Last week, I featured the case of Alan Berg, a popular but abrasive radio host murdered in his driveway. This week, we metaphorically journey to the heartland, In 2011, Brett Seacat, a police academy instructor and former deputy murdered his wife and staged the scene to look like suicide. To hide the crime, he set fire to the house.
Vashti and Brett Seacat
Brett Seacat formerly worked as a deputy with the Sedgewick County sheriff’s office (Sedgewick County includes Wichita). In 2011, though, he no longer patrolled the streets. His new job was teaching police recruits at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center. His wife, Vashti, worked in human resources at Cox Communications in Wichita. Brett complained she devoted too much time and attention to her job.
Brett first met Vashti Forrest when both were still in high school. They split up and got back together several times before marrying in 2004 on a beach in Belize. The good times didn’t last; neither the beach wedding nor their two sons were enough to keep their relationship going. In the spring of 2011, their marriage sputtered out.
In April 2011, Vashti filed for divorce. Brett did not react well. He threatened to “go to the mat” with her. Brett also promised to do everything possible to prevent her from keeping their sons. But on April 29, he begged Vashti to let him stay in the house overnight to “say goodbye” to the boys. On April 30, he was supposed to be out.
A Fire—And a Death
The 911 call came in at 3:57 a.m. on April 30, 2011. Brett Seacat called to report a fire. When first responders arrived, flames completely engulfed the Seacat house. Brett managed, he said, to escape and remove his two sons to safety, but his attempts to rescue Vashti failed.
Later, at the police station, Brett told officers the fire was no accident. He said Vashti had started the fire before killing herself. He said she did it because Vashti had severe issues with depression. During the interview, he kept telling detectives his wife suffered from depression.
At the scene, investigators found a Ruger .44 magnum revolver underneath Vashti’s left hip. They found the melted remains of a plastic gasoline can nearby. In the driver’s seat of her car, they found a journal. The last page of the journal sounded like a suicide note. Perhaps Vashti did shoot herself. But why would she set fire to the house with her boys inside?
Brett Seacat Under Suspicion
Police soon decided something was fishy with Brett’s version of the fire and Vashti’s “suicide.” They found a neighbor who remembered hearing a gunshot at 3:15 a.m. on April 30, more than 40 minutes before Brett’s 911 call. If true, there was no way Vashti could have set the fire before shooting herself. The medical examiner did not detect any soot in Vashti’s lungs or carbon monoxide in her blood. The conclusion: Vashti died before the fire started.
Arson investigators determined the fire had at least two points of origin. It was doubtful she torched the house and shot herself without breathing in some combustion products.
The gunshot wound itself argued against suicide. The shot appeared to come from above, as though someone shot Vashti while she slept. It would be almost impossible for her to inflict such a wound herself. Furthermore, had Vashti shot herself, it is doubtful the gun would end up underneath her body.
Brett Seacat on Trial
Police arrested Brett Seacat on May 14, 2011, and charged him with murder, arson, and child endangerment.
At his 2013 trial, lead prosecutor Amy Hanley painted a picture of a controlling and manipulative husband. Hanley introduced evidence contradicting Brett Seacat’s version of events on April 30, 2011. In addition to the crime scene anomalies, Vashti’s family testified she was not overly depressed. Instead, they said, she was planning her future. Moreover, Vashti told them Brett had threatened her. At one point, the family learned Brett vowed to kill Vashti, burn the house down, and make it look like suicide.
Vashti’s journal was one of the critical pieces of evidence supporting the suicide theory. But a prosecution handwriting expert testified the relevant journal page was a forgery. Prosecutor Hanley introduced evidence showing Brett sought out an overhead projector—obsolete technology—at work. She implied he used the projector to trace Vashti’s handwriting.
The defense mainly consisted of trying to trash Vashti’s reputation. They continued to push the severe depression scenario. And they also claimed she had an affair with an executive at Cox Communications. However, they provided no evidence to support the claim.
Seacat’s attorneys also claimed police botched the investigation. Ironic since Seacat might have trained some of those same investigators.
Brett Seacat Convicted
The jury got the case on June 11, 2013. They deliberated for six hours before returning with their verdict: guilty on all counts.
At his sentencing hearing, Brett Seacat went on a bizarre tirade accusing Judge Larry Solomon of “ensuring” his (Seacat’s) conviction. He would up the rant by saying, “You are going to hell for what you have done in this case.”
Unimpressed, Judge Solomon sentenced Seacat to 25 years without parole for murder. He also added five years for aggravated arson and seven months each for two counts of child endangerment. He will serve the sentences consecutively.
In November 2013, the State of Kansas relocated Brett Seacat to an out-of-state correctional facility. Kansas does not house former law enforcement officials with criminals they might have sent to prison.
NBC’s Dateline aired Burning Suspicion, an episode about the Vashti Seacat murder in March 2016.
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