Prosecutors were convinced that Morgan Mengel wanted her husband dead and was just as guilty as her 22-year-old lover was for his murder. But after Stephen Shappell was convicted of first-degree murder for killing her husband in one of the Philadelphia area’s most sensationalistic murder cases, the judge declared a mistrial before a jury could decide Mengel’s fate last year. Then prosecutors found something so damaging to Mengel’s case that she could only plead guilty to her part in the murder of her husband. They discovered hundreds of text messages that Mengel and Shappell had exchanged. Messages that showed not only that the two were romantically involved, but also detailed how the couple plotted Mengel’s husband’s death.
On the day of the murder, the text messages showed how Mengel, a 37-year-old mother of three, was intent on having her husband killed. She demanded constant updates about the murder from Shappell and, at one point, suggested that her young lover invent an excuse to stop by her and her husband’s house so he could kill him there.
The widely reported transcripts of the text messages were to the point, as Shappell described in exact detail how he planned to kill Mengel’s husband:
Morgan: Uh, U okay?
Shappell: Ya I’m fine just waiting to see if the Snapple works take ur time with the spak plugs
Morgan: He drinkin’ it?
Shappell: Ya kinda, really just waiting for him to bend over I have a shovel in my hand haha
Morgan: Nice babe.
However, the plot didn’t go as planned. The Snapple that Shappell laced with nicotine did not have a major effect on the husband. The idea was that the poison would incapacitate the husband at the office of the landscaping business that he owned and where Shappell was an employee. When the poison didn’t work, Shappell began hitting him with a shovel. He ended up using three shovels to bludgeon him to death, breaking all three. Shappell then drove the body in his truck to a location near his old high school where he buried the husband in a shallow grave.
After the husband was dead, Mengel went to great lengths to mislead police who were investigating his disappearance by assuming her husband’s identity, according to Philly.com. She used his phone to send texts to reassure those worried about him that everything was okay as she attempted to trick them into thinking that the messages were from her husband. She hacked her husband’s Facebook account and posted “wants to be left alone” as his status, Philly.com reported.
When police officers contacted her, she said that her husband needed to spend time alone and showed them messages that she said her husband had sent her. They eventually insisted that they would have to begin investigating his disappearance as a missing person. At that point Mengel stalled for more time, insisting that she would contact her husband and that he would get in touch with them. She even contacted police to report that her husband’s family was harassing her with questions about his whereabouts.
The police caught on that something was not right. During the days that followed, investigators found the shovels with traces of blood on them, and eventually, the husband’s body where it had been dumped near the high school. They found a witness who saw Shappell leaving the Mengel residence a few days after the murder.
Another witness reported that Mengel had solicited others to kill her husband before she convinced her lover to commit the crime. She once complained that she could not afford to pay a hit man to do the job.
After they were both arrested, Shappell eventually accepted a plea bargain and was given a 40-to-80-year sentence for murder. As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to testify against his former lover and help in the investigation
Prosecutors were confident that they could get a conviction during Mengel’s trial, but the presiding judge held that the jury was tainted by an investigating officer’s testimony. The officer told the court that Mengel’s father had told him that his daughter could be “despicable,” which the judge rules was inadmissible as evidence. Since the jury could not be expected to disregard the disparaging remark, the judge declared a mistrial.
The mistrial presented an obvious blow to prosecutors, who quickly set out to retry the case. After the discovery of the text messages between Mengel and Shappell were discovered, however, they did not even have to go to trial, and Mengel accepted a plea agreement.
Though prosecutors were happy to get the conviction, they continually expressed shock and dismay at Mengel’s behavior nonetheless. As reported in WPVI-TV/DT, the Chief Deputy District Attorney Patrick Carmody described how Mengel’s callousness and ruthlessness was responsible for a tragedy that ripped through the lives of several people, “This is one of the coldest, heartless crimes I’ve seen in my 30 years of being a prosecutor. Ms. Mengel washed her hands of her husband, her lover, and her children.”
Mengel is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.