Tara Carter murder: Woman ordered daughter's boyfriend to kill tenant with crowbar to get insurance money

Celestine Payne ordered her daughter's boyfriend to murder her tenant with a crowbar so that she could get her hands on a heavy insurance payout

                            Tara Carter murder: Woman ordered daughter's boyfriend to kill tenant with crowbar to get insurance money
Celestine Payne (New Jersey Prison, DOC)

A body of a young woman in a sleeping bag was discovered by two joggers at Eastside Park in Paterson in New Jersey on March 4, 1995. The victim had no identification, and she was "young, 18 or 19, fairly tall, young lady, about 130 pounds, Black female."  When police got down to investigating it, from there on started to unwind a trail of blood, deception and intrigue. 

Now Oxygen, through its documentary series 'Snapped' is having a go at uncovering what led to the young girl's murder.


When the victim’s fingerprints were run through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, investigators got a name - Tara Carter. Carter's body appeared to have suffered from massive trauma to the back of her head. There was also no blood at the scene where the body was found, indicating that she had been murdered elsewhere.

Carter had been born in 1976 and been part of a tight family. She had been described as being bubbly and had no problem making friends, her sister Rosie Carter revealed in the documentary. Carter had become close friends with a classmate from school Wendy Payne, with the girls' families becoming friends as well. Wendy's father, Alfonso Payne died in 1991. He was found dead on the street and his death was ruled accidental, a result of mixing drugs with alcohol. Wendy's mother, Celestine Payne, was a homemaker.  Carter's family eventually moved away to Albany in Georgia and at 14, Carter became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. Some years later, after missing her hometown, Carter returned to Paterson along with her sister. She then rented a room at Celestine's house and decided to focus on becoming a successful hairdresser. Carter planned to get a cosmetology license and move back to Georgia to be with her daughter, who was with her parents but her plans never materialized, thanks to Celestine Payne.

Rosie and Carter had been planning to return to Georgia, the week when Carter died, the Friday night before they were set to leave, they were going to attend a concert together, but her younger sister never showed up, said Rosie.

Celestine Payne 

When investigators spoke to Celestine, they were told that Carter had not been seen since March 3. Celestine allowed the authorities to come inside the house and search through Carter's belongings. After she gave them a suitcase of Carter's things, Celestine told the authorities that Carter kept some of her stuff in the basement as well. Chief Assistant Prosecutor John A Snowdon Jr revealed, "They all went down to the basement to look through some more stuff, and while they were down there, detectives noticed a brown stain on the floor." The brown stain turned out to be a drop of dried blood. 

When investigators looked at the support beams in the basement, they noticed even more stains which led them to believe that Carter had been killed upstairs and her blood had seeped through the floors. Snowdon Jr. added, "That of course did narrow down the suspects to someone that knew her and had access to the house. Celestine’s son, Celestine’s daughters, there were several men that lived in or frequented Celestine’s house. A lot of people were coming and going, so there were quite a few potential suspects at that point."


Upon conducting a search of the house, the authorities found a life insurance policy on a man named Eugene Cooper which had named Celestine as the beneficiary. The authorities recognized the name as they had investigated an attempt on Cooper's life the previous year. Cooper told the police that he had been attacked by a man called Charles Darby who he had met at Celestine's house. No one by the name Darby showed up during an investigation but authorities found that Celestine's daughter Wendy had been dating a man called Charles Pinchom who turned out to be the 'Darby' who attacked Cooper. 

Pinchom admitted to stabbing him but said that the plan was made by Celestine and Wendy. He revealed he had been promised some money for the same. When asked about Carter's murder, he said Celestine had asked him to kill her but he had refused. On the day of the murder, he had gone to Celestine's house where he found Celestine and her son Aubrey Payne dragging Carter's body across the floor. The police were able to uncover yet another life insurance policy which named Celestine as the beneficiary. 

Getting caught

Upon realizing that her son was being charged with murder, Celestine confessed to her crimes. Retired Paterson Police Captain Frank Robin shared, "She admitted to the fact that they conspired to kill [Tara]. She knew we knew all about the insurance policies and everything." She had told her daughter Wendy to impersonate her friend Carter and obtain the life insurance policy. 

Pinchom had been recruited as the killer. Pinchom had struck Carter many times in the back of the head using a crowbar, as per court documents, Celestine revealed. Pinchom came clean about his role in the murder after which Wendy was also taken into custody. Wendy claimed that her mother Celestine's insurance scams ran deep and she had also been tied to many arsons. Robina said, "She also said that she had no doubt that her mom poisoned her father."

Celestine had been secretly drugging her husband with prescription pills and post his death, had collected $56,000 in insurance benefits. 


Wendy pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit murder in the second degree and one count of attempted murder in the first degree and was sentenced to 28 years in prison. She was released in 2009. Both Celestine and Pinchom pleaded guilty to all counts and were sentenced to life in prison with a 30-year parole disqualifier. Celestine went to jail on July 18, 1997, and is currently at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, which was formerly also known as the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women. It is located in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. 

They will only be eligible for parole in 2034. 

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