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

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

The same day the transaction went through, Willis filed a $1 million lien on the house, which is illegal because there was no reason to file the lien. Investigators believe it was likely done to discourage Martin's children from claiming rights to the house because one of his daughters was trying to obtain custody of her three adopted younger sisters at the time.

When the federal government realized what was going on, it had an agent act as an intended buyer of the house. A few days after Willis went to remove the lien, she and Martin were arrested.

"(Willis) was an integral part of this. She was not an innocent bystander," said Witney.

James Wissler, federal agent for the U.S. postal inspection service, spent several months collecting documents in conjunction with numerous other agencies including the Social Security office, military office, Veteran's Administration and Department of Professional Licensing for the white collar case against Willis and Martin.

He called Martin's past "disturbing."

"It was astounding that someone could have that amount of incidents in the past and avoid additional prosecution," Wissler said. "I can tell you he was very articulate, intelligent, well-educated and he premeditated these criminal acts."

Wissler well remembers the surprised looks on family members' faces when he testified in court about Martin's past.

"They just looked overwhelmed," he said. "They were amazed with some of the new things that were coming to light."

One of the most interesting things to Wissler was discovering that after his wife died, Martin changed his will to give just $1 to each of his children. Everything else was to go to Willis under her false identity. To Wissler's knowledge, the will remains the same.

Both Martin and Willis — who are in federal prisons in Texas — have declined to speak with the Deseret News. Willis' current release date is March 12, 2011, and Martin's is July 8, 2012.

Jeff Robinson, chief investigator of the Utah County Attorney's Office, and Witney both went to Texas in October to interview the two. Willis spoke to the investigators, but Martin refused to talk to them.

Thoughts of their father being released so soon, however, scares both Rachel and Alexis.

"Not only will our family be threatened, but all the people he meets in the future will be in danger," Rachel said. "There are future victims at risk."

Alexis said her father has threatened to destroy her personally.

"He's lived his whole life getting away with things," she said. "I don't want him to get away with murder."

Push for answers

Cluff always suspected foul play in her sister Michele's death. But when she told police about her suspicions, she said the officers were rude and mocked her and her sisters when they asked for the case to be reopened. "It was like we were in the Twilight Zone," she said.

A Pleasant Grove police report was filed in June 2007, mentioning her suspicions that Martin was involved and possibly paid off the doctor for the autopsy results. "The case will be closed due to the autopsy results," the report states.

Yet Smith, the department's spokesman, now says the case was never officially closed.

The Utah County Attorney's Office began investigating Michele's death in January 2008, after Cluff wrote several letters and e-mails to them and to former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

Witney said he had no idea what he was getting into when he first started investigating the case.

"This was a case that because nothing was known about the individual, nothing was done," he said, adding that Martin's position as a doctor and attorney caused few people to question him.

Witney and Robinson would never have looked into the death had it not been for the concerns and suspicions of family members and their persistence to reopen the case. A letter from Michele's mother and documents kept by her drew Witney's attention into the case.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere