The Antifreeze Killer Progressed From Evil to More Evil
(‘Freeze Framed,’ Forensic Files)
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Now, let’s switch up and talk about someone who was all bad news: Stacey Castor.
She counts among a handful of Forensic Files criminals who plotted to kill their own children. They include Debora Green, who orchestrated her kids’ demise in a fire to punish her husband, and Brad Jackson, who suffocated his daughter because she didn’t get along with his girlfriend.
But Stacey was working on a whole different level. When she tired of her husbands, she poisoned them to death for the insurance money. Then she attempted to kill her daughter while passing off the blame for the murders on her.
Stacey’s behavior was so devious that her story spawned not only the Forensic Files episode but also an episode of 20/20 and a Lifetime movie titled Poisoned Love: The Stacy Castor Story starring Nia Vardalos.
Fortunately, Stacey’s daughter Ashley Wallace survived the homicide attempt and lived to testify against the mother who betrayed her. For this week, I looked for more biographical details on Stacey and checked into Ashley’s life today. I also read up on David Castor Sr. — the second of Stacey’s two husbands — to find out whether he deserved the unflattering portrayal of him in the made-for-TV movie.
So let’s get going on the recap of “Freeze Framed” from season 14 of Forensic Files.
Stacey Ruth Daniels was born on July 24, 1967 and grew up in the area around Syracuse, New York.
As a child, Stacey was bold and inquisitive, her mother, Judie Eaton, told ABC’s David Muir during the “Black Widow” episode of 20/20. “She was only allowed three why’s in a day sometimes,” Judie said.
Stacey acknowledged she could be difficult. “I was very stubborn and headstrong, even as a kid, so my mom had her work cut out,” Stacey told ABC.
According to information available on Murderpedia, Stacey was just 17 when she met Mike Wallace, and the two married young.
Stacey worked for an ambulance dispatch company. Mike was a mechanic.
They had Ashley in 1988 and Bree in 1991.
Sadly, Mike died of a heart attack at the age of 38. Stacey said that he had a bad heart and had struggled with drug and alcohol dependence. Mike’s side of the family believed his health declined because of some kind of mystery illness. They had seen him looking unsteady and suffering from coughing, swelling, and purpled skin.
The family wanted an autopsy. Stacey vetoed the idea.
She had him buried in a grave next to a plot she bought for herself.
Stacey took her daughters to Disney World after Mike Wallace died. Bree said that the three survivors were close and enjoyed good clean fun at home, watching TV and generally acting like three best pals, just as Poisoned Love portrayed them.
At some point, Stacey got a job as an office manager at Liverpool Heating and Air Conditioning, owned by a divorcé named David Castor Sr.
David Castor Sr. made himself a nice living. During his Forensic Files interview, his adult son, David Jr., noted that his dad had high standards for workmanship.
David Jr. was the product of David Sr.’s longtime marriage to his high school sweetheart. The younger Castor described home life as happy with a lot of togetherness.
Things deteriorated, however, after David Sr. injured his head in an ATV accident and his personality changed, according to his son.
“He didn’t have a lot of consideration of people that he loved [and how] what he said would make them feel,” David Jr. told ABC. “I believe what made my mom leave is not only the way it made her feel, but made everybody that she loved feel.”
The father and son became alienated. David Sr. found comfort in his relationship with Stacey.
In 2003, the two got married. Stacey, Ashley, and Bree moved into his house.
The TV movie portrayed David Sr. as an aspiring disciplinarian (which always goes over so well with stepchildren) who punished one of the girls by removing her bedroom door.
It’s not clear whether that particular incident happened in real life, but he got pretty low marks overall as a stepparent, according to 20/20. The girls said that, on one hand, he told them that he didn’t want to be a father to them, but on the other, he liked to boss them around a lot.
But Bree and Ashley didn’t have to contend with him for long. On August 22, 2005, Stacey called 911 from the Castors’ home in Onondaga County, New York. (Media sources vary on the towns where she lived and came from. Salina, Clay, and Liverpool were all mentioned.)
Stacey told first responders that David Sr. had recently lost his father and was very sad.
“David got upset, took a bottle of Southern Comfort, went into the bedroom and locked himself in and got drunk — wouldn’t come out,” Stacey explained, according to Sergeant Michael Norton with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, as recounted in The Sun in a July 22, 2022 story.
She said her husband stayed in the bedroom all weekend.
