Investigation Discovery’s ‘Fear Thy Neighbor: Red Picket Fences’ features how the Phillipses — Michael, 38, and Florence, 41 — were brutally murdered in the small fishing town of Machiasport, Maine, in late August 1989. The show explained how the Phillips lived in fear of their neighbor but had an ongoing feud running between the two families. The episode explains how men put their brittle egos and the quench for absolute power so much in the forefront that they never know when the lines are crossed and things could turn fatal.
How Did Michael and Florence Phillips Die?
Michael G. Phillips was born to Marvin E. and Elva (Warren) Phillips in La Porte in La Porte County, Indiana, on May 23, 1951. He graduated from Penn High School in Mishawaka, Indiana, and was employed by Huntley and Associates Inc. in Machias, Maine. Florence C. Phillips was born to Augustus H. and Emeline D. (Hicks) Morse in Machiasport in Washington County, Maine, on September 18, 1947. The married couple, Michael and Florence, lived in Indiana with their six children for the majority of their lives.
Florence returned with her husband and one of her sons, Michael “Mikey” A. Phillips to her hometown in the mid-1980s. The scenic and quiet fishing village on the coast of Maine drew her back to Machiasport to start a new life with her family. Mikey recalled, “My mother’s dream was always to move back to her family and live next to the ocean. Their daughter, Sandra Leamon, added, “My parents were happy to get there. It was a beautiful place to live.” According to the show, the Phillips couple sold everything to buy their new place in Machiasport.
The episode explained that they moved when someone was murdered right outside their doorstep in Indiana owing to gang-related activities. The Phillips decided to shift to Machiasport for a safe environment for Mikey to grow up in. Hence, it was shocking when the couple was killed near their residence in August 1989 after moving to rural Maine to avoid city violence. Michael, 38, and Florence, 41, went for a walk after dinner on August 29. While crossing their neighbor’s home, they were fired at multiple times, including one fatal close-range shot each.
Who Killed Michael and Florence Phillips?
Upon their arrival, the Phillips were warmly received by Richard B. Uffelman, accompanied by his wife, Anita, and their two young boys, Rick and Jerry. The neighborly camaraderie flourished, with Richard assisting Michael in building a deck, fostering a bond that extended to shared barbecues and beach outings for their children. However, the harmony took a downturn when the Phillips’ daughter, Sandra, visited, and an alleged incident involving beer bottles in Richard’s driveway occurred during a backyard family barbecue.
Richard, a Navy veteran known for his structured and disciplined demeanor, exhibited a no-nonsense attitude, especially as a part-time postal clerk. According to journalist Bruce Kyle, Richard’s authoritarian approach to his job reflected an insistence on precision, even in a small town where everyone knew each other’s addresses. Richard, desiring recognition, imparted shooting skills to his boys, a practice that conflicted with the Phillips’ aversion to firearms, prompting them to request Mikey to steer clear of guns.
As tensions escalated, Richard lodged repeated complaints against the Phillips, presenting broken beer bottle pieces to officers during their visits. His frustration extended beyond the alleged incident, including resentment over the Phillips’ residence obstructing his ocean view. Moreover, he badgered the Phillips by flashing aircraft landing lights into Mikey’s room and engaging in shooting practices involving loud hunting rifles with his minor boys in the yard, despite being aware of the Phillips’ past trauma and their objection to guns.
Amidst the family feud, state police, the county sheriff’s department, and the district attorney probed into numerous charges. Richard had filed 47 complaints in the six months preceding the killings, posing a challenge for authorities in determining credibility. Sgt. Wesley D. Hussey explained, “Both parties had multiple witnesses, family members, and friends telling opposite stories. You couldn’t honestly say one side was more credible.” However, Mike was terrified of Richard as he later testified about several incidents that scarred him.
The boy said Richard was “always yelling at the Phillips with a bullhorn and shining spotlights on his room.” He added, “My mom and dad bought me a new bike. But they wouldn’t let me ride down the road because they were afraid he’d do something to me.” When the Phillipses sought legal recourse, the authorities and attorneys insisted on concrete proof, leaving them frustrated in their attempts to address the escalating conflicts. Fearing the Phillips family, Richard installed an advanced alarm system, devised escape routes, and maintained an arsenal.
In response, the Phillips family, apprehensive for their safety, placed a VCR camcorder at their home, surveilling the Uffelman residence across the street. On the night of August 29, 1989, Richard testified that he was awakened by his son, fearing the Phillipses were approaching. Concerned they might harm his dogs, the veteran grabbed a shotgun, positioning himself by a window. As they passed, Richard claimed Michael mocked him, unsettling him more. When the couple returned, one of his sons shouted that the Phillipses were allegedly carrying a gun.
Richard would later claim in court that he was allegedly mistaken that the Phillips had fired at him when he shot them. He stated, “I even thought I saw smoke. That’s the only thing that would make me shoot out from the living room window.” His sons, following orders, joined in, firing 20 to 25 rounds, as seen on a videotape. The Phillips’ home-installed surveillance system captured Richard emerging with a hunting rifle to deliver fatal shots, with his sons carrying weapons. The prosecution claimed he shot Michael, already deceased, in the chest again.
How Did Richard Uffelman Die?
A Washington County Grand Jury indicted Richard on two counts of intentional murder on September 7, 1989. He pled neither guilty nor criminally responsible because of insanity on both counts. However, a jury found him guilty on all charges and subsequently rejected his insanity defense. He was sentenced to 50 years for slaying Michael and received a life sentence for Florence’s murder on December 30, 1991. His defense counsel, Kevin Wall, claimed, “He will go to his grave believing that he is not a murderer.” The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine dismissed his appeal in June 1993. Richard, 74, died in prison on February 2, 2021.