Murders A-Z is a collection of true crime stories that take an in-depth look at both little-known and famous murders throughout history.
College sweethearts Ann Brier and Eric Miller were described as “Ken and Barbie” by friends. She was blonde, he was athletic, and they were both good looking. Smart too. While he did research to combat the AIDS virus, she worked for a big pharmaceutical company. But after they were married, Ann wanted more. Her lust for money (and other men) would drive her to commit the ultimate sin, murder, but it would take years before justice would be served.
Ann was born in 1970 and grew up in the small town of Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, the eldest of three girls in an upper middle class family. She was the archetypal “All-American girl,” smart, beautiful and good at sports. After high school she attended Purdue University, where she studied chemistry and met Eric Miller.
Eric had grown up in a tight-knit family in Indiana, and like Ann, was smart, ambitious and attractive. The chemistry between them was immediately obvious to their friends and family. "I had met some of the girls he had been dating prior," Eric’s sister Leeann Magee told CBS’ “Forty Eight Hours.” "I could tell there was a difference when he introduced me to Ann." Eric proposed to her on Valentine’s Day, her college roommate Renee See telling “Forty Eight Hours,” "This was the happiest time of her life. She was marrying the man of her dreams."
After graduating from Purdue in 1992, Eric and Ann moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, to pursue graduate degrees from North Carolina State University. After getting his Ph.D. in 1998, Eric eschewed a high paying "Big Pharma" job, and instead got a federal grant to do pediatric AIDS research. In January 2000, Ann gave birth to a daughter, Clare.
Living on a researcher’s salary meant the Miller family often went without the finer things in life, and Ann liked the finer things. “Eric wasn’t making a whole lot of money as a research fellow,” Lieutenant Chris Morgan of the Raleigh Police Department told Oxygen’s “Snapped.” “Because of Ann’s need to have some nicer material things in life, a nicer house, nicer cars, have a boat, things like that, she went to work.” She abandoned her Ph.D. studies, and got a well-paying job as a research scientist for GlaxoSmithKline, a large British pharmaceutical company with a research facility in the area.
With her new salary, Ann splurged on a boob job. “She had had some cosmetic surgery on her chest and she also had lots of other kind of beauty treatments,” forensic psychologist Dr. Michael Teugue told “Snapped.” Sister-in-law Leann Magee says, “Her outer appearance was very important to her; how she dressed, her makeup, her hair, everything down to her fingernails and toenails.”
At her new job, Ann made lots of new friends. One of them was a 37-year old research scientist named Derril Willard. He was married, and like Ann, had a young daughter at home. Ann liked to socialize with her friends after work and eventually started inviting along her husband.
On the night of November 15, 2000, Eric Miller met up with Derril Willard and a group of Ann’s co-workers for a night of bowling. Derril ordered a round of beers and handed them out.
“Eric tastes his beer and says, ‘Hmm, this beer tastes kind of funky’,” a friend told “Snapped.” Soon after, he became violently ill. He assumed it was food poisoning, but as the night went on, his condition became worse and Ann drove him to the hospital.
Eric stayed in the hospital for more than a week.
Doctors couldn’t figure out why someone so healthy had become so sick from a routine case of food poisoning. On November 24, he was finally allowed to go home.
Six days later, Eric got sick again after eating dinner with his wife. Ann rushed him back to the hospital, but his condition was so bad he began hallucinating and had to be restrained.
“He, literally, was thrashing on the table,” Leann Magee told “Snapped.”
When his blood work finally came back from the lab, it revealed he had been poisoned with arsenic. The Raleigh Police Department were contacted, but by the time detectives got there on December 2, Eric was dead. He was 30 years old.
As the Miller’s family began making funeral arrangements, police began their investigation into Eric's poisoning death. According to the toxicology report, whoever poisoned him had been doing it for a while. “There’s evidence that shows that he probably had been getting small doses of arsenic about five months before he actually died,” Eric’s father Verus Miller told “Snapped.” “That meant whoever poisoned Eric would have needed exclusive access to him for a long period of time. It didn’t take cops long to come up with a suspect.”
Ann Miller soon became the primary target of the police’s murder investigation. “She was the person that was in close proximity with access to him,” District Attorney Colon Willoughby told “Snapped.” “Each time he got sick when she was the person who was there, that would have pointed to her being the person who gave him the arsenic.” However, whenever cops tried to question her, Ann would break down in tears, and say she was too distraught to speak with them. Days after her husband's death, Ann lawyered up.
On December 4, while searching Ann’s work station, police found an arsenic compound called sodium cacodylate, as well as emails found on her work computer indicating that that she was having an affair with Derril Willard. They showed that just three days before Eric’s initial illness, Ann and Derril had flown to Chicago for a romantic weekend getaway under the guise of a business trip.
On the morning of January 21, 2001, Raleigh police executed a search warrant on Derril Willard’s home, confiscating documents and two computers, according to “Snapped.” While police searched the house, Detective Morgan pulled Derril aside for questioning. He insisted he had nothing to do with Eric Miller’s death, however, Morgan thought he was hiding something. “I said, ‘Derril, I’ll be honest with you, from the phone records, from the e-mails, I think you’ve been used by a woman’,” Morgan told “Snapped.” “Derril Willard looked up at me and said, ‘Yeah, and she did a good job of it.’ The next thing out of his mouth was, ‘I can’t talk to you anymore. I’ve got to call my lawyer’.”
The next day, when Derril’s wife Yvette came home from work, she found him dead in their garage from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Next to him was a suicide note, apologizing to his family, and saying, “I have been accused of an action for which I am not responsible…I have taken no one's life save my own," according to “Forty Eight Hours”. Soon after, Ann Miller packed up her belongings and moved with her daughter two hours south, to live with her sister in Wilmington, North Carolina.
A year passed from the date of Eric Miller’s death, and police still didn’t have sufficient evidence to charge Ann Miller with his murder, even though they were almost certain she had a hand in it. Eventually an interview with Yvette Willard revealed that right before his death, Derril had consulted with his attorney, Rick Gammon, who told him he could be charged with attempted murder.
"Why is Rick Gammon telling Derril that he could be charged? Well it's got to be that Derril has told Rick Gammon something," Detective Morgan said on “Forty Eight Hours.” "I said, 'Rick, let me ask you this, when are you gonna tell us what Derril Willard told you?'"
Citing attorney-client privilege, Gammon refused to divulge the details of his conversation with Derril Willard. Two years’ worth of litigation passed before North Carolina’s state Supreme Court finally forced Gammon to give up whatever information he had about the case in May 2004.
In his notes, which were turned over to investigators, Gammon wrote that Derril Willard told him he had met with Ann Miller while her husband was hospitalized. “She stated to Mr. Willard that she was by herself in the room with Mr. Miller for a period of time. She then told Mr. Willard that she took a syringe and needle from her purse and injected the contents of the syringe into Mr. Miller’s IV.” When Willard asked why she had done it, she replied, “I don’t know.”
In the two years since her first husband’s death, Ann Miller had moved on with her life, marrying a Christian rock musician named Paul Kontz. But on September 27, 2004, a grand jury indicted her for the murder of Eric Miller and she turned herself in to police in Raleigh. Her bail was set at $3 million.
Ann Miller Kontz’ trial was to begin in January 2006, but before it could, she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the 1st degree in early November 2005. In a statement read by her lawyers, she said “I will struggle for the rest of my life with how this could have happened,” and, “I have asked God to forgive me.” She was sentenced to 25 to 31 years in prison. "She wants forgiveness," Verus Miller, Eric’s father, said at the time. "Where's the forgiveness been for the last five years? She's sorry, she's sorry she got caught."
Now 48, Ann Miller Kontz is serving out her sentence at the Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro, according to the North Carolina Department Of Corrections. Her earliest projected release date is in September of 2029.
[Photo: "Snapped" Screengrab]
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