When a police officer kicked the door in, he discovered David Castor naked and face down on the bed. He had vomited.
He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Two drinking glasses, one with a green liquid, sat on the night table.
An empty bottle of antifreeze lay on the floor. A lab found antifreeze in the green liquid in the glass. Oh, and there was a turkey baster with traces of antifreeze in the kitchen.
It turned out that David Sr., then 48, had no alcohol in his system. He died from ingesting ethylene glycol, the poisonous compound in antifreeze. Investigators thought it unlikely that David Sr. would choose to kill himself slowly by ingesting antifreeze from a glass and a baster when the Castors had a gun in the house.
Lead detective Dominick Spinelli found it suspicious when Stacey casually let on that she knew that the poison ethylene glycol was the main component of antifreeze. That part didn’t seem like a red flag to me. If she claimed she didn’t know, he might have suspected her of lying because a bottle of the stuff with its ingredients clearly listed was in her bedroom.
What really tripped her up regarding the antifreeze was that she mispronounced it as “antifree.” But that’s getting a little ahead of the story.
After David Castor’s death, detectives tapped Stacey’s phone line.
On September 5, 2007, the authorities upped the stakes by having the body of first husband Mike Wallace exhumed. “I remember thinking, while Michael Wallace’s casket came out of the ground, I wonder if he’s saying, ‘It’s about time you guys are looking at this, because I didn’t just die on my own,’” Spinelli told ABC.
The medical examiner found calcium oxalate crystals in his organs, a sign of ethylene glycol poisoning. The crystals can stay in a dead body for years.
On Ashley’s first day of college, investigators came to tell her that Mike Wallace — her biological father — died of antifreeze poisoning, not a heart attack. Investigators recorded the phone call she made to her mother.
“Mommy, they came to my freaking school,” Ashley said. “I’m freaking out.”
Stacey began to panic as well — she sensed that police were circling in on her.
So Stacey suggested that she and Ashley indulge in a little mother-daughter drinking to take the edge off. Stacey picked up some watermelon-mimosa flavored Smirnoff Ice. Ashley would later say that it was the first time her mother had encouraged her to drink alcohol. And the beverage tasted “nasty,” but at the time she had no reason to suspect her mother of trying to harm her. They were best friends.
The Smirnoff Ice made Ashley feel ill, so her mother gave her a pill to help her sleep, according to ABC. Ashley went back to school the next day.
Next up, Stacey proposed another home cocktail hour, except with hard liquor. Investigators would later allege that she knocked out Ashley with drugs secretly mixed in a drink of vodka, orange juice, and Sprite. She used a teaspoon to get more of the tainted drink down Ashley’s throat, according to the Journal News.
Fortunately, Bree discovered her older sister unresponsive but alive in bed the following morning. She alerted Stacey, who then had no choice but to call 911. Ashley received medical treatment in the nick of time, only to wake up to a detective asking about a suicide note of which she had no knowledge.
Stacey had told authorities that Ashley took morphine and codeine on her own and left a 750-word suicide note confessing to the murders of Mike Wallace and David Castor Sr. Next to Ashley’s bed, there were empty bottles of sleeping pills and vodka.
The motive? According to Stacey, Ashley resented Mike because Bree was his favorite. And Ashley wanted to get rid of David Sr. because he was mistreating Stacey.
But Ashley, who was 12 when Mike Wallace died, told David Muir that they had a good relationship. He went on Girl Scout outings with her and helped her win badges. And while her stepfather might have been difficult, she didn’t kill him.
Forensic examination of the home computer revealed that the suicide-confession letter was written while Ashley was in school.
The note misspelled “antifreeze” as “antifree,” suggesting that Stacey penned it. When interviewed, Stacey allegedly slipped up and said that she gave David Castor the antifreeze—mispronouncing it as “antifree”— although she quickly corrected herself, saying that she gave him cranberry juice.
As one YouTube commenter put it, “Anti-free made Stacey Castor anti-free.” (It’s strange that Stacy never caught on about the “ze” at the end of the word. Maybe she thought “antifreeze” was a plural form.)
Stacey, who received more than $50,000 from her first husband’s death, had about $200,000 to gain via property and insurance from David Castor Sr.’s demise. Hence she joined another Forensic Files club, that of killers who get away with one murder and push their luck by committing another (Mark Winger, Tim Scoggin) out of greed.
