Martin MacNeill: Was his wife Michele's death accidental or was it murder?

Published: Saturday, Dec. 4 2010 3:00 p.m. MST

Martin MacNeill and his wife Michele on their honeymoon. The couple eloped in 1978 and Michele's relationship with her family became strained.

Courtesy of Rachel MacNeill

Editor's note: For more than a year, Deseret News reporter Sara Lenz has investigated the life of Martin MacNeill. The information in this story comes from court documents, 911 calls, police reports, an autopsy report, a search warrant affidavit, psychology reports and dozens of interviews with investigators, attorneys, police officers, neighbors, victims and family members detailing why some believe MacNeill may have killed his wife, Michele.

MacNeill 911 call

A scripted life?

Utah County investigator Jeff Robinson compares Martin MacNeill's life to the movie "Catch Me If You Can," but says the movie "paled in comparison."

MacNeill, the former Utah State Developmental Center clinical director and Pleasant Grove resident, is serving a prison sentence for fraud, forgery and identity theft. But investigators believe he spent a lifetime getting away with other crimes — including murder. And family sources expect a murder charge may be filed against him next month.

"MacNeill's a thespian," said investigator Doug Witney, who has spent nearly three years researching MacNeill and the suspicious death of his wife, Michele. "It appears his whole life was scripted and staged."

Witney said MacNeill used his position as a doctor to have access to women and used his title as attorney to get around the law.

But three and a half years ago, many people who now believe MacNeill killed his wife, thought he was an upstanding citizen, a devoted husband and a loving father. One daughter went into medicine because of his example of helping others. Another daughter said she became an avid reader thanks to her father, who spent hours and hours discussing hundreds of books with her.

"The father that I knew was a fictional character. It was an act the whole time," his oldest daughter, Rachel, said.

Neighbors also said the MacNeill family seemed "perfect" on the outside. But relatives of MacNeill's wife say they had an inkling from the beginning that something wasn't right.

Helen Somers was afraid for her daughter the first time she met Martin MacNeill.

Her soon to be son-in-law didn't seem genuine. "I had a bad feeling about him," she said.

Her bishop even called her and warned her not to allow her daughter Michele to go out with him, she said, but he couldn't say why.

"I thought he was just a big actor," recalled Michele's younger sister, Linda Cluff. "He walked in like he owned the house. He just gave me the creeps."

Despite her family's misgivings, Michele fell for Martin hard. Partly because the family didn't approve, the couple's dating became secretive. She felt sorry for her new boyfriend. "She would defend him and say, 'If you only knew about his childhood …,' " Cluff said of her sister.

Martin had told Michele he loved her so much and couldn't live without her — even once putting a gun to his head and telling her he'd kill himself if she stopped dating him.

Shortly after learning Martin had eloped with Michele, Somers spotted a newspaper article about her new son-in-law with the headline: " 'Brilliant' forgery spree inspired by TV."

Just before meeting Michele, Martin had forged $35,000 in checks and had gone on a three-day spending spree buying diamond rings, 60 pairs of socks, couches, chairs, a grandfather clock, watches, bicycles, a refrigerator, 20 pairs of shoes, TVs, tires, a wardrobe of clothes and more.

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