  But Dougherty says he kept an open mind... until he approached the grieving husband Brian Trimble.

Det. Dougherty: I would think someone in that kind of a situation having come home to see their wife brutally murdered in the garage and all this blood, you would think he’d have some blood on him.  I mean having cradled them or done something.  He didn’t.  He just… he cried but no tears.

A wife brutally murdered. Even an armchair detective could figure this one out—the husband did it.  

Murphy: Early order of business is to check out his alibi?Det. Dougherty: Absolutely first thing we did.

And Brian Trimble told him this: He had been out to dinner with an old friend that evening at a TGI Fridays, roughly 40 minutes from home.

The next day, Dougherty followed up, talked with the friend, and waitresses at the restaurant. The story, as they say, checked out.

Det. Dougherty: The coroner placed time of death somewhere in the area of 7:30 and he was remarkably accurate.Murphy: And Brian wasn’t anywhere near it?Det. Dougherty:  Brian was nowhere around. He was at the Park City mall some 40 to 45 minutes away.Murphy: So where did that leave you?Det. Dougherty: Holding the bag.  I mean, really grasping.

Grasping, because the crime scene didn’t point to any other suspects. 

Det. Dougherty: We looked at everything— we had the state police in, crime scene units, and forensics in. We had everything we could possibly need to develop some sort of lead that would be some sort of evidentiary value. We pretty much came up empty.Murphy: Nothing?Det. Dougherty: Nothing there.Murphy: Hairs, fibers, fingerprints?Det. Dougherty: Yeah, a little unusual.

And if Dougherty was looking for another reason to check Trimble’s name off his suspect’s list, he had it: from Trimble’s own mother-in-law.

Nancy Chavez, Brian Trimble’s mother-in-law: Everyone else, including myself, knew that the marriage was great. Brian loved Randi and Randi loved Brian. It was perfect. There was no inkling at all of trouble.

Nancy Chavez says in the terrible days after her daughter’s murder, events passed in a blur.  Still a few moments come back vividly, if painfully: covering the body of her daughter with a blanket, worrying about her son-in-law who had multiple sclerosis, and embracing his friends as they came to pay their last respects.  Blaine Norris, Brian’s office buddy and wannabe movie director, was standing in that line.

Chavez: I hugged him with all of Brian’s friends and wanted them to take care of Brian, cause they worked with him.

Despite the unshakable alibi, the evidence nor motive that didn’t seem to exist, Chip Dougherty was convinced Brian Trimble was his man. As the detective and a team of investigators scoured the area for any and all leads, a young woman across town— a careful observer— was certain she had this case wrapped up.

Tracey Thompson, Norris and Trimble's officemate: When I got into the office everybody was already there.  And I walked in and said ‘Hey, did Brian kill his wife?”

Tracey Thompson remembers that Monday after the murder with crystal clarity. She says as soon as she heard the news reports, she believed Trimble killed his wife.

And here’s why: Tracey says her co-worker, the effusively happily-married Brian Trimble, had made a startling announcement before the holidays— he wanted a divorce.

Thompson: I was like, “Why is that?” and he’s like “Oh things aren’t the way they were.” And I’m was like “Okay, when are you gonna ask for a divorce?” He said, "Over Christmas."  I replied, “Oh, that’s a nice time to do it.”

Then just a few weeks later, Tracey says Trimble abruptly changed course. He said he and his wife Randi were working things out.

Thompson: They had a perfect relationship. “Now he wants a divorce. Now they’re okay. And now, she’s dead?” It was like something’s wrong. So then, that’s when I was like, “Brian had something to do with it.”

It was a suspicion she was all too willing to share when Det. Dougherty came to interview Trimble’s coworkers.

Thompson: "I think Brian did it." And then I said, “And you know what? No, I think Brian was too weak to do it but he had he hired someone to do it. I think Blaine did it.”

Blaine Norris, the office nerd, the wannabe horror film director— a hired hit man? The very idea would later seem preposterous to his friends, even to some working on the case. But Det. Dougherty thought Tracey Thompson was onto something. 

Det. Dougherty: I thought “Wow, powerful stuff.” And she stuck with that. So much so that we as the investigators knew that’s where it was going. But we didn’t want the rest of the world to know it.Murphy: You had nothing you could give to a DA or take to a grand jury?Det. Dougherty: Yeah, it was tough.  Murphy: Just speculation? Innuendo?Det. Dougherty: That’s all it was. And we all believed it.

It was becoming the ultimate horror plot with the geekiest of male leads: Blaine Norris and Brian Trimble. 

If Tracey Thompson and the police were right, these two were more than good friends. They were partners in an evil that could have sprung from the mind of Hitchcock or Quentin Tarantino. If it were true, had the pair scripted the perfect murder?

