GILLETTE, Wyoming – In the weeks before his murder, Bryce Chavers had gone from the lighthearted goofball his mother knew to a scared kid who told his grandmother he thought someone was going to kill him.
On Nov. 26 — days before the 16-year-old was expected to testify against his mother's ex-husband in a sex-abuse case — Chavers was found dead in his bedroom, a single gunshot wound to the head.
Authorities believe he died in a bizarre murder plot arranged by the former husband, Kent Proffit Sr.
The slayings shocked this mining community. But even more shocking is the story that has since begun to emerge: that of Proffit, a middle-aged man accused of sex offenses who allegedly persuaded two young men who lived with him to kill Chavers in return for protection from a drug dealer.
The investigation also led authorities to a second body, that of another teen who briefly lived in the same trailer as Proffit.
"That something like that could happen in our community is pretty amazing to people," Mayor Duane Evenson said.
Authorities have not publicly discussed what Chavers was expected to say in his testimony, and the court file has been sealed. But Proffit's brother, Terry, said Chavers was the alleged sex abuse victim.
Proffit allegedly turned to Christopher Hicks and Jacob Martinez to kill Chavers, according to affidavits filed by investigators that were based in part on interviews with Hicks and Martinez. Hicks and Martinez, both 19, shared a trailer on the outskirts of Gillette with Proffit and his son by Chavers' mother — Kent "Bubba" Proffit Jr. — with whom the teens were friends.
Authorities contend Proffit, 42, helped the two men get a marijuana dealer off their backs, but wanted something in return. Martinez told an investigator that Proffit said "the way they could repay that debt was to `Kill Bryce,"' according to court records.
Michael Seiser, a 15-year-old also charged in Chavers' killing, told an investigator he drove to Chavers' home with Hicks and Martinez early on the morning of Nov. 26. Seiser said Martinez went inside and, as Seiser and Hicks sat in the car, Seiser said he heard a popping noise and saw Martinez run out of the trailer, court records say.
Terry Proffit says his brother was nowhere near the trailer at the time, and was instead at his home in Sheridan, 100 miles away.
Martinez also led investigators to the body of Jeremy Forquer, whom authorities believe was killed in late October. Martinez told investigators that he and Hicks strangled Forquer after Proffit said earlier that he believed the man might be working as a police informant, court records say.
Questions still remain about the nature of the relationship between Proffit and the teens.
Hicks, who said he refused a request by Proffit to kill Chavers, told The Associated Press that Proffit threatened him and that he became fearful for his life.
"If I could've (left), I wouldn't be in this situation now," he said in an interview at the county jail. Hicks denies any part in the killings.
Very different pictures of Proffit emerge from interviews with those who knew him well and from court records.
One suggests a generous man who loved Chavers like a son and who, despite his large presence — 250-pounds on a 5-foot-10-inch frame — was quite gentle.
"He looks big and mean, but he's not," said his brother, Terry Proffit. "He's a pansy."
Another points to a big-talker and manipulator. "He's a helluva con man," Chavers' mother, Tammy Porter said, her eyes narrowing and jaw tightening at his name.
Terry Proffit believes his brother is a convenient scapegoat because of the sexual assault case. He contends the abuse allegations were "phony" and that Proffit wasn't worried about the trial.
He also doesn't buy claims his brother somehow held sway with a drug dealer. "There's absolutely nothing extraordinary about him," he said. "He has no power."
Proffit and Martinez declined interview requests; their attorneys did not respond to messages. Seiser's attorney declined comment.
Proffit, Martinez and Hicks face first-degree murder and conspiracy charges in Forquer's death; Proffit has been charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Chavers; Martinez, Hicks and Seiser are charged with murder and conspiracy in Chavers' death.
Tammy Porter wants to remember Chavers as the boy who loved bowling and his little brother, and who was her best friend. She's haunted by the picture of Chavers the morning she found him, though, and believes authorities have those responsible for her son's death.
"I hope they rot in hell," she said.