The first time I'd seen this case was watching parts of the trial testimony on Youtube - it was heartbreaking when I first watched it, and it's still heartbreaking to watch today. What Martin MacNeill did to his family didn't end with the death of his wife Michele, sadly their nightmare was only beginning.
I've said this before and I'll say it again....you never really know someone. Everyone has secrets, everyone has a piece of themselves they keep tucked away deep inside. It may be a really small piece, or it may be a very large piece. It's the same reason why domestic abuse goes unnoticed by outsiders more often than not - some people allow you to see only what they want you to see, and keep the scarier parts hidden.
(L-R Clockwise, Starting from Top Left: Michele MacNeill, Michele MacNeill, Michele MacNeill, Rachel MacNeill, Michele MacNeill w/Baby, Alexis MacNeill. Center: MacNeill Family. Photo Sources: abcnews.com, heraldsun.com.au, nydailynews.com, dailymail.co.uk, linkedin.com)
Transcribed Episode / S3 EP25: A Life of Lies • The Murder of Michele MacNeill
This podcast contains content that may not be suitable for some listeners - listener discretion is advised. Be sure to head over to thecrimeshack.com for all available episodes, merchandise, and show notes, and subscribe to us for free wherever you get your podcasts. As you know it takes a lot of research and time to keep this podcast going, you can help this show by purchasing merchandise, joining my Patreon for access to exclusive content or just by Buying Me a Coffee. Any support from my listeners is much appreciated!
In this episode I’m going to be talking about a case that hails out of Utah. It involves the MacNeill family of Pleasant Grove and the death of Michelle MacNeill, who was found dead in her bathtub after having a facelift in 2007.
The death of Michelle was ruled a natural death due to a heart condition, and someone almost got away with murder had it not been for the diligence of Michelle’s children. The MacNeill’s were the envy of those around them for their seemingly idyllic life, but this case reveals that some families, and some parents, are not as perfect as they often seem.
22 year old Martin MacNeill met 21 year old Michele Somers at a get-together in the Latter Day Saints Mormon Church in the late 1970’s.
Michele was a gorgeous, popular, straight A student. She was athletic, she played instruments and was also a model. You couldn’t help but turn and look when she’d walk into a room and she quickly got the attention of tall, handsome, Martin MacNeill, and the two instantly hit it off.
Their relationship quickly escalated, with Martin professing his love to Michele and telling her that he couldn’t live without her. In a shocking and kind of obsessive move, he even once pointed a gun to his head telling her that he’d kill himself if she tried to break up with him.
Michelle brushed away that initial red flag and the relationship continued. Although her family noticed something just wasn’t right with this guy, the two eloped on February 21, 1978.
The second red flag popped up only four months into the marriage, when Martin was arrested for forgery and grand theft.
Before meeting Michelle, he’d written about $35,000 in fraudulent checks and went on a spending spree where he bought diamond rings, furniture, clothes and shoes and a year’s supply of chocolate covered cherries with the money. As far as why he did it, he claimed he didn’t know, said he didn’t need the items, but just wanted to see if he could actually pull it off. He ended up serving six months in jail for that crime.
You might be wondering why Michele didn’t leave him at this point. She could’ve been embarrassed or ashamed if her marriage would’ve ended after just a few months, she could’ve thought this was “old” behavior of his and was simply just a mistake he made. Whatever the reason, she picked Martin up after his release from jail and life continued as usual for the MacNeill’s.
As they both wanted a large family, within 5 years the couple had four biological children: Rachel, Vanessa, Alexis and Damian and they adopted three girls from the Ukraine: Giselle, Elle and Sabrina. They also would go on to adopt Vanessa’s biological daughter Ada.
By all accounts this was a loving, big happy family. The MacNeill children adored their parents, and had close bonds with both their mother and their father.
Martin eventually obtained a prestigious career as a medical director in American Fork Utah and had previously been a practicing physician in Pleasant Grove. Aside from his medical background, he also obtained a law degree, but didn’t actually practice law. He basically wanted the law degree so that he would be able to tell others that he was both a physician and a lawyer.
He also was seen as an upstanding citizen, serving in his congregation at his church as a Bishop. Even with his impressive resume and his community involvement, he wasn’t really a likable guy. He was described by a lot of people, including his own children, as arrogant and someone who enjoyed bragging about his resume. Even though he came off as if he was better than everyone else, others still saw him as a devoted husband and a loving father whose children idolized him.
The life of the MacNeill’s seemed perfect on the outside, but as we know, what happens behind closed doors many times is a much different story. Martin and Michele’s relationship wasn’t ideal and their marriage had slowly begun to disintegrate over the years. Martin would make remarks about wanting a divorce and often threatened to commit suicide. He’d also threatened to kill Michele with a knife after she caught him looking at pornography. Later on in the marriage, infidelity was added to their mounting problems and Martin would go on to have at least a couple of affairs between 2005-2007.
It’s obvious things weren’t the best in the MacNeill household, but they had eight children to worry about and Michele was doing everything she possibly could to keep the family together.
As Martin neared closer to 50, he began to feel the angst of middle age and went through sort of his own midlife crisis. He started to lose weight, go to tanning salons and generally became obsessed with how he looked.
In the Spring of 2007, his focus on his physical appearance began to concern Michele, and she confided in her now adult daughter Alexis about her suspicions that he might be having an affair.
She asked Alexis if she’d pull her father’s phone records from his phone while he slept. Being understanding of her mom’s suspicions, Alexis accessed her dad’s phone and printed out the records. That’s when Michele found out that her husband had been calling a certain number... a lot. They found out the number belonged to a woman named Gypsy Willis.
It wasn’t long before Michele confronted him about the woman and the calls. But instead of explaining himself and taking responsibility or even admitting to an affair, his response was to attack Michele’s looks, telling her that she was getting close to 50 and needed to do something about her own appearance. He told her that she should go and get a facelift.
Because she didn’t want her husband to leave her, and really didn’t know what to do, she half-heartedly agreed to the surgery, but wanted to wait because she was a little concerned about her high blood pressure and wanted to try to lose some extra pounds beforehand.
Martin pushed her to move forward with the surgery anyways, and she finally relented, of course hoping it would save her marriage. On April 3rd 2007 Michele went in for the facelift and was released the following morning.
After the surgery Martin made an odd request to surgeon Dr. Scott Thompson. In addition to prescribing Phernergan for pain and Ambien for sleep, he asked him to add Valium and Oxycodon, two drugs that weren’t normally prescribed to plastic surgery patients. Martin said the reason for this was because his wife didn’t handle pain well. Thompson agreed to the additional meds because he trusted the fact that Martin was a doctor and that he knew how to administer the drugs properly.
Alexis, who had taken a break from med school in Las Vegas, went to her mom’s house the next morning to check on how she was recovering. She was shocked to see her mother in bed and heavily sedated and asked her dad “what was going on”.
Let’s listen to Alexis explaining that incident:
[Alexis MacNeill-Somers during Trial Testimony]
[Alexis MacNeill-Somers] I went to my father and I said “What happened? Obviously mom is overmedicated.”
And did he respond?
[Alexis MacNeill-Somers] He said yes, he did respond, yes. He said “I think I gave her too much medicine.”
After he said ‘Yes I did give her too much medicine’ I said “Well you’re not to give her any more medicine, I’m taking over.”
As the sedation wore off, Michele told Alexis something very strange. She started to cry and told her that ‘If anything happens to me, make sure it wasn’t your dad.” It was apparent Michele didn’t trust her husband and had a feeling something terrible was going to happen.
Once Alexis thought her mother had recovered enough, she made her way back to med school in Vegas.
Eight days following the surgery, Alexis called her mother around 8:30am and Michele said she was doing much better. Then about 40 minutes later, while Martin was supposedly at work, he called and left a voicemail for Alexis, telling her she needed to call her mom right away, that she wasn’t doing well and wasn’t getting out of bed. That was strange because she had just talked to her and she seemed to be doing fine. She tried calling her mother but got no answer.
That morning Martin was seen attending a work Safety Fair at around 11am, where he urged a coworker to take his picture - evidence perhaps to prove that he was there at that particular time? In the meantime, 6 year old Ada was getting out of school and Martin picked her up about a half hour later and brought her back to their house. When they walked in the door, he told Ada to “go check on your mother” while he stayed behind in the kitchen.
Ada was so excited to be home and ran upstairs calling for her mom.
She ran into her mom’s room, didn’t see her, so she checked in the bathroom. Inside the bathroom, she saw her mother lying in the tub. She thought her mom was trying to wet her hair or something, but noticed that the water was brown and murky and that her mom wasn’t picking up her head to respond to her. Knowing something was very wrong she ran downstairs to tell her father.
When she told her dad what she’d found, he told her to run quickly to the neighbors house for help, while he made a call to 911. Here’s a portion of that call, and pay attention to how hysterical and theatrical Martin is in his responses to the dispatcher:
[911 Call from Martin MacNeill]
Pleasant Grove Police Department (inaudible)
I need - - I need an ambulance!
Ok, what’s the problem, sir? We need medical. Sir what’s wrong?
