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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Stranger She Loved

Dr. Martin MacNeill, His Beautiful Wife, and an Almost Perfect Murder

Shanna Hogan

St. Martin's True Crime



APRIL 11, 2007

A stray drop of water fell from the faucet and trickled across her cold, pallid skin.

Her body lay crumpled inside the drained bathtub, a long-sleeved black shirt clinging to her wet torso. She was tilted on her side, her nude lower half curled against the tub's slick porcelain wall.

The woman's ashen face-beautiful even in death-was marred by sutured incisions across her eyelids and around her scalp. Blood from the ruptured stitches wept into damp blond hair.

Hovering over the bathtub, a slim man with a tanned face and gray hair was wailing. "I need help! Help!"

From the doorway of the master bathroom, Kristi Daniels gaped wide-eyed at her next-door neighbors-Martin and Michele MacNeill. "I'll call nine-one-one," Kristi said, spinning away.

"I've already called nine-one-one!" Martin howled. "I need help getting her out of the tub."

But Kristi had already fled the bathroom, dashing down the hallway and out of the house. On the front porch she brushed past a little girl dressed in a khaki skirt, white-collared blouse, and blue blazer-a school uniform. She was the youngest of the MacNeills' adopted daughters, Ada.

Just moments earlier the doe-eyed six-year-old had knocked on Kristi's front door. "My dad needs some help." Kristi had followed Ada back toward the MacNeills' open front door. By the time she was halfway across the driveway, she had heard Martin's screams and had taken off running, leaving Ada outside.

Following the cries down the hallway and into the bathroom off the master bedroom, Kristi had discovered Martin and his dead wife. Her first thought was that she and Martin would not be able to lift Michele out of the tub by themselves. So Kristi-a petite blond flight attendant-had run to find help.

Crossing the shared driveway separating their properties, Kristi rushed back into her house and found her neighbor Angie Aguilar crouching in the foyer, tying her own daughter's shoes. A half hour earlier-around 11:20 A.M.-Angie and her daughter had stopped by the Danielses' house to drop off Kristi's son, as part of the neighborhood carpool. Following a brief visit, Angie was preparing to leave when Kristi burst back through the front door, her face contorted with panic.

"What's wrong?" Angie asked.

"I need you to come with me!" Kristi gasped. From a table in the front room, Kristi grabbed her cell phone and pressed a button to speed-dial her husband, Doug Daniels, who was just a few houses away, assisting another neighbor with a basement renovation.

"Martin needs help. Martin needs help," she said breathlessly. "Hurry, come fast..."

"Where are you?" Doug interrupted.

"The MacNeills'!"

Doug emerged from his neighbor's house, catching a glimpse of his wife and Angie slipping through the MacNeills' front door. He chased after them, sprinting through the gated subdivision of Creekside in Pleasant Grove, Utah. The usually peaceful community about thirty-five miles south of Salt Lake City is nestled in the foothills of the snowcapped mountains of the Wasatch Range.

The MacNeills' one-story home with its brick façade sat on a grassy lot dotted with hedges. The MacNeills, with their eight children, had one of the largest families in the neighborhood. Martin was a fifty-one-year-old practicing physician, law school graduate, and a former Mormon bishop. Fifty-year-old Michele was a stay-at-home mom who spent her days carting her youngest daughters to school and ballet practice.

Although Kristi and Doug had lived next door to the MacNeills for more than a year, the families didn't associate beyond exchanging the occasional pleasantries. Up until this day, Kristi hadn't even been inside their house.

Stepping into the master bathroom, Kristi and Angie found Martin kneeling beside the tub, cradling his wife's head in his hands. The sleeves of his lab coat were drenched. He had just reached into the basin to drain the murky brown bathwater in which Michele had been immersed.

The raised Jacuzzi tub in the center of the bathroom was inset in an elevated travertine tile deck. Sunlight streamed through a window next to the shower, illuminating a vase of lavender flowers on the tub's ledge.

Michele was clothed only in a long-sleeved black shirt worn over a white Mormon undergarment and bra, with no pants or underwear. Thick, cloudy mucus glazed her face, oozing from her nose and mouth onto her cheeks and onto the gaping gashes across her hairline.

"Angie and I are here," Kristi told Martin.

Martin craned his neck and shook his head. "I need a man's help to get her out of the tub."

"I called Doug," Kristi said.

Seconds later Doug burst into the bathroom. At a glance he knew the situation was dire. Instinctively he passed to the far end of the tub, near Michele's feet.

"Let's get her out!" Martin shouted.

Doug scooped up Michele's legs under the knees, Martin grabbed his wife under her arms, and together they lifted. As Martin lifted her torso, Michele's shirts and bra were pulled up to her neck, exposing her breasts. The two men gently placed her on the floor beside the tub. Michele's arms splayed at her sides. Beneath her, a puddle of water began to spread across the taupe tile floor.

Martin's eyes darted around the bathroom, horror etched across his face. "Oh my God! Oh my God!" he choked.

Shaken, Angie ran her fingers through her long dark hair, then clapped both her hands over her mouth and backed away from the body, into the bathroom closet.

"I know CPR," Kristi said to Martin. "I'll do the compressions if you do mouth-to-mouth."

Martin nodded in agreement. Doug grabbed a rag and passed it to Martin to wipe the mucus from Michele's face. Because Michele was naked from the waist down, Angie found a pink towel and draped it lengthwise to cover the exposed lower region.

Kneeling and placing one palm on top of the other, Kristi pumped on Michele's bare, damp chest in succinct compressions, silently counting to herself, attempting to keep a pace of one hundred beats per minute. When she paused, Martin sank down, pinched his wife's nose, and placed his lips over hers, blowing twice into her mouth.

After one round of compressions, Doug tapped on Kristi's shoulder. "I can do that. Go outside and wait for the ambulance so they can find us."

Nodding, Kristi stood, stepped over Michele's body, and left the bathroom. Outside she found Ada MacNeill and escorted the girl into the Danielses' house, to be supervised by another friend who had also been visiting. "You can go stay at my house for a while," Kristi told Ada.

In the bathroom, Doug bent his burly frame over Michele and-on Martin's command-resumed pumping on her torso. Mindful that his neighbor was a physician and experienced with life-saving procedures, Doug deferred to him for instructions.

"Stop," Martin told Doug after several beats. Once again he put his lips over Michele's, passing two breaths. Kneeling lower, Martin tilted his head and placed his ear on her chest.

There was no heartbeat. Michele wasn't breathing.

"Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God," Martin mumbled to himself. He sat up and touched his face. "She shouldn't have done this." Sighing heavily, he directed Doug to continue.

As they performed CPR, Martin alternated between moments of fear and fury, calmly puffing air into his wife's mouth, then exploding, "Why, why? All for a stupid surgery!"

"His demeanor would change, which we thought was a little bit different," Doug Daniels later recalled. "He was very analytical sometimes, telling us what to do, and then would tell us to stop, and then he would have a bit of an outburst over the situation."

When Martin once again breathed into his wife's mouth, Doug noticed that Michele's chest did not rise or fall.

CPR was not being performed properly. Strangely, the doctor didn't seem to notice.

Another round of compressions: Doug pumped on Michele's chest. Martin gave rescue breaths and then paused to check her heartbeat, but again found none.?"Why? Why? Why would you do this?" Martin threw his arms into the air.
Martin suddenly slammed his fist on Michele's chest. "All because of a stupid surgery?"

Perplexed, Doug looked closer at Michele's face. Her cheeks were swollen, her jawline bruised. The bloody stitches were obviously the result of a recent face-lift.

How did she end up unconscious in the bathtub? Doug wondered.

Examining Michele, Doug noticed something else strange. Greenish mucus still coated Michele's face. But none of it had transferred to Martin as he performed mouth-to-mouth.

Minutes passed. The two men continued their efforts to revive Michele. More chest compressions and rescue breaths. Michele remained motionless, her pale skin growing increasingly cold.

Once again, Martin put his ear to his wife's chest, checking for a heartbeat. Recoiling, he slammed his palm on her sternum with a sharp clap.

"Why?" Martin roared. "Why did you have to have the surgery? I told you not to do it!"

Peering up, Martin and Doug saw two uniformed Utah police officers standing in the doorway of the bathroom.

* * *

Pleasant Grove police officer Ray Ormond was midway through an uneventful Wednesday patrol shift when the call came in at 11:48 A.M. that a woman had been found unresponsive in her bathroom and had possibly drowned in the tub.

Tall and brawny, with a shaved head and goatee, Ormond was dispatched to the scene. Flicking on his car's lights and sirens, he sped toward the home. Turning down Millcreek Road, Ormond pulled next to the curb outside a house addressed 3058 and parked behind another cruiser, its red and blue revolving lights still flashing. Ormond's partner, Joshua Motsinger, had arrived just seconds ahead of him in a separate car.

From the trunk of his cruiser, Ormond grabbed a handheld masked ventilator-known as an Ambu bag-and followed Motsinger up the natural-rock steps and across the grassy front yard. Kristi Daniels met them on the driveway, guiding the officers into the residence and toward the bathroom. "It's back here."

As the two officers entered the bathroom, Ormond's view was briefly obscured by his partner's broad build. Once Motsinger stepped aside, Ormond saw the woman on the wet tile floor. Ormond's gaze fell to Martin MacNeill, who had just whacked his wife's chest. Exchanging a glance, Ormond and Motsinger darted to the woman's side.

"I'm her husband. I found her in the bathtub," Martin blurted to the officers. "She just had surgery. She had a face-lift. She was on a lot of medication."

"Okay," Motsinger said, taking over compressions for Doug. "We got this from here."

At the officers' request, Doug and Angie exited the room and left the house. Martin stayed, looming over his wife's body. "Why, God? Why?" he cried.

As Ormond placed the Ambu bag over Michele's mouth, he noticed her lips were blue. He began hand-pumping the ventilator and heard a gurgling noise emanating from her chest-an indication of water churning in her lungs or stomach.

Because the bathroom was narrow, the officers decided to move Michele's body. Together they carried her into the master bedroom and laid her on the carpet. The bedroom was tidy and elegantly decorated with large wooden dressers and an armoire holding a flat-screen TV. A couch was centered in front of the bay window. A dozen decorative pillows were neatly arranged atop the king-size bed, which sat next to a narrow hospital-style bed bordered with railings.

To create space in the room, Ormond pushed aside a rollaway nightstand, making note of a pink container filled with eight to ten orange pill bottles. The name on the prescriptions: Michele MacNeill.

In the bedroom, the officers switched positions around Michele. Ormond took over compressions and Motsinger delivered rescue breaths. After several rounds of CPR, Michele's skin regained a pinkish hue. Blood gushed from the incisions on her face-a result of the CPR manually stimulating her circulatory system.

Meanwhile, Martin paced nervously from the bedroom to the bathroom, shaking his head. "Why? Why?" he shouted, jerking his arms. "I told her not to do it!"

Minutes passed. The guttural gurgling noises emitting from Michele grew louder. Motsinger removed the mask from her face and tipped Michele on her side. Her head fell next to Motsinger's lap, her cheek near his left leg. Michele suddenly spewed several cups of clear liquid, dousing Motsinger's arms and pants. The water dribbled down from his arms into his latex gloves and from his pant legs into his boots.

The officers resumed CPR. Moments later, Michele regurgitated more fluid. Leaning over her body, Motsinger removed the mask and Ormond turned her head toward his right knee. This time the vomit spilled onto Ormond. The expulsion was frothy, thick, and tinged with blood. Mixing with the blood on Michele's face, the fluid dripped onto the carpet.

Nearby, Martin continued pacing, his voice growing louder. He turned to Michele. "Why did you do it? Why'd you have the surgery?"

He stormed out of the room, down the hallway, and out of the house.

Around noon-fourteen minutes after the first 911 call was placed-the ambulance arrived. From the porch, Martin waved his arms to alert medics to his location. Around the same time, the fire captain pulled up to the house, parking his emergency vehicle along the curb. As the captain grabbed his equipment from the back of his car, Martin yelled from the porch, "What's taking so long? Get inside!"

Firefighters and paramedics soon swarmed the property, police cruisers and fire trucks lining the block. Inside the bedroom the paramedics, police, and firefighters crowded around the prone woman. Assessing her condition, the medics determined that she was in full cardiac arrest.

An intubation tube was inserted down her throat. One paramedic cut off her shirt, bra, and undergarment top, while another applied padded sensors to her chest to check for signs of life. No activity registered-Michele was flat-lined.

Stomping back into the bedroom, Martin looked up at the ceiling and cursed God. "After all I've done for you? After all the time I've spent in church? Why have you done this to me?" he ranted. "I've been a bishop. I paid tithing and this is the way you repay me? This is what I get for it?"

Desperation transformed to wrath as Martin circled around his wife's body. "Why did you take all those medications?" He glared down, hissing, "Look what it did to you!"

Martin's increasingly aggressive outbursts drew the attention of the medics. Struck by the man's animosity, Ormond tensed, wondering if he might have to restrain Martin or defend himself. Others-distracted from the woman-asked for Martin to be removed from the bedroom. It was beyond the typical reaction of an anguished spouse and unlike anything most of them had encountered during a rescue.

"He was very angry," Ormond remembered years later. "It was uncomfortable, honestly, to have him come back and forth into the room yelling at us."

Pleasant Grove fire chief Marc Sanderson pulled Martin aside. "Can you come with me so we can gather more information?" The slim firefighting veteran escorted Martin out to the front porch. As they spoke, Martin offered various explanations for what might have happened to his wife, saying he believed she may have slipped, tripped, or fallen in the tub and hit her head.

Martin claimed he had only been gone about ten to fifteen minutes, and when he returned, Michele was bent over the tub's ledge, submerged facedown in a pool of bloody water.

It was not the position the neighbors had found Michele in.

"Did she take any medication?" Sanderson asked Martin.

"She was ... she was taking a lot of medications!" he stammered, adding that Michele may have overdosed on pain pills.

Meanwhile, in the bedroom, resuscitation efforts continued. Paramedics inserted an IV in her arm and administered emergency drugs-epinephrine, atropine, and sodium bicarbonate-in an attempt to restart her heart.

Martin wandered in and out of the bedroom, down the hall, and into the living room, flailing his arms and mumbling to himself, "Why? Why, God?" He stopped only to answer questions and offer brief statements to passing officers.

Sanderson followed Martin as he returned to the bedroom, seemingly to supervise the paramedics.

"What are you doing to her now?" Martin demanded. "What medications did you give her?" Making it known he was a doctor, he barked orders for her treatment. "Did you give her epinephrine? You need to give her epinephrine!"

Pulling him aside, Sanderson assured the doctor that everything possible was being done, although not necessarily in the order Martin requested. Reaching for his phone, Sanderson asked Martin to speak with the emergency room physician at the nearby American Fork Hospital, where Michele would be transported. Because Martin was a doctor-and because it was routine for medical professionals to consult with one another-Sanderson believed it would be helpful for the two men to speak directly. Martin, however, refused.

"No. No." Martin shook his head, his focus drifting from Sanderson. Instead, he wanted to speak to a different doctor, one he'd worked with previously.

Sanderson pressed Martin, explaining that it would be more useful for the doctor treating Michele to speak to him, rather than the information being relayed through a third party.

"I'm a doctor!" Martin pronounced. "She's dead!"

Puzzled, Sanderson asked another patrol officer on scene to monitor Martin and try to keep him away from the bedroom. The officer tailed the distraught doctor, attempting to quiet him.

"You need to calm down, sir," the officer said. "You need to take some deep breaths. You're going to hyperventilate."

"Don't tell me what to do!" Martin shouted. "I'm a doctor. I know I'm okay."

For twenty minutes paramedics attempted to revive Michele before strapping her body to a gurney to take her to the hospital.

Outside of the house, concerned and curious neighbors had gathered on the front lawn. Standing on the driveway beside her husband, Kristi Daniels hugged herself around the waist and shuddered. As paramedics loaded the gurney into the back of the ambulance, Kristi caught a glimpse of Michele, blood streaking her cheek. Somehow she knew she would never see Michele MacNeill again.

* * *

The gurney barreled through the double doors of American Fork Hospital at 12:24 P.M. Flanked by one paramedic pumping the resuscitator and another steadying the IV, Michele was wheeled down a short hallway into the nearest trauma bay.

Nurses circled the patient and lifted her onto the hospital bed. An ER tech took over chest compressions. A nurse suctioned the airway clear of any possible fluid or blood.

When the attending physician, Dr. Leo Van Wagoner, first laid eyes on Michele, he knew she was dead. Her face was blanched, her chest mottled with discoloration. Blood had begun to pool in the lower parts of her body, causing blotchy purple bruising known as lividity on her back and buttocks.

Van Wagoner skimmed the paramedic report, questions flying through his mind. What had caused her heart to stop? If she had been unconscious for only fifteen minutes, why were the revival efforts unable to produce any signs of life?

At fifty, Michele was fairly young, and she was healthy, with no known history of heart problems, chest pains, or shortness of breath, according to the medic's report. Between the medication, compressions, and ventilation, first responders should have been able to regain some sort of cardiac activity.

Because Michele had been unresponsive for such an extensive period by the time she reached the hospital, the emergency room doctor knew resuscitation efforts were likely futile. But Van Wagoner, an experienced physician in his fifties with a stern face framed by cropped gray hair, would exhaust every medical option in an attempt to revive Michele, as he would for any patient in her condition.

Shortly after Michele arrived, her husband traipsed through the trauma bay. Van Wagoner knew Dr. MacNeill as the director of a state-run facility for people with intellectual disabilities. Van Wagoner treated some of MacNeill's patients, and they spoke about twice a month.

Martin told Van Wagoner about his wife's plastic surgery and her prescriptions. Contrary to what Martin had told the first responders, he said she was taking just two prescriptions. "She was down to just one Percocet a day," he said. "And an antibiotic."

As the doctors and nurses worked to revive Michele, Martin roamed the corridors and paced around the nurses' station, causing a scene. The nurses watched as Martin put his hands on his head and screamed at no one in particular, "Why did she do this? I told her not to do this!" At one point, he stomped out of the room, kicked at the door, and threw a stack of papers. Security was called to monitor him.

In the trauma bay, nurses inserted an IV into Michele's left shin and taped a catheter to her forearm to administer medications. She was dosed with more epinephrine, calcium, and sodium bicarbonate.

Because her body was cold-her temperature had dropped to 96.26 degrees Fahrenheit-nurses used tepid fluid and a heated blanket called a Bair Hugger to try to warm her.

Since Michele had recently undergone a surgery, Van Wagoner considered whether she'd suffered a blood clot. The bluish pattern on her skin appeared consistent with a burst pulmonary embolism-a blood clot that travels to the lungs. Van Wagoner administered a medicine used to break up blood clots, called a tissue plasminogen activator.

Through all the procedures, the heart monitor continued to hum with a low, flat tone.

For thirty-eight minutes, hospital staff tried to resuscitate Michele. As the nurses slowly ceased working on his wife, Martin became hysterical. He approached Van Wagoner.

"I'll give you ten thousand dollars not to stop," he begged. "I'll give you all that I have if you just save her!"

Van Wagoner balked, astounded.

"It was the oddest request that I have ever had doing emergency resuscitative efforts," Van Wagoner said years later. "He offered me ten thousand dollars if I would not cease resuscitation efforts. He offered me ten grand! It put me in a tough spot."

Van Wagoner knew that Martin, as a physician, must have realized his wife was dead. In fifteen years of working in the ER, Van Wagoner had never heard such an unusual outburst, especially from a fellow doctor.

Van Wagoner didn't respond to the new widower. "I'm calling time of death," he said somberly, then turned and walked away.

Martin collapsed, sobbing.

* * *

Michele Marie MacNeill-former beauty queen, devoted wife, and loving mother of eight, including four adopted children-was pronounced dead at 1:03 P.M. on April 11, 2007.

Days after her passing, the Utah State medical examiner would declare Michele's death due to natural causes from a heart arrhythmia. It appeared that her passing was tragically inevitable.

But nothing in this case was as it seemed.

It would take six long years and the unrelenting dedication of Michele's children to solve the mystery of her death, unraveling a lifetime of duplicitous deceit, searing betrayal, and an unfathomably cruel murder.

Martin led a life of contradictions. While he portrayed himself as a loving husband, devoted father, and compassionate doctor, it was all a carefully concocted façade. In nearly thirty years of marriage, Michele never knew her husband.

Perhaps no one ever really knew the real Martin MacNeill.

Copyright © 2015 by Shanna Hogan