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Crime News Accident, Suicide, or Murder

Cheating Husband Drowned Wife in a Bathtub, Claimed Her Death Was Drug-Related Accident

One of Dr. Martin MacNeil's daughters, a medical school student, suspected that her father was involved in her mom’s death.


By Joe Dziemianowicz

The MacNeils appeared to be a happy Utah family, but looks can be deceiving.

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Shortly before noon on April 11, 2007, Dr. Martin MacNeil made a frantic call to 911. He said his wife, Michele, had fallen in the tub and that he was performing CPR.

Minutes later, paramedics arrived and rushed to the upstairs bathroom. The tub had been drained, and Michele was lying on her back on the floor next to it.

“First responders started performing CPR,” Chad Grunander, Deputy Attoney of Utah County, told Accident, Suicide or Murder, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. “They found her to be cold to the touch. But they continued to do what they could to try and save her life.”

Michele, 50, a former beauty queen, was then rushed to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Michele MacNeil's 6-Year-Old Makes Tragic Discovery

A photo of Michele Macneil, featured on Accident Suicide or Murder 418

It was a tragedy for a well-respected member of the community. Michele was known as a devoted and loving mother of eight, including four adopted children from Ukraine. Martin worked as a physician. He also had a law degree.

Investigators from the Utah County Sheriff’s Department were called to look into how Michele met such an untimely death.

Michele had been discovered by 6-year-old Ada MacNeil, who alerted her father. Martin said that he found her hunched over the tub like she had been trying to fill it up and then passed out. He sent Ada to a neighbor for help as he called 911.

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Martin mentioned that Michele had been taking several drugs as part of her recovery and suggested that maybe Michele had overdosed and drowned, according to Grunander.

“This did look like an accident,” he said.

What Michele MacNeil's Autopsy Revealed

The medical examiner found no signs of injuries, just healing incisions on her face where she’d had plastic surgery a week and a half earlier. On April 12, the autopsy revealed that Michele was suffering from myocarditis, an infection in the heart. She also had chronic hypertension.

The toxicology screening of Michele’s blood revealed “a cocktail of a number of substances,” said Grunander. Ambien, oxycodone, Phenergan had all been prescribed because of Michele’s plastic surgery.

The medical examiner determined the cause of death as natural due to myocarditis and chronic hypertension. Law enforcement started to wrap up the investigation.

Red Flags Are Raised in Michele MacNeil Investigation

At the service for Michele, Martin’s behavior came into question by family members. He appeared to make it all about him, they said. At a luncheon that followed, he was overheard commenting that he’d now have more time for golf. Red flags were raised.

Alexis Somers, 24, the couple’s daughter who was in medical school, also thought that her dad was somehow involved in her mom’s death. 

She told police that before her death, Michele suspected Martin was having an affair, said Sara Lenz, a former reporter with Deseret News. She had noted frequent calls from a woman named Gypsy Willis.

Investigators learned that Martin urged Michele to get a facelift sooner, not later. A day after Michele’s surgery, Alexis found her heavily drugged. Michele’s eyes were bandaged so she didn’t see the drugs Martin gave to her. 

Alexis stayed with her mom until she had to return to medical school. By then, Michele was taking just one pill a day.

When Martin learned of his family members’ suspicions, he banned Alexis from his home.

Gypsy Willis became the younger MacNeil children’s nanny just days after Michele’s death. Unlike most nannies, she didn’t cook, clean, or do household duties, according to Jill Harper-Smith, Michele’s niece: “She wasn’t a nanny at all.”

“At that point, it was clear that Gypsy was really the mistress,” said Grunander.

Six months after Michele’s death, the case was reopened.

Detectives discovered that Martin had lied about his age to get into the military, and that he had a long history of forging checks leading to theft and fraud. That sparked a federal investigation of Martin, while Utah County detectives continued to dig into Michelle’s death.

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Investigators interviewed the 911 dispatcher, first responders, and neighbors to get a better picture of the events. While Martin said he found Michele draped over the tub, a neighbor at the scene said she was in the tub. Ada also said her mom was on her back in the tub filled with water.

A Second Look at Michele MacNeil's Death by the Medical Examiner

Investigators turned to the medical examiner’s report to figure out the truth and Michelle’s body position. The findings contradicted Martin’s version of the events. 

“It suggested that Martin was trying to stage the scene to make it look like this was an accidental death,” said Grunander.

The investigative team got an expert toxicologist's opinion on the medications found in Michele’s system.

“The combination of drugs stood out to me,” said Dr. Todd Grey, former Utah State Chief Medical Examiner.

Grey described the case as “funky,” but that was not enough to change Michele’s cause of death.

Homicide investigators turned to the federal investigation, which had uncovered several more transgressions in Martin’s past. Martin had counterfeited documents to get into medical school and gave a false statement about a felony when he applied to law school at Brigham Young University, according to James Wissler, a retired federal agent with the U.S. Defense Department.

A Shocking Twist in Michele MacNeil Case

In the spring of 2008, Giselle, one of the adopted children from Ukraine, had gone missing. Martin said he sent her to Ukraine to visit family.

It was determined that Giselle’s birth date on her birth certificate had changed by 20 years.

“Martin MacNeill essentially sent his adopted Ukrainian daughter back to Ukraine so that he could pass along this identity to his mistress Gypsy Willis,” said Wissler.

That would enable Willis to wriggle out of a tax debt she owed, investigators said. Martin had also put his home up for sale at the time.

Federal investigators suspected that Martin and Willis were preparing to flee the U.S. Through a carefully coordinated plan, Martin MacNeil and Gypsy Willis were arrested simultaneously in 2012.

Martin MacNeil Is Sentenced

Martin pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft and giving a false statement. He was sentenced to four years in federal prison. Willis was sentenced to two years.

Utah detectives used the four years to build their case. Michele’s plastic surgeon revealed that Martin dictated the drugs he wanted prescribed for his wife. Because Martin was a doctor, his orders went unquestioned.

Could the mix of drugs be enough to cause Michele to be unable to resist a threat to her well-being? The medical examiner determined the answer was yes. Michele’s cause of death was changed to undetermined.

“It opened the window into a potential prosecution for homicide,” said Grunander. Investigators believed that Martin drugged Michele, and then drowned her.

Willis couldn’t be tied to Michele’s death.

On July 6, 2012, Martin, recently out of federal prison, was arrested for his wife’s murder. Prosecutors believed they had a strong circumstantial case. Somers and Willis were both called to testify by prosecutors.

On November 9, 2012, Martin MacNeil was found guilty of murder and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison. In April 2017, after losing an appeal, Martin MacNeill died by suicide in prison.

To learn more about the case, watch Accident, Suicide or Murder, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen