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Published November 19, 2009 by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Plot for Child Custody Ends in Murder

by Mike Johnson

Waukesha — Kimberly Smith was murdered in her Oconomowoc home Oct. 1 as part of a plot for her ex-boyfriend to get custody of their 4-year-old son, authorities said Thursday in announcing the arrests of the ex-boyfriend and two other men on homicide charges.

Darren M. Wold, 41, the ex-boyfriend, is accused of conspiring with a longtime friend, Jack E. Johnson, 65, formerly of Waukesha, to kill Smith. Justin Patrick Welch, 26, of French Camp, Calif., is accused of traveling to Wisconsin and stabbing her to death, Chief David Beguhn said during a news conference at the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department.

Wold was at his home in Lubbock, Texas, at the time Smith was killed. When authorities interviewed him about Smith's death, he maintained his innocence, Beguhn said.

Welch and Johnson, who is charged with being party to first-degree intentional homicide, were arrested Wednesday afternoon at the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego. They are being held in the San Diego (Calif.) County Jail.

Wold was arrested Wednesday night in Lubbock and is being held in jail there on a charge of being party to first-degree intentional homicide.

All three men are being held on $2 million bail and are awaiting extradition to Waukesha County.

Beguhn declined to say Thursday exactly how investigators connected the three men to each other.

Investigators also have not determined how Johnson and Welch know each other.

Authorities on Oct. 27 had identified Welch as a suspect in the homicide after his DNA was found on a knife and latex/vinyl-type gloves recovered in a sewer drain near Smith's home in the 300 block of S. Maple St., according to court records.

An arrest warrant was issued for Welch that charged him with first-degree intentional homicide. Investigators launched a nationwide manhunt for Welch, and through their investigation, connected him to Johnson, of Obrero Rosarito, Mexico, and ultimately to Wold, Beguhn said.

Authorities placed an alert with U.S. Customs and Border Protection asking that they be notified if Johnson attempted to cross the border.

Arrest in Mexico

Johnson was taken into custody about 1:10 p.m. Wednesday as he attempted to enter the United States.

About 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Welch was arrested by Mexican authorities after a brief vehicle pursuit near Rosarito, Mexico. Police were attempting to stop the Jeep Patriot because it was stolen, Beguhn said. Welch, who was believed to have been attempting to enter the U.S. at the time, was turned over to U.S. authorities.

Beguhn declined to say on Thursday whether any money had changed hands as part of the killing.

Smith, 39, was found dead about 9:30 a.m. Oct. 1 in her home. Her hands were bound and she had been stabbed a number of times, court records state.

Her 4-year-old son, Jackson, was home at the time of the slaying but did not witness the killing.

Smith's boyfriend, who lived with her and Jackson, found Smith's body in the living room and called 911. The boyfriend said he had left for work about 6 a.m. and returned after learning that Smith didn't show up at her job, according to Beguhn.

Welch's ties to Wisconsin are not known, and investigators do not know if Smith knew him. Smith's relatives told investigators that they do not know Welch.

Long-running dispute

Smith was entangled in a custody dispute with Wold, and the proceedings were favoring her.

Court records show that Smith and Wold, who previously lived together in Germantown and in Pennsylvania, have been fighting for more than two years in Washington County Circuit Court over custody of the boy.

In July, Wold was ordered to spend 60 days in jail after being held in contempt of court, but the jail time was to be imposed only if he failed to follow certain conditions for a year, records show.

He had lied about where he was living and failed to make court-ordered payments.

Smith's family and friends were informed of the arrests on Wednesday night.

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