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Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Accomplice to Murder: The Peggy Sue Thomas Case

     In 2000, Peggy Sue Thomas, as Ms. Washington, participated in the U.S. Continental Beauty Pageant in Las Vegas. The 34-year-old beautician didn't win or make the top ten. Three years later she was working in a Freeland, Washington beauty salon owned by Brenna Douglas who confided to her that her 32-year-old husband Russell Douglas was abusive. When Thomas relayed this information to her boyfriend, James Huden, he decided to kill Russell Douglas out of revenge. (Huden had been abused as a child and he was supposedly taking out his anger on Mr. Douglas. He and the intended victim had never met.)

     On December 26, 2003 Peggy Sue Thomas asked Russell Douglas to meet her in a remote area on Whidbey Island 30 miles north of Seattle. Thomas lured Douglas to this spot on the pretext she had a gift for his wife Brenna. As Russell Douglas waited in his Chevrolet Geo Tracker for Peggy Sue, he came face-to-face with James Huden who shot the victim between the eyes with a .380-caliber pistol.

     Homicide detectives initially suspected that Russell Douglas had been shot to death in a murder-for-hire plot cooked-up by his wife, the beneficiary of his $500,000 life insurance policy. Investigators caught a break in the case in August 2004 when a friend of James Huden's who had known him in Port Charlotte, Florida, called the Island County Sheriff's Office with a hot tip. The tipster, Bill Hill, said he had played in Huden's band called Buck Naked and the Xhibitionists. According to Mr. Hill, Huden had murdered Russell Douglas because Douglas was a wife abuser. Huden's girlfriend, Peggy Sue Thomas, had set the victim up by luring him to the remote spot on Whidbey Island.

     Douglas case investigators got a second break in the case that summer. A man named Keith Ogden came forward with information regarding the murder weapon used in the execution-style killing. Ogden said he showed Huden how to disassemble, clean and fire the .380-caliber Bersa. He had also advised Huden on how to use a pillow or a plastic soda bottle to muffle the muzzle sound.

     James Huden, aware that the authorities were closing in on him, fled to Veracruz, Mexico in the fall of 2004. In Mexico, under the name Maestro Jim, Huden made a living as a guitar player in his band, Buck Naked and the Xhibitionists.

     In 2006, Peggy Sue Thomas, while working in Las Vegas as a limo driver, met Mark Allen, the millionaire owner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner, Mind That Bird. After marrying Mr. Allen, Thomas took up residence at his horse ranch in New Mexico. After the divorce a few years later, Thomas, the beneficiary of a large settlement, moved back to Whidbey Island, Washington.

     The Mexican police, in June 2011, arrested James Huden on a federal unlawful flight warrant issued in the United States. U.S. Marshals returned the fugitive to Washington where he was scheduled to stand trial for the eight-year-old murder of Russell Douglas.

     Huden, after turning down a plea bargain deal where he'd identify Peggy Sue Thomas as his murder accomplice, went on trial in July 2012. The defendant's wife Jean took the stand for the prosecution and testified that Huden and Thomas had confessed to her regarding their roles in the Douglas murder. Two other men testified that Huden had confessed to them as well. Because James Huden did not take the stand on his own behalf, he did not implicate Peggy Sue in the murder.

     Following eight days of testimony, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances (using a firearm). A month later the judge sentenced 59-year-old James Edward Huden to 80 years in prison. (According to the Douglas case prosecutor, one of Thomas' latent fingerprints had been lifted from the murder weapon.)

     The Huden-Thomas-Douglas murder saga came to an end on January 27, 2013 when Peggy Sue pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of rendering criminal assistance. The most prison time Thomas could do for this felony was four years. The guilty plea came one week before she was scheduled to go on trial for murder.

     At Thomas' sentencing hearing a month after the guilty plea, Jim Douglas, the victim's father, said this to the judge: "It seems a travesty of justice that she [Thomas] would be sentenced to less than four years in prison for the cold and premeditated act that could not have happened without her involvement." The judge sentenced the 47-year-old Thomas to four years behind bars.

     Peggy Sue Thomas was as much responsible for Russell Douglas' murder as the man who pulled the trigger. The criminal justice system is not always about justice.


  1. I knew Peggy back in the early 90 all to well. I knew from the start that she was going to get off too easy . She is a horrible person and has no heart. Money is
    What makes her move. With all the evidence she had against her I am surprised that she didn't try to make a deal sooner. God will judge her
    403 JNP

  2. Although I agree with your conclusion about Peggy Thomas there are many inaccuracies in the story. Brenna DOuglas never said that Peggy & Huden confessed to her. That was Huden's wife, Jean, who was set to testify in Peggy's trial.

    Also, I think Bill Hill was the only person Huden fully confessed to about the murder and that Peggy was involved. Mr. Hill has been ill and could not travel to WA for Peggy's trial and that was one concern for the prosecution.

    Also, Huden did not testify at his own trial and stated that he would plead the 5th in Peggy's trial as he wants to pursue an appeal. There was some, what I call, attorney funny business where they say that he talked to Peggy's attorney and said she was not involved but that contradicts his stories that he told his wife and best friend. Also, how does he plead the 5th and then make a statement that Peggy's attorney wanted to use in court....???

    Peggy is claiming innocence still...that she only pled to the lesser charge because she didn't want to risk being"wrongfully convicted".