David Sr. “had motorcycles, jet skis, snowmobiles, a house, a business,” ex-wife Janice Poissant Farmer told ABC. “And I figure that Stacey just had made plans to take it all.” Stacey started redecorating the house after David Sr. died.
She produced a fake will that left everything to her and her daughters and nothing to David Jr., who apparently had reconciled with David Sr. by this time.
Investigators believe Stacey got David Sr. to drink the antifreeze disguised as something innocuous. When it didn’t kill him right away, she used the turkey baster to force more of the toxic liquid into his mouth while he was incapacitated.
At Stacey’s trial in 2009, Ashley told the court about the strange-tasting alcoholic beverages her mother gave her. Bree also testified for the prosecution.
Prosecutor William Fitzpatrick said that Stacey, having worked for a paramedical company, knew that David Castor and Ashley Wallace needed medical help immediately, but she chose not to summon it in a timely fashion.
Fitzpatrick, who introduced the word “vomitus” into the Forensic Files lexicon, also pointed out that the confession note spelled antifreeze wrong in the same way (“antifree”) four times — and that Stacey said “antifree” when questioned. Stacey said she deliberately cut off the “ze” because she interrupted herself with another thought.
In return for immunity, Stacey’s friends Lynn and Paul Pulaski testified that Stacey persuaded them to act as false witnesses to the signing of the phony David Castor Sr. will.
When Stacey took the stand, she insisted that Ashley killed Mike Wallace and David Castor Sr.
In February 2009, after days of deliberation, the jury found Stacey guilty of murder in the second degree, attempted murder in the second degree, and filing a bogus will. According to The Journal News:
“There was a loud gasp from the front row where Wallace sat with her younger sister and other members of the Wallace and Castor families. The relatives shared a round of hugs…’There isn’t enough punishment but we’ll take what they give her,’ David Castor Jr. said. A sobbing Ashley Wallace left the courthouse without comment.”
“If there is a ceiling on the terms of evil, [Stacey] is at the ceiling,” prosecutor William Fitzpatrick said after the verdict.
During her victim impact statement at the sentencing, Ashley Wallace said she couldn’t understand why her mother did what she did. “There are so many things that she has ruined,” Ashley said. “She’ll never be able to see Bree graduate. My father will never walk me down the aisle. She’ll never get to see her grandchildren. All these things, she took away from me.”
Onondaga County Judge Joseph Fahey said that he had never seen a parent willing to sacrifice a child in order to escape blame.
After telling Stacey that “you are in a class all by yourself,” the judge gave her a sentence of a minimum of 50 years.
The authorities saw no need to try Stacey, then in her late 40s, for Mike Wallace’s murder. “In light of her age,” Fitzpatrick said, “it is very likely she will die in prison.”
Meanwhile, Stacey’s lawyer, Charles Keller, complained that the evidence about Mike Wallace’s death shouldn’t have been allowed and that it was “piling on” Stacey.
In reality, Stacey was probably the one who had been piling on — piling on more victims. In 2010, Fitzpatrick told CNYcentral.com that his office was looking into the 2002 death of Stacey’s father, Jerry Daniels. He reportedly died after Stacey brought him an open bottle of soda to drink while visiting him in the hospital.
So what happened to Stacey Castor’s surviving victims?
Ashley is still living in central New York and is engaged. According to OprahDaily.com, she credited her counselor, doctor, and loved ones for helping her survive the trauma without turning to substance abuse. But Ashley has also said that she wishes the media attention would stop and that she hopes no more shows are made about the case.
David Castor Jr. and his mother, Janice Poissant Farmer, sued Stacey and the Pulaskis. In 2011, the state Supreme Court awarded them $127,118.65 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. An appellate court overturned over the judgment in 2014.
Stacey’s lawyer, who went on to run for County Court Judge, would later say that he had no regrets about representing her. “I measure success by professionalism, ethics, and hard work,” Charles Keller said in March 2016, noting that sometimes legal professionals have to take unpopular positions.
But no lawyer would ever have to worry about Stacy Castor’s litigation needs again.
In June 2016, she was found unresponsive in her cell at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Westchester County, NY. Numerous media accounts reported that she died of natural causes, probably a heart attack because an autopsy showed she had an enlarged heart.
Local reporter Russ Tarby noted surprise that she had a heart at all.
That’s all for this post. Until next time, cheers. — RR
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