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Crime News Dateline

Man Who Killed 18-Year-Old Adopted Daughter Led Search Party Efforts, Allegedly Framed Her Friend

A medical examiner determined Anjelica "AJ" Hadsell, whose body was found face-down in a drainage ditch, died of heroin poisoning — but authorities found no evidence that she was a drug user.

By Jill Sederstrom

When Wesley Hadsell’s adopted daughter Anjelica “AJ” Hadsell disappeared from Norfolk, Virginia, while home from college for spring break, he immediately sprung into action. 

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The seemingly devoted dad led search efforts, spoke to the media and even stood outside a suspect’s home all night with a blow horn to ensure the man wouldn’t get any rest, according to "The Jacket" episode of Oxygen’s Dateline: Secrets Uncovered. 

“She didn’t go on her own, you know, she’s not just sitting somewhere happy watching TV, watching this,” Wesley told a local news station in one interview at the time.

But the case took a shocking turn when investigators began to suspect that Wesley knew more than he was sharing, and may have been behind his 18-year-old daughter’s disappearance all along.

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Who was Anjelica “AJ” Hadsell? 

By all accounts, AJ — a talented softball player and college student at Longwood University — was a “good kid” with a bright future. 

“She was an athlete. She was very outgoing,” Norfolk Police Detective David Benjamin shared. “No issues with drugs or alcohol, really was kind of flying straight.”

While growing up in Norfolk, the smart and responsible AJ often helped take care of her two younger half-sisters. Since AJ’s biological father was never a part of her life, her stepfather Zach Hoffer served as a consistent male role model.

But when her mother’s marriage to Hoffer fell apart when she was just 8 years old, so did her relationship with Hoffer.

When her mom found love again with Wesley Hadsell, AJ found herself relishing in the new opportunity to have a father figure. Wesley eventually asked to adopt her and AJ agreed. 

Anjelica Aj Hadsell Pd

“I adored Anjelica,” Wesley told Dateline correspondent Andrea Canning. “She was my daughter, you know? She was my family. So it felt right to just make it official.”

In March of 2015, AJ returned home from college for spring break. At the time, AJ was going through a difficult breakup with her boyfriend and Wesley had just been kicked out of the home for using drugs and was staying at a nearby hotel.

What did the note that Anjelica “AJ” Hadsell's mother found say?  

So, when AJ disappeared on March 2, 2015 and texted her family that she was “out with friends” and “needed time,” they thought she was just clearing her head. But when AJ’s mother Jennifer Wright returned home that night, she was surprised to find a strange note from her daughter. “Dear madre, With everything that’s going on, it’s a lot to deal with,” the note read. 

It was unusual for AJ to leave a note, and when she stopped returning her family's texts, they called the Norfolk Police.

According to Benjamin, there were several things at the family’s home that immediately raised red flags.

"The door was unlocked, there was half-folded laundry in the living room. AJ’s wallet with money in it was sitting on the couch. All very odd,” he said. 

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AJ’s friends also insisted she never would have just taken off without telling anyone.

“Nobody thought she had just ran away,” her friend Andre Barr said. “AJ wouldn’t have done that without telling at least one of us.”

Wesley told police that the last time he saw his daughter was around noon earlier that day. He said he met AJ at a gas station and gave her $200 before she left to head back home, wearing her softball jacket from college with her name embroidered on the front.

Detectives began to believe that her disappearance was looking “more like an abduction” and started to dig into the lives of those closest to her. 

What clues were discovered in AJ Hadsell’s disappearance?

AJ’s recent ex-boyfriend was investigated, but had a strong alibi. Then just three days into the investigation, Corey French — who once dated AJ in junior high school — discovered a troubling clue while walking home from work.

He found a part of AJ’s credit card laying on the side of the road. 

“I saw a little white rectangle on the ground, so I went toward it and when I picked it up to flip it over I saw her name on it,” he told Dateline.

The fact that someone she knew had discovered the card seemed like a “big coincidence” to investigators, especially after Wesley told detectives that French had been “obsessive.” 

As for French, he told authorities that although he and AJ were close friends, he hadn’t seen her in months.

As the days stretched on, Wesley seemed determined to find his daughter and led community search efforts, fielded tips that rolled in, and regularly agreed to media interviews. 

Soon after French discovered that piece of credit card, Norfolk Police got a call from AJ’s friend Andre Barr, who told them he had been in French’s house and saw AJ’s softball jacket there. 

Authorities hauled French in for questioning again and recovered the jacket stuffed behind a couch cushion in his home. 

But, according to Benjamin, French insisted he had nothing to do with her disappearance and had an “extreme reaction” to seeing the jacket. 

“My answers were always the same, 'I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know what you’re talking about,'” French recalled of the intense interrogation. “It kept going. It just was a tennis match the whole time and I kept losing.” 

Without more evidence to tie him to the case, investigators had to let French go. Wesley was seemingly furious and camped outside French's home with a blow horn and had a pizza delivered to his house with the message “I know what you did” written inside the box. 

“I felt Corey French was definitely involved so I thought that something drastic needed to happen to get some answers,” he said.

Clues Point to Foul Play in AJ Hadsell's Disappearance

The case takes a turn

But the investigation took a surprising turn after Wesley claimed that he and Barr just happened upon some of AJ’s clothing thrown along the side of the road after following a tip. 

Investigators believed it was “odd” that Barr was involved with the discovery of two “major pieces of evidence” and brought him in for questioning. He eventually admitted that he only found the jacket in French’s home after Wesley told him where to look. 

Wesley allegedly claimed he had broken into the home to look for his daughter and found the jacket, but didn’t want to call police himself because he was worried about getting arrested for the break-in.

Wesley already had a lengthy criminal record including past convictions for breaking and entering, robbing a bank and burglarizing several businesses. 

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Detectives began to realize that Wesley himself was often at the center of many of the “tips” they received. 

“He was constantly receiving tips that would require us to follow up, finding evidence,” Benjamin said. “We did come to believe, or feel rather, that he was inserting himself too much in the investigation, which is a red flag for us.”

They arrested Wesley for breaking into French’s home and searched his hotel room, where they discovered ammunition hidden in the ceiling.

Authorities were also never able to verify Wesley's account of the last day AJ was seen alive and said the gas station’s surveillance footage never showed him or AJ there that day. 

While examining his work van, investigators discovered a Garmin GPS device that tracked his activity around the time of AJ's disappearance. Although most of the destinations could be easily explained, there was one unusual trip to an abandoned house about an hour west of Norfolk.

Detectives quickly descended on the property.

“It was gray and misty out,” Benjamin recalled. “It had a very creepy feel to it.” 

A police handout of Wesley Hadsell

What happened to Anjelica "AJ" Hadsell? 

While searching the backyard of the abandoned property, Benjamin noticed a piece of plywood laying over a small drainage ditch and pulled the piece of wood up. He discovered AJ’s body hidden beneath it. 

She was lying face-down in the drainage ditch with her pants pulled down around her ankles, suggesting a possible sexual assault. A medical examiner would later determine that she died of heroin poisoning. 

Although authorities could find no evidence to suggest AJ ever used drugs, heroin was found hidden in the ceiling of Wesley’s hotel room and his drug dealer confessed to selling him the drug shortly after AJ disappeared. 

Authorities believe Wesley went to the home, forced AJ to write the note, abducted her and then killed her at some point before hiding her body and using her phone to send out those last text messages to family. 

They alleged that he tried to cover his tracks by breaking into French’s home and planting the evidence to frame him.

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Wesley Hadsell found guilty of murdering Anjelica “AJ” Hadsell

In 2022, Wesley was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He continues to maintain his innocence and insist he never harmed AJ. 

“I have not hurt Anjelica, ever,” he told Dateline from behind bars.

But many, like French, believe Wesley is exactly where he belongs.

“I hope that he sees her every single day... in the way that he left her,” he said.