Idaho Murders: Inside the Lives of the 4 Victims

Down a narrow path and across a field, their beloved housemate Xana entered the bright blue Sigma Chi frat house with her first-ever boyfriend, 20-year-old Ethan Chapin. Not a lot had improved in the past decade with Xana’s mom; Cara had recently been arrested again for possession of a controlled substance, this time with the intention of dealing. Yet Xana was thriving. She found meaning in Elton John’s lyrics: “Live for each second without hesitation.” She loved Nirvana, bunny rabbits, and glitter too. The home she’d built with Kaylee and Maddie was full of fun. (Xana was the only one of her housemates with brown hair. But that was okay because “brunette girls are good for the soul.”) She had strong opinions but was also the first to admit that she was still learning: “All legends fall in the making,” and “I would just like to publicly announce that I have no idea what I’m doing.” 

But Xana knew that she loved Ethan. He was kind, hilarious, and fun. On a roller-coaster ride, he’d flash his nipples just as the camera flashed. Sometimes he dressed up like a hot dog. Other times he burst out singing songs from Moana. His drink was Bud Light Lime. To understand Ethan, all anybody really needed to know was that he was a tulip farmer. A fellow gardener would later describe Ethan’s soul as “100% pure.”

Ethan invited Xana to his vacation house in Priest Lake, Idaho, last summer. They spent a lot of time with Ethan’s older brother (his dad’s son from an earlier marriage) and nephew, who loved to call Xana “Banana.” Every day Ethan rushed home from his summer job as a waiter to see Banana. They made each other laugh with inside jokes that nobody else understood. They adored each other.

The two kicked off their last night on earth at Sigma Chi, where the house dog was a husky named Bolt. Xana’s younger housemate, Bethany—a member of Xana and Maddie’s sorority—was also at Sigma Chi that night. Bethany would later say that Xana and Ethan’s relationship had made her believe in love. 

The Corner Club is brightly lit and squeaky clean. Founded in 1948, it’s the sort of town-and-gown place where local mechanics hang out with professors, and the bouncer is so hard on fake IDs that when U of Idaho students finally gain entry upon their actual 21st birthday, they feel they’ve earned their place. Every year the homecoming king and queen stand atop the bar and sing the fight song: “Came a tribe from the North, brave and bold / Bearing banners of silver and gold / Tried and true to subdue all their foes / Go Vandals, go mighty Vandals!”

Right along with the men’s sports memorabilia on show, the owner has taken care to display pom-poms, volleyballs, and women’s basketball jerseys. U of Idaho has a feminist history—in 1896, decades ahead of schools like Harvard and Yale, half of U of Idaho’s graduating class was made up of women. 

At the Corner Club, customers like Kaylee and Maddie could feel comfortable and safe telling an employee, “Hey, this guy isn’t making me feel good,” or “This guy did this,” or “This guy did that,” knowing that the matter would be addressed. Kaylee was recently single, but Maddie was almost two years into her first big romance. Her boyfriend, Jake, adored her; he loved how much she loved being “comfy”—whenever Maddie found a couch, she also managed to find a fuzzy blanket, popping off her shoes to reveal similarly fuzzy socks. He loved how, whenever they went places together, she routinely stopped to point out cute things to him (anything pink or tiny). 

Maddie and Kaylee breezed into the Corner Club around 10 p.m. that Saturday, six hours before the murders. Flat-screen TVs played ESPN on mute. Those who cared about college football were drowning their sorrows in “Tub Cups,” the Corner Club’s largest available drink size, weighing in at 30 ounces. After a solid season the U of Idaho Vandals had just lost an embarrassingly winnable game against UC Davis. Locals likely thought it would be the worst thing to happen that weekend.

Moscow, Idaho, police chief James Fry during a news conference on November 20, one week after the murders.James Keivom.

On November 13, around 1:30 a.m., Kaylee and Maddie exited the Corner Club and took a left on Main Street. It was 28 degrees outside, and cold air slipped through the torn knees of Kaylee’s wide-leg jeans. Maddie wore an oversized jacket. The sleeves flapped around her hands as she talked and gesticulated. They passed Zions Bank and Mingles—a billiards bar with a shark on its sign, wielding a cue stick in one fin and a martini glass in the other—before making their way to the Grub truck parked just down the road. While standing in line, Maddie recognized someone and went to give them one of her famous hugs. 

Kaylee swayed on her feet, struggling to say the word carbonara as she placed her order. She and Maddie booked a ride home. The Grub truck was less than a mile from 1122 King Road, but it was freezing out and walking home meant venturing down unlit stretches of road. They were smart. 

On the way home, they chatted with their driver, a guy they already knew because it was a small town and he’d picked them up before. Later he would say, “It’s not lost on me that my job was to get these girls home safe.”

Ten minutes later, Kaylee and Maddie climbed out of the car and trudged up the driveway to their house. It was nearly 2 a.m. Crumpled cans of Keystone beer littered the yard. At the girls’ many parties, strangers let themselves in and out of the house all the time. There was a number lock on the front door, the passcode to which the five housemates shared with their many friends, who, in turn, shared it with their friends. 

Xana and Ethan, along with Xana’s housemates Dylan and Bethany, had gotten home not long before.

Within the hour, Kaylee tried to call her ex-boyfriend, Jack DuCoeur, seven times. They’d dated for five years. He was her high school sweetheart. Kaylee’s family thought she would marry him. Instead she’d broken up with him three weeks earlier. 

Kaylee was starting over in every way. Beginning a brand-new chapter. But she and Jack still shared the dog that they’d gotten together, a goldendoodle named Murphy. Kaylee’s landlord had a no-pets policy, but perhaps they’d bent the rules for Murphy because he was so cute. The next day police would open Kaylee’s bedroom door to find the dog unharmed.

What the public knows about what happened next does not come from the girls or Ethan, but from the affidavit to arrest their alleged killer.

As the girls wound down and went to bed, a white Hyundai Elantra passed back and forth in front of the house. 

Bethany slept on the first floor of the house, in a subbasement built into a hill. Dylan had a bedroom on the second floor, the same level as Xana’s. One floor above that were Maddie’s and Kaylee’s rooms. 

Maybe the person in the Elantra could see their lights go out, one by one—perhaps they saw Xana’s flicker back on when she retrieved a late-night food delivery. In any case, the car stopped circling the block around 4 a.m. and parked outside.

From the back of the house, a sliding glass door opened into the kitchen, and would have revealed an anthropological buffet: a used colander, a sticky stack of unwashed cereal bowls, one partially consumed coffee. Beer pong was set up on one of the tables. In the living room hung a neon sign declaring “Good Vibes.” 

Dylan woke around 4 a.m. to what sounded like Kaylee playing with Murphy on the floor above. Then, it sounded like someone, one of the girls, said, “There’s someone here.” 

Dylan opened her bedroom door but saw nothing and went back to bed. When she heard “crying coming from Kernodle’s room,” followed by a male voice saying “something to the effect of, ‘It’s okay, I’m going to help you,’” she opened her door again, and again saw nothing. 

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