In 1999, Monique Wheeler was living in Florida with her parents. Like most teenagers at the dawn of the internet age, Monique was drawn to online forums and chat rooms, which is where she met Markus “Marky” Montgomery, a woman who lived in Ventura, California. The two were immediately drawn to each other, and they traded a flood of instant messages, emails and letters. A long-distance romance soon blossomed.
After several months of talking, Monique flew out from Florida to California meet Marky face-to-face in April of 1999. Monique’s visit confirmed her intense feelings for Marky, and she told her she didn’t want to live apart any longer.
Marky told Oxygen’s “Snapped,” “She said she wanted to be with me and then she flew back home to get everything packed up.”
In just a few weeks, Monique started living with Marky in California, and they had a “symbolic commitment ceremony” several months later. Though Monique’s parents were concerned that their daughter had essentially married a woman she barely knew, Monique stayed with Marky for six months.
In the spring of 2000, however, everything changed for Monique when she met Paul Berkley. Paul was a 40-year-old unemployed Navy veteran and divorced father of two who lived near the convenience store where Marky worked.
Marky said, “Paul seemed like a nice guy, you know, through our occasional, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ at the store.”
One night, the three of them met at the store by chance, and Marky introduced Monique to Paul as her wife. Paul — known as a bit of a wild man who was always the life of the party — invited them over his apartment to hang out. Monique and Marky only spent a few hours at his place, but the next night when Marky got off work, she returned home to find that Monique wasn’t there.
All Marky found was a note with Paul’s phone number. She called them a few times, but no one answered. Monique didn’t come until the next morning and didn’t offer much of an excuse.
Marky told “Snapped,” “She said, ‘Well, you know, I think, uh, I’m gonna go stay with Paul.’ And so I remember saying, ‘Get out.’”
Monique’s relationship with Paul moved just as quickly as it did with Marky. After a few weeks together, Paul took Monique to his ex-wife’s house and introduced her to his kids. Paul had had several girlfriends in the past, so his children didn’t think that much of 20-year-old Monique until he introduced her as their “future stepmom.”
A year later, the two married, and despite their age difference, everyone was supportive because of how much more stable Monique was than Paul’s previous girlfriends. After a few more years together, Paul re-enlisted in the reserves and started looking for additional work in programming. His children also eventually moved in with the couple.
Paul’s daughter, Rebecca, told “Snapped,” “Everyone loved Monique, all of my dad’s family even my biological mom. Everyone loved Monique. Cause after a slew of not-so-stable girlfriends to finally have Monique in the picture, it was really good.”
Paul wanted to raise his children in a small, safe town, so when he got a job offer in 2003 to relocate outside Raleigh, North Carolina, he accepted and moved the family east.
Rebecca said, “We were going to school every day. Dad was going to work every day. Monique was staying home and just being, um, a housewife. [...] She was what I thought a mom should be. She would tell me to do my homework every night; every night she would make a home cooked meal.”
But in 2005, Paul’s reserve until was deployed to Iraq, and he had to leave his family behind. Monique emailed Paul every day and struggled with him being gone.
Rebecca said, “[Paul had] even left a pair of pants, his jeans, on the floor in their bedroom. She wouldn’t let us move it to the laundry hamper because she wanted it to stay exactly where it was.”
While Paul was deployed, two teenagers, Latwon and Andrew, began hanging out with Rebecca.
Rebecca told “Snapped,” “Latwon and Andrew both had crushes on me, and were both kind of fighting for me in a sense, but were still best friends.”
Though Latwon eventually began dating Rebecca, Andrew kept coming over the Berkley house. He even unofficially moved in with the family by asking, “Can I stay the night?” every time he visited Rebecca. Monique didn’t seem to mind, and she even appeared to like having Andrew around because it took her mind off missing Paul.
Eight months later, Paul returned to North Carolina for a two-week leave on December 14, 2005. Paul was excited to be reunited with Monique and his children, but his homecoming was a bit awkward. According to Rebecca, when they picked him up from the airport, Paul tried to kiss Monique, and she “just kind of turned her head and was being really awkward.”
When the family came home, Andrew and Latwon arrived like clockwork, but Andrew was acting strange, according to “Snapped.” Monique told Paul she had made romantic weekend plans for them, and that they were going to spend a night at the movies before heading to the local park.
At 3 AM on December 18, Raleigh Police received a 911 call. Monique called in distress, saying she and her husband had been shot at the park.
According to the Raleigh News & Observer, “Sobbing and squealing, Berkley told dispatchers she had been shot. At times, her pitched voice is barely audible above her husband's grunts and growls as he struggles to breathe. Nearly three minutes into the call, prompted by the dispatcher, Monique Berkley mentions her wounded husband.”
Monique said two men had come up behind them, shot them and fled. Emergency vehicles searched the park for Monique and Paul with only her screams to help locate them. It took 15 minutes, but emergency crews finally arrived, bandaged Monique and worked to try to save Paul’s life. Monique was shot in the shoulder, and Paul was shot in the back of the head.
Later that morning at the hospital, the doctors took Paul off life support while Monique and his children were by his side holding his hands. Meanwhile, detectives investigated the crime scene. An initial search revealed only .45 caliber shell casings and a picnic basket with wine and some candy in it. Paul’s wallet wasn’t missing, so it didn’t appear to be a robbery gone wrong. The weather was also terrible that night, so police questioned why the couple would go to park at all.
Monique gave her account of the evening, saying they went out to the movies, went to dinner and then went to the park for a romantic picnic. When asked who might have known they were going to be at the park, Monique said Andrew and Latwon knew they were there. She told investigators that Latwon was her stepdaughter’s boyfriend and that Andrew was a troubled teen who moved in. As the interview continued, however, Monique revealed she had been romantically involved with Andrew.
Monique said she didn’t intend to have a relationship with him, but with Paul gone and Andrew always around, things kind of just happened. Andrew, 18, was also much closer in age to the 26-year-old Monique than 46-year-old Paul. They apparently tried to keep the affair a secret, but eventually Monique had confessed to Rebecca. She swore her to secrecy and had Andrew move out before Paul returned.
A heavily sedated Monique continued to confess her affair, and by the end of her interview, she ended up revealing a lot more than she anticipated. According to Monique, her “romantic interlude” with Paul was simply a way to set up an ambush.
An investigator told “Snapped, “The plan was for her to be harmed so that it would divert our attention away from her. I think the three of them discussed shooting her and I think they also discussed beating her. She knew that she was going to meet with some physical violence.”
But when Monique went to dinner with Paul, she started having second thoughts. In her statement, Monique said she professed her love for Paul and decided to call it off. She left the movie to call Andrew and say she wasn’t going through with the plan. When Monique finally got to the park, she didn’t see the guys’ cars, so she assumed she had successfully called off the plan.
As soon as she was done giving her statement, she was arrested in her hospital gown and taken into custody. When questioned by police, Andrew and Latwon said they were out of town, but their alibis fell through once police discovered their phone records placed them in Raleigh that night. Along with checking phone records, police also seized electronic devices. On one computer, they found Monique had been investigating Paul’s life insurance policy, which was worth $500,000, in the weeks leading up to his murder.
Andrew’s attorney told “Snapped,” “There were statements that she had written down in her diary and had made to other people, uh, that she didn’t want to be his wife anymore. Uh, that she wanted him dead.”
In order to avoid the death penalty, Monique took a plea deal for her first-degree murder charge and received life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Latwon was also arrested in connection with the murder, and he took a deal from investigators in exchange for information. He told police that Andrew was the shooter, and Latwon had joined the plot for a $70,000 cut of the life insurance policy.
In light of Latwon’s information, Andrew decided to plead guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole. Latwon pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder for a 23-year sentence.
According to NBC News, Monique’s mother issued a statement: “We can’t imagine in any circumstances the chain of events that led to this tragedy. Monique has no history of violence and comes from a loving and caring family. We are truly saddened by Paul’s death.”
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