LOUISVILLE — Posing in an apron last fall on the cover of Southern Indiana Living as she rolled dough with her 3-year-old in her lap, Laura Anne Buckingham looked like the picture of domesticity.
But the 5-foot-4, 110-pound former Marine who served two tours in Iraq said she was never a "domestic diva."
She boxed in high school, won a Toughman contest and rejected a modeling career to prove herself in the Marine Corps, her stepfather said. And even as a baker, she tested the limits.
"I like to do weird breads," Buckingham told a (Louisville) Courier-Journal food writer in 2014 for a story about Bread and Breakfast, her café and bakery in downtown New Albany, Ind. "Because I have never had formal training, I don't have a level of appropriateness, and I have no restraints."
She may well have been talking about her life, if allegations against her are true.
Buckingham, 29, is sitting in a jail in Roane County, Tennessee, 40 miles west of Knoxville, charged with attempted first-degree murder for paying a man she thought was a contract killer to murder a former boyfriend who is the father of her child.
According to court papers, frustrated with having to make weekly trips from her new home in Tennessee to deliver her son for visits with Bradley Sutherland — and fearful she might lose custody altogether — Buckingham allegedly turned to a new boyfriend, Joseph Chamblin, an ex- a former Marine sniper who was court-martialed for urinating on the bodies of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, and asked if he could make Sutherland "go away."
At first, Chamblin thought she was joking, according to an incident report. But when she repeated her request and asked for details about how it could be accomplished, he began secretly recording her and eventually turned over the recordings to the Roane County Sheriff's Office.
A detective who listened to the recordings said in a report that "it was clear Laura was not joking."
And when she was introduced to a Tennessee Bureau of Investigations agent posing as a hit man, she allegedly agreed to pay him $30,000 for the job and turned over part of the money.
Before she was arrested Feb. 24 in Kingston, Tennessee, the sheriff's department there had Louisville detectives notify Sutherland of the plot, then had him stage his own death in a parking garage, to fool Buckingham into thinking her plan had succeeded.
"It was traumatic," Sutherland said in an interview.
It sounds like something out of a Hollywood script, and Sutherland said his family already has been approached by a writer. But he is determined not to give the story away.
"I want to formally and publicly reserve the rights to any books, stories, screenplays, movies, TV shows, etc., pertaining to the murder-for-hire case at hand between Laura Buckingham and myself," he proclaimed on Facebook.
Buckingham, who is being held on $150,000 bond, has pleaded not guilty.
Military photos show former Cpl. Laura Buckingham wielding her service rifle in the desert. Buckingham is accused of plotting to hire a gunman to kill her ex-boyfriend.
Photo Credit: U.S. Navy
Roane County Public Defender Kim Nelson declined to comment on the case, but her office has asked for bond to be reduced, citing in part the fact that Buckingham is pregnant.
On the other side, the District Attorney General's Office wants a judge to raise her bond, saying she's traveled extensively to international locations and that her "unique military training and experience, coupled with historical mental health concerns, pose an increased danger to the community should she be released."
To her friends and customers in Southern Indiana, who know her as a friendly entrepreneur committed to organic and locally grown ingredients, the allegations are unbelievable.
"What has transpired in Tennessee is totally foreign to what I know of her," said Owen Kane, 73, a retired shoe salesman who met her when she was selling bread at a farmers market, then volunteered to pick up flour for her every other week in Midway, Kentucky. "I am at a total loss."
Who is the real Laura Buckingham?
Her stepfather, Brutus Ward, said she was always a "gung ho little girl" who ran cross-country and boxed at Eureka High School in Humboldt County on what is known as Northern California's Wild Coast.
He said he urged her to go into the Navy, like him and her brother, but she insisted on the Marines to prove her toughness.
She served from 2004 to 2008, earning a Good Conduct Medal and an Iraq Campaign Medal, the Marine Corps says. Military publicity photos show her wielding her service rifle in the desert and helping typhoon victims in Bangladesh.
But when she mustered out as a lance corporal and returned to Southern Indiana, where her family had moved, she had "very bad" post-traumatic stress disorder, Ward said.
Sutherland, who met her about five years ago, also said she was "dealing with some demons" when she came home, while Kane said she talked about having "a great deal of concerns about her past in the military."
Sutherland said the bakery "worked its therapy" on her, as did the love of their child.
After starting her baked-goods business from a roadside stand, she moved into a downtown New Albany store in July 2013 and boasted that 600 people came to the grand opening. "The bread has been flying directly out of the oven, our gluten free crowd is expanding and the word is out about our bacon cinnamon rolls," she said on the business' Facebook page. "We have a dream team here at the bakery."
Drama seemed to swirl around Buckingham, some of it involving her suitors.
After she broke up with Sutherland in July 2013, the next year a man literally knocked down her door to see her while she was entertaining another boyfriend. Citing police reports, the News and Tribune said a New Albany police officer broke down her door to get into her apartment.
She declined to press charges against the officer, an ex-boyfriend, saying she still loved him and didn't want to ruin his career, the newspaper reported. A grand jury investigated but returned no indictment.
On Buckingham's personal Facebook page, where she went by "Lara Lodus," her postings grew bizarre, said William Gimbel, a customer who befriended her.
In one, she said, "Sometimes, the person you'd take a bullet for turns out to be the one behind the gun."
Still, Sutherland said she seemed fine the Sunday before her arrest, when he and his fiancee shared a meal with her and their son in New Albany.
Now, she faces 15 years in prison for "attempting to commit the offense of first-degree murder by hiring and paying another" to kill him and "taking a substantial step toward the commission of that offense."
Ward, her stepfather, said he hopes the evidence will show she was set up and that the case "is not what it's cracked up to be."
Meanwhile, her son, about to turn 4, is living with his father in New Albany.
"I told him that Mommy's new job is keeping her busy," Sutherland said, "and he'll be staying with Daddy for a while."
Contributing: Grace Schneider, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal.