True Crime: Two Million Reasons for Murder

Justin Barber said his wife was killed during a late-night robbery—but the details didn't add up. Seek the truth in this harrowing true crime story.

By Kenneth Miller from Reader's Digest Magazine

True Crime: Two Million Reasons for MurderPeter Willott/The Record/AP Photo. Illustration by Jesse Lenz
April’s photo is etched into her tombstone; it shows a woman with a brilliant smile, corn silk hair, and exquisite cheekbones. But her beauty wasn’t just skin-deep. April was a survivor of family tragedy who poured her energy into helping others, from her younger siblings to the cancer patients she served as a radiation therapist. “She put more value on relationships than most people do,” says her best friend, Amber Mitchell, an Internet entrepreneur in Oklahoma City. “She didn’t take life for granted.”

Who would want to snuff out such a vibrant spirit? Justin would tell investigators that he thought the culprit was a crazed mugger. But a few of those close to April suspected the killer was someone she knew very well.

April grew up in Hennessey (pop. 2,024), Oklahoma, an island of century-old storefronts and modest homes in a sea of prairie. She was an A student, thoughtful yet popular, as comfortable at a rodeo as in biology lab.

During April’s senior year of high school, her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and died after six months of agony. April’s father, an oil field worker, was too traumatized to care for the kids. Though relatives took them in, April became a surrogate mom to her siblings Julie, then nine, and Kendon, one. Still, she kept her grades up. She went on to the premed program at Oklahoma State University, then studied radiation therapy at the University of Oklahoma.

In October 1998, Amber Mitchell introduced April to one of her business school classmates—a handsome blond named Justin. The two clicked instantly. April had dated a string of men for whom fidelity was not a strong point; Justin seemed different. He spoke of his Christian values. He had grown up in a town even smaller than Hennessey, herding cattle with his brother on their parents’ 120-acre spread. A quiet, solitary boy, he’d blossomed into a star athlete in high school and graduated as valedictorian. He’d married in college and spent a few years drifting between jobs, but when he met April, he was newly divorced and aflame with ambition. “He was among the best and brightest in our class,” says Amber. “April was attracted to his drivenness.”

April and Justin quickly became engaged. On August 4, 1999, they married in a small ceremony in the Bahamas, then relocated for Justin’s new job in Douglas, Georgia. April found work at a hospital. A month later, her siblings moved in, and the trouble began. Julie was 15 then, and her rebellious behavior infuriated Justin, sparking fights between April and him. At one point, according to several of April’s confidants, he threatened to never let April bear his children. Within a year, Julie and Kendon were back in Oklahoma.

By then, some of April’s loved ones had begun to see a disturbing pattern. “Justin seemed very into appearances,” says April’s aunt Patti Parrish, a civil court judge. He tried on his jeans from high school every month and fasted until they fit. He made fun of his overweight mother behind her back and publicly criticized April’s singing voice, her clothing, and her weight. He warned her not to embarrass him at his company Christmas party and discouraged her from contacting him at work. When his barbs made her cry, he mimicked her sobs. Yet April tolerated Justin’s mistreatment.

But in January 2001, when Justin was transferred to Jacksonville, April decided to stay put. “She told me that if they lived together every day, they’d kill each other,” Amber says. Justin bought a condo in an upscale neighborhood, and the two saw each other on weekends. Usually it was April who drove the three hours to visit.

She just wasn’t ready to give up on Justin. He could be charming, and his criticisms dovetailed with some of her deep insecurities. “She was harder on herself than anyone else,” says Amber. “She put up with a lot from her men.”

Still, there was always a point at which she drew the line.

  • Your Comments

    • rwlcpa

      I recently had a mind to research the outcome of this case because I worked with this guy at Rayonier (in Lake Oswego, Oregon) before he was convicted. Being hired by the Senior VP of Finance and the Executive VP of Legal at Rayonier Corporate in Jacksonville, FL, I was brought in to oversee the operations and keep a close eye on the Lumber Products Trading division of the company and its management where Barber had been transferred across country from being an attache’ for the SVP Finance to work clear across the country for an inconspicuous subsidiary of a Fortune 200 company.

      I listened closely and observed many different views and was appraised of the suspicions of a corporate relocation to keep the heat off the upper management.

      The women in the office were frightened of Barber.

      During my short tenure, I inspected Barber’s vehicle (Toyota 4Runner) which displayed Florida license plates, but had Oregon stickers that had been removed from another vehicle and pasted onto the Florida plates, keeping the appearance of being legal and properly licensed.

      After raising my suspicions, I took the opportunity to watch this character very closely during casual after work outings with the GM, whom I was also hired to watch and report back to corporate. Barber was always needing the center of attention, and was a very calculating and troubled person at that time, shifty and untrustworthy. He was also a womanizer and flirt without a care as though he had some magical touch…very arrogant. This was all after only months after being transferred…showed no remorse. Further, on one occasion, I gained the courage to inquire about the matter in a social setting. This guy had the audacity to even brag about his “self inflicted” injuries. When he went to this spot I watched his body language and eyes very closely, and in my opinion, I say a guilty man intent on one thing…survival.

      Moreover, the whole operation and duties he was “responsible” for were fraught with fraud and deception from corporate oversight. Collusion of railcars filled with thousands of dollars in product being lost due to side tracking, etc. etc.

      It would not have surprised me if this thread ran much deeper?! Based on fear of the environment and compelling accusations from the GM, etc., I chose to resign and move on.

      Within a couple of days after my chosen departure and severing my employment to protect my CPA license from fraudulent activity, I received an inquisition call from the EVP Legal, inquiring of what I knew and much about my experiences.

      I chose not to get involved, but felt all along that the knowledge of events were conspicuous at best, and perhaps worse.

      I told the EVP that I did not want to get involved, that I believed there were significant illegal activities occurring, and that I did not want to be contacted again.

      I was never subpoenaed to testify.

      It appears that some Justin justice was served…I wonder whom else knew or was involved???

    • FBI

      No one cares. Nor did the police apparently.

    • Ran

      God saw it all…………

    • Sangeetharichard

      hats off to the investigators….