Auto family tragedy: Two Crabtree family members die in apparent murder-suicide

Police in Oklahoma are investigating what appears to be the murder-suicide of two members of Crabtree family, the former owners of auto dealerships in Shelton and elsewhere in the region.

On July 22, Tulsa police found the bodies of Kimberly Crabtree, 50, and Joseph Crabtree Jr., 17, dead from gun shot wounds inside a closet in a home on South Delaware Avenue in that Oklahoma city.

Initial reports are that Joseph Jr. may have shot his mother and then himself in what was an agreed-upon plan by the two family members.

However, there still are questions about whether Kimberly Crabtree may have shot herself. There is do doubt that Joseph Jr. killed himself, said Tulsa Police Sgt. Dave Walker.

Walker said the next-of-kin of the two deceased Crabtree family members have been contacted at a Vermont location.

Dealerships were on Bridgeport Avenue

The children’s father and Kimberly’s husband, Joseph Crabtree, died in 2008 at age 52 of natural causes, according to his obituary.

The elder Joseph Crabtree had worked with his father in the auto business, becoming the owner of multiple franchises in Connecticut and Westchester County, N.Y. At one point, they owned and operated nine dealerships, including one in southern California, according to his obituary.

"Joe worked with his father to become one of the first mega [car] dealers in the country," stated the elder Joseph Crabtree's 2008 obituary.

Business closed abruptly in 2007

At times, this included Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Subaru, Kia and Dodge dealerships in Shelton on Bridgeport Avenue. The last Shelton dealerships closed abruptly in 2007 after multiple customer complaints about their practices, which led to a state investigation of alleged false advertising.

“We have been getting a lot of complaints,” Shelton Police Det. Tom Federowicz told the Shelton Herald at the time. Most of the complaints involved people who traded in older cars to purchase new ones, only to learn that the dealership didn't pay off the loans on the trade-ins, Federowicz had said.

He said that left the complainants with two car loans to pay — one on the new car, and one on the car they no longer had.

State investigated dealership practices

The state investigations focused on questionable promotions to purchase or lease cars with no money down and extremely low monthly payments as well as steep limited-time-only price discounts.

“We contend that Crabtree cynically deceived customers, using the mirage of deals and discounts to lure customers into their showrooms,” then-state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in August 2007. “Customers discovered that the special offers and major markdowns disappeared when they walked through the dealership’s doors.”

The former Crabtree Auto site at 405 Bridgeport Ave. has been sold to a local developer and now is mostly vacant. There are plans to put a shopping center on the property. It is at the corner of Nells Rock Road.

Built a business, involved in community

“Oh my God,” a saddened Mayor Mark Lauretti said when told about what had happened in Oklahoma.

Lauretti said he knew the elder Joseph Crabtree as a businessman who built a business in the city and was involved in the community.

“I have a picture of Joe giving a $5,000 check to a Shelton school playground,” Lauretti said.

Lauretti said he didn’t know the elder Joseph Crabtree’s family members that well, including the two now-deceased members. The family had lived in Shelton’s White Hills neighborhood.

Family member became suspicious

Walker, the Tulsa police sergeant, said police had to forcefully enter the residence with the Crabtrees inside after a family member — Kimberly’s sister — became worried that something was wrong inside the house.

Kimberly and Joseph Jr. were found shot dead inside a closet together.

While no specific suicide note was found, Walker said a note was found in Kimberly’s handwriting that indicated the shooting was a planned event.

Walker said Kimberly had purchased the gun used in the incident that day, and there were no signs of struggle inside the house.

“The only question is whether she pulled the trigger on herself,” he said. “There is no doubt that [Joseph Jr.} killed himself.”

Medical Examiner’s Office has role

Upcoming findings by the Tulsa Medical Examiner’s Office should help clarify exactly how the two individuals died, Walker said. “We’ll get the Medical Examiner’s Office rulings and go from there,” Walker said of the ongoing investigation into the case.

He said Joseph Jr. had been attending a boarding school in Utah, and was expected to enroll at a boarding school back East this fall. He previously had attended some private schools in Tulsa, he said.

Elder Joe Crabtree involved in Shelton

The 2008 obituary of the elder Joseph Crabtree said he had been a coach for the Shelton Youth Football League and a member of Brownson Country Club in Shelton.

The elder Joseph Crabtree’s service and burial took place in Greenwich. His obituary states he was born in New Rochelle, N.Y., and educated in Greenwich.

It does not appear an obituary has been posted yet on Kimberly or Joseph Jr.

There are two other members of the immediate Crabtree family — Michael Robert and Katherine, who are Kimberly’s children and Joseph Jr.’s siblings.