book reviews, true crime

Repost: The sordid story of Jodi Arias and Travis Alexander…

Here’s my second repost for today, another book review I wrote for award winning true crime author, Shanna Hogan. Ms. Hogan is currently in critical condition, having suffered a devastating pool accident in her home. She’s married and has a young son, and I’m sure her family would appreciate any good vibes or prayers you can spare.

This review was originally posted on Epinions. com on January 9, 2014. I reposted it on the original Overeducated Housewife blog on July 28, 2015, and I’m reposting it again as/is in 2020.

Like the rest of America, I probably got my fill of seeing convicted murderer Jodi Arias on television in 2013.  However, I didn’t follow her exhausting court case like some people did.  Since I am both interested in Mormonism and true crime, I read Shanna Hogan’s 2013 book, Picture Perfect: The True Story of a Beautiful Photographer, Her Mormon Lover, and a Deadly Obsession.  I came across this book after having watched a Lifetime TV movie about Jodi Arias and her murder of Travis Alexander, a former Mormon missionary and up and coming businessman in Mesa, Arizona.

The tragic story…

Travis Alexander was the last person anyone would have guessed would one day be a murder victim.  He had grown up poor in California, one of eight kids his unreliable parents had brought into the world.  Raised by his Mormon grandmother, Travis Alexander had embraced the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ teachings from a young age.  He served a Mormon mission in Denver, Colorado, didn’t drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, and went to church every Sunday.  He had many friends, was popular with women, and, at the time he met Jodi Ann Arias, was an up and coming performer at the multi-level marketing company, Prepaid Legal Services.  He was also a popular motivational speaker.  Most people who knew Travis seemed to like him.  He appeared to have a bright future ahead of him.  Though Travis Alexander had started his career in California, he eventually decided to move to Mesa, Arizona, to take advantage of the untapped and heavily Mormon populated market where he figured he could sell more Prepaid Legal Services.

Jodi Ann Arias had also grown up in California.  Three years younger than Travis Alexander, she was very beautiful, but seemed to have trouble making friends and launching herself into a suitable career.  She drifted from job to job, until one day she decided to try her hand at multi-level marketing.  In September 2006, Arias attended a conference in Las Vegas, Nevada offered by Prepaid Legal Services.  That’s when she first saw Travis Alexander, a man who would soon be the object of her obsessions. 

Although Travis Alexander was supposedly a devout Mormon, a religion that strongly discourages premarital sex and casual dating, he apparently had a weakness for women.  He met and was charmed by Jodi Arias and the two had a one night stand.  Jodi was smitten with Travis Alexander, but Travis apparently didn’t feel the same way about her.  However, he didn’t mind seeing her, since she wasn’t LDS and was willing to have sex with him.  Meanwhile, Travis Alexander realized he wasn’t getting any younger and needed to find a good Mormon wife.  A good Mormon wife would be wholesome, pretty, young, and most importantly, a virgin.

Jodi Arias realized that Travis Alexander wanted to get married and start a family.  She also realized that as a proper Mormon man, he would want a proper Mormon wife.  So she decided to take missionary discussions and convert to Mormonism.  Converting to Mormonism is not a simple thing; it requires adhering to strict lifestyle standards, attending church regularly, and paying tithing, among other things.  But Jodi was determined to win over Travis, even though he had already moved on to dating women who would be more suitable Mormon wives.

Jodi Arias became obsessed with Travis Alexander.  She would show up uninvited at his home in Mesa, Arizona and, once she determined she wanted to be his wife, eventually moved there herself.  She called and texted him incessantly and violated Travis’s privacy by hacking into his social media accounts and reading his text messages, many of which came from other women.  Jodi’s lack of respect seemed to get on Travis’s nerves, but apparently not enough that he stopped allowing her to visit for trysts.  The two traveled together and were even planning to go on a Prepaid Legal Services business trip to Cancun, Mexico, before their relationship hit the skids.   

