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She 'Manipulated All These People': A Complicated Michigan Love Square Ends In Murder
The Hostetters and the Knepps were very close — but those close friendships ended when Carol Knepp was shot to death.
The 1996 murder of Carol Knepp was the end result of three intersecting extramarital affairs. How did such a tragedy happen?
Carol Knepp was born Carol Summey in 1967 and grew up in rural Michigan along the Indiana border. She was part of a large and loving extended family. After high school, Carol worked at a local factory where she met long-haul trucker Gary Knepp. Unfortunately, he was married at the time they started their romance.
“Lorri and Gary were married and then Carol had an affair with him,” Carol’s aunt, Pat Gordon, told “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
Gary filed for divorce in November 1994, and he and Carol married three months later on Valentine’s Day.
The Knepps often spent their free time with Ron and Lisa Hostetter. Ron and Gary worked together as truckers and had been friends for years. Their wives soon became close as well.
Soon, those close friendships came to an end. Just past 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 19, 1996, a woman called 911 in Mottville, Michigan, saying a car had just struck her house. An unconscious woman sat behind the wheel, severely injured.
“We could see right away that this crash didn't involve the kind of impact that would cause somebody to die from their injuries,” former Michigan state police officer Jeff Miazga told “Snapped.”
A driver’s license identified the woman as Carol Knepp. After removing some of her clothing, they realized she had been shot.
“She had massive trauma from a shotgun blast to her back and upper shoulder which would have been fatal within moments,” Miazga said.
Despite efforts to confine the blood loss and revive her, Carol was pronounced dead at the scene.
Michigan State Police went to the Knepps’ home. They knocked on the front door but there was no answer. Then, Gary Knepp stepped out of the darkness from behind the house. He asked if something had happened to his wife, and said she had left earlier to work the night shift at her job. She was supposed to call when she got there but never did.
Lisa drove up while Gary was talking to authorities. She told police the Knepps had a loving relationship but that bad blood between them and Gary’s ex-wife, Lorri, may have led to Carol’s death.
“Carol was getting threatening phone calls and they were pretty worried about that. So they were trying to figure out where they were coming from,” Gordon told producers.
Investigators went to Carol’s mother’s home in the middle of the night and gave her the bad news. She had a possible lead: She told them her daughter had recently found a love letter inside Gary’s truck.
“Carol found a card that was a love card from Lisa to Gary. That is the lynchpin that Carol got a clue that Gary must be having some sort of an affair with Lisa,” Carol’s cousin Lisa Falzone told “Snapped.”
Carol was livid — and soon after, the calls had started.
Investigators interviewed Gary’s ex-wife, Lorraine Watts. She denied any involvement in Carol’s murder but shockingly admitted to having an affair with Ron Hostetter, according to court documents.
Detectives were eager to ask Gary and Lisa about the intertwined romances between the friends. Both had lawyered up and refused to talk. An interview with Ron Hostetter a couple days later produced nothing.
In November 1996, detectives working the case were contacted by the Elkhart County Sheriff's Office in Indiana. They had a man in custody who said he had information about the murder of Carol Knepp.
“Lisa’s brother-in-law, Dale Smith, had been charged with some sort of an assaultive offense in Indiana. An Indiana investigator was talking to him about that and all Dale wanted to talk about was the Carol Knepp murder,” said former St. Joseph County prosecutor Jeffrey Middleton.
Smith claimed he overheard Ron and Lisa plan Carol’s murder but that he didn’t take part in it. He said Ron later asked him to dispose of the murder weapon. It was an intriguing tale but not enough for an arrest.
Over two years would pass without any leads. Then, in April 1998, Lisa Hostetter went to police and told them Ron had murdered Carol. The Hostetters had since divorced and Lisa was now living with Gary.
“Did Ron shoot her? Yeah. It’s not my fault,” Lisa told police in her recorded statement, which was obtained by “Snapped.” “I’m not going to jail for something I didn’t do."
Still, without any physical evidence, it was just talk. Authorities remained unable to make an arrest.
Soon after, Ron Hostetter’s new girlfriend, Carrie, contacted authorities. A pipe bomb had been set off outside their home and she thought it was a warning for Ron to keep his mouth shut about Carol’s murder. She said Lisa had recently been leaving the couple threatening messages.
Ron was reluctant to speak with authorities so they turned up the pressure. Middleton made it known he was thinking of calling a federal grand jury. Ultimately, Ron's attorneys reached out and said he wanted to talk.
“Finally, he just blurted out, ‘I did it and I’m going to tell everyone what happened,'” Middleton said.
Ron explained that in February 1996, he and Lisa had reconciled after her affair with Gary Knepp. Lisa said Carol was threatening her and the children.
Ron and Dale agreed to kill Carol. On February 19, they waited along the road Carol drove to work. Lisa was stationed outside the Knepps' house and contacted them on a CB radio when she saw Carol leave, according to court documents.
“According to Ron, Ron was driving and they saw the car, they pulled out, Ron pulled up beside her and Dale pulled the trigger,” Middleton said. “... Lisa manipulated all these people. When you step back and think, ‘I got my husband and my brother-in-law to murder my boyfriend’s wife.’ That’s a difficult concept. I don’t know what power she held over these people."
Though Ron’s statement was enough for an arrest, Michigan’s spousal privilege laws meant Lisa could prevent him from testifying against her since they were married at the time of the murder.
“Prior to 2000, the spousal privilege was with the defendant. If you were charged with a crime and your wife was called as a witness, you could claim the spousal privilege and prevent your wife from testifying against you,” Middleton explained.
Michigan ultimately changed the law, allowing the witness, not the defendant, the right to determine whether or not to testify against a spouse or former spouse. Middleton then successfully petitioned for it to apply retroactively to Carol Knepp’s murder, even though it occurred before the change to the law.
On August 28, 2000, Michigan State Police arrested Lisa and Ronald Hostetter and Dale Smith for the murder of Carol Knepp.
Gary Lee Knepp was never charged nor implicated in Carol Knepp’s murder. In 2000, he was sentenced to 45 years in prison for the attempted murder of Robert Benton, the estranged husband of Lisa Hostetter’s sister, Jean Ann Benton, according to Southern Michigan’s Herald-Palladium newspaper. He was released in 2020.
In exchange for testifying against Lisa Hostetter and Dale Smith, Ronald John Hostetter was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder, according to The Herald-Palladium. He was sentenced to prison and released in 2014.
In June 2001, Dale Alan Smith was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections. He is now 63 years old.
Lisa Ann Dolph-Hostetter was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison, according to court documents. Now 61, she will be eligible for parole in October 2024, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections.