Murder prosecution, without a body.
Cheryl Berreth reported her daughter, Kelsey Berreth, missing on December 2, 2018. Cheryl had received a text from Kelsey’s phone two days after Thanksgiving. The text message said Kelsey would give Cheryl a phone call the next day. That call never came.
Kelsey, a 29 year old mother, disappeared on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2018. Kelsey’s one year old daughter, Kaylee, was with her father, Kelsey’s fiance, Patrick Frazee. There was no sign of Kelsey.
Patrick Frazee was arrested for the murder of Kelsey Berreth on December 31, 2018.
The ensuing trial revealed a great deal of information.
Kelsey’s boss received a text on November 25 that came from Kelsey’s phone saying her grandmother was sick and she would be off work for a week. He received this text in response to one he sent to all employees wishing them a happy holiday. He had also received a text from Kelsey’s phone on Thanksgiving Day that he said appeared to be strange. The punctuation did not match the way Kelsey normally wrote in her texts and there was no smiley face where she usually placed one.
Kelsey’s brother, Clint, testified he tried to text her several times the week after Thanksgiving but got no reply. He had bought Kelsey’s child a Christmas ornament and wanted to see if it had been delivered. The police found the package on the doorstep when they first performed a welfare check at Kelsey’s condo.
Cheryl Berreth testified Patrick said he and Kelsey had broken up because she wanted “her space”. Cheryl had not heard this from Kelsey. Kelsey and Frazee never lived together during their relationship. Cheryl asked Frazee to check Kelsey’s condo but he said he needed to go check on some cattle. Cheryl said she doesn’t know if Patrick ever went to the condo and looked for Kelsey or not.
Cheryl and Clint traveled from their home in Washington to Colorado and visited Kelsey’s condo. Cheryl had a key to the apartment. The home gave the appearance of someone who left unexpectedly. Uncovered cinnamon rolls were sitting on the stove. Kelsey’s luggage, make up, and toiletries were still in the condo. Cheryl and Clint spent a long time talking to the police after seeing the condition of Kelsey’s condo. When Clint later reported what he believed to be blood under the bowl of the toilet, police asked them to leave the apartment. Investigators asked Cheryl and Clint if they had used any cleaning supplies in the condo. Cheryl replied they had only used dish washing detergent to clean the dishes.
On December 21 when it became known the condo might be a murder scene, police searches became more intense. There was much testimony in reference to police searches and inquiries in an effort to see if Kelsey had taken a trip or was simply traveling. No trip plans, gas purchases, ATM withdrawals, etc.. were found in searching her laptop or bank records. The evidence was not consistent with someone voluntarily leaving their home.
When police first questioned Patrick, he said he had last seen Kelsey on November 24 when he returned her car, gun, and house keys to her. Upon searching the condo, police found none of these items. He also mentioned Kelsey had been to rehab for depression and alcohol abuse. Police found no evidence of this treatment. Frazee told police he received a text saying Kelsey’s phone had expired on November 29th.
Frazee never asked about Kelsey’s whereabouts or any leads police had uncovered. He was described as being “unconcerned”. When searching Frazee’s apartment, police found handwritten notes detailing Patrick’s movements on November 22nd. These notes almost read like a police report and they even included times for each of his movement. This one day diary may have been an attempt to establish an alibi. No other reason comes to mind as to why he would make such notes for this particular day.
There were also ATM receipts for November 22nd showing 5 deposits and one withdrawal.
Why so many visits, especially on Thanksgiving Day?
Once again, one explanation could be that he was attempting to create an alibi. There was also a receipt from Walmart on the 22nd at 1:50 p.m., a November bank statement for a bank account in Frazee’s name, and a Waste Management receipt for household trash dump quantity of 70 yards stamped 12/1/18 at 12:39 p.m. Items related to child custody issues were also recovered from Frazee’s home.
A credit union manager testified Frazee used the ATM on November 22nd and the last transaction on Kelsey’s account was on the same day at Safeway. Security video shows Kelsey and Kaylee at the Safeway.
Frazee came into the bank on December 5th and asked for photos of his visit to the ATM on the 22nd. His stated reason for needing the photo was to establish a timeline for himself on that day. He told bank employees he and Kelsey had broken up and there was going to be a dispute about child custody. The manager grew suspicious and contacted her legal advisers as well as the police. She felt strongly enough about her encounter with Frazee that she made notes about what had transpired. She also thought it was strange Frazee showed no concern for Kelsey or their daughter.
