I wish I saw things the way other people do. I really do.

The other day, I was driving down the highway when I noticed a firewood stand on the side of the road. For most passersby, they’d simply see a man standing by the road selling wood. That’s not what I saw. Not at all.

I saw a young couple buying kindling to burn the body of a man they’d murdered.

In truth, there was no one there. Not a single customer.

So why did I see what I saw?

Because I spent nearly 10 years writing true crime books. And though I haven’t written a true crime book in nearly 10 years, the murders still haunt me. Indeed, they taint me.

You see, in my book Wages of Sin, Stephanie Martin and Will Busenburg murdered Christopher Michael Hatton, then hauled his body to a lakeside park where they placed his corpse over firewood they had purchased, doused it all with lighter fluid, and torched it all in an attempt to hide their crime.

That’s why whenever I see firewood, I see Stephanie and Will and think of Chris.

You may have read Wages of Sin where I gave Stephanie approximately 60 pages to tell her side of the story and where she denies killing Chris, but admits to mutilating his body. Or you may have come across her on some of the various prisoner pen pal websites such as www.writeaprisoner.com. Or watched the story of Stephanie, Will, and Chris on Investigation Discovery’s Deadly Sins where Stephanie is depicted as the killer.

(When Stephanie was questioned by investigators, she confessed to the murder, then denied it. She later pleaded guilty, then denied she was the killer.)

After the Wages of Sin/Deadly Sins episode aired, I heard from Stephanie’s mother, who was very displeased with my appearance on the show and what I had to say about Stephanie and the case. She said I was not fair and unbiased and that she could assure me that every word Stephanie told me was the truth. “She did not kill Chris Hatton,” Mrs. Martin wrote. “She and we (all her family) have suffered much, too, and our lives will never be the same again.”

Certainly, that last sentence is the truth.

The following month, I received a three page letter from Stephanie, also expressing her unhappiness with me. She complained that I’d told her and others that I’d felt the need to tell the stories truthfully, but that I hadn’t. “I’m the opposite of all the adjectives your book, web site [sic] blogs, that show on the ID chanel [sic], and those shallow, judgemental [sic] readers and viewers say I am. You can judge how you want of my crime – it was horrible and I became a different person with Will. But don’t refer to me after almost 20 years as these same things. ‘Stripper killer’, ‘seductress’, ‘fantasized about killing people’; and the comment you made twice about my penpal [sic] site, claiming I’ve had ads on the internet for as long as you’ve known me and ‘I’m trolling the internet for benefactors.’ Really?”

For the record, I don’t recall ever calling her a seductress and Stephanie is the first one who told me she was on the pen pal websites and why she was there.

In fact, in her letter, she stated, “Do you even know how inmates in TDC [Texas Department of Corrections] make it in here? They either have someone who sends them money, or they hustle for what they need. We aren’t paid a cent, nor provided with enough by the state to get by.”

She also complained that “these cheezy [sic] shows” and I only focus on the crime, rather than focusing on what the convicts have done with their lives since. She talked too about how such shows – and I presume true crime books – don’t help the victims’ families as they have to “continuously see the awfulness of the crime and the perpetrators.”

Chris Hatton and his then fiance Lisa Pace. Photo courtesy of Lisa Pace.

And there, I have to agree with Stephanie on the murder of Chris Hatton. While some friends and family members of some true crime books I’ve written have helped me with and supported my books (including Wages of Sin), and while some family members of other murder victims have pleaded with me to write books about their lost loved ones so that their loved ones are not forgotten, in the case of Chris Hatton, I learned after the 2013 airing of Deadly Sins, that the immediate family was very much against the book.

Brian Hatton, Chris’s younger brother, who also appeared on Deadly Sins, posted on my Facebook page that he wishes I’d never written Wages of Sin, because it makes him have to relive the nightmare of Chris’s murder.

