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Alleged killer spent time, money at strip club before his family was shot to death

By Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — In the days before his wife and children were shot to death, Christopher Vaughn dropped thousands of dollars at a strip club, stayed out until early morning and twice took target practice at a gun range, according to testimony Thursday at Vaughn’s murder trial.

Will County, Ill., jurors also heard about dozens of emails written by Vaughn’s wife that portrayed her as a thoughtful woman who had an uneasiness about guns, cherished her relationship with her husband and was busy balancing school while raising their three children.

Vaughn is on trial on charges that he killed his family — wife Kimberly; daughters Abigayle, 12, and Cassandra, 11; and son Blake, 8 — in June 2007 in the family SUV because he wanted to start a new life in the Canadian wilderness. Vaughn’s lawyers contend that his wife was distraught and killed the children, shot and wounded her husband, and then committed suicide. He had minor gunshot wounds to his wrist and leg.

Thursday’s witnesses included Chrystal Miller, a former exotic dancer, who was asked about two visits Vaughn made to the Scores Chicago club in Stone Park, a Chicago suburb, in the days before the murders.

Miller recalled Vaughn as “very timid” and polite customer who wanted to talk more than watch her dance. She said Vaughn told her he was single and had no children.

Miller, 29, who performed under the name “Cassie,” had trouble remembering details of the meetings with Vaughn from more than five years ago. Prosecutors relied largely on her testimony before a grand jury just a couple of weeks after the murders. She said then that Vaughn paid to have time with her in a private VIP room.

“He was such a gentleman. Hhe didn’t make me dance or anything and I really appreciated that,” Miller told the grand jury, according to a transcript read by a prosecutor Thursday in court.

Miller also testified in 2007 that she had a bizarre exchange with Vaughn in his first visit about a week before the murders. She said Vaughn asked her if she knew what was going to happen in the future. When she replied no, he said, “I do.”

Lenard questioned Miller repeatedly on her memory of the conversation, but she said the weird exchange stuck with her.

During Vaughn’s second visit to Scores, just two days before the murders, he told her that he enjoyed talking to her, but it was “getting expensive,” according to Miller’s grand jury testimony. Vaughn then handed her a business card and asked her “to get in touch with him,” she testified in 2007.

Credit card receipts shown to the jury Thursday indicate that Vaughn spent about $4,800 for liquor and dances during his two visits to Scores, signing for some of the bills as late as 2:30 a.m.

As many as three other former strippers are expected to testify later in the trial that Vaughn also visited them at other Chicago-area clubs at about the same time.

Also Thursday, the owner of the Mega Sports gun shop and shooting range in Plainfield testified that Vaughn twice used the range that June, including the night before the murders.

Surveillance video played for the jury showed Vaughn entering the store about 5:30 p.m. on June 13, 2007. Vaughn showed a valid Firearm Owner’s Identification Card to an attendant and signed in using his own name, then spent about 20 minutes firing what appeared to be a handgun at a target off the screen.

The killings took place early the next morning after Vaughn is alleged to have awakened his family with a promise of traveling to a water park in Springfield.

In stark contrast to the testimony about Vaughn’s activities, prosecutors on Thursday also introduced dozens of email messages written by his wife that appeared to undercut the defense contention that she was suicidal.

Written mostly to other students in her online University of Phoenix classes, Kim Vaughn came off as a concerned mother looking forward to a more independent future since the children would soon be able to stay at home by themselves. She wrote regularly of her plan to start a career in criminal justice after she graduated and said she was looking forward to a trip to Scotland and Ireland for her 15th wedding anniversary in 2009.

She also wrote lovingly of her husband, describing him as more introverted than her but one of her “heroes” for always standing by his family. She said she especially loved their quiet time together—date nights with fondue and wine, talking and laughing.

“It’s a lot of work to maintain a relationship, but our kids are healthy and in the long run, I think it’s worth it,” she wrote in late 2006.

In one exchange with a classmate that year, Kimberly Vaughn said she had considered a law enforcement career but her husband had taken her to a shooting range a few years earlier and firing the gun made her “nervous.”

“The gun thing is what is holding me back,” she wrote.

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