Funds focus of divorce hearing amid murder-for-hire plot - WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Charleston News, Sports, Weather

Retirement funds focus of divorce hearing amid murder-for-hire plot

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Wendy Moore. Wendy Moore.
Samuel Yenawine. Samuel Yenawine.
Aaron WIlkinson. Aaron WIlkinson.

By Sam Tyson
styson@abcnews4.com

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) – A block off the water on Sullivan's Island, the story begins of an embroiled legal battle between two households that nearly erupts into criminal violence as a plot unfurls of three people planning to stain their hands with the blood of another.

Thus unfolds the Lowcountry tale of Nancy Latham, her estranged husband, his secretary, a small band of Kentuckians accused of traveling some 600 miles in a murder-for-hire plot that fell apart at a traffic stop – and a large sum of money.

Mrs. Latham, a woman who paints herself as a mother fearing for her and her daughters' lives in a recently filed family court affidavit, was the focus of the contract killing that has landed four people in Lowcountry jails, including her husband's new girlfriend. According to court documents, Mrs. Latham has been in hiding since the other woman, Wendy Moore, called in her ex-husband and provided him with a dossier on Mrs. Latham's known habits and rituals.

Moore has been charged with conspiring to kill Mrs. Latham.

"He had an affair with his secretary and got caught, and she hired people to kill me to keep me from testifying about it," Mrs. Latham said in a July 12 affidavit.

Moore once served as Mr. Latham's secretary at Bank of America, but Mrs. Latham says that professional relationship turned personal, romantic and serious, which she pointed out in court documents was a serious violation of company policy that could cost them both their jobs.

For Mr. Latham, that could mean losing a mid-six-figure salary and a $3,000-a-month house on the beach, a home Mrs. Latham says he was secretly sharing with his secretary. The Sullivan's Island beach rental has turned into quite a home, according to Mrs. Latham, who says in the affidavit that Moore's children and parents moved into the house with the new couple.

It's a motive, Mrs. Latham says.

She says text messages prove that Moore and Mr. Latham were living together in the Sullivan's Island rental. "Are you on you(r) way home?" one of the messages from a number identified as Moore's asks.

"Love you," another reads.

Most of the messages appear to depict a couple planning dinners during the summer of 2012 – homemade pizzas, calzones, ham and mushroom risotto – and a few messages of encouragement and support.

But there's a problem with the house, based on court records. Either it can't be paid for, now that Mr. Latham has given up his job at Bank of America, or his estranged wife and their children should be living there. Records show that a judge told Mr. Latham to let Mrs. Latham move into the beach house with their daughters late last year.

"At a hearing in January 2013, [Mr. Latham] represented to family court that he could not and would not renew the lease on the [Sullivan's Island beach house] after the expiration of the lease on Jan. 31, 2013," records state.

Since then, Mrs. Latham says Mr. Latham's parents have moved into the house to help care for Moore's young children.

Enter Moore's ex-husband, Samuel Yenawine.

Based on information Charleston police detectives and ATF agents have pieced together, Moore called Yenawine with an offer – kill her boyfriend's ex-wife and make several thousand dollars. According to an affidavit, Yenawine would have made upwards of $30,000 for the hit job.

If Moore knew anyone from her past that knew something about murder, it was Yenawine. In 2001, he was charged with murdering a man and setting fire to his Louisville, Ky., home. Kentucky court records show that Yenawine told police he confronted the victim, who then charged at him with a knife. Yenawine said he was able to wrestle the knife away from the other man and then stab him six times and slash his throat.

Yenawine admitted in a recorded interview shortly after his 2001 arrest that he took bloody clothes and piled them in the middle of the man's apartment and set fire to them, fueling the fire with PVC glue and household cleaners.

Police couldn't make the murder case against Yenawine; he was acquitted. But he was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree arson – a charge that was later reversed by the Kentucky state Supreme Court.

That was 2005, seven years before investigators say Yenawine and Moore crossed paths again in the plot to kill Mrs. Latham. Unfortunately, that leg of the investigation met with an untimely conclusion after Yenawine was found dead late last month in a Georgetown County Detention Center cell. Officials say he hanged himself.

What Yenawine knew about Moore's alleged plot and who – if anyone – else was involved in the conspiracy died with him.

Now the case seems to hinge on Aaron Wilkinson, Yenawine's former cellmate in a Kentucky prison and the man who police say unraveled the whole case during a traffic stop on a brisk day in April.

Traveling through peninsular Charleston's East Side neighborhood on April 5, Wilkinson was arrested during a traffic stop in which officers found a loaded handgun and box of ammunition inside the car the 39-year-old ex-convict was driving.

While in custody, Wilkinson opened up, telling police that he was in town as a contract killer, adding that he had no plans to actually kill Mrs. Latham but was trying to make amends with the man who recruited him – Yenawine.

The story led to the ATF's involvement.

But attorneys for Yenawine and Moore have been picking apart Wilkinson's story. Attorneys Bill Butler and David Aylor have painted Wilkinson as a drug addict and convicted felon with no credibility. Aylor says his client, Moore, doesn't even know Wilkinson.

That's a problematic point for a man who says he saw Moore the night he and Yenawine met up with her to collect $4,000 and a packet of background information on Mrs. Latham. According to an ATF agent's affidavit, Wilkinson said he knew they were meeting with Moore because Yenawine kept a photo of her in their Kentucky prison cell.

But that $4,000 is what shuttered the first attempt on Mrs. Latham's life. According to charging documents, Yenawine and Wilkinson had to ditch their plan and go back to Kentucky because Rachel Palmer, Yenawine's girlfriend at the time, was going to spend the money on drugs.

Now that money had been deposited into Wilkinson's wife's account and, according to Wilkinson, withdrawn and split between Palmer and Beth Wilkinson. He claims the fear of losing the down payment on the killing sent Yenawine running 600 miles back to Kentucky to protect his money.

Palmer has since been charged and is being held in a Kentucky jail. Wilkinson says Yenawine was able to recover about $3,500.

Wilkinson adds that it also gave him some breathing room. He says he told Yenawine that he would head back to Charleston to finish the job and get the balance of their blood money.

A few days and 600 miles later, Wilkinson and his wife were back in the Lowcountry, as he tells the story to the Post and Courier, spending their days getting high, dodging Yenawine's calls and trying to formulate a plan to take Wilkinson's feet out of the fire.

The April 5 traffic stop seemed to play right into the couple's plans. He, Yenawine and Moore were all off the streets and Mrs. Latham appeared to be much safer than she had even a few hours earlier. But the arrests came with some tough questions. The biggest among them was probably: who is funding this murder plot?

It's a question Wilkinson couldn't answer, but Mrs. Latham's July 12 affidavit tries to answer. Not only who would fund a contract killing – Chris Latham – but also posits a theory on why –  money. Mrs. Latham argues that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars are in play.

Mrs. Latham believes Mr. Latham at the very least knew about Moore's plot to kill her and did nothing to stop it, court documents show, and her evidence goes beyond the romance, expressions of love and accusations of playing house in a Sullivan's Island rental.

There's the manila envelope full of documents that provided Yenawine and Wilkinson with a background on Mrs. Latham – those documents all came from the discovery process in the Latham divorce proceedings.

"I have seen photographs of the documents given to the man hired to kill me, and it contains photos and information only Chris would know," Mrs. Latham writes, citing a photo of her driveway, divorce hearing documents, personal information about Mrs. Latham and the Latham children, and descriptions of where she and her daughters would be.

There's the effort on Mr. Latham's part to get Mrs. Latham at certain places at specific times, information she contends was relayed to Moore, Yenawine and Wilkinson.

And then there's the money.

There's the $472,000 Mr. Latham earned from Bank of America this year. There's the $344,000 in BofA stock options. There's the $102,000 in attorney's fees Mr. Latham has paid in the divorce, according to Mrs. Latham. And there's the $242,000 outstanding balance owed to her attorneys. And there's her daughter's $40,000 tuition to Elon University in North Carolina.

"He claims he wants to liquidate all the retirement accounts, incurring $633,000 in taxes and penalties, yet ignores that we have over $150,000 in non-retirement assets which are available without penalty or tax," Mrs. Latham writes.

There's that $3,000-a-month beach rental, too.

"It appears to me what he wants is to put more than $400,000 in his pocket so he can live a carefree lifestyle on Sullivan's Island with Wendy Moore's children, who are apparently living with him," she writes.

No one appears to live in the Brownell Avenue home anymore. It sits empty and neighbors say they haven't seen anyone come in or out in weeks.

There's also the high standard of living Mr. Latham's salary afforded their family while they were still married, detailed in a 2012 affidavit. That's changed dramatically for Mrs. Latham, who says she has no meaningful income these days. Instead, she says she's trying to rely on the court-ordered $5,500 per month in child support and an additional $3,000 per month for living costs.

Now Mr. Latham is asking to cut off the monthly $8,500 payments and take nearly $100,000 from his retirement accounts so that he can afford a home and to pay his attorneys.

"It makes no economic sense to liquidate retirement now and is completely unnecessary," Mrs. Latham said in her affidavit.

Mrs. Latham says her death would clean up a lot of these financial woes for Mr. Latham and Moore. It would have kept Moore and Mr. Latham's relationship a secret, securing his employment, she says. It would have stymied any perjury charges Mr. Latham may have faced. It would have put an end to the hundreds of hours of legal work that's consuming hundreds of thousands of dollars. It would have ended a divorce proceeding and alimony fight that's now become the four months' traffic on Charleston's legal stage.

That stage reopened Monday afternoon in a downtown Charleston family courtroom, a scene that offered tears and arguments, but no resolution. Only Mrs. Latham made an appearance.

Mr. Latham's legal team served as surrogates, telling a judge that he was no longer employed and thus incapable of affording the $8,500 for support he paid every month.

"She can go get a job and support herself," Mr. Latham's attorney said, adding that the murder-for-hire story was nothing more than a story to take more of his money.

A judge will now deliberate on the tale of the Lathams and their estate and render a decision at a later date.

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