Thursday, February 21, 2013
2 Franklin County women charged in murder-for-hire scheme
Paul Strickler of Moneta said police told him his ex-wife, a schoolteacher, had been arrested.
Virginia State Police
Cathy Bennett (left) has been charged with aiding Angela Nolen (right), who has been charged in a murder-for-hire plot to kill Nolen's ex-husband.
Stephanie Klein-Davis | The Roanoke Times
State police Capt. George Austin speaks Wednesday concerning murder-for-hire charges against Angela Nolen and Cathy Bennett. In back are (from left) Commonwealth's Attorney Tim Allen, police Lt. Rex Taylor, Franklin County Schools Superintendent Mark Church and police Sgt. Tom Foster.
It was a knock at the door that interrupted Paul Strickler's morning cup of coffee, an unusual 10 o'clock disturbance and several men standing on his front porch with some very bad news.
And, as can only be imagined, it was all quite a shock for the 63-year-old Moneta man.
"They came in and told me that for the past two weeks they have been investigating an attempt on my life," Strickler said, "that they had one person in jail and the investigation was ongoing."
His voice wavered Wednesday evening as he recounted his conversation with the state police agents. He said they told him that his ex-wife, Angela Robin Nolen, had met with a hit man Tuesday, and that she was prepared to pay $8,000 for his assassination.
Luckily for Strickler, the plan unraveled.
The hit man had actually been an undercover state police agent. By Wednesday afternoon, Nolen, a 47-year-old kindergarten teacher at Sontag Elementary School in Rocky Mount, was behind bars at Western Virginia Regional Jail. Authorities also charged a Sontag school nurse, Cathy Warren Bennett, 37, of Rocky Mount, with helping Nolen orchestrate the murder-for-hire plot, state police Capt. George Austin said.
Austin said the women queried an unnamed person about finding a hit man, and that person called the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. With that information, the state police got involved, Austin said. The police would not say where Nolen met the undercover agent.
Authorities were reluctant to share further details about the case, and declined to describe the possible motive and steps the women took to procure an assassin.
Records at Franklin County Circuit Court show that the couple were granted a divorce in December 2012. Strickler said they met within the school system, when she worked at Snow Creek Elementary School in Franklin County and he was a schools administrator in the central office. He said their marriage started to sour in 2010.
According to Strickler, they had recently been trying to work out an arrangement in which Nolen would buy their house from him.
"If I was dead, she would not have to give me the money," he said, spinning reason into theory. "That scares the H-E-L-L out of me. I'm just so glad that the state police found out about this and uncovered it."
Still to be determined, though, is the fate of the couple's 7-year-old adopted daughter, Strickler said. Nolen had full custody of her at the time of her arrest. He said he anticipates a custody hearing will take place soon to determine whether she'll be placed into his care.
"I'm extremely sad and I'm extremely worried," Strickler said. "It's not only a marriage. It's trust, it's children, it's all the things that you build over 17 years."
Franklin County Schools Superintendent Mark Church said he was "deeply grieved" when he learned of the arrests.
Authorities would not say how long the two women had been employed by the school system, or the status of their employment as the investigation moves forward.
Nolen and Bennett were scheduled to appear in Franklin County General District Court today for bond hearings. Strickler said he plans to attend.
"I'm afraid for my life," he said. "I still feel that way. If someone knocks on my door, I won't answer it. I'll dial 911."