OLYMPIA - When Mechele Linehan worked as a stripper in Anchorage, Alaska, in the mid-1990s, she juggled three fiances, including one who temporarily listed her as his beneficiary on a $1 million life insurance policy and wound up shot to death.
Linehan, 33, now an Olympia housewife, was arrested here Wednesday on suspicion of first-degree murder in connection with the 1996 death in Alaska of her former fiance, Kent John Leppink. Linehan turned herself in at the Olympia Police Department Wednesday morning.
Another of Linehan's former fiances in Anchorage, John T. Carlin III, 49, a New Jersey steelworker, also is charged with first-degree murder in connection with Leppink's death. Carlin was arrested in Anchorage on Monday and remains in custody in lieu of $500,000 cash bail. Linehan was being held at the Thurston County Jail.
Leppink was found dead near Hope, Alaska, about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, on May 2, 1996. The fisherman, who was 36 at the time of his death, had been shot three times with .44-caliber slugs in the back, abdomen and chest.
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Unbeknownst to Linehan, Leppink changed his $1 million life insurance policy a week before he was killed to make his father the beneficiary instead of Linehan, according to court documents.
Investigators think Linehan and Carlin "hatched this scheme to go and kill Leppink after the insurance policy was taken out on him," said Greg Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Public Safety.
On Wednesday, Mechele Linehan's husband, Collin, said his wife is innocent, and that their friends and family support her.
"She's completely innocent," said Collin Linehan, who was clearly upset during an interview near his home in the 1800 block of Bigelow Avenue. "An indictment does not mean that she's guilty."
Mechele Linehan's attorney, Wayne Fricke of Tacoma, said that from what's he's heard, the case against his client "probably is circumstantial." Linehan has never tried to dodge Alaska authorities, and they have known Linehan's whereabouts in Olympia for at least a year and even visited her at her home last summer, Fricke said.
"Mechele and her husband have maintained that she's absolutely innocent in this case," Fricke said. "If she ever was going to run, she would have run a long time ago."
Neighbors were shocked to hear of Linehan's arrest, and spoke of her as a devoted wife and mother to a young daughter, who attends Saint Michael School in Olympia.
Neighbor Lisa Kinnamon said she often saw Mechele Linehan gardening, and Linehan spoke about her plans to open a day spa.
"She's totally great," Kinnamon said. "Super sweet, really friendly."
Collin Linehan, a doctor, recently served with the military in Iraq, Fricke said. Mechele Linehan has a master's degree from Saint Martin's University.
In Alaska, court records indicate that in late 1994, Mechele Linehan - known as Hughes at the time - accepted two marriage proposals, one from Leppink and another from James "Scott" Hilke. In late 1995, Linehan accepted a marriage proposal from Carlin, who had bought her an $11,000 diamond ring and $3,200 in furs that year, court records state.
New technology allowed investigators to get information off a computer used by Linehan and Leppink before his death, and that led to the two arrests 10 years later, DPS spokesman Wilkinson said.
Linehan's sister, Melissa Williams, who lived in Moab, Utah, in 1996, told investigators at the time that Linehan had sent her the computer. Williams also asked investigators whether her sister was involved in Leppink's death.
"Ms. Williams indicated she was suspicious because Ms. Hughes (now Mechele Linehan), referring to Kent Leppink, stated '... he deserved it,' and '... too bad he wasn't tortured before he died,' " according to court papers.
E-mails exchanged by Leppink, Linehan and Carlin were found on the computer during forensic analyses in 1997 and 2004. The e-mails describe how Leppink met Hughes at The Bush Company, a strip club in Anchorage where Linehan started working in 1994. The e-mails also describe how Leppink learned Linehan was having affairs behind his back after she had accepted his marriage proposal. E-mails found on the computer also contradict Linehan's past statements to authorities that she and Leppink were never engaged, court records state.
In one e-mail from April 1996, Leppink responded to an e-mail from Linehan in which she asked for $2,500 to buy a wedding dress.
"I would like to give you your way all the time, but I just want to be part of the process," Leppink responded. "I'm not trying to start a fight, I just want to be involved."
On Wednesday, Wilkinson credited the Alaska state troopers' "cold-case unit" for going back to witnesses, including John Carlin's son, who couldn't be interviewed during the original investigation because he was a minor. In 2004, Carlin's son described seeing his father washing a gun in a sink in Anchorage not long after Leppink's disappearance.
"He asked his father what he was doing and his father told him that bleach will get rid of evidence on a gun," court records state. "He thinks that his father is responsible for the murder of Kent Leppink, and that his father got rid of the gun."
When asked why it took authorities more than 10 years to make an arrest in the homicide case, Wilkinson pointed out that real-life "ain't TV," and sometimes investigations can stretch on for years and years.
On Wednesday night, the victim's mother, Betsy Leppink, in Shelby, Mich., had nothing but praise for the actions of Alaska state troopers and prosecutors who have been handling the case.
"After 10 1/2 years, we are very happy to have this take place, and we are eager for the process to continue," she said of the arrests.
Linehan's preliminary appearance on the murder charge is set for 3:30 p.m. today in Thurston County Superior Court. An extradition hearing will be scheduled later. She won't fight extradition to Alaska, her attorney said.
Jeremy Pawloski covers public safety issues for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before she moved to Olympia, Mechele Linehan, formerly Mechele Hughes,
Back in 1996, months after Leppink's death, "Mechele learned from (Alaska State Trooper) that she is not the beneficiary of the life insurance policy and appeared surprised," reads part of the affidavit in support of a subpoena for Linehan's sister to testify in the case.
Before Leppink's death, he believed his fiance might have been involved in a plot to kill him, and he changed the policy just a week before his body was found. He also wrote his father in Michigan a letter, explaining that a second sealed evelope was not to be opened only in the event of his death, according to the subpoena filed in the Third Judicial District in Anchorage.
"It's funny to talk about getting killed, but in today's world you have to expect anything," reads Lippink's first letter. "...If you think anything fishy has happened to me, then you can open up the other envelope I've sent."
The second handwritten letter reads, "Since you're reading this, you assume that I'm dead. Use the information enclosed to take Michele DOWN. Make sure she is prosecuted.:
The letter goes on to state that Michele, Carlin and another man who has not been charged in connection with the case "probably killed me." The letter also states that she defrauded Lippink of $15,000.
"She took me for a lot of money on the impression we were getting married," reads the letter. "This may be hard to prove without me present, but give it a shot. It is a class B felony in Alaska. $15,000 can be proved because you sent it to us."
Even in his letter from beyond the grave, it appears that Lippink held out hope that his relationship with Linehan was not beyond repair.
"Sorry about giving you all this stuff to do," reads Lippink's letter to his father. "I would have done it, but I wanted to make things work. I wanted to marry Michele. If that would have happened, this would have been destroyed. I have kept it as my 'insurance policy.' Use it! I'll rest easier."
Before Anchorage commercial fisherman Kent John Leppink's 1996 death, he believed his fiancee might have been involved in a plot to kill him, according to court records. He changed a life insurance policy so that she would not get $1 million in the event of his death.
The policy was changed a week before his body was found, court records state.
According to an affidavit in support of the arrest of Leppink's former fiancee, Olympia housewife and former Anchorage stripper Mechele Linehan, Leppink wrote to his father about his fears of meeting an untimely end.
The letter, which was sent to Leppink's father in Michigan, included a second sealed envelope that was to be opened only in the event of his death, according to the subpoena filed in the Third Judicial District Court in Anchorage.
"It's not funny to talk about getting killed, but in today's world you have to expect anything," reads Leppink's first letter to his father, Kenneth James Leppink of Shelby, Mich. "... If you think anything fishy has happened to me, then you can open up the other envelope I've sent."
The second handwritten letter reads, "Since you're reading this, you assume that I'm dead. Use the information enclosed to take Mechele DOWN. Make sure she is prosecuted."
The letter goes on to state that Mechele, John Carlin III and a third man who has not been charged in connection with the case "probably killed me." The letter also states that Linehan defrauded Leppink out of $15,000.
"She took me for a lot of money on the impression we were getting married," the letter reads. "This may be hard to prove without me present, but give it a shot. It is a class B felony in Alaska. $15,000 can be proved because you sent it to us."
Even in his letter, it appears that Leppink held out hope that his relationship with Linehan was not beyond repair.
"Sorry about giving you all this stuff to do," reads Leppink's letter to his father. "I would have done it, but I wanted to make things work. I wanted to marry Mechele. If that would have happened, this would have been destroyed. I have kept it as my 'insurance policy.' Use it! I'll rest easier."