A Verizon store manager testified Frazee came to the store on December 11th and was asking questions about how someone might access his cell phone account and if information could be obtained even though the phone was destroyed. Frazee said he wanted to change the PIN on his phone but gave no explanation concerning what happened to the other phone. When the manager, Mr. Felis, told him the corporate office would have to be contacted, Frazee became upset. Corporate could not help with changing the PIN either, even though Frazee said he needed to change the number for “security” reasons. Felis was concerned due to the way Frazee was behaving and contacted police about the conversation. Frazee also told Felis not believe the things that were being said about him (Frazee).
Investigators found a call on Frazee’s cell phone made between 4:30 p.m. and 4:40 p.m. on November 22nd, Thanksgiving Day, to an Idaho number that belonged to his girlfriend, Krystal Lee Kenney..
Digital records from a surveillance camera covering Kelsey’s front door showed 4 instances of movement on November 21st and 27 instances of movement on November 22nd. The camera alerted only 3 times on November 23rd and 2 times on November 24th. Of the twenty seven images which were captured from the camera on November 22nd Frazee was seen in 11 of them. Photos of Kelsey entering her home with a baby carrier were taken at 3:54 a.m. on the 22nd and one at 11:56 a.m. shows her at the door. An image at 12:16 p.m. shows Frazee preparing to enter the condo. At 1:23 p.m. the camera captured Kelsey, Frazee, and the baby entering the condo. Berreth was carrying flowers and the baby carrier. This is the last known picture of Kelsey. There were several shots of Frazee, some with him holding the child, the latest being 4:28 p.m.
During the trial defense attorneys pointed out there were no pictures of Frazee holding a large black tote even though prosecutors insisted he took Kelsey’s body out of the condo in a black tote. Frazee’s description of his contacts with Kelsey on the 22nd differ from the photographic evidence.
There is much testimony about various cameras capturing images of both Kelsey and Frazee. The prosecution points to a video which appears to show a black tote of some type in the back of Frazee’s truck. After he makes the last known trip to Kelsey’s condo, it looks like the tote is in a different position. The prosecution’s contention is that the tote is in a different position because Frazee has put Kelsey’s body in the tote.
Frazee tells police he received a text from Kelsey a couple of days after Thanksgiving. According to Frazee the text said, “Do you even love me?” Frazee says he tried to return the text but learned it didn’t go through.
Police checked with Verizon on and the last known location of Kelsey’s phone was in Gooding Idaho on December 3rd at 5:13 p.m. This is near the home of Frazee’s girlfriend, Krystal Lee Kenney.
Kenney initially lied to the FBI, but eventually became a witness.
Krystal says Frazee gave her Kelsey’s phone and told her to go far away and text Kelsey’s mother and boss. Krystal also turned over to police a pistol Frazee had given her and it was traced back to Kelsey. Frazee told police he gave the gun back to Kelsey.
Krystal goes on to say Frazee tried to talk her into murdering Kelsey. According to Kenney, Frazee attempted to use his daughter as the reason his fiance should be killed. Krystal says Frazee told her that his daughter was in “imminent danger” while in her mother’s care and if the child was harmed, it would be Kenney’s fault if she refused to commit the murder.
Frazee told many people Kelsey mistreated Kaylee and that Kelsey was undergoing treatment for substance abuse. The investigation showed neither of these allegations were true.
Kenney testified Frazee told her to give Kelsey drugged coffee, then gave her a pipe to hit Kelsey in the head , and finally he gave her a baseball bat and told her to, “swing away”. Kenney went as far as going to Kelsey’s house at one point but a barking dog scared her away. She finally told Frazee she couldn’t do it.
Krystal alleges when she wouldn’t commit the murder, Frazee did it himself.
Kenney says Frazee told her he beat Kelsey to death with a baseball bat and Kelsey’s last words were , “Please stop”.
A search of Frazee’s property revealed a tooth fragment that a forensic anthropologist testified was “probably human”. Another specialist said there was not enough DNA on the tooth fragment to make a positive match with another person, but the tests indicated the DNA on the tooth belonged to a woman. Other small pieces of tooth or bone were found during the search, but there was not enough substance for DNA testing. This evidence would seem to corroborate the story of a bludgeoning death which could knock the teeth fragments out of the victim’s mouth. More evidence would come later.
Krystal says she received a call from Frazee on Thanksgiving Day and he seemed upset. He told her there was a mess to clean up and he needed he help. When she arrived in Colorado Frazee told her to go to Kelsey’s home and start cleaning it up.
Ms. Kenney says there was blood everywhere.
Kelsey’s parents visited the condo on December 4th, and noticed film from cleaning supplies were in several places in the apartment including on the furniture, TV, stove, and other places.
Tests were performed at the home later and the results indicated the presence of blood containing Kelsey’s DNA, in the bathroom around the toilet, bathtub, and the towel rack. Blood in these areas would be consistent with someone trying to clean themselves up after attempting to clean the crime scene.
Video cameras fail to show Kenney entering or leaving Kelsey’s condo on November 24th, the day Kenney maintains she cleaned up the crime scene there.Kenney testified Frazee told her Kelsey’s body was “in a tote” in the back of his truck. She saw the tote, but never looked inside it to see if there was actually a body in the tote or not. She says she and Frazee took the tote to a ranch he was leasing, poured gas on top of it, set the container on fire and burned it. She says Frazee told her the tote burned all night.
A cadaver dog alerted in the area Kenney pointed out as the spot where the tote was burned, but the officer handling the dog could not testify he was positive the dog’s alert was because of a decomposing body. Video footage was viewed in court that showed Kenney and Frazee filling up a gas can and placing it in the bed of the truck which tends to back up the witness’s testimony.
A friend of Frazee’s, Joseph Paul Moore testified Frazee told him in April of 2018 he had figured out a way to kill Kelsey. When Moore told Frazee he shouldn’t say things like that, according to Moore, Frazee said, “No body, no crime, right?”
Frazee’s brother, Sean, who is a police officer was called as a prosecution witness. He said Patrick had lived with their mother on the family ranch for 20 years. At the family Thanksgiving dinner,Patrick as late showing up. Patrick showed up with Kaylee about 5p.m. and made some food himself and Kaylee. The family is fighting over the father’s $400,000 estate and Patrick and Sean haven’t talked in 2-3 years. The first time Sean heard Kelsey was missing was when Patrick told him about her disappearance in a phone call on December 3rd. Patrick told Sean Kelsey’s grandmother was sick and she may have gone to visit her. He also told Sean that Kelsey was having issues concerning dependency and she could have gone for treatment without telling anybody. Patrick went on to say Kelsey’s work had called about canceling her insurance due to her absence from work. When Sean was released from the witness stand her looked at Patrick and rolled his eyes.
Several of Kelsey’s co-workers testified they had been concerned about Kelsey. She suffered from the stress of a very high pressure job as well as having an infant child to rear. Contrary to what Patrick Frazee told several people, Kelsey’s friends saw no evidence of her having any problems with drugs or alcohol and there was absolutely no evidence of baby Kaylee being mistreated. When asked, Kelsey’s co-workers said in their opinion, she would never desert her child.
A person from the Human Resource Department at Kelsey’s work told the court at one time Patrick Frazee was the beneficiary of Kelsey’s life insurance policy but it is unclear if the policy is still in effect. Would Frazee have been under the impression he stood to receive the proceeds of an insurance policy if “something” happened to Kelsey?
On the last day of prosecution testimony, the state dropped a few bombshells.
An expert in bloodstain pattern analysis and crime scene reconstruction, Denver Police Officer Jonathyn Priest, testified about the blood spatters and drops in Kelsey Berreth’s condo. He said the pattern of stains discovered in her condo would be consistent with what would be seen with a person being bludgeoned 10-15 times with a baseball bat. Priest explained the first blow would open up the wound and subsequent strikes would have splattered the blood. Kenney had testified earlier there were bloody footprints in the bathroom and on the floor of the second floor loft. Priest said that would mean a person stepped in a “relatively significant source of blood.”
When asked about the blood spatters on appliances, counters, and high up on the walls. Officer Priest explained the blood would splatter in an arc and the force of the strike would determine the length of the arc. In other words, the harder the strike, the farther the blood would splatter.
The expert testified the blood on the toilet was a “transfer stain” meaning something had touched blood elsewhere and then touched the toilet. Blood on the couch showed wipe marks which indicated someone had tried to clean it up.
Defense attorneys pointed out the fact that many of Priest’s opinions were drawn from what Kenney said she saw. The officer said that was true. On redirect examination prosecutors pointed out there were no inconsistencies between Kenney’s testimony and Priest’s conclusions.
A former inmate who lived in the same “pod” (we will call him “Jim”) with Frazee testified Frazee tried to get him to kill witnesses who planned to testify against Patrick Frazee. The inmate asked to remain anonymous. He feared retaliation from prison gangs simply because he cooperated with law enforcement. Jim received a reduction in the charges he was facing and the defense suggested prosecutors were involved in having Jim’s charges reduced in return for his cooperation. Jim said he did even know the charges had been reduced when he came forward with the information, but he admitted he hoped for a better plea agreement if he cooperated. No one at the prosecution table was involved in the plea bargain deal Jim received.
Jim gave police letters he received while he was in jail and there is an assumption the letters came from Frazee. Jim says they came from Frazee, Agent Slater said it looked like Frazee’s handwriting, and the story the letters present closely resembles the facts surrounding the disappearance and murder of Kelsey Berreth. Especially the part about sending text messages from a victim’s phone after they are dead. That sounds pretty familiar!
The second time the two talked to each other, Frazee asked about a tattoo on the other Jim’s face. The tattoo represented membership in a prison gang, but Jim said he no longer belonged to the gang. Frazee offered to help get Jim bonded out of jail if Jim would help murder some witnesses.
Jim said Frazee asked him more than once to kill some witnesses. Prosecutors produced handwritten letters from Frazee to Jim outlining what Frazee wanted done. The letters were captioned by Patrick Frazee as, “instruction or suggestions to carry out the hits so to speak on the witnesses.”
Jim’s testimony was bolstered by CBI (Colorado Bureau of Investigation) Agent Gregg Slater who reviewed 17 letters between Jim and Frazee in reference to killing Krystal Kenney (Frazee girlfriend and accomplice), Chad Lee, Michelle Stein (friend of Kenney), John Moore (friend of Frazee who testified against him), and Wendi Clark (Friend of Moore. Frazee referred to her as a “cash cow”). In the letters Frazee explained all the people needed to disappear, at least until November 22, or whenever the trial is over. In one letter Frazee said he would, “really like to see Kenney with a bullet in her head”.
In letter #12, Frazee said, “Kidnap and hide ‘em until you’re done. South Florissant (Frazee’s hometown). Guy and chick. 55-60 years old.” This is supposedly a reference to John Moore and Wendi Clark.
Letter #14 asks, “Do you have funds or resources to go to Idaho and back? Was thinking if you cap ‘em in the desert,” Agent Slater said this would have been in reference to Kenney and Stein.
In letter #15 an interesting suggestion is made by the letter writer. “I’m excited if we can pull this off - only thing better would be if Krystal sent someone a text from her phone and confessing that I didn’t have anything to do with it at all. Greg Slater and all 5 disappear.” The end of this message, “all five disappear”, were said to refer to Kenney’s family. Including the children.
The letters contained instructions to flush them down the toilet once they were read. Obviously these instructions were ignored.
The defense did not cross examine Slater.
The prosecution rested after the presentation of this witness. The defense offered no proof. Attorneys made their closing arguments and the case was given to the jury for deliberation.
Frazee was charged with two counts of first degree murder, three counts of solicitation to commit murder, to counts of a crime of violence, and one count of tampering with a body. It took the jury only 3 hours to convict Patrick Frazee on every count. Prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty. He was sentenced to life plus 156 years without the possibility of parole.
Krystal Lee Kenney pled guilty to a charge of tampering with evidence and she received a 3 year sentence. Of course her sentencing was deferred until the trial was over and she delivered truthful testimony.
Young Kaylee is in the custody of Kelsey’s parents.
When you prosecute a murder case without the victim’s body, obviously there are issues you must confront. You must: A) prove the victim is dead, B) Prove the death was not the result of natural causes, and C) The accused caused the death.
The prosecution may use either witness testimony, circumstantial evidence, direct evidence, or any combination of the three depending on the circumstances of the case and the evidence available.
In this case, the State did an excellent job of tying the evidence together and showing a consistent theory that the jury obviously believed.
The DNA, blood spatter evidence, cell phone records, and surveillance video corroborated the story of the main prosecution witness, Krystal Lee Kenney.
Police and prosecutors also did a great job of anticipating defense issues and having answers for their questions before the questions were even brought up.
Even the inmate letters suggested a method of operation that mirrored Kelsey’s murder. Kelsey’s body was disposed of and her cell phone was used after her death to try and confuse investigators working on the case.
This case was a fine piece of investigative work and prosecution.
Jim Leach served as Special Agent in Charge of Criminal Investigations for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. He is a graduate of the 133rd Session of the FBI National Academy. His website is leachtraining.com