Rhonda Chilson always thought of herself more of a sister to her cousin, Caressa Hardy. Her parents brought Hardy into the household when he was only a month old.
Caressa Hardy, then named Glenn Dibley, grew up with Chilson, 17 years older. Hardy’s mother had died, Chilson testified Thursday, while his father simply "could not take care of him."
Hardy’s cousin said from the stand on Thursday that his upbringing was relatively normal, camping with family and such. But both Chilson’s parents died by 2000, and Chilson said she and Hardy grew distant in their adult years. The only time she heard from him, she said, was when Hardy needed money.
“I felt a little responsibility,” she said.
Things flipped sometime in 2013, however. Hardy sent her a check, presumably to reciprocate her generosity. Chilson and her sister visited Hardy at his Pond Road home in June that year, and when they were leaving, he presented them with silver and gold coins. Hardy told them he had gotten into the construction business.
Hardy is accused of killing two men, Thomas Korjack and Robert Orozco, in March of that year. A woman living with them at the time — Karen Hardy, the mother to Hardy's children — testified earlier this week she was there when Hardy fatally shot them in a basement and then cracked Korjack's safe, which Korjack had spent months filling with cash, gold and silver before he and Orozco disappeared. Investigators reported finding human bones in the fire pit behind the house, although the fragments were too badly burned to extract DNA samples.
Chilson visited again that fall and this time, it was Karen Hardy who surprised Chilson as she was getting ready to leave. Karen Hardy placed a letter on Chilson’s bags, asking to go with her back to Arizona because she was concerned Hardy had caused the disappearance of Korjack and Orozco.
“I couldn’t understand,” Chilson said Thursday. “I couldn’t wrap my head around what she was saying because of the time I had been there, she had given me no indication of something so horrendous.”
Chilson said she met Karen Hardy more than 10 years earlier, and, admitting she had judged Karen Hardy negatively, that day had no interest in becoming housemates. She took the letter as a sly effort by Karen Hardy to go live with her, not a plea for help.
“I thought if that were true, Karen would have called the police a long time ago,” she said.
“Do you have any idea about whether the defendant had threatened to hurt Karen if she had gone to the police?” Deputy County Attorney Brian Lowney asked her.
“That didn’t enter my mind,” Chilson responded.
She did say it was “nice” that Hardy had seemed to be getting his finances together.
Finances became a central part of the investigation after Karen Hardy reported the alleged homicides three years later. In his testimony on Thursday, Missoula County Sheriff’s Detective Jared Cochran said the accounts owned by Korjack, who is believed to have largely paid for the lifestyles of Karen Hardy, Orozco and Caressa Hardy, showed a distinct pattern before and after March 27, 2013. That's the day, according to Karen Hardy, Orozco and Korjack were killed.
Between June 2012 and March 2013, Korjack reportedly withdrew $268,000. He then spent about $120,000 of that on gold and silver, according to receipts recovered in the investigation. On March 26, 2013, Korjack had one bank issue a cashier’s check for $123,000. Bank records reportedly showed it was never cashed. In fact, Cochran said no records from nine or 10 banks in which Korjack had accounts showed that he, himself, accessed those accounts ever again.
The flow of money Cochran described Thursday appeared to show that after March 2013, money was being withdrawn from the other nine bank accounts by check. Those checks were cashed and deposited into a different account and then there was some activity on a debit card tied to that account. That debit card was later found in Hardy’s possession, Cochran said, along with multiple other cards in Korjack’s name.
The suspicious purchases Cochran described included transactions on Korjack's account that mirrored previous transactions from Hardy's account. Other payments from Korjack's account included an insurance policy in Hardy's name for a vehicle Hardy owned.
Upon searching Hardy's home, authorities found multiple cards in Korjack's name, documents with the PIN numbers, the cashier's check that was never cashed, and Korjack's passport.
It wasn’t only bank activity that halted entirely. For both Korjack and Orozco, loans that were once paid regularly went into collections, and phone calls among those living at the house stopped completely after March 27, 2013.
After investigating Hardy for nearly a year, authorities arrested Hardy and began digging through the property. They seized a safe, which Karen Hardy had described when she reported the alleged killings to police.
Karen Hardy testified earlier this week that after Caressa Hardy killed Korjack and Orozco, she was ordered upstairs and told to stay there. During that time, she heard banging and the racket of power tools for, she assumed, cracking Korjack's safe.
Deputies wheeled the safe into the courtroom Thursday, with the back exposed to the jury box. The lower half of the back of the safe had appeared to be cut out. Karen Hardy testified earlier that Korjack, upon withdrawing large sums of cash, had been storing the money, gold and silver in that safe.
The deputies also carried in part of a wall, taken from the home after law enforcement reported finding a bullet lodged there behind some new drywall.
Hardy faces two counts of deliberate homicide and two counts of solicitation for murder. Cochran's testimony will continue as trial resumes Friday morning.