Everybody who knew their son, Gerald, agreed he was bad news. A neighbour at the trailer park in Phoenix where the Mabens lived told the Arizona Republic newspaper that Gerald, 20, was always "wrecking stuff, kicking stuff over ... A day or two ago he was zapping pigeons with a BB [pellet] gun. Yeah, he was trouble."
Young Gerald's behaviour became so intolerable that Mr and Mrs Maben were told by the owners of the trailer park that either he left or they would all be evicted. Gerald's parents decided that the only solution was to remove their son. Permanently. Unfortunately for them, the hitman they hired for $2,000 (£1,260) turned out to be Jack Ballentine, an undercover detective from the Phoenix police department.
Last week, Detective Ballentine told how Mr Maben described attempts to discipline his son. "I tried to control him," said Mr Maben. "I grabbed his lips with a pair of pliers and squeezed but it did no good."
Warned of the Mabens' murder plot, Detective Ballentine tricked them into thinking he was a professional hitman and arranged to meet them last Thursday.
"These people were so cold-blooded about it," he said. "I confirmed with them they wanted him killed. I asked if they wanted to know how I would do it, and said I would shoot him in the head with a gun. They thought that was just great."
The undercover policeman admitted to the couple that he was a little shocked. "She got mad at me and said, `If you can't do it, I can find someone in the Sunnyslope area to do it for $50'." Then the Mabens offered the detective $2,000 to do the job, at which point two other police officers appeared on the scene and arrested the would-be filicides.
Detective Ballentine said parents conspiring to kill their son was new to him, even though he had masqueraded as a hired killer on about 10 occasions.
"Perhaps the strangest case was about four years ago," he said. "A Canadian woman came here, figured it was the Wild West, and thought you could find killers in the phone book."
The woman, a Sunday-school teacher, found "Guns for Hire" in the telephone directory, rang the number and explained that she wanted her husband killed because she was in love with the manager of her yacht club and felt a divorce would be too hard on her family.
"Guns for Hire" was actually a theatre company: Detective Ballentine took the role of a hitman and the wife went to jail.Reuse content