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The mystery at Pictured Rocks

They were a hard-working couple, cherishing the chance to get away from it all. But what happened on one hiking trip stunned everyone, and police thought there was just one explanation.
Juanita Richardson
Juanita Richardson

It’s so quiet on these cliffs that sometimes, all you can hear is the wind.

Lindsey Richardson: It was special to them, that's where they went when they first got married.

It's a beautiful place, a lonely place.

Don Culver: She's not gonna get close enough to the edge of a cliff. She didn't like heights.

And if you listen to that wind, you'll hear a story.

Jeanette Ellens: When I was up there and I just sat right down. And the wind was just blowing in my face, and I just thought, "This is so Juanita."

It's a story that begins more than two hundred miles away from those windswept cliffs in McBain, Michigan, a farming town with just one traffic light.

Here Tom and Juanita Richardson were living the midwestern edition of the American dream in a modern-day log home Tom had built for his wife and their three kids, Laceine, Lindsey, and Levi.

Lindsey Richardson: He was a man of integrity. He worked long hours and hard hours for our family.

Tom made a solid living driving a truck for FedEx; Juanita was a secretary at their local school. He taught youth group at their church and she sang in the choir.

Laceine Richardson: She knew how to be a great mom, but still be able to have a friendship with us.

Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline NBC: How'd your parents get along?

Lindsay Richardson: Great.

Josh Mankiewicz: They didn't argue?

Lindsay Richardson: I think every couple argues, they weren't perfect. But they loved each other.

Josh Mankiewicz: That sounds to me like a good marriage.

Lindsay Richardson: It was a great marriage.

It was a happy 23-year marriage that was now entering a new phase. As Levi graduated high school, mom and dad had an empty nest. At last they could now take a long-deserved vacation. Tom called it a "second honeymoon." Just the two of them -- up here, way up here, to Michigan’s upper peninsula, or as locals call it: The "U.P."

Lindsey Richardson: She was really excited to go up there and spend time with my dad.

Their destination was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, 40 miles of craggy shoreline along Lake Superior, the largest, deepest and coldest of the Great Lakes. The park is a backpacker's paradise.

Lindsey Richardson: They both loved the outdoors. Loved to get away and discover new things.

And they'd discover something new each time they came to Pictured Rocks, where the pictures are stunning, but the rocks can be treacherous.

It was a cloudy, misty morning on June 22, the fourth day of their vacation. Juanita and Tom were out hiking. She was taking pictures of sights along the trail.

At about 10:30, Tom and Juanita arrived here. They called it their "honeymoon spot" - a place they'd visited not long after they were married some 23 years earlier. They stopped for some snacks and to rest their tired feet. What happened next is where the mystery begins.

Tom Richardson at the
Tom Richardson at the

At 10:55, Juanita snapped this photo of Tom sitting on a grassy patch along this cliff, right at their special spot.

Then Tom left her and hiked to the bathroom at the visitor’s center.

When he got back, Juanita was gone. He ran for help.

Jim Northup: His initial report was that she was essentially missing and unaccounted for.

Jim Northup is the superintendent in charge of Pictured Rocks.

Jim Northup: He didn't know if she'd fallen off the cliff, if she'd gone for a walk, if she'd been abducted or maybe attacked by a bear.

But within 45 minutes, park rangers found Juanita Richardson.

Josh Mankiewicz: What'd you find at the scene?

Jim Northup: Mrs. Richardson's body was in plain view at the bottom of the cliff.

Juanita fell 140 feet from right here -- it's the equivalent of falling off a 14-story building. And at impact her body was going 45 miles an hour. By the time rescuers found her body on the lakeshore below, she was dead.

Lindsey Richardson: The pastor of our church called me and told me of the news.

Josh Mankiewicz: And said what?

Lindsay Richardson: It was such a blur, I can't remember much. But that there'd been an accident and my mom didn't make it. (crying) I think he said that she had fallen off of a cliff.

Their dad later called them in tears.

Lindsey Richardson: Hello?

Tom Richardson: Hi, Girl Wonder...

Lindsey Richardson: Hi Daddy.

Tom Richardson: How ya doin'?

Lindsey Richardson: Ok, how are you?

Tom Richardson: I'm a mess.

Lindsey Richardson: Are you coming home?

Tom Richardson: Yeah I'll be headed out as soon as I can get on the road.

Tom made the four-hour drive home to McBain, where the Richardson kids comforted him and each other through the memorial service for their mom.

Levi Richardson: He looked like a broken man. He was trying to hold himself together, but couldn't do it.

Tom Richardson had just lost his wife.

But this tragedy wasn't over. He was about to lose a lot more.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore attracts 400,000 visitors every year. Most of them come and go without any problem -- until Tom Richardson’s wife Juanita went over the edge.

Jim Northup: Juanita Richardson was the first person to ever fall off the cliff here at Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore.

Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline NBC: No one falls off the cliff.

Jim Northup: No. Has never occurred before.

So how did it happen to Juanita?

Tom had told park rangers that he hadn't seen her fall.

Just hours after her body was dragged from the rocky shore, Deputy Sheriff Steve Blank sat down to interview Tom to find out what he did see.

Steve Blank: There was a park ranger and another deputy with Tom in what they call a quiet room at the hospital. And that was my first encounter with Tom.

Now Tom told his story, and it was slightly different from the one he'd told before. He said he left Juanita to go to the bathroom at the visitor’s center, stopped at his car to change his shoes and his sunglasses...and returned to the honeymoon spot. But Juanita was gone. He called for her, shouting up the trail...

Steve Blank: And he said because he is so deathly afraid of heights, he got down on his hands and knees, crawled to the cliff side, looked over and seen something white at the bottom. And because his wife had a white jacket on, he assumed that was her, got up and ran as fast as he could back to the visitor center to report that his wife had fallen.

As he listened to this story, Deputy Blank saw something odd about Tom's delivery.

Josh Mankiewicz: How'd he strike you?

Steve Blank: Hadn't I known any circumstances, I wouldn't know that I was talking to a man whose wife had just died.

Josh Mankiewicz: Too calm?

Steve Blank: Very calm.

And he noticed something else.

Steve Blank: He would pause at times that made me think, you know what? There's something more here that he wants to tell me.

And at about 10:30 that night, Deputy Blank heard more.

Josh Mankiewicz: And all of a sudden Tom starts telling a different story?

Steve Blank: Yes.

Josh Mankiewicz: He says, "I came back from the visitor center and this time I saw her standing there"?

Steve Blank: Yes. Waited to make eye contact with her. And once the eye contact was made, she turned and jumped. And she screamed, "Oh, my God."

The suicide of Juanita Richardson, witnessed by her husband.

Steve Blank: I asked Tom why he waited to tell me this. Tom said that he was trying to protect Juanita's reputation. He didn't want anybody to think that she was crazy.

Josh Mankiewicz: I'm not a cop. This would make me suspicious.

Steve Blank: I was suspicious.

But what happened the next morning was even more strange. Tom told Blank yet another version of what happened.

Josh Mankiewicz: This time what did he say?

Steve Blank: When he walked up to the cliff site, Juanita was standing there. And as though she wanted to show him something and she kind of turned and just fell over.

Josh Mankiewicz: So now it's an accident?

Steve Blank: Now it's an accident.

Three stories of how Juanita died, in the first 24 hours after her death.

Josh Mankiewicz: If it was an accident, why say it was suicide?

Steve Blank: His only answer was, "That's how I can remember it."

Was Tom's mind literally playing tricks on him? Blank began to think something more sinister had happened up on that cliff. But with no proof of foul play, Tom was free to go home to a family that was already choosing sides. Tom’s kids knew he'd done nothing wrong. Juanita’s parents Don and Jeannie Culver knew otherwise.

Don Culver: Suicide's out of the question. She's not gonna get close enough to the edge of a cliff. She didn't like heights. She's not gonna fall off. There's only one thing left.

Josh Mankiewicz: And that's murder.

Don Culver: That's murder.

Juanita's sister Jeanette had the same suspicions.

Josh Mankiewicz: You hear that your sister's dead, and your first thought is-- ?

Jeanette Ellens: He did it. When I heard, "Cliff," you know, I mean I could understand car accident or something. But I said, "What happened?" And Mom told me, "She fell from a cliff. Her and Tom were there." And, just instantly, I knew.

Jeanette and her parents both openly admit they never much cared for Tom. Juanita loved him, and so they tried to as well. But Tom made that difficult.

Josh Mankiewicz: You never saw him be physically abusive to her?

Jeanette Ellens: No. Emotionally all the time.

Josh Mankiewicz: Verbally abusive?

Jeanette Ellens: Oh yeah.

Josh Mankiewicz: Like what?

Jeanette Ellens: Oh, "Get your head outta your ass. You're so stupid.” Anything she did, it was never right.

Josh Mankiewicz: So he would say, "Get your head out of your--" in your presence?

Don Culver: Yes.

Josh Mankiewicz: To your daughter?

Jeannie Culver: Yes.

Don Culver: Yeah.

Jeannie Culver: Yes.

Josh Mankiewicz: How'd you keep from knocking him flat?

Don Culver: Well, it was a struggle.

But Tom and Juanita’s children say they never saw anything like the marriage their aunt and grandparents describe.

Josh Mankiewicz: You never saw any verbal abuse from your father to your mother?

Laceine Richardson: Not that wasn't playful. They would have playful talk, but nothing that was ever harsh or demeaning.

Josh Mankiewicz: This has been portrayed as kind of a stormy marriage. When you hear that, what do you guys think?

Laceine Richardson: We were around them the most, and there was never a stormy marriage. It was just a normal marriage.

When Tom got home, he let them know about the questioning he'd faced up at pictured rocks -- and that some found his behavior suspicious.

But in their hearts the three kids knew their dad would never have hurt their mom, much less kill her.

Laceine Richardson: I honestly questioned what if he did do this? And just about as immediately as that thought came into my head, I told myself, "There's no way he would be capable of that."

The three would form a united front supporting their dad as the police began investigating him, with much of their detective work focused on one woman.

Karen Bahrman: She was, to this case, what Amber Frey was to the Scott Peterson case.

The investigation of Tom Richardson was now underway and moving to Tom's hometown. Michigan State police detective Jeff Herweyer grew up in McBain and knew Juanita from high school. Now he'd be investigating her possible murder.

Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline NBC: People that you knew, that you grew up with, were calling and telling you stuff?

Jeff Herweyer: Exactly.

Josh Mankiewicz: And they were saying what?

Jeff Herweyer: They didn't feel that she fell off a cliff. They felt that, potentially, Tom was involved.

Josh Mankiewicz: We're talking about just a couple of people? Or a lot of people?

Jeff Herweyer: Dozens.

One thing Herweyer found out: The Richardsons' perfect marriage wasn't so perfect. Seven years earlier, Tom had an affair with another woman.

Josh Mankiewicz: You knew your parents had trouble in their marriage? Your father had an affair?

Lindsay Richardson: Earlier on, yes.

Josh Mankiewicz Your mother ever talk with any of you about divorcing your father?

Laceine Richardson: Not about divorcing him. She had talked to us about her vows, that when she made her vows, for better or for worse, that is what she meant, till death do her part. She was the one talking about trying to reconcile.

And within a year, the couple did reconcile. Tom had told investigators they'd been happy together ever since. But Detective Herweyer learned otherwise.

Josh Mankiewicz: Tom told people that he wished he hadn't reconciled?

Jeff Herweyer: Right.

Josh Mankiewicz: So this wonderful sort of Indian summer of their marriage, fantasy?

Jeff Herweyer: Major fantasy. I didn't buy it.

But even if Tom was unhappy, what motive could he have for killing Juanita? For one thing: Money. Herweyer learned Juanita’s insurance policies would net Tom nearly a quarter of a million dollars -- that wouldn't make him rich, but it would free him from the pile of debt they'd racked up building that expensive new home.

And a tip led investigators to another possible motive. Her name: Kelli Brophy.

She worked at a convenience store on Tom's FedEx route.

Jeff Herweyer: We spent a lot of time with Kelli Brophy.

Josh Mankiewicz: You think they had an affair?

Jeff Herweyer: Yes, I do.

Kelli says it never happened.

Josh Mankiewicz: Did you have an affair with Tom Richardson?

Kelli Brophy: No.

Josh Mankiewicz: Did you think he was cute?

Kelli Brophy: Didn't give it a thought.

Kelli says she and Tom were just close friends who talked on the phone while they both worked at night.

Josh Mankiewicz: And what would you guys talk about during these calls?

Kelli Brophy: Usually, Bible studies.

If true, there was a lot of bible study going on. Investigators learned they talked on the phone 383 times in less than ten months.

Josh Mankiewicz: If I'm calling somebody 383 times, one of us thinks somethin's going on.

Kelli Brophy: But I didn't. I just was a friend, just being a friend.

Was Kelli just a friend? She'd tell investigators she believed Tom was innocent, but then she'd keep talking to them for hours.

Jeff Herweyer: I compared Kelli Brophy to wringing water out of a dishrag. We would gain a little more each time we interviewed her.

Like when Kelli told them that Tom had given her a pair of earrings for Christmas.

And then the revelation that shocked investigators: Tom had also told Kelli that Juanita would soon be dead.

Josh Mankiewicz: Tom told you that his wife wouldn't be alive by Christmas.

Kelli Brophy: Right.

Josh Mankiewicz: He told you Juanita had cancer.

Kelli Brophy: Yes, I believe that he thought she had cancer.

Juanita had found a lump in her breast, but there was no cancer. Was Tom telling the truth to Kelli? And if not, why would he lie? Maybe because of something Kelli once said to him about her requirements for a husband.

Josh Mankiewicz: You said you wanted someone who had a relationship with God, who wasn't a smoker or a drinker, and who didn't have a living, ex-spouse?

Kelli Brophy: Right.             

And Tom had a question for Kelli.

Kelli Brophy: "Juanita's sick and when she dies, will you wait for me?" And I said, "Yeah, I'm not going anywhere." That's what a friend would do; a friend would stand by him no matter what.

These two friends talked on the phone a lot, buta single call may be the key to all of this. Tom called Kelli from Pictured Rocks on his cell phone on June 21, 2006: The night before Juanita’s death. They spoke for 13 minutes.

Josh Mankiewicz: What'd you guys talk about in that call?

Kelli Brophy: Nothing. If I remember right, I was in bed sleeping. And I just listened. I don't know if he was plotting something. I don't know, I don't know anything. All I just know is that he told me what he wanted me to know. And I believed him.

Shortly after Juanita died, Tom showed up at Kelli’s house with another gift: A plant from Juanita’s memorial service.

Josh Mankiewicz: He didn't tell you why he was giving you the plant.

Kelli Brophy: No.

Josh Mankiewicz: But it meant something to you, didn't it, that plant?

Kelli Brophy: No, not really.

Juanita's sister Jeanette thinks it means a lot.

Jeanette Ellens: What kind of a girl would, if she knew where it came from, would accept a gift like that? I think that is a disgrace to my sister.

Whatever had been going on between Tom and Kelli ended after that visit. With Juanita dead only a month, Tom started asking friends to fix him up.

Jeff Herweyer: We always said Tom was pretty much our best witness throughout this whole investigation. Tom could not keep his mouth shut.

So Herweyer had an idea. He'd arrange to set Tom up with a new woman, who also happened to be a Michigan State trooper.

Josh Mankiewicz: That worked? Tom was quite taken with her?

Jeff Herweyer: Oh, yes he did. He bit big time on her.

And investigators got one of their meetings on videotape.

(Surveillance tape)

Tom Richardson: primary love language is personal touch, so if you want me to feel emotionally fulfilled, if you want my emotional gas tank to be full, you need to touch me, hug me, kiss me...

Tom also told the undercover trooper about Juanita's 'accident' at Pictured Rocks.

(Surveillance tape)

Tom Richardson: And as she turned she just fell, and I heard her scream on the way down.

Torres: Maybe I'll catch you next time, but I'm glad you checked your messages.

Tom Richardson: I'd a been thinkin’ she just blew me off… Bye. (laughter)

Torres: Holy sh-t...

By itself that tape didn't incriminate Tom, but with it police felt they now had enough for a case, including the mysterious relationship with Kelli Brophy, the life insurance, and Tom Richardson's three different tales of how Juanita died.

Jeff Herweyer: We had three uniformed troopers actually approach him first to arrest him.

It came on Feb. 6, 2007.

The charge was first-degree murder.

But with only circumstantial evidence, could the prosecutor make the charge stick?

Nearly two years had passed since Juanita Richardson's mysterious, fatal plunge from that windswept cliff at Pictured Rocks.

There were two years of questions: Did she fall, could she have committed suicide, or did her husband Tom somehow force her off that cliff, 140 feet to the rocky shore below? What terrible thing happened at their honeymoon spot?

(Court)- "All rise!"

Now Tom's trial would begin, and each side in the courtroom thought they knew the answers.

On one side, Tom and Juanita’s three kids, firmly convinced their dad didn't kill their mom. On the other side, Juanita’s parents and sister, equally certain of Tom's guilt.

With no eyewitnesses, prosecutor Karen Bahrman's case would have to focus on Tom Richardson himself.

Karen Bahrman:You'll learn that he wanted out of this marriage and that he chose murder over divorce by weighing the pros and cons of being widowed versus being divorced.

She began with Tom's story, or actually, those three conflicting stories he first told investigators in the hours after Juanita’s death.

Deputy Steve Blank: He walked to the cliff and his wife was standing there…

Story one: He didn't see anything. Story two: He saw Juanita commit suicide. And story three: He saw her accidentally fall.

Josh Mankiewicz: Which of those stories did you believe?

Steve Blank: I didn't believe any of them.

Now add those conflicting stories to Tom's behavior just after Juanita’s death.

Jim Northup: He put his face in his hands like this and he made some sobbing noises.

Jim Northup: Then when he took his hands away from his face I didn't see any tears. It struck me as very bad acting.

Josh Mankiewicz: You thought it was phony?

Jim Northup: I did.

Then dozens of friends and neighbors from the Richardson’s' hometown of McBain would provide scenes from a marriage with an abusive husband.

Linda Caruso: I've heard him call her a "dumb b-i-t-c-h," I've, you now, she's "stupid," numerous things he made her cry.

Mary Beth Hill: He called her horrible names, and he always acted like he just despised her.

Jane Meadows: When she came to purchase gas, she had a black eye.

Prosecutor Bahrman painted a portrait of a man who had simply had enough of his wife -- and envisioned a new life without her.

With the insurance payments from Juanita's death, Tom could live debt-free, which was a much better prospect than a costly divorce.

FBI financial expert Bill Vos did the math for the jury.

Bill Vos: There was four different life insurance policies. Life annuity types of policies.

Karen Bahrman: For a total of how much?

Bill Vos: Roughly $243,000.

Karen Bahrman: Would that have been sufficient to retire the debt?

Bill Vos: They had a total debt of roughly 235,000 dollars.

Judge: Ms. Brophy could you come forward please?

Financially secure, Bahrman said, Tom might then be able to pursue that murky relationship with Kelli Brophy, who on the stand walked a narrow line between defending Tom and helping the prosecution.

Prosecutor: Did he indicate also that he wanted to take care of you?

Kelli Brophy: Yes, I think that was brought up.

Prosecutor: And did you find that concept appealing?

Kelli Brophy: Yes.

She didn't want to testify at all, and only came here under subpoena -- still denying she and Tom ever had an affair.

Prosecutor: Do you recall telling the investigators that Tom had asked you that if he weren't married, if you two could date?

Kelli Brophy: Date? I don't recall date.

Prosecutor: What do you recall him asking?

Kelli Brophy: Just if I'd wait for him.

Kelli had agreed to wait. The insurance payout was a given. But according to prosecutors, Tom's plan for his post-Juanita life had one problem. Juanita didn't have a will.

So six days before their vacation, Tom had a meeting with an attorney.

Prosecutor:How would you describe his level of urgency?

Anthony Badovinac:Excessively adamant. Sitting on the edge of the chair, we gotta have a will, we gotta have a will, we gotta have a will.

Attorney Anthony Badovinac was surprised that anyone would so urgently need a will before going on a short vacation to Michigan’s upper peninsula.

Prosecutor: And what did you end up giving him as advice at that point?

Anthony Badovinac: Chill out, calm down, you're going to the U.P., good for you. If God forbid one of you should die it's gonna go to the other. See ya later.

So if Juanita were to die, Tom would inherit everything. A relief.

Prosecutor: When you tell him, how does he respond?

Badovinac: The heretofore witnessed urgency was completely dissipated.

Ever since Juanita’s death, Tom had been saying that site at the cliff had been their special place--their 'honeymoon spot.' But that was news to Juanita’s father Don Culver.

Don Culver: I never heard this called a honeymoon spot. Ever.

Josh Mankiewicz: You think calling it the honeymoon spot is some sort of after the fact contrivance that Tom's come up with to justify going to that place?

Don Culver: Exactly, I certainly do.

Josh Mankiewicz: It should more accurately be called what?

Don Culver: Her death spot.

What would that fall from the death spot have looked like?

Bahrman showed jurors a video re-enactment using a dummy to show how bad that fall can be, and the coroner described Juanita’s brutal injuries on the way down. But he also found one injury he thought was suspicious...

This mysterious double bruise on her right thigh.

Dr. Smith: I think those two linear bruises are the result of one impact, something that was sort of elongated linear, like a rod or a stick.

Kick from Tom's foot? A stick? Or maybe a kick from Tom?

The prosecution's next witness might shed some light: Tom's former karate instructor. Fifteen years earlier, Tom had been on his way to earning a black belt.

Prosecutor: What moves or kicks or holds would he know?

David Jay Cohle: Anywheres between 15, 25 different kicks.

It would just take one of those kicks to knock Juanita off balance, and off that cliff.

Prosecutor: No further questions.

After five weeks of testimony, the state rested. Now it was Tom Richardson’s turn to explain why he wasn't lying, and how three different stories could all be true.

The State of Michigan had argued its case against Tom Richardson. Now Tom's defense team could argue theirs.

Karl Numinen: This was not a homicide. Tom did not kill Juanita. Her death was an accident.

Defense Attorney Karl Numinen argued that the state had provided no evidence of a murder at Pictured Rocks.

Karl Numinen:Not a shred of evidence. Not one. The prosecutors conceded, there is no direct evidence.

But Numinen said there was evidence of something else: A clumsy woman. Juanita, he said, had suffered a series of leg injuries over the years.

Karl Numinen: She's got permanent instability in her left knee. She has a stubbed toe with perhaps broken toes on her left foot. She's wearing sandals.

It was an accident waiting to happen, the same one Tom had described seeing.

But what about Tom's three different stories?

Numinen brought in a psychologist to explain they were all true. Tom was telling it as he recalled it, piece by piece. It’s a classic symptom of post-traumatic stress.

Karl Numinen: In your opinion did Mr. Richardson suffer from a traumatic event that would qualify under acute stress reaction?

Kirkham: According to the records I have reviewed, yes

Josh Mankiewicz: Why did Tom tell three different stories to police?

Karl Numinen: He just saw the most traumatic, horrifying event of his life. He blocked it out. He could remember everything lead up to. He could remember everything following. But he could not remember the trauma of seeing his wife go over the cliff.

Josh Mankiewicz: But "I can't remember," is different from what Tom told police.

Karl Numinen: He tried to tell the police exactly what happened to the best his brain would allow him to do.

As for Tom's second story--that Juanita committed suicide -- Numinen says that came from police.                           

Karl Numinen: When you're in that kind of confusion, and when you're being peppered with questions by the authorities, he came to the same conclusion that they came to, and he said what they wanted him to say.      

The prosecution had presented a picture of a man eager to dispose of his wife and enjoy the windfall from her insurance, but the defense showed that when choosing a policy, Tom hadn't always gone for the biggest payout available.

Karl Numinen: He was given an option. You can buy life insurance policy-- on your spouse. You can get a $10,000 amount or a $25,000 amount. He picked the $10,000 amount. He picked the smaller amount.

Anthony Badovinac: We gotta have a will, etc.

And then there was that will that Tom was allegedly so eager to get on paper.

Karl Numinen: It wasn't Tom who made the appointment with the attorney. Juanita went and got a certificate for a will. Will certificate. She purchased that will. She made the appointment with Attorney Badovinic. She went to that appointment with Tom.

So if this post-Juanita financial plan was the prosecution's fantasy, what about that "other woman," Kelli Brophy?

Karl Numinen: It was the prosecutor's number one motive, to support her theory of the case.

Josh Mankiewicz: And where was the evidence?

Karl Numinen: There wasn't any. Zero.

Karl Numinen: Did you ever have sex with Tom?

Kelli Brophy: No.

Karl Numinen: Did you ever kiss him?

Kelli Brophy: No.

Karl Numinen: Ever hold hands?

Kelli Brophy: No.

Karl Numinen: Did he ever tell you that he was going to leave his wife for you?

Kelli Brophy: No.

As for that mysterious double bruise on Juanita’s thigh, Numinen had an explanation.

It came not from Tom, but from Juanita’s fall.

Under cross-examination, the coroner himself conceded that was possible.

Dr. Smith: That injury, certainly, there's a possibility that it could have occurred during a fall.

Prosecutor: Could you tell us your name please?

Levi: Levi Richardson.

For Tom's case, the defense had three star witnesses who knew Tom better than anyone: His kids.

Jason Elmore: Describe your Dad for us, if you could.

Laceine Richardson: My Dad was a very honest and trustworthy person… He had such good morals.

Josh Mankiewicz: How valuable were the kids?

Karl Numinen: It would have been a wholly different trial if the kids were sitting on the other side of the courtroom. But they weren't. They were supporting their dad. Because they know their dad. They know that he could never do anything like this to their mom.

Tom Richardson never did take the stand in his own defense, but he did talk to Dateline in the jail where he'd been held for more than a year.

Josh Mankiewicz: What happened that day at Pictured Rocks?

Tom Richardson: This is gonna be difficult. It's a hard thing to relive. She said she was gonna sit there while I went back to the bathroom. When I came back she was facing me. Juanita looked at me with a smile. Juanita has a glowing smile. But as she turned, she fell. And the last thing I saw was Juanita's feet flip up in the air as she was going over. And I heard her scream, "Oh, my God" or "Oh, dear God." And I heard her scream as she fell down. And that's when I lost my wife. And I have nightmares of that on a regular basis.

It's essentially the same version of the third story he told deputy Steve Blank nearly two years earlier.

Josh Mankiewicz: What'd you do after Juanita fell?

Tom Richardson: I crawled over to the edge and looked over the edge. And I could see the white of her sweater. And I had tears pouring out of my eyes. I'm afraid of heights, so I can't stand at the edge. I had crawled over to the edge, looked over and backed away and passed out.

Tom went on to recount seeing Juanita’s body at the hospital.

Tom Richardson: They put me in a wheelchair and they wheeled me in right up to her face. They hadn't cleaned the blood off or anything. Her face was-- she was covered with sheets. And they had her face exposed but wrapped around with white linen. And they wheeled me up to her. And I just saw her broken, broken, battered face. And she was gone.

In our interview, Tom was doing exactly the same thing park rangers observed the day Juanita died as he went back and forth from emotional to emotion-less.

Josh Mankiewicz: Do you understand how telling essentially three different stories to investigators in the first few hours after your wife dies is gonna-- is gonna make investigators think that you are A) lying and B) responsible?

Tom Richardson: Yeah, I understand that. But your facts aren't straight. We're not talking a few hours. We're talking from the time the incident happened till 1:30, 2:00 in the morning. That's not a few hours.

Josh Mankiewicz: Okay, what is it? Less than 24.

Tom Richardson: It's a long time when you're in shock, you're being traumatized and—

Josh Mankiewicz: It's a pretty short time to tell three different stories.

Tom Richardson: Not- when you've been going through mental blocking and they're starting to get recall and you got some guy that you feel is trying to brainwash you into the fact that your wife's just committed suicide or possibly committed suicide.

And what about Kelli Brophy? Tom’s so-called "prayer pal" the prosecutor branded as his Amber Frey.

Josh Mankiewicz: So people who think that you were envisioning some possible relationship with Kelli after your wife died, just overly suspicious?

Tom Richardson: Just wrong. I was not planning on killing my wife. My wife and I were getting along as good as we ever got along. And there was no plan. They've tried to paint that into-- into this plan I had, you know? He planned on killing his wife. He planned on having a relationship with Kelli, blah, blah, blah. None of that's true.

So what is true? Is Tom Richardson a cold-hearted killer, or just a broken-hearted husband?

Tom Richardson: I was with Juanita since 1981. And when you lose somebody like that it's like you have this big hole inside you. And nothing will ever replace that.

It would now be up to the jury to decide his fate.

When Juanita Richardson died on the cliffs at Pictured Rocks, the tragedy didn't end there. The aftermath would tear her family apart, with her parents and sister certain that her husband Tom had killed her, and her kids just as sure that he didn't.

Josh Mankiewicz: Is this family ever gonna be put back together?

Jeanette Ellens: I hope so.

Josh Mankiewicz: You think it will?

Jeanette Ellens: I guess it depends on what happens-- for the verdict.

Josh Mankiewicz: I'm not sure it does. Because half this family's not gonna like the verdict.

Jeanette Ellens: That's true.

Laceine Richardson: I hope that one day, you know, we can be back because I really do-- I honestly love them. I may not like them right now or what they're doing, but I'll always love them. They're my family.

Now Tom Richardson's trial was ending.

For her closing argument, prosecutor Karen Bahrman returned jurors' attention to the last photograph Juanita took before she died...

Karen Bahrman: The picture that speaks a thousand words.

...of Tom himself.

He needs to create this reason for her to walk to stand or walk near the edge. And he tells her to take his picture in that spot. And the expression on his face is not exactly evocative of marital bliss. That expression says very clearly, "I'm going to get you, bitch."

Defense attorney Karl Numinen ended by denouncing the investigation of Tom Richardson as a rush to judgment of an innocent man who loved his wife.

Karl Numinen: Tom Richardson was a suspect before they even dragged Juanita's body off the rocks and pulled her into the cold water of Lake Superior. The way the interrogation was conducted was purposely designed to gather incriminating statements.

The judge handed the case to the jury.

On their first vote they were divided. Seven jurors thought Tom was guilty, and the other five weren't ready to convict.

And they kept returning to that autopsy photo of Juanita with the strange double bruise.

And then, an extraordinary thing happened in the jury room.

Jurors Paul Scott and Dave Brehm got up and decided to see what might cause a bruise like that.

Josh Mankiewicz: Can you show me what you did?

Paul Scott: All I did was come behind him. And the bruises were on her right leg. And I just pushed like this. And that's when he went forward. I didn't actually even kick. I just pushed with my foot.

Josh Mankiewicz: And that did it? That demonstration?

Dave Brehm: It almost made the hair stand up on the back of your neck that everybody was at the same point in thinking that, "Oh my god, that's probably exactly what happened."

After 11 hours they had their verdict.

Judge: And who will be speaking for the jurors?

Foreman: I will.

Judge: Counsel please rise.

Foreman: We the jury find the defendant Thomas David Richardson guilty of murder in the first degree.

Judge: Thank you, you may be seated.

Tom Richardson had been found guilty of murdering his wife Juanita, with a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

The Richardson kids sat in shock and in tears. The tragedy at Pictured Rocks had now taken both their parents away from them forever.

A month later, Juanita’s sister Jeanette spoke for her family at the sentencing.

Jeanette Ellens: Two years ago, you chose to take her from us. Not only did you take our daughter, our sister, and our aunt, but you also took the mother from your very own children.

Tom is now planning his appeal. He remains defiant.

Tom Richardson: The truth is the truth. And making me a villain doesn't change anything.

Josh Mankiewicz: We've been through a trial. Don't we know the truth?

Tom Richardson: No.

Josh Mankiewicz: Isn't the truth that you killed your wife?

Tom Richardson: No. That is not the truth.

Josh Mankiewicz: Because you didn't want a divorce. Because you wanted to live debt-free with Kelli Brophy?

Tom Richardson: Debt-free living has nothing to do with it, and neither does living with Kelli Brophy. There is no romantic relationship with Kelli Brophy. Period. There never has been.

Josh Mankiewicz: You killed her.

Tom Richardson: No. I did not kill my wife. You have no idea how offensive it is to hear somebody say that when you didn't do it.

But for Juanita's parents and sister, the case is closed. Just before Tom was sentenced, Jeanette went back up to Pictured Rocks to listen to the wind one last time.

Jeanette Ellens: I feel like Juanita's there and I don't wanna leave, I don't wanna go home. Today the waves were just splashing and it was beautiful. And last night the-- the rainbow over-- Pictured Rocks, just told us, you know, -- she's saying, "I'm okay, I'm good. I'm in better hands now."

Tom Richardson's attorneys are claiming the jurors' kick demonstration violated the judge's instruction to the jury not to consider any evidence that was not introduced during the trial. It's one of the grounds for Richardson's motion for a new trial that his attorneys filed this week.