A friend of Brian and Chris’s mother also posted on my Facebook page stating that at Brian’s and his mother’s cost “people are getting entertainment from the horrible way in which this young man was murdered.”

There are no words or actions that can erase what I’ve done and alleviate Brian’s pain or his mother’s. Saying I’m sorry is not enough.

So when Stephanie wrote me that it’s not fair that she received 50 years for Chris’s murder and Will Busenburg only received 40, that it’s not fair that I portrayed her as the shooter (I didn’t and never have because I don’t know for fact who pulled the trigger), and that I don’t care about her feelings, at this point, she’s right. I don’t care. I know I should because my faith is about caring for every child, but I don’t.

What I do care about is Brian Hatton’s feelings. And maybe that’s why I don’t see things the way other people do. I don’t want to forget what Stephanie Martin and Will Busenburg did. I don’t want to forget Chris Hatton. So whenever I drive by a firewood stand on the side of the road, I think about them.

I don’t want to. But I do.

Suzy Spencer is a New York Times best-selling author and journalist.
  1. Pingback: “Deadly Sins”/”Wages of Sin” | Suzy Spencer

  2. Angela Reply
    Unfortunately Suzy once one knows what really lives in the dark corners of the human heart once can't "unknow" it. After spending more than 12 years of my career working in the corrections field I have seen a lot of dark hearts and tattered souls. I understand what darkness lies within all of us and what happens when one decides to open that internal door to darkness, invite it out to play without any rules and then discover the darkness chooses to not return behind that door. It is a steep price to pay to know how to see the full picture of human nature but humanity needs those folks who are willing to shine some light into the darkness and stand vigilant and willing to warn others about what lies behind that door to darkness. It is a battle scar you earned. Like all scars it hurts sometimes but it also serves as a reminder to see the true nature of things and as a memorial to those who fell as prey to the darkness within the human heart.
  3. Lee Ann Primeau Reply
    I never met Christopher Hatton, but I can say that after reading the book "Wages of Sin," I have thought of him often and will remember him as a sweet, gentle, young man who was taken from this life much too soon. I think it was very important for this story to be told. May Stephanie Martin and Will Busenberg remain in prison. Christopher Hatton lives on in the hearts of his family, his friends, and of many others who never knew him but were touched after reading this book.
  4. Peggie Reply
    Dear Suzy, I enjoy your books and writing and I can say that I am one of your biggest fans! As far as Stephanie Martin goes ,I finally have seen a case where the woman DOES NOT receive a lighter sentence than the man! It is infuriating to me since my step-mother shot and killed my father and walked away from it! Talk about being sensitive to any case where the murderer walks due to being female. Referring back to perhaps your most famous book, "WASTED" that b*tch (excuse my language but there is no other word) she should be sitting on Justin's lap when he gets his hot shot!!!Thanks for letting me get that off my chest, Thanks for sharing your talent with us too. Sincerely,Peggie Staples
    • Suzy Reply
      Everyone is welcome to vent here, Peggie. I'm so very very sorry about your dad. Very sorry. And thank you for liking my books. That means so much coming from a victim of a horrible crime.
  5. Martin Kaelli Reply
    HI Suzy I haven't read the book yet (though I did order it through Amazon--shameless plug for you both). You say that "saying sorry isn't enough." My question is have you said you're sorry, to Brian, his mother, their family? You've profited from their pain, but have you contributed some of those proceeds to their healing process? Perhaps the Hatton family is also from a strong religious background that is struggling to find the strength within to forgive both Stephanie and Will and your efforts amounted to poking a stick into wound that no one expects to completely heal. You say that you don't want to forget this crime. I for one am saying that maybe you should because this is not your cross to bear.
  6. Michael Reply
    The Martin case is so sad. I lived in Austin 84-87, and since I left so many violent crimes have happened there. I would expect this kind of crime in Dallas or Houston . Austin is now like the rest of America now--senseless crimes for no reason at all.

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