Kelley Clayton was murdered in her upstate New York home in September 2015. Investigators eventually learned that her death was the result of a murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by her husband, Thomas, who was known in the area for being a former minor league hockey player.
Tonight, ABC News 20/20 will examine the case, focusing on the trials of Thomas and hitman Michael Beard, who were convicted of first and second-degree murder in Kelley’s death.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Couple Met in Las Vegas
Kelley was born and raised in Elmina, New York. Growing up, she was a gifted athlete and was popular.
Kelley eventually moved to Las Vegas, where she became a cocktail waitress. It wasn’t long before she met Thomas Clayton, a semi-pro hockey player for the Elmira Jackals. Together, the two lived in North Carolina for five years before relocating back to Kelley’s hometown of Elmira.
In 2012, they purchased a home on Ginnan Road where they would raise their two children.
A friend of Kelley’s tells ABC News, “She loved her kids. She loved her husband. She loved her life.”
Behind closed doors, however, the life the family was living was not nearly as magical as it may have seemed from the outside.
During Michael Beard’s trial in 2016, three women testified that they had sexual relationships with Thomas while he was married, according to Spectrum Local News. The women said that Thomas would complain about Kelley, and say that he was going to leave her. In some circumstances, he even called her “ungrateful” and a “bitch”.
The Star Gazette reports, “Cellphone records indicate that even as Clayton was exchanging seemingly loving text messages with Kelley only a few days before her murder, he was alternately sending sexually-charged messages to another woman.”
2. Thomas Paid Beard $10,000 to Kill His Wife
Kelly was beaten to death with a fiberglass maul handle.
There were no signs of forced entry or robbery at the scene, which was the first indication that, perhaps, Kelley’s husband had something to do with it.
Speaking to ABC News, Donald Lewis, an investigator for the Steuben County Sheriff’s Office, shared “This was an extremely brutal attack, a very gruesome situation.” He added, “[It was] some sort of attack in the upstairs area down the hallways,” he continued. “Down the stairs, there was a hole in the sheet rock at the bottom of the stairs and a blood trail that ended at Mrs. Clayton’s body in the kitchen area.”
As investigators eventually learned, Thomas Clayton was responsible for his wife’s death; he had hired a man named Michael Beard to carry out her murder. And he did so for the price of $10,000.
3. Thomas’ Daughter’s Statement Helped Lead to His Arrest
What police did focus on were the words of Charlie, Clayton’s daughter, who told Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard she “saw a man ‘hurting mommy'” on the night of the murder according to ABC News.
Speaking on 20/20, Allard shares, “She told me that, ‘a man was hurting mommy. He did this and he did that.’ So finally I said, ‘How do you know it’s a he?’ And she said, ‘Because his eyes look just like daddy’s.’ And that was a chilling moment for me.”
Charlie was able to give the details of what exactly happened that night, up to when her mother was running down the hallway being chased by a man and yelling at her, “Run, Charlie, Run!” Charlie was also to identify what the “man” who hurt her mother was wearing that night.
Speaking to 20/20, Allard says that Charlie shared, “Everything was ‘just like daddy’. Every question I asked her related back to daddy and then she looks at me. She goes, ‘But it couldn’t have been daddy because then who would take care of us?’”
4. Thomas Was Arrested on Sept. 29 2015
With the help of Charlie’s statement, Thomas Clayton was arrested on September 29, 2015.
News that Thomas was potentially responsible for his wife’s death confused many, as he was the one who made the frantic phone call to the police saying his wife had been beaten to death.
After his arrest, Charlie and Cullen were sent to live with their aunt, Kim.
ABC writes, “During an interview with police, Michael Beard, who had recently been fired at the same company where Thomas Clayton worked, confessed to investigators that his former boss had asked him to kill Kelley and burn the house down so Clayton could collect the insurance money. Beard never ended up setting the house on fire.” It is fortunate that Beard did not set the house on fire that night, as both Charlie and Cullen were inside.
Today, the children are still scarred by the situation. Kim Bourgeois tells ABC, “Charlie still does not speak of it. She rarely talks about her mom. It’s too painful… Cullen still cries out at night ‘I miss my mommy. I want my mommy.’”
5. Clayton & Beard Are Serving Life Sentences Without the Possibility of Parole
Both Thomas Clayton and Michael Beard were convicted of first and second-degree murder and are now serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Clayton has appealed his case, arguing that the prosecution was not able to prove his responsibility in his wife’s death.
Beard reportedly intends on appealing his case. “He says that Charlie’s description of the killer having ‘eyes like daddy’ clears him because he is a 6-foot-1, 200-pound African-American man who looks nothing like Thomas Clayton,” according to ABC News.
The clothing that he was found in the night of the murder, however, perfectly matches Charlie’s description. Beard was also able to lead police to the murder weapon.
Watch the full story on “20/20” tonight, Nov. 2, at 10 p.m. ET