The 2014 murder of a prominent law professor killed in broad daylight in the driveway of his Florida home was the crime that launched a thousand theories.
The murder of Dan Markel was a complicated case. It wasn’t an act of random violence, nor was it the result of a robbery gone wrong, investigators quickly determined.
But figuring out what did happen to lead to the killing of the father of two, and who was behind the killing, proved to be more difficult.
“The case was really cold at first,” Matthew Shaer told InsideEdition.com.
Shaer, an Atlanta-based writer at large for The New York Times Magazine, took an interest in the case after being alerted to its connection to another he had covered.
“I reported another story in GQ about this rabbi in the New York area,” Shaer explained.
Before his murder, Markel was hired as a legal consultant for a defendant in what had become an explosive divorce extortion case involving several Orthodox rabbis. In that case, several men were convicted of operating a ring of rabbis and enforcers to help Orthodox Jewish women kidnap their husbands to convince them to give them a “get,” or a religious divorce.
“After [my story] came out, I received a call from a friend of Dan’s,” Shaer said.
They said Markel had been shot in the head at point-blank range while sitting in his car in the driveway of his home in the Tallahassee neighborhood of Betton Hills on July 19, 2014.
“It was a very clean homicide,” Shaer said. “It hadn’t been some torrential fight in the driveway. [The question was raised] Maybe there was a connection [to the rabbi case]? This was the last case, as far as I know, that he was working on. People thought, maybe there was some connection.”
It turned out that no one involved in the rabbi case was connected to the murder of Markel. But as Shaer and Eric Benson, senior editor at Texas Monthly, set out to cover the case, which would see many twists and turns that led to the arrests of two South Florida men and the revelation that investigators believed the victim’s ex-wife’s family, the Adelsons, may have been behind his death. It was a case deserving of lengthy and in-depth coverage and the pair knew it would be served well by a podcast.
“It’s such a sprawling story that involved so many people, so many theories, so much uncertainty,” Benson said. He noted the podcast afforded the time to “explore what was interesting about the story; take it from a straight true crime, murder case still working its way through the justice system story and really get into characters.”
The fruits of Shaer and Benson’s labor is "Over My Dead Body," the latest from Wondery, the network behind the hit podcasts "Dirty John" and "Dr. Death." The six-episode season, “Tally,” saw a meteoric rise to the top of the iTunes charts after it debuted on Valentine’s Day. It instantly hooked listeners who were enthralled by not only the story of Markel’s murder, but the examination of his relationship with his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, and the possibility that their marriage’s messy undoing played a part in his death.
“Our podcast beings with these two very smart, promising, good-looking young people getting together and it’s like a perfect marriage … but it doesn’t work out,” Benson said. “People are fascinated by their own relationships and others’ relationships, and this was like an operatic relationship with real high highs and real low lows, and the fallout, if you believe the police and prosecution, had a lot to do with the murder. It’s like a Greek tragedy.”
Nearly two years after Markel was killed, police arrested Sigfredo Garcia, 34, and Luis Rivera, 33, who they said drove from South Florida to Tallahassee to commit the crime. Two years after that, Rivera, a known member of the Latin Kings street gang, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and began cooperating with prosecutors.
He testified that Garcia’s girlfriend, Katherine Magbanua, was also dating Adelson’s brother, Charlie Adelson, she worked at the family’s dental practice, and she was the connection between the suspected killers and the Adelson family.
Court documents said Markel’s murder “stemmed from the desperate need of the Adelson family” that Wendi and the couple’s two young children be allowed to move to South Florida. The documents said investigators believe evidence pointed to Charlie and Donna Adelson, Wendi’s mother, as being connected to the murder plot, though neither have been charged with any crime.
The family of Dan Markel’s ex-wife called accusations they were involved in the Florida State law professor’s shooting “fanciful fiction.”
A statement from attorneys representing Wendi Adelson, her parents Donna and Harvey Adelson and Charlie Adelson, released in 2016 to the Tallahassee Democrat, said: “There is a reason that the police have not arrested any of the Adelsons – They weren’t involved in Dan’s death.”
And another previous statement issued by an attorney representing the Adelson family added: "We are issuing this statement because the media continues to run stories suggesting — without any support or evidence — that the Adelsons were somehow involved in Dan's murder. To be clear, none of the Adelsons — Wendi, her brother Charlie, or their parents Donna and Harvey — had anything to do with Dan's murder."
The compelling details of the case presented in the podcast are matched by the treasure trove of resources acquired by Benson and Shaer in their telling of the story. “Tally” gives listeners a chance to hear first-hand recordings of police interrogations and of conversations between Magbanua and Charlie, and between Charlie and Donna, which were recorded during tapped phone calls.
“Thank God for Florida,” Shaer laughed.
“It was a happy accident that Florida has very open records laws,” Benson added. “The case happened to have a lot of documentation. Obviously there had been a wiretap operation … the prosecution was willing to share with us.”
The acquired recordings and footage were bolstered by original interviews with people who knew Markel and Wendi well.
“Dan and Wendi both had a lot of friends; they both were people who really moved through the world and a bunch of different cities,” Benson said. “There was a whole group of people who could speak to them individually and to their relationship … this combination of public information and having these people, really wide social circles, you could draw from, and people who were really good story tellers as well.”
The sixth episode of “Tally” will be released Tuesday. It will conclude "Over My Dead Body"'s first season and will bring listeners up to date with the case thus far.
In the meantime, Shaer and Benson still have their hands full with the case.
“We did talk to people, a fair amount of people, who didn’t appear in the podcast,” Shaer said. “We continue to talk to those people, and having the podcast out there has made them more amenable to speaking on the record.”
They’ve also received their share of tips in the case, but are quick to remind such tipsters of their role in the case.
“Our response in general is, look, we are journalists and if you have something that could really change the course of the case, we don’t have subpoena power … take it to police,” Shaer said. “I think they’ll continue to come in.”
It’s a testament to the success of the podcast, which is still somewhat surreal for the veteran reporters.
“I’ve been genuinely surprised at how much of a chord this has struck,” Benson said. In having their podcast follow the success of "Dirty John" and "Dr. Death," which he called “mega, mega, hits,” Benson said “I didn’t know if ours would resonate in the same way … the fact that it has attracted a lot of listeners who seem to like it and are fascinated by it are great.”
Benson and Shaer plan to cover the trials of Magbanua and Garcia, both of whom have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. They are due in court this summer. "Over My Dead Body" is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn.