The Latest Mormon Murder Trial: the MacNeill Murder

By: Jeff Spector
October 18, 2013

Seems like having a sensational Mormon murder trial a few times a year is becoming more common.  This latest one is no exception.  Not only does it have distinctive Mormon overtones, but it is happening right in the heart of Mormondom, Provo, Utah.

This trial has been a long time coming, wrapped in intrigue and process issues.  The death of victim Michelle Marie Somers MacNeill happened in 2007 and is only now being brought to trial.

Michelle grew up in what we might say was a typical Mormon family in Northern California. She graduated from Concord High School in 1975 and was the Homecoming Queen.

In 1977, after her family moved to Mission Viejo, California, she met Martin MacNeill. After two months of dating, they eloped, something her parents and sisters did not approve of because they were quite suspicious of Martin MacNeill and his pompous attitude.  His criminal history started early and he revealed to Michelle that he had been charged with Felony check fraud, for writing bad checks. This was, only the beginning of his odd and deceitful activities.

No big deal according to him.  He allegedly falsified his records to get into medical school in Mexico and California and to obtain a law degree from BYU. He was accused of sexually assaulting patients at the BYU Health Center and other places he worked and received disability income from the military until 2010 for a mental health issue. He’d had numerous affairs.

He and Michelle had a large family of eight, four biological children, a boy and three girls and four adopted girls, one of which was actually their granddaughter and three from Ukraine.  Their son, Damian, committed suicide in 2010. One, adopted daughter was sent back to Ukraine.

Michelle was devoted to her children and family and to the Church.  Martin likewise served in the Church, having been a Bishop according to him. He was a Sunday School teacher until he was arrested for her murder.  One of the problems with the case appears to be Martin’s position in the community and the Church. During the resuscitation efforts, he shouted, “I’ve been a Bishop and pay tithing, why is this happening to us?”

He forced his wife to have a facelift at age 50 and because he was a doctor, convinced his wife’s plastic surgeon to prescribe a combination of painkilling and sleeping pills, which could in combination, render a person incapacitated.  This combination of drugs was found in his wife’s body when she supposedly drowned in the bathtub. Martin was the one who found her and after a frantic, disjointed series of 911 calls and attempted resuscitation by paramedics and doctors at the hospital, Michelle died.

The Pleasant Grove police failed to properly investigate the case and his daughters, Alexis (herself a medical student) and Rachel took the case to the Utah County Prosecutors, and the investigation was opened.

The other key piece of information that Martin was carrying on an affair with a woman known as Gypsy Willis since 2004, three years before the murder. Gypsy told roommates that she was going to marry Martin when they figured out how to “get rid” of Michelle.  Martin declared after Michelle’s death that he would marry Gypsy in the Temple.

Right after Michelle’s death, Martin insisted on hiring a nanny for the younger children in spite of the fact that daughter, Rachel and several friends and neighbors offered to take care of the children.

Martin insisted that Rachel go with him to the Mt. Timpanogos Temple to help make the decision on hiring a nanny. Once outside the Temple, Gypsy happens to walk by and, Martin who acted like he didn’t know her, declares that God has brought this woman here to be our new nanny and moves her into the house immediately.  In addition, he had cleared the house of Michelle’s things only hours after the funeral.

There is much more to the story than this. If you are interested, you can read about it here and here .  It is being shown live on TV.

37 Responses to The Latest Mormon Murder Trial: the MacNeill Murder

  1. will on October 18, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    Looks like another black eye for the church, where the media will try and exploit the evil acts of a few to make the entire church look bad. Fortunately, the honest in heart will see through the nonsense.

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  2. NewlyHousewife on October 18, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    Now before people start listing all the warning signs outsiders should have noticed, that last one “cleared the house of Michelle’s things only hours after the funeral” should not be one. People cope in different ways. Just because my grandma got rid of her husband’s stuff the day before the funeral does not mean she somehow caused his heart attack.

    Also, adopted kids are returned for various reasons. Maybe something was wrong with the child and the family could not help? Maybe the child was a danger to children already in the home?

    The judgmental tone is pretty astounding for what was probably written off as a suicide the first time around. I feel bad for the kids though. Sounds like an unhealthy environment to grow up in all around.

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  3. Jeff Spector on October 18, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    Watching the trial while working and there is a lot of church in there. For example, Martin taught a Sunday School lesson (apparently, he was a Gospel Doctrine Teacher) where, with his wife and older children present, told the class he had cancer and was preparing his wife to take over the finances. This was about a month or two before her death. He did not and does not have cancer. It was a very tearful lesson, according to the witness.

    Also, he tried to get his mistress to housesit for a couple in his neighborhood, but they turned him down.

    They had three children from Ukraine and only one was returned AFTER the wife’s death. The mistress then assumed the child’s identity including giving a marriage date to MacNeill as the date of Michelle’s death. The mistress was convicted of identify theft and served time in jail for it.

    The cause of death was originally listed as accidental but that was only preliminary as the medical examiner, herself died of breast cancer prior to completing the investigation. The cause of death was revised twice after that point until it was ruled a possible homicide.

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  4. Howard on October 18, 2013 at 2:54 PM

    Drama-tainment.

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  5. MH on October 18, 2013 at 3:23 PM

    Just because we have a few bad apples doesn’t mean it makes the church look bad. If this was a Q12 member–then maybe that conclusion could be drawn. But this guy is a nobody.

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  6. alice on October 18, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    Not as tragic since there was no life lost but how about these idiots:

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865588640/Video-of-men-toppling-rock-formation-in-state-park-could-have-criminal-consequences.html

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  7. Will on October 18, 2013 at 8:42 PM

    @ 6

    What is worse is the overreaction. These guys are getting death threats. Gheez it is a rock people, lighten up

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  8. Brian on October 18, 2013 at 9:32 PM

    Two things I have never liked—the media including a Mormon’s religion in a story when it irrelevant and Mormons making a big deal of famous Mormons, as if it makes the religion “truer” because certain fantastic people believe it is.

    In this case, any one who thinks it is a reflection of the church is going to think poorly of the church anyway, so who cares?

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  9. Jeff Spector on October 18, 2013 at 11:13 PM

    Did anyone say it was a reflection of the Church? I think it makes it just a tad more interesting to have a murder like this in happy valley and the trial talking about Sunday School, going to the Temple, garments, etc.

    The whole thing has nothing to do with the Church other than the religion and practices of those involved. I also wonder if MacNeill was ex’d since he is admitted adulterer.

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  10. mh on October 19, 2013 at 9:21 AM

    Yes, will did.

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  11. Hedgehog on October 20, 2013 at 2:45 AM

    #6. And it’s the toppled rock that makes world news headlines! Without mentioning the church, nope it’s the scouts that are getting the bad headline. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-24591711;

    Not sure what that says… about the ubiquity of murder perhaps, or…

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  12. Will on October 20, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    Hedgehog,

    Yes, but it is obvious and apparent they are Utah County Mormons and associated BYU fans with the following clues:

    1) the clumsy and awkward high-five over tipping over a rock. 2) the man-boobs brought on by an over consumption of simple carbohydrates. No, as Hawk said earlier a prayer to have the diabetic prone foods “to nourish and strengthen our bodies” will not magically transform said sweets. 3) the rationalization techniques employed after getting caught. Similar to Dr. MacNeil and the other BYU ites who take their girlfriends to vegas marry them for a weekend to have sex with them, then divorce them afterward.

    “I would do the same thing again, only this time I would have a park ranger with me. It’s all about safety. Safety of the kids”. Wow. My advice, quit digging.

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  13. Douglas on October 20, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    I couldn’t tell from media reports if either alledged perp or victim were LDS. There seems to be much less sensationalization of notorious incidents where LDS are involved.

    As much as it doesn’t look good for the defendant (Mark Geragos was commenting this case on CNN! yesterday), and the blatherings of Nancy Grace (who is anything but gracious), I’d let the jury decide. Thus far I’ve not seen anything presented that makes the State’s case a “slam dunk”. This has some resemblance to the infamous Peterson case of some ten years ago where a husband of obviously questionable mores is accused of murdering his wife. It seems that again the matter has become a trial by media where the criteria is more a popularity contest than a matter of evidence. I predict that Peterson will get his murder convictions overturned with high confidence.

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  14. Mormon Heretic on October 20, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    Since when are Mormon associated with man-boobs? Will, what planet do you live on?

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  15. Douglas on October 20, 2013 at 5:17 PM

    Heretic, having once resembled that remark (seven years and 140 pounds ago), it was evident everytime we had a swim party at the ward. Of course, decorum COULD come up with a more dignified description of excess adipose tissue about the trunk.

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  16. Mormon Heretic on October 20, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    Have either of you ever been to the South? Utah isn’t even in the top 10 for obesity rates. In fact, it is bottom 6 (ranked 44). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obesity_in_the_United_States#Prevalence_by_state

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  17. will on October 20, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    MH,

    Anytime I can knock Utah County/BYU fans, I will take full advantage.

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  18. mh on October 20, 2013 at 7:42 PM

    Will, I love to knock BYU fans too, (and I understand what you mean about Utah county, and I live here but am not from here.)

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  19. Hedgehog on October 21, 2013 at 2:10 AM

    Will, it might be obvious to you that they they are Utah County Mormons. It’s far from obvious here in Britain, especially since Mormons tend not to do scouting in Britain (the church tried it for a few years here in the 1980s, and it was a disaster). I’d also venture to suggest it would be far from obvious in other parts of the world as well.

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  20. Douglas on October 21, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    #19 – I have a “house divided against” itself, having sent children to BYU, yet wearing Bulldog Red (Fresno State) proudly. And if you’ve been to a Fresno State tailgate party, you’d see that there’s no shortage of “Red Wavers” that live large literally.

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  21. Hannah on October 30, 2013 at 9:56 PM

    Martin is such a murderous scumbag

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  22. Douglas on October 30, 2013 at 11:31 PM

    #22 – let the jury decide if Mr. Martin is a MURDERER. He IS a scumbag, but that of itself doesn’t have any bearing as to the facts of the case (other than rather slippery suppositions as to ‘motive’). You evidently would rather let the media than the respective attorneys present the case; were I for whatever reason to be indicted I wouldn’t want someone like yourself on the jury.

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  23. jg on October 31, 2013 at 2:16 AM

    when non mormons are in court their religion is barely mentioned and if it is mentioned it is a blip and not focused on the way the mormon religion is.

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  24. jg on October 31, 2013 at 2:34 AM

    I have to say that Mr. MacNeill is a sociopath. My mother’s oldest daughter is a sociopath and until you experience it, you have no idea what a nightmare it is and how dangerous a sociopath is. A sociopath is very good at manipulation, lying and convincing people they (the sociopath) is honest and truthful, and they are good actors and masters of deception. They do slip up on occasion when they become comfortable they will not get caught, and when confronted they become violent. I know because I lived it my entire life. (I no longer have siblings – they are my mother’s other children). I had to get a restraining order against my mothers sociopath daughter. She is dangerous and scares the you know what out of me.

    The MacNeill children did the right thing in getting the law to examine their mothers death and to go after the sleaze bag sorry excuse for a human being who fathered them. He is guilty. He and his mistress have been caught in lies. His mistress is a cold hearted sociopath too. She has controlled the court-classic sociopathy.

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  25. Greg on October 31, 2013 at 1:50 PM

    I really have not heard much about him being a Mormon during this case so I think some of you are being hyper-sensitive.

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  26. Jeff Spector on October 31, 2013 at 3:33 PM

    Greg,

    You are mistaken. This has Mormon all over it. We’ve heard Bishop, Sunday School, Relief Society, Garments, Temple, BYU, Primary, etc over the course of the trial. If that ain’t Mormon,……

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  27. Douglas on October 31, 2013 at 8:22 PM

    #27 – chill, dude. Greg is right. Sure, some of the circumstances that would involve his involvement with the Church have been mentioned, but I’ve yet to hear it sensationalized in a matter that smears the Church. If anything, until I learned that it occurred in Utah County the possibility of the family being (or having been) LDS didn’t seem evident. What little relation that I’ve heard non-LDS commentators make seem to indicate that his behavior and (thus far alleged) crimes are inconsistent with LDS values.

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  28. Randal Cox on November 4, 2013 at 7:52 PM

    It’s not about the Church. They’re Mormons; that is the only link to the LDS Church that I can see – OH and he was a Bishop at one point apparently….. Other than that it’s a criminal case that has had unfortunate ends.

    And BTW… I’m an ex-Mormon.

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  29. Jack Hughes on November 5, 2013 at 5:46 AM

    Yes, MacNeill is an amoral, despicable human being…who happens to be LDS. I don’t want to claim him either, but the problem is that you can’t fully separate the man (alleged murderer) from his cultural background (LDS). His Mormon upbringing and life is still very much a part of who he is, and could have (for better or worse) influenced his behavior. It could be that his abusive behavior was enabled by a patriarchal culture and cultural misinterpretation of LDS doctrine.

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  30. Jeff Spector on November 5, 2013 at 9:26 AM

    It is true, the Church has nothing to do with the crime or alleged crime. All I have been saying is Mormon things have played a role in the crime. Like his taking his daughter to the Temple to “meet” the nanny as if God had a role in sending the nanny to the family.

    Mormon culture and relationships play a role as well. That’s all.

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  31. Jeff Spector on November 5, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    Jack,

    I am afraid your bias is showing a bit. There is nothing in Mormon teaching or culture that promotes criminal behavior, lying, cheating or adultery. Quite the contrary.

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  32. Bob on November 9, 2013 at 11:35 AM

    I wonder why the authors make categorical statement about family member dispositions years ago, such as “they eloped, something her parents and sisters did not approve of”, yet refer to objective verifiable events such as his position in the Church as undeterminable rumor as in “having been a Bishop according to him”.

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  33. Steve Anderson on November 9, 2013 at 12:48 PM

    It is always interesting when a Latter-day Saint is involved in wrongdoing, the media tends to point out that the suspect is LDS, but really that is quite a compliment for the LDS Church isn’t it. What is the media REALLY saying when they point out that a wrongdoer is LDS? They are saying, “This person is LDS, they should know better.” One rarely reads that a wrongdoer is a born-again Christian, or a Catholic, or a Baptist, because the media knows that they don’t know any better, but being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is above other faiths. Latter-day Saints should know better than to engage in this sort of behavior. It is always a left-handed compliment, unintended, but obvious nonetheless.

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  34. Pamela Lillian Valemont on December 17, 2013 at 1:14 AM

    Yet another Mormon Murder and this time, there’s no doubt he did it and why. Not so clear with the following case -

    A Mormon Murder – Jodi Arias and the Killing of Travis Alexander – ebook
    http://www.lulu.com/shop/pamela-lillian-valemont/a-mormon-murder-jodi-arias-and-the-killing-of-travis-alexander/ebook/product-21238625.html

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  35. Tarefic-Wheaties Nominations 2 | Wheat and Tares on December 23, 2013 at 8:29 PM

    […] Jeff Spector, Wheat & Tares:  ”The Latest Mormon Murder Trial:  The MacNeill Murder“ […]

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  36. […] Jeff Spector, Wheat & Tares:  ”The Latest Mormon Murder Trial:  The MacNeill Murder“ […]

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