On June 4, 2008, days before Travis was going to go to Mexico with another woman he had been dating, Jodi stopped by his house.  They had fun with Travis’s digital camera.  There were photos of Jodi naked, her hair in braids, apparently just after the two had sex together. Later, Travis took a shower and Jodi had a look at his cell phone again.  She realized he would never accept her as anything more than a sex partner.  Travis’s last act before Jodi murdered him was to pose for photos as he showered, several of which were taken just minutes before Jodi savagely attacked him with a knife and shot him in the head.  He was found naked in his shower days later by his very concerned friends.

Though Jodi Arias was at Travis Alexander’s memorial service and acted like just another grieving friend, she was soon arrested on suspicions that she had murdered him.  Many of Travis Alexander’s friends suspected she’d had something to do with the murder, but Jodi Arias actually sealed her own fate because she took photos of her crime.  She had claimed to be nowhere near Arizona when Travis Alexander died, but the photos she had taken put her at the scene of the crime on the day the murder occurred.  And there were plenty of Travis’s friends who would testify that she was obsessed with him.   

In May of 2013, Jodi Arias was convicted of Travis Alexander’s murder, but jurors could not come to a unanimous agreement as to whether she should be put to death or spend the rest of her life in prison.  Her fate remains unknown as she prepares for a do-over of the penalty phase of her trial.

My thoughts on Shanna Hogan’s book  

Shanna Hogan is an award winning journalist who lives in Phoenix, Arizona.  She is a graduate of Arizona State University’s journalism school.  With a pedigree like Hogan’s, I would have expected a really good book about Travis Alexander and Jodi Arias.  For the most part, I think Picture Perfect delivers on that promise.  Shanna Hogan writes well and I didn’t have too much trouble staying focused on the sordid tale of the returned Mormon missionary and his friend with benefits. 

I did notice a few editing glitches as I read Hogan’s writing.  At one point, she refers to the “tenants” of Mormonism.  I think she meant “tenets”.  There were some typos and a few confusing parts that seemed like they needed a round with an editor.  At one point, she describes Alexander as “religious” as if it was a virtue.  But in my experience, simply being religious doesn’t make a person good or bad.  In fact, a lot of crimes have been committed in the name of religion. 

I also noticed that Hogan seemed to buy into Travis Alexander’s legend, just as his friends did.  On the surface, Alexander seemed like a really good guy.  He was handsome, hard working, successful, and earnest.  However, looking deeper, it’s not too hard for me to see that Travis Alexander was also a jerk.  He put on a good show of being a good Mormon man, but in reality, he was a liar who basically used Jodi Arias for sex.  Of course Alexander didn’t deserve to be brutally murdered for being a womanizing jerk, but I felt like Shanna Hogan was too generous when she described his character.  She makes him out to be this really fine person, but his actions suggested otherwise.  Hogan did not seem to be very objective in her description of Travis Alexander. 

Moreover, Shanna Hogan presents a lot of what Arias said as “truth”, when it’s pretty clear that Arias isn’t a very reliable witness.  I would hesitate to guess which personality disorders Arias has, though based on her actions, I’m pretty sure she’s got at least a couple on the Cluster B spectrum.  And people who suffer from personality disorders are notoriously good at stretching or even obliterating the truth to further their own agendas.  On the subject of Travis Alexander and his relationship with her, Jodi Arias is not very objective, either. 

Hogan does a pretty good job of covering Arias’ murder trial, though she doesn’t spend as much time on that aspect of the story as she does Jodi’s and Travis’s trysts.  I’m actually okay with that, though; I generally find reading about what goes on in court less interesting than reading about what actions lead to the courtroom.  Hogan includes some photos, though many of them were ones I had seen before on the Internet.   


If you’re interested in reading more about Jodi Arias and Travis Alexander and their tragic relationship, I think Picture Perfect is worth reading.  Hogan is a competent author and if you didn’t watch the trial (and I mostly didn’t), you will learn what happened.  However, I don’t think this book is very objective, so it should be read with a grain of salt.

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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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