Allegations that 7-year-old Kyron Horman's stepmom tried to hire a man to kill her husband could provide a breakthrough in the case of the missing boy and offer crucial insight into Terri Moulton Horman's personality, national experts say.
The Oregonian first reported the allegations July 4, citing anonymous sources. The daily newspaper said investigators have learned that Terri Moulton Horman offered her landscaper money six or seven months ago to kill Kaine Horman, who is her husband and Kyron's father.
Kaine Horman filed for divorce and a restraining order against Terri Moulton Horman on June 28, citing irreconcilable differences. Neither has commented publicly about the divorce or the allegations of a hired hit. Kyron Horman went missing from Skyline K-8 School on June 4, and his stepmom is the last person reported to have seen him.
The experts WW contacted all emphasized that no evidence of the allegations against Terri Moulton Horman has been made public. None of them has direct knowledge of the case other than what has been in the media.
But two nationally renowned criminal psychologists and an expert on child-abduction cases tell WW that, if confirmed, the allegation is a bombshell.
"If this is true, it gives us a pretty major insight into what kind of person she is and that she is indeed capable of doing something to Kyron," says Pat Brown, a forensic psychologist in Washington, D.C. "Clearly, anyone who takes out a hit on their husband or wife definitely jumps into the psychopathic category."
Martin Williams, a forensic psychologist in San Jose, Calif., also says putting a hit on someone would be a strong indicator of psychosis.
"If it's true, then you figure this is someone whose mind is open to using murder as a solution," Williams says. "One of the things that stops us all from being murderers is not just the consequences, it's a feeling of empathy for other people. Psychopaths don't have that."
Brown says psychopaths often show an inability to give normal emotional reactions. She notes Terri Moulton Horman has raised suspicion with her behavior in public, including writing on Facebook about "hitting the gym."
"I don't know if she did it or not. Nobody does," Williams says. "But there seems to be something about the way she's acting that heightens everyone's suspicion."
Brown says aspects of Terri Moulton Horman's behavior seem to indicate Munchausen syndrome, a disorder that covers a range of psychotic behavior mainly focused on the subject's family in a bid for attention.
"You want a lot of sympathy. Maybe you want to be the center of a huge child search," Brown says. "That's one of the difficulties, because in the beginning it's very difficult to tell the difference between someone who's just a very attentive mom."
If proven, allegations of an attempted hit are a game-changer for investigators, says Derek VanLuchene, a former Montana cop who now runs Ryan United, a nonprofit geared toward preventing child abductions.
"It really helps their case," VanLuchene says. "If it's true, it's lending to a pattern of criminal behavior. Somebody who's got that kind of mindset has a plan."
But so far investigators appear to be moving meticulously.
"A key indicator is how little they've talked to the press," VanLuchene says. "My guess is they're building some pretty solid information. They don't want to endanger what they've got."
Kaine Horman left home June 26 and took the couple's 19-month-old daughter with him, court records show. Since then, Terri Moulton Horman has not been included in public appearances and statements by Kaine Horman; Kyron's biological mother Desiree Young; and her husband, Medford Police Detective Tony Young.
Several news outlets have reported that Kaine Horman left after law enforcement briefed him about the alleged plan to kill him.
"Clearly they're letting the family in on specific information that says, 'We believe Terri Horman is responsible,'" Brown says. "They're trying to get rid of her support network, and they have been very successful. They've all turned on her."
To report a tip on Kyron Horman's whereabouts, call the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office at 261-2847.