Thomas Birl Charged with Killing Christopher Hager, Gracie Hager
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‘He Was Vicious About It’: Man Accused of Murdering of Husband and Wife Landlords Execution Style, Setting Kentucky Home on Fire

Christopher Hager and Gracie Hager are seen in a screengrab taken from WKYT television.

Christopher Hager and Gracie Hager are seen in a screengrab taken from WKYT television.

Police in Richmond, Ky., have arrested a 51-year-old man for allegedly murdering a local couple. Thomas C. Birl, of Cadiz, is accused of killing Christopher and Gracie Hager, 54 and 52 respectively, of Richmond, a city about half an hour south-southeast of Lexington.

Lexington CBS affiliate WKYT said that the shooting occurred Tuesday at about 2:20 in the afternoon and that the Hagers owned the duplex where they died. The Herald-Leader reported that the couple had just bought the property in the 200 block of Keystone Drive in July. NBC affiliate WLEX said the suspected killer lived at the duplex.

WKYT reported that Birl gunned down the Hagers, barricaded himself inside a dwelling, and then set it on fire. Citing court and police documents, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the police detonated “rounds of powdered gas” inside the burning building to further smoke out the suspect; Birl then “leaped” from the burning building while it was on fire.

A screengrab from WLEX-TV shows a smoky scene after the suspect allegedly set fire to the property recently purchased by the victims.

A screengrab from WLEX-TV shows a smoky scene after the suspect allegedly set fire to the property recently purchased by the victims.

The local police department noted in a Facebook post that Birl was taken into custody with some degree of difficulty given the barricade and the subsequent fire:

Due to how Mr. Birl chose to exit his barricaded position, he was taken to a medical facility as a safety precaution to ensure he did not have any injuries not visible to law enforcement. Mr. Birl remains at the medical facility with law enforcement at his side and will be taken to a Detention Facility as soon as his treatment is complete.

The police department said it arrested Birl on two counts of murder, one count of first-degree arson, tampering with physical evidence, and first-degree criminal mischief.

Despite the link to the property, the police department said it was unclear whether or why the victims were targeted.

“It is unknown at this time if the victims were familiar with the suspect before their death,” the Facebook post continued. “The preliminary investigation did not indicate the victims were at the residence to serve notice of eviction. The investigation is still underway, and detectives are still processing evidence. As updates become available, we will release the information as soon as possible.”

Another screengrab from WLEX-TV shows a police officer outside the crime scene.

Another screengrab from WLEX-TV shows a police officer outside the crime scene.

Neighbor Deborah Fennell told WKYT that she heard two gunshots, looked outside, and saw Birl blasting away Gracie Hager, who was inside a pickup truck. Christopher Hager had already been shot and was “laying on the concrete” screaming, Fennell said.

Birl “was at the cab of the truck,” Fennell recalled, and “shot about three shots into the cab of the truck like he was really trying to kill the person in the truck.”

Then the neighbor said Birl returned his attention to Christopher Hager to finish the job. Birl shot Christopher Hager in the head, she said.

Fennell described Birl’s actions as both menacing and fatal.

“He was vicious about it,” Fennell said. “When he was shooting that poor woman, he was taking the gun and pushing at . . . and shooting at the same time . . . like he couldn’t kill her hard enough for something. He was vicious. And he was vicious when he turned around and shot the guy, the last blow that killed him. That completely silenced him.”

The police told the newspaper that the victims’ property was almost an entire loss. It sold recently for $130,000; a friend of the victims calculated the damage at about $100,000.

Lexington’s interim police chief told WLEX that the victims were well known.

“Our community is saddened because Mr. and Mrs. Hager are pillars of our community,” said Rodney Richardson. “A lot of people knew them. A lot of people had contact with them.”

Watch WLEX’s coverage below:

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University.  He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now a Senior Editor for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only.  You should not rely on it for legal advice.  Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.  This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.  Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.