Garrotted with an extension cord, stabbed 27 times, Randi Trimble had been found dead in her garage.

In the weeks that followed her murder, police quickly focused the investigation on her husband, Brian Trimble. Randi’s mom Nancy Chavez remembers the moment Det. Dougherty alerted her of their suspicions.

Nancy Chavez, Brian Trimble’s mother-in-law: It was just as bad as when I learned when my daughter was dead when I heard Brian was a suspect.  It was unbelievable.Dennis Murphy, Dateline correspondent: Your daughter was married to and sleeping with a total stranger, is what they were telling you.Chavez: Absolutely. Someone that she didn’t know and I didn’t know.

But Det. Dougherty, for one, didn’t believe the passive, video-game playing computer tech had acted alone.

Chip Dougherty, police detective on the case: Brian couldn’t of done that. That wasn’t him. He couldn’t, muster the courage or to do anything like that.

Sure enough, police soon found an interesting tidbit on Trimble’s computer— a link to a grisly Web site that offered a stomach churning step-by-step manual for the would-be assassin. Trimble had sent the link to his good friend Blaine Norris just eight days before Randi Trimble’s murder.

Det. Dougherty: When you read the manual and it pretty much matched… there was a lot of similarities between what was in the manual and what you saw at the crime scene.

Office coworkers of the two, one in particular, had persuaded investigators that Trimble and Norris were the men they were after.  Still, Det. Dougherty and investigators needed proof. They needed a confession.

Det. Dougherty: We’re missing that that spike. We can’t get Brian— his alibi’s gonna hold up. Our own investigation proved that out.

And there was another problem: The murdered woman’s husband didn’t seem to have much of a motive. Or did he? 

Trimble had wanted to produce that movie with Norris, the one that had stalled because of money problems. Did coming up with newfound money have something to do with this crime? Days after his wife’s murder, investigators discovered that Trimble had transferred thousands of dollars from their savings account and he seemed eager to claim the benefits on his wife’s insurance policy—worth about $100,000.

Chavez: He was very busy. He knew where all the finances were and how to access them.

Detective Dougherty decided to rattle Trimble by playing head games with him. Weeks after the murder, the cop told his suspect that police needed to videotape another walk-through of the crime scene, presumably to help detectives.  Trimble tells one of the investigators about the moment he discovered his wife’s body...

Det. Dougherty: We’d probably interviewed three or four times, he never indicated before that he stepped into the garage and touched Randi. In fact he had indicated he didn’t do that.Murphy: But it’s an emotional night. It’s his wife. Maybe he wasn’t sure what he told you. Maybe he remembered it better that time.Det. Dougherty: It’s an emotional night and I see my wife like that I’m gonna remember going’ in the garage and touching her to see if she’s alive.  I’ll remember that.

But investigators didn’t challenge Trimble on that. They didn’t want to scare him into hiring a lawyer.  Instead, they made daily, friendly calls to him, peppering him with questions. They popped up at work and at home unannounced. During one of those sudden house calls, Dougherty remembers noticing a new, snazzy TV set Trimble had just purchased.

Det. Dougherty: And I said “Wow, that’s a fantastic TV.” And I looked at him I said, “Brian, you know, I wish I could have one of those. My wife would never let me.” He looked at me, he says “Yeah, my wife wouldn’t let me have it either.” Okay, thanks, appreciate that. Then I left.

Thompson, the co-worker, could see those friendly visits were beginning to rattle her coworker.

Thompson: Whenever they did that he wouldn’t come into work the next couple days.

Little inconsistencies in his story, drunken-sailor spending, dubious violent Web sites— it still wasn’t enough to take to the district attorney but it just might be enough ammunition to pressure Trimble into a confession.

The police strategy of needling Trimble, keeping him off-balance, seemed to be paying off. In May, roughly four months after the murder, investigators sensed their prime suspect was at the breaking point. They invited him in for a talk...

Det. Dougherty: I was summoned into the room and Brian was seated to my left as I walked in and Les was talking to him. And Les looked at him and said, “You didn’t kill your wife, did you?” And he just shook his head. He says “no.” But you know who did, don’t ya? And he said “Yeah.” “Who was it?” “It was Blaine.” Murphy: how often does that happen in a law enforcement career?Det. Dougherty: Not often.

Trimble told them he was planning to pay his buddy Norris a fee for the murder, about $20,000, roughly the same amount Norris had racked up in debts shooting that little movie.  Was this a motive for murder?  Killing a woman—his best friend’s wife— just so they could get the insurance money to finish a film?

Police now went after Blaine Norris full-bore. The film-maker was unaware that his old pal Trimble had just dropped the dime on him.  Norris was busy at home, back at work finally editing his gruesome horror flick. Still, the cops held back from arresting him. Then district attorney Skip Ebert didn’t think they had made the case against Norris --  not yet. 

