Brian and Stacey McNaughton had bought their single-family home in Fort Collins, Colo., six years earlier for $525,000. It was the sort of place, situated on an oversize corner lot in a neighborhood filled with doctors and lawyers, that projected the kind of solid middle-class status that the couple had achieved after years of study. Brian McNaughton, once a first-generation college student, was on the tenure track at Colorado State University, and his wife was a nurse anesthetist.
But all of that risked being torn asunder because of the big lie — a lie that they shared, and that Stacey McNaughton was now threatening to expose. She would recount to the police how she had signaled plans to call her husband’s boss, reveal his deception, and derail his career. The couple struggled for control of a phone, and the professor pleaded with his wife to reconsider, before Stacey McNaughton ran out the back door screaming for help. She jumped a fence and took refuge with some neighbors who were having a backyard campfire.
On that night and many thereafter, Brian McNaughton feared that his wife would tell people at Colorado State how he had fabricated a job offer from another university. It was a simple scheme, one designed to earn him the kind of money and respect that is often so elusive for early-career professors. As McNaughton had hoped, the fake letter spurred a counteroffer, forcing his dean and department chair to reconsider what he might be worth.
In July 2015, police responded to a domestic disturbance at the McNaughtons’ home. An officer’s body camera captured interviews with the couple and a secret recording that Stacey McNaughton had made of their argument.
Not long before, Stacey McNaughton had started secretly recording all of the couple’s conversations. In audio from that summer night, which she shared with an officer, she can be heard saying, “You wrote that letter, Brian — that lie. I told you don’t submit it.”
But he had done it, and there was no turning back.
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