    I don't believe Peggy ever moved back to Whidbey after her divorce from Mark Allen. I ithink she was in New MExico and still ahs a residence in Vegas. They picked her up in NM I thought. She did make out quite well from her divorce from Mr. Allen and when Dateline does the story I hope it shares his perspective as well.

    Lastly, it should be noted that Huden never knew Mr. Douglas...how would he know or assume anything about abuse other than if Peggy told him. SHe did know Mr. DOuglas and the estranged wife (Brenna). ALso, the Douglas' were separated so there wasn't any abuse taking place at the time of the murder and there is only hearsay I believe that it even existed.

    Not claiming that Mr. DOuglas did or didn't have a lousy relationship with his wife or whether they engaged in verbal or physical altercations...but it is rather weak to think he was killed based on someone who never met him wanting "revenge". I think the prosecution just didn't have enough evidence to name the real reason....the promise of money...

    1. There was never any evidence that Russel ever physically abusive Brenna and his personality was one of a timid, shy man who was deeply depressed at the time of his murder. And, if Jim Huden and Thomas had left the gun behind, his death would have been ruled a suicide. That was what law enforcement thought until they couldn't find the gun. If it was a suicide, a gun would have been inside his car or at least close to the vehicle outside, since the door of the car was opened when police eventually got there. (There had been a couple, who lived on Wahl Rd who saw the vehicle hours before and the car door was closed.) Especially when so many of his friends and co-workers stated that he had been depressed for a long time.

      I believe that Brenna had a huge role in his death. She wanted him gone for good and have no relationship with her children. Russel had a girlfriend, which I believe ticked off Brenna, and she repeatedly told law enforcement officials that he was or had a homosexual relationship. I believe that she filled Peggy Sue Thomas' head with tall tales that never happened. Brenna seemed to be the one person who had absolutely no idea who her husband was as a person, she couldn't even tell them his friends names. She told them he had no friends. Peggy Sue was a very manipulative person, especially with men and I felt sorry that Jim Huden was brought into this murder plot because he loved a very devious women who seemed only out for herself and what she could get.

      I give a great deal of credit to the detective who eventually piece together all the evidence to prosecute Huden and Thomas, Mark Plumberg. I can't imagine after all that work, sifting through numerous lies, physical evidence and interviews. It took a long time to piece this case together. To have a main person, who fooled a nice man to his death shouldn't have gotten off so lightly. If she hadn't fooled him into thinking that there was a Christmas present for his soon to be ex-wife, he wouldn't be dead and his children would still have a father.

      Another thing, once Brenna received that life insurance money, she moved around a lot, I believe she was trying to avoid the police and investigators; just as Jim Huden did.

      William Hill, the tipster who broke the case open for police said that Huden had also stated that both Peggy Sue Thomas and Brenna Douglas were both involved with Russel from Huden confession to him.

      I read a lot of true crimes because I'm .fascinated by the psychology of a devious and destructive mind of murderers and serial killers. I don't believe everyone involved with this case saw justice.

      Brenna Douglas used the $500,000 in insurance money to buy a home, though it eventually fell into foreclosure. Nevertheless, Douglas, though never being charged, was the only person to receive any financial benefit as a direct result of Russel Douglas's murder. Brenna had filed a lawsuit for an additional $300,000 but a judge dismissed the lawsuit and she got nothing from the insurance company. As far as I can tell Brenna Douglas has never been charge in the murder of Russel Douglas.

  3. This is off topic and I apologize for that. I read your analysis of the Hauptmann conviction and your conclusions. I just finished watching the NOVA show, featuring quite a bit of John Douglas, who came to a different conclusion. I was wondering if you saw the show and if you have any comments on it. For what it's worth, I tend to agree with you, but I am not completely comfortable with your explanation of the whereabouts of the ransom money. If Hauptmann had really invested it in the market, where are the stocks? And why didn't the money show up?

  4. Does anyone have the birthdate of Peggy Sue Thomas? I would like to do her birth chart and see what really went through her mind. I just read the Ann Rule book and generally she gives the birth info but it wasn't there. Thanks in advance.

  5. I believe it is 9/2/1965

  6. Men who marry fat women deserve to die.

    Peggy sue is good looking and that excuses any involvement she had.

    End of story

    1. Apparently you haven't taken a good long look at Peggy. Although she manages to drop a few pounds now and then, for the most part she's a big fat pig. Do some googling--she's a ham sandwich away from Fat Lady at the carnival category.

  7. Just finished Ann Rule's book . Then watched the Dateline docu.
    Peggy Sue got off easy compared to Huden , who really had no motive besides I guess winning her over .
    How was Brenna not involved ? She may yet get charged if Huden makes a deal from prison and tells the true story , don't you think?

  8. Peggy Sue was far more guilty than Huden .
    She proved her guilt by not going to trial and accepting 4 yr deal .
    Huden like Allen the rancher fell for her and both paid a price .
    Huden can still tell the whole story and possibly get Brenna sent to trial .
    There is no time limitation on murder .

  9. What's the name of the Ann Rule book?

  10. I think Peggy Sue Thomas was innocent through all of this, but got caught up in the mess of the evil wife Brenna, who gained insurance money through the death of her husband. Peggy may have been set up, without even knowing about the true motive for the husband's death. After watching her answer heated questions regarding her role in the murder on 48 Hours, it appeared she was sincere and truthful with her answers. Oddly enough, I lived in Freeland, WA on Whidbey Island where the murder took place, but moved back to Phoenix in 2001, two years before the murder occurred...