DIAL HIM FOR MURDER

HELLO? I NEED SOMEONE TO KILL MY HUSBAND.

Odd as it was, the caller's request didn't shock Leigh Wilson. "This woman on the other end said she had plenty of money and that she wanted a certain person killed," says Wilson, a 48-year-old Scottsdale businessman. "This may sound crazy, but I'm one of the few people in the Valley who would get a call like this and not be a bit surprised."

There's a good reason: Wilson owns a company known as Gunsmoke, Guns for Hire--it's in Phoenix's Yellow Pages. He provides entertainment. Among other things, Guns for Hire puts on Wild West theatrical shows for conventions, private parties and the like.

Thousands have enjoyed Wilson's kitschy Arizona revue for more than twenty years. Out-of-towners want to think of Arizona as the shoot-'em-up state of a century ago, when men settled spats on dusty Main Streets beneath an ever-blazing sun. The Guns for Hire concept feeds that fantasy in a colorful and harmless way.

The name generates prank telephone calls all the time.
"I get stuff like, `Hi. Is Matt Dillon there?'" Wilson says. "Or `Hi, do you have someone who can do a hit for me tonight? I need a hold-up man.' Kidding-around stuff."

But the call on the morning of January 4 was different from the others. "It took me a minute to comprehend what in the world I was really listening to," Wilson recalls. Finally, it struck him: "This woman wasn't kidding. I just knew it. She was cool as a cucumber. She did want me to get her a hit man. It was bizarre. Really."

The woman's "bizarre" telephone call to Leigh Wilson last January started a chain of events that culminated four days later in the parking lot of a Mesa restaurant. Police there arrested Sharleen Bath, a 46-year-old Canadian mother of two grown children.

Bath's intended victim was her husband of 28 years, James, the well-to-do owner of a construction company near Vancouver, British Columbia. Her alleged motive, police and prosecutors say, was one of the oldest in the book. Sharleen Bath had become enmeshed in an extramarital love affair and she apparently couldn't face the public humiliation of divorcing the man whom she married at eighteen. She resolved, the prosecution theory goes, to have James Bath murdered by a contract killer. She says she wasn't in it for the insurance money.

No one disputes that she handed MD120 Col 1, Depth P54.02 I9.03 almost $2,000 in Canadian and American currency to an undercover Phoenix detective masquerading as a professional killer. But her defense attorney is expected to argue she is legally insane.

Bath remains in the Maricopa County Jail in lieu of a $1 million bond. The erstwhile snowbird faces a 25-year prison term if convicted of conspiring to commit the premeditated murder of her husband.

She declined an opportunity to speak publicly about her case. The details have been gleaned from other interviews and from Phoenix Police Department reports.

The case's oddest detail, of course, is Bath's attempt to find a hit man by letting her fingers do the walking. She called Wilson back twice in three days. During their final conversation of January 7, Wilson put his "hit man" on the line to do business directly. Bath and the "hit man" agreed to meet in person the next day.

Unfortunately for Bath, the "hit man" was an undercover cop. Leigh Wilson has a hard time believing all this has happened. Upon reflection, however, he says, "This is Arizona, get what I'm saying? That this woman would want to pay for a hit isn't the amazing thing, I guess. The amazing thing is the way she went about it. `Hi, stranger. I want someone killed.'"

SHARLEEN BATH moved last November from her home in British Columbia to a Mesa trailer park. She needed an extended period of rest and relaxation, her Canadian doctors had told her, and a winter's stint in the Valley of the Sun seemed to fit the bill.

According to Bath's defense attorney Allen Bickart, doctors had diagnosed her as suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome about four months before she moved here for the winter. CFS is a baffling illness that wasn't identified until 1988. It's characterized by extreme fatigue and related symptoms that often include headaches, joint and muscle pain, and depression.

Defense lawyer Bickart is expected to contend at trial that Bath's condition caused her to believe her husband had shipped her to Arizona because he had tired of her. She had contemplated suicide for a time, Bickart says, then transferred her antipathy to James Bath.

"This was a caring and loving mother and wife whose whole personality changed because of her illness," Bickart Col 3, Depth P54.10 I9.14 get involved in something until we knew a little more about what's goin' on."

Replied Bath, "Basically, it would be best if it was in Canada. And the sooner the better. I could send you something as a deposit to show good faith."

Bath said she'd call back two days later, and Wilson promised to have his hit man standing by. That's where Detective Jack Ballentine comes into the picture.

The thirteen-year Phoenix police veteran had been working for months behind the scenes of AzScam, the state's biggest political-sting operation. One of Ballentine's supervisors at the Organized Crime Bureau told him to take a break from the sting to act as a "hit man" for a while.

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