book reviews, true crime

Repost: Dr. Martin MacNeill… doctor, lawyer, Mormon bishop, and murderer

I am reposting a couple of reviews I wrote about a couple of books by true crime writer, Shanna Hogan. I just learned this morning that three days ago, Ms. Hogan had a devastating accident at her home when she fell into her pool and hit her head. Her husband found her, administered CPR, and she’s now in the hospital in critical condition.

Shanna Hogan has written several award winning books, including a couple which have been optioned by Sony TV. She’s also the mother of a fourteen month old son, who was at the pool at the time of the accident and is fine. If you have any good vibes to spare, please do. Today, I’ll repost the reviews I’ve written of her books, plus add a new post.

This particular review was posted June 8, 2015. About a year later, a former Mormon bishop left me a comment, claiming I’m a “bigot” who paints the LDS church with a “broad brush”. It’s always fascinating to me when people who are complete strangers to me claim I’m “bigoted” based on just one thing they’ve read. I guess they don’t see how the pot calls the kettle black.

I just finished reading Shanna Hogan’s book, The Stranger She Loved: A Mormon Doctor, His Beautiful Wife, and an Almost Perfect Murder.  This book was released on March 31, 2015.  It’s the sad story of Dr. Martin MacNeill, a man who seemed to have everything a person could want.  MacNeill threw it all away when he decided to kill his wife, Michele.  He thought he would get away with his crime, but he now sits in a Utah prison, probably for the rest of his life.

At 50 years old, Michele Somers MacNeill was still a beautiful woman on the day she died in Pleasant Grove, Utah.  She was mother to eight children and had been married to Dr. Martin MacNeill for almost thirty years.  She had just undergone plastic surgery and was recovering at home.  On April 11, 2007, eight days after the surgery, Michele’s young daughter, Ada, found her mother unresponsive in the bathtub. 

Two of the four medications Michele had been taking, Diazepam and Oxycodone, would not normally be prescribed; Michele had them because her husband had requested them of her surgeon, who agreed to prescribe them only because Martin MacNeill was also a doctor.  Michele had been concerned that her husband was having an affair.  She had also been concerned that he was trying to drug her.  Daughter Alexis, then a medical student, had taken charge of administering the medications as her mother recovered.  The day before Michele died, it seemed like her mother was doing well enough not to need as much of her daughter’s help.  Alexis went back to school.

An autopsy revealed that Michele MacNeill had the beginnings of heart disease.  Initially, cardiovascular disease was the reason given for Michele’s death.  It wasn’t until Michele’s family pressed the Chief Medical Examiner to study her toxicology reports that the lethal combination of drugs was found in her system.  It was an almost perfect crime.  Martin MacNeill had administered the drugs in a way that made it difficult to detect them once Michele had died.

Dr. Martin MacNeill was an apparently religious man who had served as a Mormon bishop and was both a physician and a lawyer.  Underneath that respectable exterior lurked a monster who was eventually convicted of murdering his wife and obstructing justice.  Aside from being a killer, MacNeill is an identity thief, sexual predator, and philanderer.  For many years, he kept these dark aspects of his identity shrouded, only letting those closest to him see him for who he is. 

Martin MacNeill had a troubled upbringing and seemed determined to escape his past.  He joined the LDS church and the Army, but washed out of the service very soon due to psychological problems.  Two years after enlisting, MacNeill was put on disability leave.  He collected military benefits for many years. 

MacNeill earned a college degree, then found a way into medical school in Mexico.  He later transferred to a school stateside, earned his medical degree, and embarked on his career.  He worked at Brigham Young University’s health center for a time and had an affair with a student.  He got his law degree from BYU, but didn’t practice law.  Though he was married to a beautiful, kind, lovely woman, he cheated on her constantly.  MacNeill was having an affair when he killed his wife.  He was involved with a woman named Gypsy Willis who had some criminal proclivities of her own. 

For most of his life, MacNeill was able to fool many people into thinking he was a good man worthy of their trust– a man of faith esteemed enough to be a Mormon bishop.  He even presented the image of a generous father of a large, attractive brood.  Michele bore him four children and they adopted four more from Ukraine.  But then Martin had one of the daughters, Giselle, sent back to Ukraine, supposedly to visit her birth relatives.  There, he abandoned her and stole her name and social security number for his girlfriend, Gypsy Willis.  The new identity allowed Gypsy to erase her poor credit and tax liens… which no doubt made life easier for MacNeill and his big plans.  He even got military benefits for Gypsy by using Giselle’s identity.

I can’t help but realize that the LDS church seems to attract converts from the ranks of the seriously troubled.  My husband’s ex wife, a Mormon convert, had a terrible childhood.  She grew up wanting to present a certain respectable image and she felt joining the church was the best way to have that clean, wholesome image.  The church was like a sweet frosting on a cake made entirely of shit.  On the surface, Bill’s ex wife seemed like a good, respectable, church-going woman.  Under the surface, she was controlling, abusive, violent and dishonest.  Although she is not a criminal on the same level as Martin MacNeil is, I see a lot of the same very disturbing traits in her. (ETA: Incidentally, Bill’s daughter tells us that her mom has since kind of abandoned Mormonism, now that it no longer serves her purposes.)

Like any organization, the LDS church has many good people within it.  I think a lot of these good people are attractive prey to sociopaths like Martin MacNeill, who find a willing and trusting supply to satisfy their narcissistic demons.  It also seems to me that in order to get ahead in the LDS church, one must have the right look, the right job, the right income level, and at least a veneer of respectability.  Dr. MacNeill ticked all of the boxes.  He had pulled himself out of an impoverished childhood, become a doctor and a lawyer, married a beautiful Mormon woman, and had become a pillar of the community.  No one dug deeper to find out who he really was and he managed to skate past people, blinding them to who he really is through glib charm, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. 

Incidentally, MacNeill’s only son, Damian, apparently shared his father’s sociopathic tendencies.  He committed suicide in 2010.  He was 24 years old and a law student, but had already been deemed a person with homicidal tendencies who enjoyed the act of killing.

I’m glad I read Shanna Hogan’s book.  Her writing is very readable and she does a great job with a very complicated case.  Pictures are included as is an extensive commentary on the court case.  I think this is a good read for anyone who enjoys interesting true crime stories, but especially for those who are familiar with Mormonism.  Hogan doesn’t go too far into the church– if she had, the book would have been very long.  Hogan is an award winning journalist who has written two other books that were New York Times bestsellers.     

The whole truth about Martin MacNeill came out during his long awaited trial, which began on October 17, 2013, over six years after Michele died.  On November 9, 2013, MacNeill was found guilty of his crimes.  In December 2013, MacNeill attempted suicide by slashing his femoral artery with a disposable razor blade.  Guards found him and rushed him to the hospital, where his life was saved so he can enjoy the rest of his life behind bars.

It would take almost a year for the trial and sentencing to conclude.  Martin MacNeill was sentenced to 15 years to life for murder and 1 to 15 years for obstruction of justice.  The sentences are to be served consecutively.  He will not be eligible for parole until September 2031; by that time, he will be in his mid 70s.  There is no doubt that his daughters, particularly Alexis, who has taken her mother’s maiden name, will be fighting to keep him in prison until he dies. 

Edited to add: Martin MacNeill was found dead.  May he rot in hell.

And here’s the comment I got from a guy named “Bryce”, who thinks I’m a bigot.

BryceMay 25, 2016 at 9:57 PM

You paint an entire group of people with an ugly broad brush. You wrote “I can’t help but realize that the LDS church seems to attract converts from the ranks of the seriously troubled.” and base that on exactly one person. Wow. Bigotry. You should try to meet more LDS’s before making sweeping judgments. By the way, I was a Bishop. I had the smallest house in the ward and an average income. I like to think I’m honest and my family has enjoyed having me around.ReplyReplies

  1. knottyMay 26, 2016 at 7:10 PMHey Bryce,

    You clearly missed the part where I wrote that like any good organization, the LDS church has many good people within it. As a matter of fact, my husband was Mormon when we met. I didn’t have any negative opinions whatsoever about the LDS church until I married my husband and saw how badly he was treated in the wake of his divorce from his ex wife and when he later decided the church wasn’t for him.

    Thanks for calling me a bigot. You don’t even know me, though, so now who’s painting with a broad brush? Fortunately, I’m a grownup and can take insults from random people who don’t know me. I’ve also been called worse names by people whose opinions matter a whole lot more to me.  

    I’m glad you’ve found happiness in your church. I recommend you spend more time doing things that make you happy and less time trying to school bloggers. You’re not very good at it.

    I appreciate the time you took to comment, but I have a right to my opinion and the right to express myself on my personal blog. If you’re offended by what I write here, perhaps you shouldn’t read. 
  2. AlexisARMay 26, 2016 at 10:53 PMKnotty’s account of the calibre of many LDS converts – at least in the U.S. = was spot-on if mildly expressed. MacNeill seemed to have joined in the “golden age” of Mormonism – from the 50’s t0 the late 70’s or so, after which a great deal seemed to have changed. Back then, even MacNeill probably would have seemed a bit of a marginal convert. (Didn’t one bishop warn Michele’s parents that he was trouble?) For one thing, the church and is missionary department here seemed to have reached its saturation point. The number of stable and high-functioning individuals willing to take Mormonism seriously seemed to decline sharply after that. Now, in this age of information, we’re just not having a lot of educated and established people signing on with the church in the mainland of the U.S., or at least not sticking with it if they do join. Don’t ask me for statistics to support this because I don’t have them, but look around and see what converts are being baptized in mainland USA in recent days.

    Martin MacNeill was not portrayed by Knotty as anything resembling a typical LDS church member. Rather, she pointed out indirectly that a somewhat extreme religion occasionally attracts marginal converts. She didn’t identify the reason as being one of birds of a feather flocking together, nor did she in any way suggest that ALL Mormons are as messed up as MacNeill.

    One thing the LDS church seems to love to do is to embrace and to practically put on billboards sucessfully and famous members of its church. They don’t want to own the fallen, though. This is probably just human nature (I don’t remember the Disciples of Christ rallying around Jim Jones), and the LDS are possibly no more or less guilty of it than are members of the next church, but still the trend is notable. 

    Some members of churches with numbers placing them in a distinct minority (at least here in the US) and particularly those with religious practices veering pretty far in one direction or another cannot tolerate the mildest of criticism. Others thrive on it and cannot wait to claim “persecution.” I’m not sure which if either case Larsen applies to former Bishop , but in whatever case, he would do well to grow a thicker skin. Churches in general, including but not limited to the LDS church, are now fair game for criticism. It will probably get a lot worse before it gets better.

    I can scarcely believe that monster, Mormon or otherwise, killed such a lovely person.

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