A former missions and evangelism student at a Kentucky Baptist Convention-affiliated Bible college is charged with murder in a case drawing national attention because of an unusual defense blaming the death on cold medicine.
Matthew James Phelps, 28, of Raleigh, N.C., was arrested Sept. 1 on a murder charge in the death of 29-year-old Lauren Phelps, his wife of 11 months. In a 911 call released to media, a male identified as Phelps is heard saying he thinks he killed the woman after taking too much cough medicine.
“I had a dream,” he is apparently heard saying in audio from a 6 ½-minute emergency call published by the Raleigh News & Observer. “I turn on the lights, and she’s dead on the floor.”
The caller goes on to say he woke up covered in dried blood to find a bloody knife on the bed after taking too much of an over-the-counter cold medicine because “I know it makes you feel good” and “a lot of times I can’t sleep at night.”
According to his Facebook page, Phelps is a 2011 graduate of Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, a religious institution of higher education located in Pineville, Ky., serving needs and interests of the Southern Baptist Convention.
During Tuesday’s regular chapel service, webcast live on Facebook, Clear Creek students were asked to pray for Matt Phelps — identified as a former student “who has run into some trouble” without getting into specifics — and others affected by the situation.
A memorial service for the victim was held Monday, Sept. 4, at Hope Lutheran Church in Wake Forest, N.C., where the couple was married last November. Her obituary identifies her as Lauren Ashley Nicole Hugelmaier, her maiden name, and makes no mention of her husband.
She is remembered as an active member of Hope Lutheran Church who worked with children and youth. Her pastor, Wayne Puls, requested prayers for her family “that God would strengthen their faith, and that they would continue to be comforted by his Word, in this time of tragic loss” and also “for the children, youth, and parents of our congregation, as so many of them have been impacted personally by Lauren’s death.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, a YouCaring crowdfunding campaign to help her family with “financial challenges that lie ahead” had raised nearly $7,500 toward a $20,000 goal.
Hers is the second violent death in recent years with personal connections to the Clear Creek community. Mike Hockensmith, a graduate of Clear Creek Baptist Bible College working as youth minister at Mitchellsburg Baptist Church in Danville, Ky., died in a triple murder in a 2013 shooting at a pawn shop owned by him and his wife, also a victim. The assailant, himself a former preacher, pleaded guilty in May to three counts of murder and was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
According to their page on a wedding website, Matt Phelps reconnected with Lauren Hugelmaier after recognizing her on Instagram as a girl he had a crush on in middle school.
As of Tuesday morning, he was being held without bond at the Wake County Detention Center and scheduled to appear in court for the first time later in the day.