Skip Ebert, district attorney: I was still looking for every fact that I could get to support every word that Brian Trimble had told us. So everything he said, in other words, to use him, a corrupt source in a trial. I had to prove through other methods that, that’s what he told us. So low and behold, that’s what happened.

The DA wanted more evidence against Norris. The question was: could he get it before Norris caught wind of his old friend’s confession and then disappear before the law could tighten the noose around him?

Blaine Norris seemed determined to finish his masterpiece in the spring of 2003, even though friends say he was starting to act skittish. Actor Sean Gaston remembers visiting Norris’ Harrisburg apartment months after the murder to help edit the unfinished film called “Through Hike”.

Sean Gaston, actor: He said that the police were questioning him as a friend of Brian and they found it strange that he directed a horror film. And I said something like, “If the police are looking at you just on the sheer fact that you directed a horror film... then tell me why Hollywood horror directors are not locked up?”

And someone else, Norris’ drinking buddy Dan Bartash could see his pal starting to sweat. He remembers meeting him in this bar one day.  Norris had just turned over a sample of his blood to authorities at a clinic.

Dan Bartash, Blaine Norris' friend: He said that he had followed the truck that was carrying his blood. He had followed the truck and he had wanted to run it off the road.  And I said, “But Blaine, that truck should have been your salvation. You know, it doesn’t make any sense.”

Norris’ salvation because that blood sample could have ruled him out as a suspect.  What Bartash didn’t know was that his friend had reason to be scared.  As it turns out Norris knew all about blood samples—and crime scenes.  As detectives executed search warrants on Norris’ apartment, they found a collection of technical books on forensics. 

Chip Dougherty, police detective: We found a forensic book where he had had actually highlighted things about how you could hide forensics or what made you should look for in forensics.

Police also found something else: a cache of handguns, rifles, and hunting knives— though not the one that killed Randi Trimble. 

They even discovered a copy of the movie “Murder by Numbers” starring Sandra Bullock. It’s a story about two young men who kill for the thrill of it and try to leave no trace of their crime behind. But it was in Norris’ car that police found the most compelling item of all: a small receipt from a K-Mart in nearby Lancaster, Pa. Det. Dougherty later matched the receipt to a box of plastic surgical gloves, work gloves, a hooded sweatshirt and pants.

Then Dougherty asked the store manager if anything else had been bought that day on the same credit card.

Det. Dougherty: He said, “Oh, he bought a 6-inch filet knife.” I almost fell over.  I mean that’s what was used. The knife that the forensic pathologist believed to be at least six inches in length, and, sure enough, that’s what it was.

Yet in all their searches, police never found the actual murder weapon. There was one more problem: Blaine Norris’ alibi. His buddy Dan Bartash told police that he and another friend had seen Norris the night of the murder between 7:15 and 7:30 outside Norris’ apartment, just at the moment Randi Trimble’s killer was waiting to murder her.

Bartash: We stopped and talked to him for a few minutes. And then he was heading off to York and we you know said good bye and he went off to York and we went off to Philadelphia.

That goodbye recollected by the friend had to have happened at the very moment Randi Trimble’s killer was poised to murder her. In other words, Blaine Norris couldn’t have committed the crime.

Or could he? Bartash, Norris’s buddy, told police that moments after he and his friend left the amateur movie maker, they stopped for gas.  

Video surveillance shows Bartash’s friend entering the service station that night. After analyzing the tape police realized Bartash had gotten his times mixed-up. He was an hour off.

Det. Dougherty: And sure enough he had purchased gas there on the night of the tenth—around 8:30 — not 7:30.Murphy: Quite differentDet. Dougherty: Tracking that back 15 minutes, he now sees Blaine coming down his from his apartment at 8:15 not 7:15. Plenty of time, he’d already been back.

His alibi went up in smoke. Police and the district attorney finally believed they had what they needed to arrest Norris at his apartment.

Det. Dougherty: He opened the door and saw us standing there. And both of us were excited to be the first one to say “You’re under arrest.” He turned pale white. He almost blended in with the white refrigerator and almost fainted, just keeled right over on the floor.

Blaine Norris was charged with first degree murder in the death of Randi Trimble.  Now, the confident young director could befacing a different kind of horror— the death penalty.  But Norris wasn’t giving anything up. He insisted he was innocent. Detectives were confident they could prove their case in court. But Norris would have one more surprise for them.

After months of search warrants, grand jury subpoenas, and good old fashioned detective work, police had finally gotten their man—the person they believed killed Randi Trimble in such grisly fashion.

Among his friends, the ones who stood by him when they thought the police were simply harassing him, there was universal disgust when all became clear.

Amber Muncy, actress in the film: I was convinced that he didn’t do it, up until he was arrested. Because I just didn’t see how that was possible...Erin Lampert, actress: It’s an indescribable feeling. That was when I realized the wool had been pulled over my eyes. I was kind of sticking up for him... and then there it was.

But it seemed Blaine Norris wasn’t giving into anything. He maintained his innocence, and had a noted Harrisburg defense attorney working his case.

But District Attorney Skip Ebert was just as prepared. After all, he had a confession from the murdered woman’s husband accusing Blaine of being the hired hit man, and the district attorney was willing to pursue the death penalty.

Skip Ebert, district attorney: This wasn’t poor kids with nowhere to go and no education.  This was like middle class young men who just said, “You know the way to solve our problem is with a knife. And that’s what we’re gonna do.” And that’s pretty cold.

And investigators, who had spent night and day working this case were looking forward to their moment in court.

And then came the phone call: In a surprise last minute move, Norris confessed to the murder of Randi Trimble. In exchange for that plea, the death penalty was off the table. There would be no trial. 

Det. Dougherty: It was a letdown.  We were ready to go.  We wanted to go to trial. And his attorney knew it and he made the best deal they could for him.

Life without parole: It was the same deal Brian Trimble had cut months earlier with the district attorney.  Yet, it still left the aching question —  why?  Det. Dougherty posed that to Brian Trimble moments after his confession.

Det. Dougherty: We asked him “Why? Why you do all this?” And “Well, we weren’t getting along well. She was controlling me. And he looked at us and he said one of the most horrific things I ever:  “I couldn’t put her through the pain of a divorce.”Murphy: Couldn’t what?Det. Dougherty: "Couldn’t put her through the pain of a divorce." Oh, he could have her killed, but God forbid you divorce her.

Norris, for his part, never fully explained his reasons for murdering Randi Trimble... at least not in open court.  But former friends are convinced Norris blamed Randi for forcing her husband to abandon their movie, “Through Hike.”

Norris was desperate for roughly $20,000 to cover his credit card debts rolled-up while shooting the movie. That was the same amount of money Trimble said he promised to pay Norris as a hit man fee.

But Norris’s one-time actor Sean Gaston thinks there’s still another reason.

Sean Gaston, actor: I think Blaine, deep down, liked the role of hit man. He liked putting on different hats.Murphy: Just speculating, do you think there a thrill factor [for him] to kill another human being?Gaston: Absolutely.

Both Trimble and Norris declined Dateline’s request for an interview.  Trimble wrote, saying he’s just a “normal man who made a terrible mistake.”  And Norris wrote “media sensationalizes violent crimes and helps perpetuate them.”

Dougherty, for one, doesn’t buy that. He’s convinced Blaine Norris was a serial killer-in-the-making. After Norris’ court appearance, Dougherty says the killer laid out the grisly details of his crime in matter-of-fact fashion.

Det. Dougherty: He had to "stab and stab and strangle and strangle, and it didn’t happen like on TV." And I remember him saying that towards the end, she started to pray. And that just sent chills down my spine to hear him say that, "that she was praying towards the end."Murphy: He had a taste for killing?Det. Dougherty: There’s very little doubt in my mind that Blaine would have killed again. I think he got a high off it. I think he enjoyed it. Somewhere, somehow we saved somebody from the same fate.

It's a thought which comforts Randi’s mom, Nancy Chavez a bit. 

Nancy Chavez, victim’s mother: Why Randi? She is such a good person. She tried to make the right decisions. And everything she did was for everyone else. And look what happened to her.

These days, Nancy Chavez comforts herself with what little she has left of Randi, including all those wedding photos with her daughter’s murderer staring back. She will not take them down.

Chavez says without Randi, her only child, every day is empty. But she’s given herself over to a cause—a personal campaign to talk with young women... and ask one question: Do they really know the men they call boyfriends, lovers, and husbands?

She’s even given her blessing to a new documentary about her daughter’s murder.

Todd Klick, film maker: One of the things we kept focusing on is this incredible magnetic draw that people have to the film industry, that they’ll do anything to get it. And that, to me, is a big character in this film.

Filmmaker Todd Klick and co-producer Todd Shill say they are shopping their documentary, “Rough Cut”  around to film festivals. And they’ve pledged a portion of any proceeds to help Nancy Chavez establish acenterin her daughter’s memory. Chavez wants that place to be a haven for abused children. The filmmakers are convinced audiences will be drawn to the documentary— one about the irony of literally killing to make a movie— a movie that now sits in a police evidence box.

Klick: I’ve heard of filmmakers giving blood to raise money or maxing out their credit cards. But I never heard of anyone committing a murder to get some money for his film.

Has anyone so twisted the adage: Art is long, life is short?

Since he pled guilty, Brian Trimble can't appeal.  But on his own, he has filed what's called a "post conviction relief petition," which alleges he had ineffective counsel and that his guilty plea was not voluntary.