A Black Widow? New Details in the Peggy Sue Thomas 'Drop-Dead Gorgeous' Murder Case

Ms. Washington 2000
Among the mysteries in the case of Peggy Sue Thomas, the ex-beauty queen awaiting trial for the 2003 Whidbey Island shooting of her friend's estranged husband Russel Douglas, was what role the friend - Brenna Douglas, the dead man's widow - might have played in the murder-for-hire hit. She insists she had no part in the shooting. But it's clear from recently opened police files that investigators suspected Brenna Douglas was hiding the truth from them.

Thomas, 46, the tall, red-headed Ms. Washington 2000 who was formerly married to an Alaska oilman whose horse won the 2009 Kentucky Derby, has fingered her Las Vegas boyfriend James Huden as the gunman, and claims she had nothing to do with the island shooting.

Investigators, however, call the "Drop-Dead Gorgeous" case a contract kill to collect on 32-year-old Russ Douglas's $500,000 insurance money. Prosecutors implicated - but never charged - the widow as a shadowy third figure behind the Christmastime murder.

The case also has a complicated international trail of evidence and witnesses extending from Whidbey to Mexico, where Huden, a music teacher and guitarist with a band called Buck Naked and the Xhibitionists, hid out under the name Maestro Jim for six years before his arrest last summer. A witness from New Mexico supplied the murder weapon, an East Coast man said Huden confessed to him, and Huden's Florida wife claimed that both her husband and Thomas confessed to her.

Now, according to a lengthy report by the South Whidbey Record, based on newly obtained sheriff's investigative files, Huden's wife Jean also clamed the widow was in on it.

As Brian Kelly reports, Jean Huden told detectives that her husband admitted "he and Peggy and Brenna" planned the shooting, and that ex-beauty queen Thomas also told her that Brenna was supposed to share the insurance money with Jim Huden and Thomas.

"Brenna," Jean Huden told investigators, "wanted to be rid of her husband, Jim wanted some money because, you know, he was pretty much tapping me dry, and knew that [she] was going to run out soon, and ah, Peggy would of done anything for Jim."

When detectives when to Brenna's home to tell her that her husband had been murdered, "Brenna seemed calm," one wrote in a report, "showing little concern for why we were there at such a late hour wanting to talk to her about her husband."

Once they told her, "She did not ask why he was dead, how did he die, where he was when he died or any other question of concern about his death," the detective wrote.

The case files reveal that another witnesses, the East Coast man, says Jim Huden also named Brenna as being in on the murder plot. Detectives also learned that Russ Douglas, to his wife's apparent dismay, had a boyfriend.

Nonetheless, Brenna Douglas, who has since moved off the island, adamantly denies she was involved in killing him. As Seattle Weekly reported in November, she said in a statement, that "I am in no way responsible for the death of my husband. I had no involvement in the murder, and there cannot possibly be a scintilla of evidence that proves otherwise, because none exists."

Greg Banks, the Island County prosecutor, originally labeled Douglas one of the "accomplices." But when challenged by Douglas in court as she moved to collect on her husband's insurance, he backed off. (Douglas was ultimately able to collect on only $200,000 of her husband's $500,000 worth of policies).

Banks last year told the Weekly Douglas was still part of his bigger picture. "She's linked in a variety of ways: victim, survivor, and also someone who was looked at as a strong person of interest. We have several theories about her involvement, but I will reserve discussing them."

The mystery might finally be cleared up in May, when Thomas is set to go on trial for first-degree murder. Huden's trial was recently pushed back to October after he obtained a new attorney.

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