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Feuding Neighbors And Dark Secrets: Who Killed A Young, Pregnant Iowa Jailer?
Lisa Techel was a newlywed expecting her first child when she was shot in her bedroom in the early morning hours of May 26, 2012. But achieving justice for the 23-year-old would be no easy task.
Life as a newlywed couple was just beginning for Lisa and Seth Techel.
The high school sweethearts, who got married on October 15, 2011, had settled into their first home — a trailer on a beautiful piece of land in Agency, Iowa — and were expecting their first child together, a daughter they planned to name Zoe Marie.
Lisa had started a promising career in law enforcement, first as a reserve deputy and then as a jailer at the Washington County Jail, and Seth was set to start as a jailer in nearby Wapello County, the same county where Lisa’s father worked as a sheriff’s deputy.
“I felt as close to him as I did my son,” Lisa's father, Todd Caldwell told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered,” airing Wednesdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
But at 5 a.m. on May 26, 2012, less than a year after the couple had tied the knot, Lisa was killed in bed: A single shot gun blast claimed her life as well as her unborn daughter's.
Suspicion immediately fell to the couple’s volatile neighbor, a man with mental health issues who had been engaged in an ongoing and heated feud with the couple.
“Go get him. Go get him. Now,” Todd Caldwell can be heard telling deputies after being called to the murder scene.
But the investigation would uncover dark secrets and lead to three trials before Lisa, who was just 23 years old when she lost her life, would ever receive justice.
Lisa, a high school state champion bowler, had met her future husband at a local bowling alley, where they both worked part-time as teenagers.
Lisa was quickly embraced by Seth’s parents and Lisa’s family felt equally enamored with her young suitor.
“She was part of our family,” Seth’s mom, Lorraine Uehling-Techel, recalled to "Dateline" correspondent Dennis Murphy.
Lisa had also impressed Seth’s close friends with her skills as a marksman and her passion for fishing and being outdoors.
“Seth was lucky,” one recalled.
Her sudden death came as a shock to the small Iowa community where the couple lived.
Seth told the 911 dispatcher he had been in the shower getting ready for work when he heard a loud shot gun blast and ran out of the bathroom to find his wife in a pool of blood.
“She’s been shot,” he cried.
The first deputy at the scene told dispatchers to call Lisa’s father, a respected deputy in Wapello County.
“In hindsight I wish I wouldn’t have done that,” Deputy Marty Wonderlin said. “I saw a lot of things that morning. Now, because of me, because of asking him to, you know, come out there, he’s going to have to live with some of those same images that I do.”
Todd Caldwell and his wife, Amy, an emergency room nurse, rushed to the scene to try to help, but it was too late.
“I ran in there and you could tell that she was gone,” Lisa’s stepmom, Amy, said. “I held her hand and I rubbed her belly and just said, ‘My Lisa, my Lisa.’”
Investigators first looked into the suspect suggested by Caldwell himself: the couple’s neighbor, a 56-year-old disabled veteran named Brian.
The neighbors had been embattled in a bitter feud that began several months earlier when Seth Techel pulled a deer carcass off the road onto Brian's property. The two men took turns throwing the carcass on to each other’s property before Brian reported other acts of vandalism — including having rocks and feces thrown at his home — and called sheriff’s deputies repeatedly to report his neighbors.
Caldwell even responded to a call himself and urged Brian, who had been diagnosed in the past as a paranoid schizophrenic, to let authorities “deal with it.”
“He says he thinks these are acts of terrorism,” Caldwell recalled. “Kind of a bell goes off, like terrorism is kind of a, a weird word to use.”
While the two men talked, Caldwell said Brian had a shotgun on the ground nearby, a discovery that unnerved him so much he sent a warning letter to other deputies to respond to the home with caution.
But after the murder, Brian welcomed deputies to his front lawn, even getting them lawn chairs, and insisted he had been at home asleep at the time of the shooting.
“I was in bed,” he said.
His mother backed up his story and told deputies he had been a “calm, quiet guy until this vandalism started” and then he was “just like a different person.”
“I was Mr. Nice Guy for a long time. It done me no good,” Brian added, according to the interview tape. “People took advantage of me, so I’m kinda taking a different approach to life right now.”
Brian remained a possible suspect, but investigators also began to take a closer look at Seth, who agreed to speak with investigators from the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation the day of the murder without an attorney.
An emotional Seth reiterated the story he had told the 911 dispatcher: He had been in the shower when an intruder — who he suspected had been Brian — came into the home and shot his wife.
But while talking to Seth’s friends, investigators discovered a troubling secret.
Seth had been texting a coworker named Rachel on a secret burner phone before the murder. While he initially downplayed the relationship and insisted that although they had kissed it had never been more physical than that, he later admitted that he may have led Rachel on by falsely claiming he planned to leave his wife for her.
“I wasn’t going to leave. I couldn’t leave,” he said during the interrogation.
Authorities also discovered the murder weapon — a shotgun owned by one of Seth’s friends that had been hanging in the couple’s home before the murder — thrown into the woods not far from the house.
After speaking to Brian one more time and ruling him out as a suspect, investigators turned their focus solely to Seth.
Armed with the discovery of a murder weapon from the Techels' own home and additional details about Seth’s new romance from Rachel herself, authorities arrested Seth after Lisa’s visitation at a local funeral home, using the same cuffs his wife had once used as a reserve deputy with the department.
While investigators took Seth into custody just days after the murder, the case wouldn’t be a slam dunk for prosecutors. Seth would eventually go on trial three times.
Defense attorneys in the first two trials, which resulted in hung juries, attempted to shift focus away from Seth by suggesting that Brian was the more likely killer.
Brian died just months after Lisa’s murder from what his family believed was a broken heart as the result of the negative publicity associated with the case. He was never able to take the stand to defend himself.
‘We wanted the jury to see Mr. Tate,” prosecutor Andrew Prosser said. “[It was] bad for us, good for them. It was great for them.”
For the third trial, Seth hired a new defense team. This time his attorneys took a new strategy. Rather than focusing on Brian, they centered their case on what they believed to have been a sloppy and incomplete investigation, highlighting evidence that had never been properly tested and the lack of evidence linking Seth to the crime.
His defense attorneys also uncovered a bombshell of their own, discovering that before her death Lisa had been having an affair of her own with a married fellow jailer.
Even with the surprising new twist in the case, jurors ultimately decided that Seth had killed his wife and convicted him in 2014 of first-degree murder and nonconsensual termination of a human pregnancy.
“Everybody’s a loser. Nobody wins,” Caldwell said the damage done to both families. “But I will say this, I think Lisa knows somewhere that the system that she wanted to be a part of worked.”