In September 2015, a frantic 911 call from Thomas Clayton led the authorities to his residence in the town of Caton, New York. Inside, they found his wife, Kelley, brutally beaten to death. NBC News’ ‘Dateline: The House in the Woods’ focuses on a shocking case of murder-for-hire where heavy circumstantial evidence led to the conviction of the people involved. So, if you’re curious about what happened, we’ve got you covered.
How Did Kelley Clayton Die?
Kelley Stage was the youngest of three children born and raised in Elmira, New York. She graduated high school in 1998 and was described by loved ones as a pretty and sassy woman who loved to dance. After moving to Las Vegas, Nevada, Kelley worked as a teacher and later a cocktail waitress for a while. She then met Thomas Clayton, who was a hockey player at the time. Thus, Kelley moved back to her hometown to start a new life with her love. She and Thomas eventually had two kids together and settled in Caton.
Sometime after midnight on September 29, 2015, Thomas returned from a friend’s house to find Kelley in the kitchen, dead and covered in blood. He called 911 immediately, and the authorities soon descended on the place. The 35-year-old woman suffered severe blunt force trauma in the head and face. After the police began an investigation, the evidence at the house didn’t line up with a robbery. But it was scarcely believable when it came to light that Kelley was a victim of a murder-for-hire plot.
Who Killed Kelley Clayton?
The investigators noticed there were no signs of forced entry into the house. Since nothing else was missing, it didn’t seem like a crime of opportunity. The crime scene showed signs of a struggle in the upstairs bedroom, and Kelley appeared to fall down the stairs. The attack culminated in the kitchen, where she was found sprawled. Suspicion fell on Thomas immediately, and the investigation soon revealed some unsettling developments.
At the time of the incident, Thomas was at a friend’s place for poker night. The police learned that he placed a call from his friend’s wife’s phone just before 11 pm on September 28, 2015. The call went to a man named Michael Beard. This person used to work for one of Thomas’ companies but was fired just weeks prior. Upon further investigation, phone records did place the two of them in contact in the days leading up to the murder.
The authorities further learned that while Kelley and Thomas seemed to have the perfect relationship on the surface, it wasn’t the case in reality. He had been unfaithful to Kelley and often complained about her. While Thomas wanted out of the marriage, he didn’t think divorce was an option. Then, Luke Tetrault, a colleague, became an essential piece of the investigation. On September 26, 2015, Luke went to the Claytons’ home to pick up a four-wheeler for a weekend event. Two days later, Thomas suggested switching vehicles to make unloading the four-wheeler easier.
Surveillance video on September 28, 2015, from ServPro, a place where Thomas worked, showed him leaving Luke’s truck and taking a company vehicle instead. Then, Thomas returned home and headed to his friend’s place to play poker. Once Michael was under custody, he confessed to having killed Kelley with a maul handle in exchange for $10,000. However, he later recanted his statement, saying Thomas only asked him to burn the house down and not kill anyone.
Even with Michael’s credibility hurt, the prosecution believed there was enough for Thomas’ conviction. Apart from witness testimony pointing to an unhappy marriage, cellphone data proved crucial. The data showed that Thomas and Michael were in Elmira on September 21, 2015, when the authorities believed the murder was initially supposed to happen. Furthermore, there was an indication that Michael left home after getting a call from Thomas. Ultimately, circumstantial evidence was enough to convict Thomas and Michael, sending them away for life.
Read More: Where is Thomas Clayton Now?