With her son frolicking in the background, Laura Buckingham allegedly paid a hitman $3,000 to kill the boy’s father.
“I want him gone,” Buckingham, a 29-year-old Marine, allegedly told him in February inside her Kingston, Tennessee, home. “I want him out of the picture.”
Want it to look like an accident? That would cost more, the hitman told her.
“You’re sure this is what you want?” he kept drilling Buckingham.
“Yes,” she replied.
The target was Buckingham’s ex-boyfriend, Brad Sutherland.
“It was supposed to happen Wednesday night; that’s when the assassin was supposed to come kill me,” he told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview, days after he learned his ex tried to end his life.
Sutherland learned he would die on Feb. 24.
“He was supposed to either do it when I left for work or on my way home,” Sutherland, 31, said.
A few days later, the hitman returned to Buckingham’s home with photos that showed her dead ex-fiancé. Laura paid him the rest of his fee for a job well done.
Unbeknownst to her, police in Louisville, Kentucky, staged the mock assassination with Sutherland inside a parking garage.
The hitman was an undercover agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
“When they brought me down to the police station and told me about this, the first thing I said is, ‘I’m being punked,’” Sutherland said.
Then Sutherland asked about the fee.
“$3,000,” they told him.
“Are you fucking kidding me? My life’s only worth $3,000?” he gripes today.
“It’s like a fucking used-car lot,” Sutherland continued. “Like bring us your tax check and we’ll get you a car—only this is more like bring us your tax check and we’ll assassinate your ex-fiancé.”
The dark humor disappeared as soon as he thought about his son.
“When the guy went to show the photos of my dead body—my son’s right there,” Sutherland said, his voice cracking. “The fact that she would let a hired killer into the house while my son is there hurts me more than taking an attempt on my life.”
Authorities arrested Buckingham on Feb. 24 and charged her with criminal intent to commit first-degree murder at the end of the operation that began when Buckingham’s boyfriend, Joseph Chamblin, told them of her murder-for-hire plot.
He was offered the job first.
Roane County Deputy Sheriff Tim Phillips told The Daily Beast that Buckingham chose Chamblin to help her take out Sutherland because “she knew he’d been in the military in the past, that he was a Marine Corps sniper, and she felt that maybe he had friends that he had served with and would make her boyfriend disappear.”
Sutherland was told by Chamblin he was asked first, but told Buckingham, “I don’t think that would be a very good idea. But I might know someone, though.”
The sniper expressed fears for “his and his children’s safety due to the fact that she has become serious about this,” and that is why he ran to authorities, the incident report states.
Chamblin is an unlikely hero.
In 2011, Sgt. Chamblin was one of four Marines seen urinating on Taliban corpses in Afghanistan. After an honorable discharge and reduction in rank, he co-authored Into Infamy (which he describes as breaking “his silence in order to ensure his Marines’ stories are told”) and hawks T-shirts for $20 apiece featuring a jaundice-colored, faceless human figure in the crosshairs next to all-capped slogans: “KEEP CALM PISS ON” and “SMILE! I’LL MAKE YOU FAMOUS!!!”
The incident report suggests Buckingham feared Sutherland “may try to take her to court to obtain full custody of their son.”
Buckingham made a hasty decision to abandon New Albany, Indiana, and her Bread and Breakfast Bakery job to join Chamblin in Tennessee. She was “irritated” with the weekly long-distance treks to Indiana and back, Chamblin told the sheriff’s department.
Back in January, when Buckingham started tossing around the idea of making Sutherland “go away,” Chamblin initially thought she was “blowing off steam.”
But Buckingham wouldn’t let up. She kept broaching killing Sutherland “for almost a month,” the report claims and assumed she would “not be implicated” if she was spared “any of the details.”
Her plan, the report states, was to snuff Sutherland and then “set [Chamblin] up to take the fall for it if something did go wrong.”
Chamblin was already working Buckingham.
He’d confided to sheriffs about his girlfriend’s death wish and offered the recorded conversations to back it up.
Chief Phillips applauds the Marine for preventing certain bloodshed.
“If she had gone to another source, they may have been able to complete this particular mission.”
Since his pregnant girlfriend was booked for attempted murder, Chamblin has scrubbed all images of them together and publicly shunned reporters.
“I just want to get back to work now, man,” he said.
Buckingham’s dad, Ron Buckingham, is convinced his daughter was coerced.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that somebody was provoking this,” he said. “There are people out there that will say nothing but positive things about Laura, that’s for sure. And she’s loved and cared for by her family.”
When Sutherland met Buckingham, she was grappling with all kinds of trauma—from being molested as a child to coping with returning from serving in combat, Sutherland said.
He saw Buckingham’s post-traumatic stress firsthand, like the time he was playing a shoot’em-up videogame.
“She came to me and said ‘What the fuck are you playing?’” And when he told her it was a videogame, she said, “I’m sorry, you got to turn that off.”
“I would never play any kind of game like that around her again,” he said.
Buckingham had been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, and yet it appeared as recently as last year that she was unraveling.
Sutherland remembered receiving a phone call in the middle of the night from Buckingham’s mom, Debra, saying her daughter destroyed her apartment “and there was a shotgun and chairs everywhere.”
Buckingham grew up boxing in Eureka, California. The petite pugilist earned top marks at a local Tough Man competition and caught the eye of promoters who wanted to put her on an undercard bout against Tonya Harding.
“It was before a major match. They wanted her to fight Tonya Harding because they were both small,” a source said.
The match never happened.
But Sutherland says while Laura Buckingham boxed in the Golden Gloves circuit she was no amateur.
“You’ve never been hit by her,” he said.
He traced back to when they were out on the town and Buckingham “got whiskey drunk.” Sutherland asked her if a female friend could join them. They would all enjoy a fun night. Pulling into the driveway, Buckingham accused her man for having a wandering eye. There was no sexual innuendo at all, according to Sutherland. They merely hung out with the the woman, a bartender, then gave her a lift home.
“All of a sudden it was ‘You want to fuck her, don’t you?’”
“She hit me once and it was her yelling at me, ‘Come on and be a fucking man. Hit me like a man!’”
Sutherland refused, saying, “I’m not going to hit you.”
“She hit me again,” he said, causing a black eye and once more busting his lip.
He returned that night to find his guitar reduced to a pile of splinters and strings, and Buckingham bellowing, “Just fucking leave.”
After only a few months together, Sutherland wanted to call it quits.
With the words “I’m done” ready on the tip of his tongue, he stalled.
“I noticed a pregnancy test sticking out of her bag and I picked it up and looked at it and she came back from the store and was like ‘Uh?!’”
Despite wanting to break it off, Sutherland decided to give it another try and they were soon making wedding plans.
Their September wedding date was called off after Buckingham was caught canoodling with a local narcotics detective and Army Ranger veteran named Gary Humphrey, Sutherland said.
“We had a decent relationship, but she was missing that I wasn’t in the service,” Sutherland said.
A fellow officer accused Humphrey of breaking into Buckingham’s bakery, whereupon he found her and another man having sex upstairs.
Buckingham didn’t stay single for long, hitting it off with Chamblin soon after and even introducing him to Sutherland.
“She told me, ‘I’ve been dating this guy for a little while now and I want to introduce him to [our son],’” Sutherland recalled.
“From the get-go, I liked him,” he said, of the man who would go on to save his life.
Sutherland checked online and discovered Chamblin’s sordid past in Afghanistan, but told himself, “Whatever, everybody has a past.”
That Chamblin went out of his way to protect him from the hit ordered by his girlfriend took guts, Sutherland said.
“I trusted him and I still trust him. I owe the guy my life.”
A member of Buckingham’s family doesn’t agree though.
“It was a setup,” the source said. “It was his money that he handed the undercover. He set up the meeting.
“It was Joe who knew he was losing her and so if he can’t have her he wanted nobody to have her. So he planted the seeds from the beginning that got her to this point.”
The source suggested that the way to win over Buckingham was to “make it so she thinks it’s her idea.”
Sutherland said that Buckingham’s beauty allows her to “go through guys” and while “she doesn’t trust guys at all... she can have whoever she wants.”
That gimme mind-set means Buckingham wouldn’t kowtow.
“She’s never been the type to be a follower,” he said. “She’s not the kind of person to follow along somebody else’s plot.”
Sutherland has full confidence in Chamblin’s good intentions.
“I don’t think Joe steered her in any direction to make this call,” he said. “My son has spent a lot time with him and speaks highly about him.”
Sutherland was granted sole custody of their son, according to Floyd County family court (Buckingham appeared via telephone for the hearing).
Buckingham was released from jail on $150,000 bond last month and is due in court for a preliminary hearing on May 2. Calls to Buckingham and her public defender were not returned.
As far as what Buckingham’s punishment might be, the would-be victim wants her to do hard time and then maybe get treatment at a mental hospital.
“I would like her to be in jail for a while for my personal comfort,” Sutherland said. “I haven’t slept much.”
Sutherland said he believes now that Buckingham’s actions were desperate.
“She wanted him to be with her,” he said. “And she knew the only way to get her son was to take me out of the picture.”
As for their son, he’s safe with his daddy, but his mommy isn’t around. “I told him, ‘Mommy’s new job is going to keep her busy for a while and we probably won’t see Mommy because she’s going to be working a lot.’”
The toddler shrugged and said, “OK.”