Real Name: Michelle Dawne Mellema Witherell
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Date: December 19, 1992
Details: Michelle Witherell was a twenty-four-year-old newlywed who moved with her husband, Jeremy Witherell, from their home in Denver, Colorado to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On the evening of December 19, 1992, Michelle was found near-death on the asphalt underneath her third-story apartment balcony. She was immediately rushed to the hospital and Jeremy was questioned by police. He stated that he was playing Solitaire in the living room when he heard a sound from outside. He went out, looked over the balcony railing, and discovered his wife's body on the ground below.
Michelle's parents were soon contacted by Jeremy's mother and were told a second version of the events. In this version, Jeremy claimed that Michelle was hanging up Christmas lights and was standing on the ledge of the balcony when it collapsed and she fell. When Michelle's parents arrived at the hospital, they learned that her skull was fractured, she was in a coma, and that her jaw was broken, although her teeth and nose were oddly unharmed. Her parents could not understand how she received certain injuries to her head, but did not receive others.
Hours after the alleged fall, Michelle died of her injuries. Shortly after her death, Jeremy told Michelle's parents a third version of what happened that night. He stated that Michelle had gone out to the balcony, and that when he had gone out there he saw her hanging onto the side of the balcony. He claims that he could have saved her but was unable to.
Jeremy, however, claims that he only gave one story of what happened that night. When police began investigating the case, they found that Michelle and Jeremy were having problems in their marriage, and that there were several arguments between the couple. Neighbors claimed that the couple's arguments were extremely loud. Some of the arguments were so loud that the neighbors complained to the building manager. The neighbors also believe they heard the arguments turn violent on occasion.
Michelle's parents became critical of the investigation, believing that the investigators were not questioning Jeremy's account of what happened that night. Her parents found inconsistencies in Jeremy's story. First, Michelle's wrists were broken, but her palms were completely unscratched. If she fractured her wrists trying to break her fall, her palms would have been scratched. Also, one of Michelle's shoes was discovered twenty-six feet from her body, and her other shoe was never found. Finally, even though he saw his wife was critically injured, Jeremy took the time to almost close the balcony door and double lock his apartment before attending to her injuries.
However, authorities claim that Jeremy took two polygraph examinations and passed both of them. Also, the Allegheny County Coroner's Office ruled Michelle's death as undetermined, meaning that it could have been an accident, murder, or suicide. Her family insists that her death could not have been a suicide, as she had no apparent mental problems and no reason to commit suicide. Her family also does not believe that her death was an accident. The balcony was 48" which was chest high for Michelle; this meant that it was nearly impossible for her to have lost her balance and fallen accidentally.
Michelle's family had her medical records sent to three different forensic pathologists; all three determined that Michelle was murdered. The pathologists believe that it is possible that her death was not even due to the fall. According to forensic experts, if Michelle had fallen three stories, she should have had injuries on both sides of her brain.
Pathologist Cyril Wecht noted that Michelle had extensive head injuries, but the injuries were only to the left side of her head. The injuries are direct impact injuries, which occur when someone is assaulted. Wecht noted that Michelle's other injuries were consistent with an assault, and not a fall. He noted that Michelle's pelvis and internal organs were undamaged, which was extremely inconsistent with a fall. Also, Michelle's body was found nine feet from the building, which Wecht felt was impossible if she had fallen accidentally.
Finally, in January of 1998, the Allegheny County Coroner's Office re-opened the investigation into Michelle's death, ruling it a homicide. Although the coroner's report did not specify how Michelle died, her family believes they know what happened. They believe that Jeremy and Michelle got into another argument, and that Michelle told Jeremy that she would be leaving him. They believe Michelle fled the apartment and that Jeremy followed her and attacked her outside. He then dragged her body to the location in which it was found, and then made up the "accidental fall" story to explain Michelle's injuries.
Jeremy and his family maintain that he is innocent and that Michelle died accidentally. Michelle's family, however, is certain that he was responsible.
Suspects: Jeremy Witherall is the prime suspect in his wife's death.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the April 9, 1999 episode.
Jeremy and his family declined to be interviewed for the segment.
Results: Solved. On December 20, 1999, seven years to the day after Michelle's death, Jeremy was charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. During the trial, several coroners, including Wecht, testified that the manner of death was a homicide. They also testified that she was violently struck on the head and face with an object. Jeremy's conflicting statements about Michelle's death were also brought up. There was also testimony from Michelle's friends, who stated that Michelle suffered emotional abuse and jealousy from her husband. Other witnesses stated that he was physically abusive towards her and had seen bruises on her. Another witness was Geoffrey Patterson, a friend of Jeremy's. On the first anniversary of Michelle's death, the two friends went out for dinner. During the dinner, Jeremy virtually confessed to killing Michelle, stating that things got out of hand, that he was sorry, and that "it" shouldn't have happened.
However, in January 2001, he was acquitted of all charges. Jurors said conflicting testimony about the cause of Michelle's injuries influenced their verdict. Police have since closed the case, ruling her manner of death as accident/suicide. Michelle's family still believe that Jeremy killed her, but due to double jeopardy laws, he cannot be retried.
- Michelle Witherell on Unsolved Archive
- Pathologists find new clues in coroner's report on Michelle's death
- Husband is charged in wife's 1992 death
- Husband charged in balcony death
- Witnesses: Witherell changed accounts of wife's death
- Michelle Witherell trial updates
- Husband is found not guilty in the 1992 death of his wife
- Man cleared of killing wife 8 years after her fatal fall
- By Blood and Water: The Witherell Case
- Michelle Witherell at Find a Grave