Christopher "Chris" W. Pritchard
(born November 25, 1968) is an American man convicted for masterminding
the attempted murder of his mother Bonnie Von Stein and the murder of
his stepfather Lieth Von Stein in 1988 in Washington, North Carolina.
Enlisting the help of friends James Bartlett Upchurch
III and Gerald Neal Henderson, Pritchard spearheaded the murder of Von
Stein in hopes of winning a US$2 million inheritance.
Pritchard was convicted of murder in the second
degree (aiding and abetting) and assault with a deadly weapon with
intent to kill or do serious injury. He was sentenced to life in North
Carolina on January 31, 1990, and paroled on June 2, 2007.
The sensational case and trial are the subject of two
books, each of which was adapted into a TV movie. The 1991 book Cruel
Doubt by Joe McGinniss was released on TV in May 1992 as a 2-part
miniseries of the same name.
The 1992 book Blood Games by Jerry Bledsoe was
released on TV in April 1992 under the name Honor Thy Mother. The case
garnered particular infamy because of the media focus on the involvement
of the conspirators in the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, which
both films heavily emphasized.
A young man turns the death of his parents into a game
July 25, 1988
Police responding to an emergency call in Washington, North Carolina,
find Leith and Bonnie Von Stein stabbed and beaten in their home. Leith
was dead, but Bonnie, barely clinging to life, somehow survived. Angela,
Bonnie's 18-year-old daughter, was found in the next room; she said that
she had slept through the brutal attack.
Investigators were immediately distrustful of the crime scene, which
appeared to have been staged as though to suggest a robbery. Detectives
caught a lucky break when a hog farmer happened to spot a fire in the
woods around the time of the murder. A hunting knife, some clothing, and
a scrap of paper with a map of the Von Stein's neighborhood were
recovered from the remains of the fire.
Detectives assigned to the case learned that Leith had had a poor
relationship with his two stepchildren, Angela and her older brother,
Chris, both of whom were known drug users. The police also found out
that Leith had inherited over a million dollars shortly before he was
killed. As the investigation dragged on into 1989, police turned their
attention to Chris, who refused to take a polygraph test (which his
mother and sister had passed).
A devotee of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, Chris often
vented his frustration to his fellow players at North Carolina State
University. Reportedly, Chris was bitter toward his stepfather for not
spending more of the inheritance on him. When pressured, some of Chris'
friends revealed that James Upchurch and Neal Henderson, other D&D
players on campus, may have been involved in some sort of plot with
After turning Henderson, who accompanied Upchurch to the Von Stein home,
into a state witness, prosecutors persuaded Chris to plead guilty to
aiding and abetting the murder. Chris testified that he had supplied a
key and the map to the house where Upchurch had killed Leith Von Stein.
Although Henderson's testimony was not entirely compatible, and there
was no physical evidence tying him to the murder, Upchurch was convicted
of murder in 1990 and sentenced to death.
James Bartlett Upchurch III