By Taylor Likens
CONROE — Thursday marked the final chapter in a relationship between husband and wife that only one spouse survived. In the 359th District Court of Judge Kathleen Hamilton, Ryan Sumstad was formally sentenced to 20 years in prison, as a plea agreement for the 2011 strangulation death of his wife, Christie Sumstad.
Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Jim Prewitt said Christie Sumstad’s lifeless body was found in her upstairs bedroom.
“There was broken glass on the floor and looked like there was a struggle,” Prewitt said. “He indicated she drank too much, took pills she wasn’t supposed to take and was deeply depresse and suicidal.”
Ryan Sumstad texted his sister early that morning, saying his wife kicked him out around 11:30 p.m. the night before, and he was concerned because she had been depressed and suicidal, and was not answering her phone. He told his sister he thought Christie Sumstad just “needed to talk to someone” besides him, and he asked his sister to go over and check on his wife. But Ryan Sumstad knew his wife was already dead when he sent his sister to their house. Ryan Sumstad left his three children in the house with their mother’s dead body all night and then arranged for his own sister to find her.
At the time, Sumstad was an IT manager for a Houston company. His IQ is over 140, and he is a West Point graduate with an engineering degree, according to prosecutors. But Sumstad looked much better on paper than to those who knew the couple.
Sherri Passmore, the victim’s sister, said her sister was a strong person who deeply loved her children and touched the lives of everyone around her.
“It’s like taking the light out,” she said.
But Passmore said Ryan Sumstad could not be more different from her sister, which is part of why her death is so “devastating.”
She said the most difficult part was her giving, loving sister being gone, while her killer, who lies and takes and thinks only of himself “gets to take up space and suck air.”
“The enormity is depressing,” Passmore said.
“I never believed this was a suicide,” she said. “I knew there were marital problems. I knew he was meaner than a snake, but I knew she would never ever leave her children.”
Christie Sumstad’s youngest daughter, Alissa, remembers her mother as a “very nice person.”
“I don’t really remember much, but I remember she never really got mad at us,” she said. “She was always very forgiving and was never harsh when she punished us if we did something bad.”
Alissa said sometimes she is able to forget what happened and feel as though she is only visiting her grandparents, instead of living with them because her mother is dead and her father is in jail. Then reality sets in.
“Sometimes I feel like crying because I’ll never see her again,” she said.
Christie Sumstad left behind three children, ages 16, 11, and 9 years old. The devoted mother was also homeschooling them.
Passmore said her sister mentioned having a film of Ryan Sumstad assaulting another person at a party at their house and said she kept it secret from him, because she was worried about what might happen.
“It never dawned on me it could go this far,” she said. “I was in shock. Everybody was in shock.”
At first, Ryan Sumstad played the grieving husband. Mourners contacted the widower with their condolences and Sumstad created a website in memory of Christie, along with instructions on what offerings to bring to her funeral. Rather than accept the gifts typically associated with the passing of a loved one, Sumstad instead requested that friends and family donate to their son’s college fund, offering to accept checks made out in his name.
The victim’s family and close friends were immediately suspicious, saying the way Ryan Sumstad characterized his wife’s behavior and mood was not what they saw. In fact, the family says one friend called to check on Christie Sumstad after her husband talked about how depressed she was. Christie Sumstad had no idea what her friend was talking about.
Christie Sumstad’s stepfather had difficulty speaking through his tears, saying “Chris was loved by everybody – Ryan was another case.”
He said he and others tolerated Ryan Sumstad only because of Christie and the kids and that Christie had even filed for divorce at one time because of his infidelity. However, he lost all of his money and she allowed to her return home and tried to make it work.
Ryan Sumstad’s social activities immediately following his wife’s death also raised red flags and increased suspicion.
Prewitt said numerous witnesses were subpoenaed to testify about Ryan Sumstad’s activities in the first few months following his wife’s death. He was actively seeking female companionship and met one woman through the online dating site E-Harmony, which he joined two-and-a-half weeks after Christie’s death. He met a Dallas area woman on three different occasions. He also began a sexual relationship with his wife’s close friend as well as a female companion of his from high school. The last relationship quickly became serious and Ryan Sumstad was considering moving himself and Christie’s three children to Utah to be with the new woman in his life less than three months after their mother’s death.
Despite all of the suspicion and speculation, Prewitt said the investigation was temporarily stalled. Unfortunately, At the time of Christie Sumstad’s death, the local Forensics Office was in the midst of being replaced with a newer facility, so her remains were sent to the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office for a full autopsy. Her body was returned to Magnolia for the funeral, and Ryan Sumstad immediately began to move on.
In fact, Christie Sumstad’s jeweler friend, Dave Sottilare, said Ryan Sumstad went to see him only a few days after her death. He had both their wedding rings, and wanted them “melted down.”
It wasn’t until June 13, at the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office, Christie’s autopsy report was finally received. The results showed that Christie Sumstad had been strangled. On June 20, an arrest warrant was issued for Ryan Sumstad. Within 24 hours, Sumstad had turned himself in to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and was under a bond of $500,000.
Judge Hamilton gave Ryan Sumstad 1,003 days credit for time served, making him eligible for parole in seven years. However the prosecutor and family pointed out that was only eligibility and not a guarantee.
Christie Sumstad’s family feels the 20 year plea bargain is not nearly enough, but Passmore said they needed “closure.”
“It will enable the kids to put this weight behind them and grow up without the experience of a trial,” she said. “Hopefully, it’s better for us all.”
While he was in jail, Christie Sumstad’s grieving and frustrated family began investigating Ryan Sumstad online. Sumstad had profiles on numerous websites promoting himself and businesses that did not exist, and was the subject of many complaints.
The most common complaints were directed against a fake company Sumstad had started under the name Insight Energy Ventures (IEV), which in 2007 Sumstad had falsely claimed boasted venture capital fund of $1.83 billion.
With the assistance of his friend, Mark Flynn, Sumstad perpetuated the illusion of a legitimate and thriving business. The business was certainly profitable, but not for investors. IEV would approach owners of gold-rich land with offerings to finance mining operations, then using lies and manipulation to take their money, ultimately leaving the land owners in debt. Sources say one IEV secretary was fired after two weeks because she realized the men were “cooking the books.”
For years, Sumstad had been conning thousands of dollars out of innocent victims. One such victim was Florida resident Neal Jacobson.
In January of 2010, paramedics in Wellington, Florida responded to a crashed vehicle in an intersection. Inside was Jacobson, covered in blood. As the paramedics treated him, Jacobson confessed he had just murdered his wife and 7-year-old sons. After shooting them in his $750,000 home, Jacobson took Xanax, climbed into his vehicle, and drove into the intersection to attempt suicide. It was twin sons’ seventh birthday.
Authorities would later find that Jacobson had lost a literal fortune in one of Sumstad’s schemes; according to his own estimates, in five years his family went from $2.2 million in savings to $2.3 million in debt. Jacobson claimed he had “snapped” under the pressure of their losses and pleaded guilty for the murder of his wife and children.
Christie Sumstad’s stepfather said he believes her killer will victimize more people and return to jail after his release, hopefully spending the rest of his life in prison.