MARYSVILLE — It’s like a crime novel, murder-mystery movie or Dateline episode.
Only it’s real life, right here in our back yard, between Marysville and Arlington in the hills east of Strawberry Fields.
A scorned or abused woman, depending on who you believe, stabs her husband, cuts him up with an axe and knife in her kitchen, then buries the dismembered body under 36 yards of dirt. She says he ran off with a younger, wealthy woman. She collects his money then tells her next husband, who gets some cronies to re-bury the body in concrete. After a few years she gets mad at him for getting a girl pregnant and moving her onto the property. The murder is kept secret for 9 1/2 years, until one of the cronies tells a jail informant.
Michele Donohue was arrested Feb. 13 when Byron Wright’s body pieces were dug up at 8128 Wade Road. She was held on $1 million bail because of the “cold and calculating behavior after the offense, the years of hiding evidence, recruiting others to assist in the covering up the murder of Byron Wright, and her recent discussion about needing her current husband to disappear and possibly be murdered,” court papers say.
Michele pleaded guilty to second-degree murder July 11 for the killing of Byron, which happened in either August or September of 2004. Prosecutor Cindy Larson said there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Michele of first-degree murder. That would require premeditation and that couldn’t be proved.
“No one had any evidence prior to the murder. She hadn’t talked to anyone,” Larson said. “We would’ve liked to get her for murder one.”
Michele’s sentencing hearing will be July 29 at 1 p.m., before Superior Court Judge George Bowden. She faces up to 18 years in prison, though a plea deal she made with Larson is for 15 years.
Michele never specifically said what her motive was in the probable cause court papers.
One possibility is financial gain.
Byron, a 23-year Boeing employee, failed to show up to work and was terminated. Michele said he ran off with another woman.
Operating under that story, Michele filed for divorce on Oct. 4, 2004.
Since Byron didn’t respond to Michele’s divorce, Michele was awarded the house and pretty much everything that Byron owned.
Another possible motive was that Byron was abusive.
Michele told new husband Joel Donohue in 2005 that she killed Byron because he was emotionally and physically abusive.
In the heat of an argument, Michele stabbed Byron. Byron asked if Michele could call for an ambulance but she said only if he apologized. Byron didn’t and bled to death.
Using an axe and knife, Michele dismembered Byron’s body in her kitchen and buried his remains, where they would remain hidden for nine-and-a-half years.
A third possible motive was Donohue was unfaithful, taking off with a younger woman.
According to one of Michele’s numerous accounts in the probable cause document, Byron went missing because he found a young, wealthy co-worker “that could take care of him” and both fled to Wisconsin.
She was likely a fabrication by Michele, but the young character was said to have led Byron astray and ultimately led to Michele filing for divorce and possibly serves as another motivation to kill her husband.
She claims to have never seen the woman and only based her appearance on what Byron supposedly told her.
The red-haired woman appears in four of Michele’s stories: in divorce documentation, to Byron’s sister Sharon Diehl, to Michele’s daughter Heather Wagonblast, and again in a police interview.
Interestingly, Michele made no mention of the redhead when she told perhaps the purest version of the story to Donohue.
The story she told Donohue was that it was “physical and emotional abuse” that motivated her to kill Byron.
Diehl never bought the story and filed a missing person’s report a few years later, and even went as far as to create a Facebook page to help track down Byron’s disappearance.
Wagonblast disputes the mistress and abuse stories as well. She said Byron was a nice man.
How’d she kill him?
The autopsy of Byron’s remains suggest he was stabbed multiple times in the back of the head and neck before he was dismembered. With an axe and a knife, Michele took apart Byron’s body and divided it into three bags.
A large “blue tote” filled with concrete concealed his torso and head, with two smaller bags containing the limbs.
The remains of Byron were initially buried in a “shallow grave,” next to a shed on Michele’s property.
She then had load after load of dirt delivered to create a “hill for her daughter to sled on when it snowed.”
To do this she ordered 36 yards of soil to be dumped on top of the burial site.
Donohue knew of the body’s location and recruited two cronies to help relocate the body, re-bury it and cover it with concrete so a “ground penetrating radar” couldn’t detect it.
It didn’t matter how much concrete and dirt covered Byron’s remains, word eventually got out that there were body parts under the shed.
Michele got away with murder for nine-and-a-half years because nobody talked. Finally someone did.
Michael Huselein, one of the friends who helped re-bury Byron’s body, unwittingly told a jail informant.
Huselein reported illegal drug activity and a chop shop on Michele’s property.
The informant said he was worried Michele would tell police about the activity as she was mad at Donohue because his pregnant girlfriend was living there.
Huselein said not to worry because they had something on Michele. She had killed her previous husband and buried him on the property. Police later got that on tape with a wire.
Donohue actually lucked out because in December 2013 that same informant recorded a conversation with Michele that said she was going to get Donohue next “or that someone would get rid of him.”
Police issued a search warrant for Michele’s property on Feb. 13, 2014. Police broke apart the concrete and found Byron’s remains. Police found one bag containing Byron’s legs and feet and another bag with his arms and hands. A “blue tote” contained Byron’s head, torso and the remaining portion of his legs.
Michele denied the murder, dismemberment and burial of Byron’s body when interviewed by police.
She changed her plea once all the evidence against her surfaced.
Michele had kept Byron isolated from his family for years so they didn’t even know he was missing.