Thirty years after Verna O’Neil’s shooting death was ruled a suicide, her now 83-year-old husband has been arrested for her murder.
James O’Neil of Lake Worth, Florida was taken into custody after admitting to his daughter that he shot his wife in the head after an argument over “her excessive drinking and the fact that she had burned their dinner,” as reported in the Palm Beach Post.
The O’Neil’s marriage had been an up and down affair. They were divorced in 1981 but remarried three years later. On the evening of July 23, 1987, deputies were called to their home, where they found Verna with a gunshot wound to the head and James “hysterical and hyperventilating, standing in the kitchen talking on the telephone with the 911 dispatcher,” according to a police affidavit. Verna later died at the hospital.
James told investigators he and Verna had fought that night about her drinking after she burnt dinner. He said she threatened to kill herself and pulled out a Taurus .357 Magnum Revolver, pointing it at her head. When James tried to wrestle it away from her, it went off, striking her in the side of the face. An autopsy ruled her death “undetermined,” though deputies eventually decided the gun required too much trigger pressure to be fired accidentally, and was thus a suicide. It was a ruling the O’Neil’s daughter Sharon never quite believed.
Twenty-eight at the time of her mother’s death, Sharon McGee waited 30 years to confront her father about her suspicions. According to the Sun-Sentinel, in late October 2016, she asked her father what really happened the night her mother died. James told his daughter there had been no struggle. Verna had threatened to kill herself with the gun, but he got it away from her. He then asked her what she wanted. She said she wanted to die. Then he said to her, “Let me show you how it is done,” and shot his wife in the face. He asked his daughter to keep it a secret, and texted her later that night, saying, “I’m believing that you will sleep much better tonight, Love Dad.”
Sharon McGee waited four months before going to the police in late February of this year. In April, detectives interviewed James O’Neil at his home, which he shares with his current wife Doris, whom he married in 1988. He admitted telling his daughter he shot Verna, but that it was an accident, which occurred after he pulled the gun away from her.
Last Thursday, he was taken into custody by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and charged with manslaughter with a firearm, according to NBC affiliate WPTV. His bail was set at $50,000, and he will be under house arrest if released.
[Photo: Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office]