Christopher Matthew Henderson, left, and Rhonda Jean Carlson
Photo: Madison County Jail
Photo: Madison County Jail

Bigamist, 1st wife indicted in 5 slayings, including pregnant 2nd wife, unborn child

Christopher Matthew Henderson, 42, and Rhonda Jean Carlson, 44, are accused of shooting and stabbing the victims before setting their home on fire in August 2015. The slayings took place in the rural community of New Market, located just northeast of Huntsville. 

Both Henderson and Carlson were indicted by a Madison County grand jury last month, according to court records. Henderson was indicted on 19 counts of capital murder, and Carlson was indicted on 18 counts. 

The pair are accused of killing Kristen Smallwood Henderson, 35, on Aug. 4, 2015, at her parents’ home, where she moved after initiating divorce proceedings against Christopher Henderson. Kristen Henderson had also filed a criminal complaint against her husband after learning he was also married to Carlson. 

Kristen Henderson was nine months pregnant with Christopher Henderson’s child, a daughter who her obituary said was to be named Loryn Brooke Smallwood. 

Also killed that day were:

  • Clayton Daniel Chambers, Kristen Henderson’s 8-year-old son;
  • Carol Jean Smallwood, Kristen Henderson’s 67-year-old mother; 
  • Eli Reed Sokolowski, Kristen Henderson’s 1-year-old nephew reported that the indictments show both suspects are charged with 18 counts of capital murder because the slayings took place during a first-degree burglary, a first-degree arson, the killing two or more people and in the process of killing a child under the age of 14. Christopher Henderson’s 19th charge was tacked on because he violated a protective order when he killed Kristen Henderson. 

The horrific details of the crime, which shocked the small New Market community, were laid out in a September 2015 preliminary hearing. Madison County Sheriff’s Office investigator Eugene Nash Jr. testified during the hearing that deputies and firefighters were called to Jean and Joe Smallwood’s home the afternoon of Aug. 4 on a report of a housefire with people trapped inside. 

As firefighters worked to put out the fire, which gutted the home, family members went to investigators on the scene with disturbing surveillance footage from the home’s security system, which they could access via cellphone. 

The security system had been installed just the week before, after Kristen Henderson obtained the protective order against her husband, Nash testified. 

The investigator testified that the footage showed:

  • Christopher Henderson entered the house a short time before Kristen Henderson and her son, Clayton Chambers, returned home that afternoon. 
  • Carlson, wearing gloves, approached the house carrying a gas can.
  • She and Henderson were seen leaving the house moments before smoke began to waft out.
  • Carlson’s Jeep Liberty could be seen in the footage.

Nash testified that Jean Smallwood was killed by a bullet from a .22-caliber weapon. Kristen Henderson, her son and his unborn sister were stabbed to death.

Eli Sokolowski was also stabbed, but the toddler died of smoke inhalation from the fire, the investigator said. Alabama State Fire Marshal’s Office investigators found pour patterns indicating arson, and debris from the burned home tested positive for gasoline, he said. 

Investigators searching Christopher Henderson’s mother’s home found a backpack containing a lock pick and duct tape, Nash testified. They also found the shirt he was allegedly wearing the day of the slayings. 

In Carlson’s Jeep, they found a .22-caliber rifle, a handgun and bullets. 

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Nash testified that Christopher and Kristen Henderson were married on Sept. 26, 2014. He and Carlson were married in February 2013, but their marriage was never dissolved. 

When questioned by investigators, Christopher Henderson did not give a statement. Nash testified, however, that the suspect did speak to him momentarily as he was processed into the county jail.

“I’m glad you caught me when you did, because I couldn’t live with what I’ve done,” Henderson said, according to the detective. 

Carlson, upon learning of the surveillance footage, told investigators that she dropped Henderson off at the Smallwood home and drove around for a while. She went back when he called and told her to come with the gas can.

Nash testified that Carlson admitted seeing blood and overturned furniture when she went in the home, and that she saw her husband pour gas on the floor. She said she did not see him light the fire, but heard the “whoosh” when it ignited. 

She said that, although she did not know her husband was going to kill anyone when she dropped him off, she “knew something bad was going to happen,” Nash said. 

Both Henderson and Carlson remain in the Madison County Jail awaiting trial. They are being held without bond. 

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