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Murder for hire an act of desperation
Belton Bridge Park slaying is latest high-profile hit man case
0627murder-richard schoeck
Richard Schoeck


Listen to the 911 call placed by Stacey Schoeck from Belton Bridge Park.


Listen to the 911 call placed by Stacey Schoeck from Belton Bridge Park.

As murder for hire cases in Georgia go, Stacey Schoeck’s arrest in the shooting death of her husband came quickly.

Three months after the Snellville woman placed a hysterical call to 911 from a North Hall park reporting her husband had been shot and was not breathing, she was arrested on suspicion of paying as much as $10,000 to have a hit man kill 46-year-old Richard Schoeck.

According to court filings, Hall County Sheriff’s investigators compiled a circumstantial case heavily reliant on phone and financial records in charging that Schoeck and a co-worker, Lynitra Ross, arranged for Ross’ friend Reginald Coleman to commit the Valentine’s Day murder at Belton Bridge Park.

Schoeck intends to plead not guilty to the charge of murder, her attorney has said.

Other infamous contract killing cases in Georgia have not come together as quickly for authorities.

Fred Tokars was arrested nine months after his wife’s contract killing. It took nearly a year before Sidney Dorsey was charged with ordering the assassination of DeKalb County Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown. And more than 17 years passed from the time Lita McClinton Sullivan was murdered before her husband, Jim Sullivan, was charged with paying a hit man $25,000 to kill her.

All were under suspicion from the outset.

“You know who did it, you just have to put the pieces together,” said retired Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent John Lang, who worked on the Dorsey and Sullivan cases.

In Sullivan’s case, it wasn’t until a former girlfriend of triggerman Tony Harwood came forward years after the killing that authorities were able to get enough evidence for an indictment.

“They did a good job of not being detected,” Lang said. But as in many cases, “when you start digging into it, you find out they do make mistakes.”

Agents tied Sullivan to Harwood through phone records, though until Harwood gave them a statement, they could not confirm who was talking on the phone or what they were talking about.

Phone records are expected to play a major role in the Schoeck case.

In his 24 years with the GBI, Lang posed as a hit man at least seven times in undercover operations. He took money from an elderly woman that wanted her daughter-in-law killed for $5,000. A Valdosta magistrate judge would only give him $500 for the contract killing of the sheriff, whose job he wanted. A Cobb County man “hired” Lang to kill his wife, then after his arrest, solicited another undercover agent to kill Lang.

Murder for hire has the typical motivations, Lang said.

“I would say the two most common are sex and money,” Lang said. “These people are desperate and they’ll take anybody to do the job. The common denominator is that the people who want it done don’t have the (guts) to do it themselves. They just can’t do it.”
Lang said it’s hard to say whether there are more real contract killings than attempted contract killings averted by authorities. But he is confident that there are murder-for-hire cases going unsolved.

“There’s just so many that people do get away with,” Lang said. “That’s why we try to head them off early.”

Lang says he was disappointed to see people he locked up on solicitation of murder charges getting prison sentences of four or five years.

“They come so close, that person could be dead, and they get such a light sentence,” Lang said.

Stacey Schoeck, who authorities believe went through with a premeditated plan in order to collect $500,000 in life insurance, could face life in prison or the death penalty.

District Attorney Lee Darragh has noted in court filings that “the case potentially involves the death penalty as a murder for hire under (Georgia law).”

Committing murder for the purpose of receiving money and directing another to commit murder are both aggravating circumstances that can qualify a case for the death penalty.

Acquaintances of the Schoecks, who last year ran a summer scouting camp, have expressed shock at Stacey Schoeck’s arrest.
Lang said murder for hire cases tend to expose the hidden side of people.

“People in general have three segments in their life,” he said. “They have their public life, they have their personal life, and then they have their secret life. And it’s the secret life you don’t know about until something tragic happens.”