NJ mom's murder leads to international manhunt and an unforgettable twist

An all-new "20/20" looks into the brutal murder of a successful financial adviser that stunned a tiny neighborhood.

ByClaire Lempert and Sami Wanderer ABCNews logo
Friday, December 8, 2023
'20/20 Diary of a Killer' airs on ABC
Deborah Roberts shares a preview of "20/20: Diary of a Killer."

On an early October morning in 2018, investigators responded to a call in the affluent suburb of Montclair, New Jersey. When they arrived at the home, investigators were met with a grisly scene - 44-year-old Angela Bledsoe was lying dead on her kitchen floor.

The mother and financial adviser had been shot to death in the home she shared with her boyfriend, 55-year-old attorney James R. Ray III.

"20/20" examines the chilling case and ensuing international manhunt in an episode airing Friday, Dec. 8, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC and streaming the next day on Hulu.

Angela Bledsoe, 44, was found dead at her New Jersey home in 2018.
Angela Bledsoe, 44, was found dead at her New Jersey home in 2018.
Lisa LaBoo

James Ray's brother Robert recalls becoming emotional as he read a letter written by his brother on the evening of Oct. 22, 2018. Robert's former wife found the one-page typed letter in his niece's suitcase.

Robert and his wife didn't see their niece often, and her visit to their home was the result of an unexpected request from James, who asked them to watch his and Angela's young daughter for 24 hours.

What James didn't explain, but was revealed in that letter, was that he had shot and killed Bledsoe in what he claimed was self-defense.

"Based on the content of that letter, Robert Ray called 911," Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Michele Miller told "20/20."

Sgt. Frank Ricci - a former detective with the Montclair Police Department - recalls arriving at the home James Ray shared with Bledsoe and seeing a bloody crime scene. Ricci says he could see "the legs of Miss Bledsoe lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood" when he looked through the sliding door into the kitchen.

Investigators began to piece together the scene, examining blood trails, multiple guns, shell casings, and a fallen clock in the kitchen sink. James Ray, the owner of the house and the shooter, was nowhere to be found.

While authorities searched for Ray, Bledsoe's loved ones were mourning her death. Bledsoe's sister, Lisa LaBoo, remembers her younger sister as an intelligent and accomplished woman who had graduated from Florida A&M University. During her days at Florida A&M, she participated in student government and was an active member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

"She had 11 job offers which was phenomenal," LaBoo continued, "She was so smart, she was hardworking..."

After graduation, Bledsoe moved to New York City and took a prestigious job in finance. She was doing so well that she purchased a brownstone in Brooklyn.

"I didn't know too many 27-year-olds who were able to buy their first home, let alone in New York, in Brooklyn, in a brownstone," Brooke Dean, Bledsoe's cousin, told "20/20."

Lisa LaBoo of Eustis, Fla., holds up a button Monday depicting her sister, Angela Bledsoe, who was found shot to death in her home in Montclair, N.J., in October 2018.
Lisa LaBoo of Eustis, Fla., holds up a button Monday depicting her sister, Angela Bledsoe, who was found shot to death in her home in Montclair, N.J., in October 2018.
AP Photo/ David Porter

While working as a financial adviser, Bledsoe met James R. Ray, III, when he hired her to work at his insurance brokerage firm. Before starting his business, Ray had served as a United States Marine, an NYPD officer, and had earned a law degree.

Dean told "20/20" the couple's involvement was not initially surprising; they had a lot in common "as it pertained to business," recalls Dean.

But even early on, her family alleges there were problems in Ray and Bledsoe's relationship. The most glaring issue being Bledsoe's realization that Ray was married when they started dating.

"I do not recall how she found out, but she was not pleased, as you can imagine," Bledsoe's friend Jamila McCoy said. "It's not in her character to date a married man, and it would never have been her first choice to become involved with a married man."

But Dean says the stakes became higher when Angela learned she was pregnant.

"I was beginning not to like him, and I didn't like their dynamic together," Dean said. "But then when she got pregnant with their daughter, I think that locked her in."

In 2012, the couple's daughter was born and, a few years later, Angela and the little girl moved into Ray's Upper Montclair home.

McCoy said that Bledsoe wanted to ensure her daughter had the "best experiences, best opportunities, the exposure." One way Bledsoe did that was by enrolling her daughter in a private Mandarin language immersion school.

Beneath the surface, tensions between Bledsoe and Ray were intensifying; Ray accused Bledsoe of being unfaithful and Bledsoe told her family that she was making plans to move out. Those close to Bledsoe grew increasingly concerned as she showed them heated text messages from Ray.

Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Michele Miller told "20/20" about Bledsoe's breaking point in the relationship.

"Angela Bledsoe sent a text message to James Ray indicating that she was done. She was done with the relationship," Miller said.

Although Bledsoe seemingly no longer wanted to be with Ray, her family says there was no reason to believe that Bledsoe would become violent with Ray.

"If anything, I felt like she felt sorry for him because she knew she was going to leave him," Dean said. "So, I can't imagine her threatening him or trying to hurt him."

Yet Ray alleges a different story of the events leading up to Bledsoe's death in his written letter:

"I was about to clean my guns and Angela picked up one as she was going to shoot me. I reacted in the heat of the moment, eased down and couldn't stop firing," Ray wrote in the letter to his brother.

The Bledsoe family was in disbelief at the suggestion Bledsoe had threatened Ray with a gun.

James Ray III stands as the jury enters the courtroom before opening arguments for Ray
James Ray III stands as the jury enters the courtroom before opening arguments for Ray's murder trial in Judge Verna Leath's courtroom in Newark on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.
Danielle Parhizkaran/The Record via AP, Pool

"20/20" Co-Anchor Deborah Roberts interviewed LaBoo for this report.

"Did your sister have familiarity with guns? Did she -," Roberts asked.

"No," LaBoo interjected.

"-Shoot guns?" Roberts asked.

"No, she did not," LaBoo said.

More than a week after Bledsoe's death, Ray was still on the run.

After Essex County issued an international warrant for Ray, investigators received a pivotal and unexpected lead - Ray had left the country, flying first to Mexico City and then to Cuba, a country that has no extradition agreement with the U.S.

FBI agent Brandon Lackey recalls the surprising call he received from his supervisor asking if he could fly to Cuba the next day. According to Lackey, he never imagined a day when he "would be traveling down to Cuba to take a fugitive into custody."

On Halloween 2018, Lackey arrived in Havana, and Cuban law enforcement turned Ray over to the American federal agents. Ray was flown to New Jersey on an FBI plane, where he was taken into custody at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark.

Upon his capture, authorities discovered something else: an 18-page handwritten diary with Ray's version of what happened that fateful day when Bledsoe was shot.

In an interview with Miller, Deborah Roberts asked her about the significance of Ray's writings. "He chronicled so much of his escape," Roberts said. "How important was this journal to you in your case?"

"It was extremely important," Miller said, explaining, "You compare it to the evidence that you have and you're able to corroborate or contradict what he is claiming."

Four years after Bledsoe was gunned down by Ray, he finally stood trial for her murder. Bledsoe's grief-stricken family and friends appeared in the courthouse every day.

The prosecution team, led by Miller, had the challenge of striking down Ray's self-defense argument and seeking justice for the Bledsoe family.

Miller told "20/20" that she believes an especially disturbing aspect of this case was the fact that Bledsoe's young child was dropped off at school by her mother one morning and then "she never saw her mother again."

Ray was defended by fierce and theatric New Jersey defense attorney Brooke Barnett. The trial was bitter and long, characterized by high emotions and harsh allegations on the stand.

But what happens next is an unforgettable twist, leaving everyone connected to the case shocked. Ray would be convicted, but never spend a day in prison.