Posing in an apron last fall on the cover of Southern Indiana Living as she rolled dough with her 3-year-old in her lap, Laura Anne Buckingham looked like the picture of domesticity.
But the 5-foot-4, 110-pound former Marine who served two tours in Iraq said she was never a “domestic diva.”
She boxed in high school, won a Toughman contest and rejected a modeling career to prove herself in the Marine Corps, her stepfather said. And even as a baker, she tested the limits.
“I like to do weird breads,” Buckingham told a Courier-Journal food writer in 2014 for a story about Bread and Breakfast, her café and bakery in downtown New Albany. “Because I have never had formal training, I don’t have a level of appropriateness, and I have no restraints.”
She may well have been talking about her life, if allegations against her are true.
Buckingham, 29, is sitting in a jail in Roane County, Tenn., 40 miles west of Knoxville, charged with attempted first-degree murder for paying a man she thought was a contract killer to murder a former boyfriend who is the father of her child.
According to court papers, frustrated with having to make weekly trips from her new home in Tennessee to deliver her son for visits with Bradley Sutherland – and fearful she might lose custody altogether – Buckingham allegedly turned to a new boyfriend, Joseph Chamblin, an ex-Marine sniper who was court-martialed for urinating on the bodies of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, and asked if he could make Sutherland “go away.”
At first, Chamblin thought she was joking, according to an incident report. But when she repeated her request and asked for details about how it could be accomplished, he began secretly recording her and eventually turned over the recordings to the Roane County Sheriff’s Office.
A detective who listened to the recordings said in a report that “it was clear Laura was not joking.”
And when she was introduced to a Tennessee Bureau of Investigations agent posing as a hit man, she allegedly agreed to pay him $30,000 for the job and turned over part of the money.
Before she was arrested Feb. 24 in Kingston, Tenn., the sheriff’s department there had Louisville detectives notify Sutherland of the plot, then had him stage his own death in a parking garage, to fool Buckingham into thinking her plan had succeeded.
“It was traumatic,” Sutherland said in an interview.
It sounds like something out of a Hollywood script, and Sutherland said his family already has been approached by a writer. But he is determined not to give the story away.
“I want to formally and publicly reserve the rights to any books, stories, screenplays, movies, TV shows, etc., pertaining to the murder-for-hire case at hand between Laura Buckingham and myself,” he proclaimed on Facebook.
Buckingham, who is being held on $150,000 bond, has pleaded not guilty.
Roane County Public Defender Kim Nelson declined to comment on the case, but her office has asked for bond to be reduced, citing in part the fact that Buckingham is pregnant.
On the other side, the District Attorney General’s Office wants a judge to raise her bond, saying she’s traveled extensively to international locations and that her “unique military training and experience, coupled with historical mental health concerns, pose an increased danger to the community should she be released.”
To her friends and customers in Southern Indiana, who know her as a friendly entrepreneur committed to organic and locally grown ingredients, the allegations are unbelievable.
“What has transpired in Tennessee is totally foreign to what I know of her,” said Owen Kane, 73, a retired shoe salesman who met her when she was selling bread at a farmers market, then volunteered to pick up flour for her every other week in Midway, Ky. “I am at a total loss.”
Who is the real Laura Buckingham?
Her stepfather, Brutus Ward, said she was always a “gung ho little girl” who ran cross-country and boxed at Eureka High School in Humboldt County on what is known as Northern California’s Wild Coast.
He said he urged her to go into the Navy, like him and her brother, but she insisted on the Marines to prove her toughness.
She served from 2004 to 2008, earning a Good Conduct Medal and an Iraq Campaign Medal, the Marine Corps says. Military publicity photos show her wielding her service rifle in the desert and helping typhoon victims in Bangladesh.
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