My wife fallen in the bathtub!
Who’s in the bathtub? Who’s in the bathtub?
Ok, is she conscious?
She’s not. I’m a physician. I need help! (Inaudible)
Sir, sir, I need you to calm down. Sir, I can’t understand you OK? Can you calm down just a little bit?
I need help!
OK, what - your wife is unconscious?
She is unconscious. She’s under water.
Ok, did you get her out of the water?
I can’t! I just (inaudible) I let the water out (inaudible)
She’s under the water?
She’s under the water, (inaudible) I need an ambulance!
Okay is she breathing at all?
She is not!
Ok sir the ambulance has been paged, they’re on their way OK? Do not hang up.
The 911 operator recalled she tried to calm him down but he didn’t want to stay on the phone and kept hanging up. One of the times she managed to get him on the phone he told her he’d initiated CPR.
Martin’s 21 year old son Damian arrived to the house, along with his girlfriend Eileen Heng. Martin told Eileen and Damian to carefully count the pills that were in the 5-10 bottles of meds, because he wanted to know how many pills Michele had taken. After they counted them, he had Eileen write down the numbers, then oddly told them to flush the pills down the toilet because he didn’t want anyone to know about Michele’s plastic surgery, that they might have caused her death and because he couldn’t bear to look at them. The paper that had the pill counts was never found.
During this time, Alexis was still trying to get in touch with her mother. She tried her phone again but this time her father picked up the phone. He told her very quickly - and very abruptly: ‘Your mom. She’s in the tub. She's not breathing. I’ve called an ambulance.’ And then he just hung up.
Remembering what her mother said to her, Alexis was immediately suspicious. She got in her car and headed straight to the airport. She knew in her gut that her father had killed her mother.
Meanwhile Neighbors Doug and Kristi Daniels had rushed over to the house to help. Martin was on the phone with 911 and he was performing CPR. Here’s Kristi and her husband Doug testifying at trial, recalling what happened:
[Kristi and Doug Daniels during Trial Testimony]
And when I came into the bathroom I could tell that we needed to call 911. So I said "I’ll call 911" and he said “I’ve already called 911,” but by that time I was already halfway out so he said “I need some help, I need some help.”
I was running back to my house to get my cellphone to call Doug.
When I first entered, I don’t recall anything really being said, I remember I don’t know if it’s because somebody said “let’s get her out” or maybe I even said “let’s get her out of the tub” but the perception was that I would go straight to her feet and we will lift her out of the tub.
When you took her out of the tub what did you do next?
When I took her out of the tub we brought her out with enough distance . That there was walking space between the tub and Michele and I believe
Kristi kind of came up to my right between the tub and Michele and said I know CPR what should I do and kind of immediately went to the area to do chest compressions.
What did Martin do?
Martin at this time was still at her head and he knelt down at her head. It appeared he started doing the CPR procedure.
Did you observe any fluids coming from Michele?
Yes there was quite a bit of mucus around her nose and mouth area.
So were you able to see him doing the mouth to mouth?
I was able to see what it, yes I was.
Was he doing mouth to mouth?
He would go towards her mouth, it appeared he was giving her mouth to mouth and then he would stop and listen and then instruct us on when to continue our chest compressions. So it appeared that he was, he had his face over her face.
Did you ever see the mucus that was on Michele’s face on anybody else?
I don’t recall seeing it on anybody else, no.
Specifically on Martin?
I don’t remember seeing it on him, I do remember thinking if I was giving her mouth to mouth I’d have a hard time doing it without dealing with that and that’s all I really remember. I don’t see it, I don’t remember seeing it clung to him when he rose from her or anything, no I don’t remember seeing that.
So basically Martin wasn’t performing CPR and wasn’t trying to resuscitate Michele at all!
The fire department eventually arrived and Martin told them he must’ve been out of the house when his wife overdosed on pain meds and slipped and hit her head on the tub. He told them when he found her, she was slumped over into the tub, with her lower half of her body sort of hanging out of the tub.
While the firemen were working on Michele, Martin was uncontrollable. Mark Sanderson, the Pleasant Grove fire chief who initially arrived at the scene described how Martin was behaving:
[Mark Sanderson during Trial Testimony]
He was so disruptive to the crew that, as the fire chief, and it wasn’t my responsible to be the patient care person that I actually asked him to come with me, I removed him from the actual patient care scene so that I could gather some information about what was taking place.
It was concerning enough that I asked him to step away from what we doing at the time.
Martin was also yelling:
[Mark Sanderson during Trial Testimony]
“Why, why, why would you do this, all because of stupid surgery!”
He was so out of control that Sanderson had to remove him from the room.
Alexis finally arrived at the house and she wanted to count how much of the meds were left in the bottles to see how much her mother had taken, but then quickly found out that Eileen was told to flush them. When she asked her dad why he flushed the meds, he told her that “it was making him too sad to look at them.”
Paramedics transported Michele to the hospital but she was pronounced dead on arrival.
As soon as they got word about their mother, the MacNeill children all convened at their father’s house.
Martin insisted on explaining to his children what happened to their mother. Rachel talks about that moment in court:
[Rachel MacNeill during Trial Testimony]
He showed you how she was found?
Yes, he walked in, I mean he was in the bathroom and just went into the tub to show…bent over…I mean I don’t know.
He said that my mother was under, she was under the water. He said that he couldn’t lift her out, he said he had Ada get the neighbors. He said that she must’ve fallen, or hit her head, or…I mean he was just, he kept repeating that the autopsy needed to be done and things like that.
It was just, I didn’t, I didn’t want to listen to any of…my mother just died and I, she…he was even showing me and talking about the autopsy constantly.I just, it was, it was so, horrible, I didn’t want to know that my mom was dead.
A memorial service was held three days later and who was in attendance? None other than Gypsy Willis. Martin spoke at the service but instead of talking about his wife and reflecting on the memories of her, he chose to talk about how unfair life had been to him.
Following their mother’s death, Alexis and her sister Rachel told their father they could help look after the younger siblings, but Martin had other plans. Only about 10 days after Michele’s death, Martin “invited” a nanny to move into the house to help care for the children. The family had never had a nanny before and when Martin called Alexis to tell her about the new nanny, Alexis was furious:
[Alexis MacNeill-Somers during Trial Testimony]
My dad called me on the phone and said “Alexis I found the perfect nanny." I said "Well dad what’s her name?" He started to say “Jillea….” I said “Dad, Gypsy Jillian Willis? I know that woman. I know mom was worried you were having an affair with her, and you’re not to bring her into this home."
And how did he respond?
He got irate, he was screaming at me. Saying "how dare you, how dare you accuse me," and hung up on me.
So who was Gypsy Willis? Martin met Gypsy - also known as Jillian - in an online chat forum in the Fall of 2005 and they began an affair:
[Jillian "Gypsy" Willis during Trial Testimony]
And how did you meet?
[Jillian "Gypsy" Willis]
We met online.
Did the relationship become sexual?
[Jillian "Gypsy" Willis]
And when was that.
[Jillian "Gypsy" Willis]
I think that was in January 2006.
And how often were the two of you having sexual relations?
[Jillian "Gypsy" Willis] We would see each a couple times a month.
Jillian knew he was married but apparently that didn’t bother her because she was only looking for a casual relationship.
Gypsy ended up moving into the MacNeill house, despite protest from the adult children, and Alexis and Rachel noticed right off the bat that Gypsy wasn’t doing the normal nanny work or chores:
[Rachel MacNeill during Trial Testimony]
I expected her to be focused on the children.
I expected her to do things related to that - to cook, or clean, or take care of the children.
And what did you see her doing?
My dad was cooking! She was sitting there staring at my dad.
So let me get this right: less than 2 weeks following his wife’s death, he brings his mistress in to live at his house. Nothing wrong with that right?
An autopsy was conducted on Michele and her death was determined to be from Cardiovascular Disease or natural causes.
Alexis, her siblings and her mother’s sisters didn’t agree with the results of the autopsy and refused to give up on finding justice for Michele. Alexis went to authorities time and time again, she went to the governor's office, she went to newspapers, but no one would help her.
While his daughter’s were vying for their mother’s justice, Martin was trying to get rid of the three daughters he had adopted from Ukraine. Yes, you heard me right - he was trying to get rid of his adopted daughters.
He even tried sending back the oldest daughter to Ukraine telling her it was only going to be a summer vacation and ended up leaving her there for almost a year because he had no plans of bringing her back home.
Martin didn’t have time to deal with his daughters, he was too busy helping Gypsy with her financial issues. Gypsy had accumulated about $50K in tax debt and expressed that she didn’t feel good about it because she knew she was breaking the law.
To help solve this problem for her, when Martin sent his daughter back to the Ukraine, he had Gypsy assume the girl's identity to evade the taxes she owed. They then used her identity to obtain a fraudulent social security card, birth certificate and military spouse ID card in his daughter’s name. On the application for the military ID, they put down Michele’s burial date as the date of their marriage.
Michele’s sister Linda Cluff found out that Martin had sent one of the daughters back to the Ukraine, so she sent her daughter Jill to go there to bring her back.
It was a slick plan if it had worked, but the identity scheme caught up to them, and in 2009 Martin and Gypsy were indicted with counts of federal identity theft charges. Gypsy was sentenced to three years probation and Martin got 4 years in jail and was released in 2012.
In 2010, while Martin was in jail, a terrible tragedy would strike the MacNeill family once again, On January 16, Martin and Michelle’s 24 year old son Damian MacNeill took his own life by overdosing on prescription pills. Damian was a law student in New York at the time.
Alexis and her family never gave up hope for finding justice and 3 years after Michele’s death the case was finally reopened. The chief medical examiner did another toxicology report, but this time they found that the combination of meds in her body could have contributed to her death. Her manner of death was changed to "undetermined" and the cause to "combined effects of heart disease and drug toxicity".
Pretty shocking that Martin knew the exact combination of drugs to give Michele that would both kill her and would also be difficult to detect after death.
During the investigation, Martin’s background was dissected, with investigators diving deep into his college and post-grad careers.
The real truth behind Martin’s past life was nothing as it appeared and nothing of what he portrayed to his family. They discovered that Martin was a fraud - he had falsified two university transcripts to enter med school and also had falsified his application to law school.
It was known he had joined the military in 1973, but it was also uncovered that he was discharged two years later after falsely claiming he was schizophrenic and was hearing voices. Because he put that down on the application he was able to collect $3000 a month in disability benefits which he had received for the last 3 decades.
Five years after Michele’s death, Martin was charged with her murder, but the fight for justice wasn’t over yet for the MacNeill children. Martin pled not guilty, so the case would have to go to trial, and the MacNeill daughters would have to testify.
The trial began on October 17, 2013 and four of the MacNeill daughters would give emotional testimony against their father, retelling the day their mother was murdered and recounting that prior to that day, they had, what they thought, was a loving, close relationship with their father.
Here’s Alexis and Rachel at trial describing that relationship:
[Alexis and Rachel MacNeill during Trial Testimony]
I had a very close relationship with my father. I kind of tagged along with him at work. I kind of went into medicine because of my father. He was someone who I loved and respected and relied on, and someone who I always wanted to be proud of me.
Will you please state your name for the record and spell your last name.
Rachel Renee MacNeill.
Let me ask you about a few questions about your relationship with your dad growing up. You’re the oldest daughter?
How close would you describe your relationship with your dad growing up?
Why would you say that?
Growing up my father was my best friend.
Very, very close to your dad?
I was close to my dad, yes.
A pre-recorded interview with young Ada was also played in court, explaining how she first found her mother in the bathtub.
Martin’s defense team’s argument was that Michele had overdosed on her meds, fallen into the tub and drowned. Prosecutors contended that Martin killed Michele in order to have a new life with Gypsy Willis.
After deliberating for 11 hours the jury came back with their verdict:
[Reading of Verdict during Trial of Martin MacNeill]
We the jury having reviewed the evidence and the testimony in the case, find the defendant as to Count 1 Murder: Guilty. As to Count 2 Obstruction of Justice: Guilty.
As the verdict was read in court, shrieks from Alexis and Michele’s sisters rang out in the courtroom. Martin remained mainly stoic, but nodded slightly after the verdict was read, and told his lawyers’ “It’s okay.”
Martin MacNeill was given a sentence of 15 years to life, with an additional 1-15 years for obstruction of justice.
About a month after his conviction, Martin attempted suicide in prison but wasn’t successful. And yet another bombshell was dropped when sexual abuse charges were filed against Martin from his daughter Alexis. Alexis alleged that five weeks after their mother’s death she was sexually abused by her father. She was sleeping on her parents' bed when she woke up to her father rubbing her butt and licking and kissing her hand. He’d claimed he thought she was her mother. Martin was found guilty of those charges as well in 2014 and was sentenced to an additional 1-15 years.
With the weight of not one but two convictions on his shoulders, 60 year old Martin realized he would never get out of prison, and on April 9, 2017, he was found lifeless in an outside yard near the prison’s greenhouse - he had used a hose and a natural gas line - to take his own life.
In the end Martin MacNeill couldn’t fake his way out of his conviction - he couldn't fake his way out of his sentence and certainly couldn’t fake his way out of prison. He murdered his wife out of pure selfishness, and left his family in shambles, with seemingly no remorse or regret.
Thank you for listening - please check out our website at thecrimeshack.com where you can find links to ALL our social media platforms.As a listener there are many ways you can support the show by purchasing merchandise, becoming a Patreon member for access to exclusive content, or just by Buying Me a Coffee. Any and all support is greatly appreciated!
Wild About Trial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1b6Nt2li2F4