The Murder of Peggy Nadell

On the morning of January 25, 2014 after receiving a phone call from her sister in law, Diana Nadell, Suzanne Nadell-Scaccio went to go check on her mother at her home in Valley Cottage New York.  She did this quite often any way as she lived near her 80 year old mother, Peggy, who lived alone but Diana, who lived in Florida with Suzanne's brother, James, had often talked to Peggy also and said she had called and had not received an answer.  Suzanne had a key to her mother's home so she rarely knocked.  I mean really, she has key, why should she make the elderly woman come and open the door for her?  This morning ended differently than every morning before.  When Suzanne entered her mother's home she found her lying at the bottom of the stairs, just inside the home.  There was a knife embedded in her body.  Obviously in shock and almost as a reaction really Suzanne had removed the knife.  She then called 9-1-1 for help. She let them know she had found her mother and that from her perspective, at least in the few seconds she had been there, it looked as if Peggy had been walking down the steps with the knife in her hand and fell landing on the knife.  Authorities got to the scene and they quickly determine that this was not a simple case of an 80 year old woman falling down the stairs.

Now as true crime fanatics we all know there is a circle in which investigators look at when trying to solve a murder.  First on the list is always a spouse or significant other. In this case Peggy's husband, Robert had died in 2003 and there was no indication that there was any other romances in her life.  Next immediate family is looked at, especially those who could likely gain financially from a death.  In this case Peggy only had the two children, Suzanne and James and they were both married.  Additionally James had two teenage children.  This is the immediate circle that is looked at.  Next while they are looking at family members they look at two other people, of which could also be the same family members they are already investigating.  First they determine the last known person to see or speak to the victim to testify they were alive, and then they look at who discovered the body.  When it came to this case, Suzanne looked to be in a heap of trouble.  Now, let me state very quickly that there is no evidence what so ever that Suzanne was involved in this. After being on the radar of investigators for quite some time she felt forced to retain an attorney to protect her rights.  Really what the investigation needed was the time for all the evidence to come together and until it did everyone would have been a huge suspect, but especially Susanne.  I will say that had she been a target of tunnel vision investigating and been arrested and tried in this case this blog would obviously be vastly different but more than likely it would have been the type I have been known to write in which I wonder how anyone thought there was enough evidence to prove.  However, in the same respect as I will show in a minute as I go through how things looked on the surface I can totally understand suspicion.  Thankfully investigators did not stop with Suzanne and did more investigating.

As stated, although Suzanne had stated in the emergency call that it looked like her mother had fallen, the trained eye of investigators saw much more and a fall was not what they were seeing.  From their perspective there had been a struggle and even to the naked eye they believed there were more injuries to the body than just one knife wound.  Of course as far as those specifics they would have to wait for a coroner's report.  Presumably Peggy's body was removed and the crime scene scoured. Of course there was the knife.  From an investigative standpoint the knife was supposedly removed by the person who found the body and that person just so happened to be the daughter of the wealthy widow that was found in her home.  This absolutely, and understandably had to give the investigators a pause. Was Suzanne telling them that she removed the knife so that she would have an explanation for her fingerprints being found?  Had she actually murdered her mother and then reported it, even stating she thought she had fallen, because she was angry with her mother?  Did she fight her mother beforehand since there were obvious signs of a struggle?  Was she purposely steering the investigation away from her? And just how much did she stand to gain financially?  All of these are legitimate questions that I am sure the investigators were asking themselves, and probably out loud also.  So lets look at this side of it for a minute. The circle of investigation became the said circle because the study of crimes have told us this is the logical place to start as a large majority of murders are committed by people who know the victim and especially those very close to them.  Suzanne was her daughter so obviously a family member.  She also lived very nearby so she was also likely considered her caregiver. She stood to gain, investigators later determined, around $2 Million (1/2 of Peggy's estate), or without knowing the specifics of a will at least she reasonably assumed she would receive this.  She was the first person to discover the body and report the crime AND she had admitted to touching the presumed murder weapon.  These investigators were not likely dummies and we have all heard the expression... "If it walks like a duck...."  But if this case should teach us anything it should be that not every case is the same, that no matter what something looks like, or how certain someone is of someone's guilt all sides of a case should be examined to the fullest extent.  While I sympathize with Suzanne Scaccio and what she and her husband went through, I have a hard time putting a lot of blame on the investigators. I know that Suzanne and Robert Scaccio went through a very rough time with the death and then being a suspect but I hope that as time goes on she is grateful that the investigators cared enough to put her through hell (within the realm of the law, which I cannot confirm or deny they did) in trying to solve her mother's murder.  I think from the outside looking in we would all hope that if a loved one were murdered that investigators would push to find the killer

So again, obviously on the surface Suzanne is their number suspect and even if they did suspect she was guilty, they had to prove it.  To do that they needed more information  so they had to dig deeper.  Obviously the knife was going to prove nothing, well at least not against Suzanne. She had already admitted to touching it, and even if she hadn't pulled the knife out herself and her fingerprints were found I truly believe any lawyer worth their salt would have pointed out she visited her mother often, she lived in the area, and it would be reasonable to find her fingerprints and DNA all over that home. The problem came when it seemed like there was little to no more forensic evidence. My research indicated that there were no hairs, fibers or fingerprints to compare to anything or anyone.  Autopsy results showed that Peggy had been strangled, had received blunt force trauma to her head and had been stabbed (I am uncertain if this was a single stab wound or if more were inflicted).  I did not find anything that gave a specific time of death but knowing what we know now presumably by the time Suzanne called 9-1-1 a little after 9 am. Peggy had already been dead for several hours. The only evidence that was discovered at this point that told the investigators anything was that there did not appear to be forced entry into the home.  Once again,  this was not something that worked in Suzanne's favor at all, but still it was a long way from proving her guilt.  All this told investigators was that the door had been unlocked and opened for the perpetrators.  Did this mean Suzanne used her key? Did someone come to the door and Peggy feel comfortable enough to open the door?  Once the autopsy results came in with an approximate time of death likely being early in the morning that would have helped.  Theoretically at the early hours Peggy would have only opened the door to someone she knew but this was a popular and well known lady.  She "knew" a lot of people.  

One of the next steps was obtaining phone records from not just Peggy's phone's but also from those close to her. It seemed as if everyone was where they said they were.  But, there was this one weird call that came into Peggy's phone a little after 1 am.  They were able to determine that the call had come from a cell phone.  The problem with this was that it was a pre-paid cell phone or what authorities call a "throw away phone." They call them this because they are not registered to anyone in particular and are often very difficult to trace. Authorities got lucky in this case though.  They were actually able to determine that the phone had been purchased in Florida.  They were even able to get store footage showing a woman by the name of Karen Hamm-Samuel buying the phone.  So who was she and why was a phone that she bought and presumably activated in Florida have to do with a woman in New York?  Eventually they found Hamm-Samuel and discovered she was a friend of Diana Nadell, the daughter in law of Peggy, and that started opening up doors in the investigation.  

My research seemed to give me the shortest version possible of how things concluded.  In essence it gave me points A and B, then jumped to D and E (the end). So with that being said it forces me to basically do the same here.  Once the investigators found Karen Hamm-Samuel and connected her to Diana Nadell they obviously had to look deeper into her.  By June of 2014 (almost six months after the murder) they felt they had their evidence and arrested Diana as well as  Andrea Benson on charges of murder.  Between their interviews and confessions, as well as the evidence they collected the investigation they were able to piece the story together as follows....

Starting in December of 2013 Diana Nadell had set in motion the idea of killing her mother in law so that her husband of 18 years would inherit his half of the more than $4 million estate.  She contacted a relative in her home country of Jamaica to get things started.  Her niece, Eltia Grant in California, was contacted and a plan was hatched.   While Diana got Karen Hamm-Samuel to obtain the phone for her (she was never charged in connection as it seems they could not prove she knew about the murder plot), Eltia found two people, Andrea Benson and Tanisha Joyner who lived in Washington D.C.  This laid the groundwork for Diana's alibi.  She informed people that she was going to Washington D.C for a wedding.  It was there that she met up with Benson and Joyner.  Joyner took possession of Diana's phone while in Washington D.C while Diana got into a car with Benson and drove to Valley Cottage.  While Joyner had her phone she was sure to make sure it was on and even used it a few times so that it would appear as if Diana had remained in Washington D.C while the murder was happening in New York.  In the meantime Diana had possession of the pre-paid phone and a little after 1 am she called Peggy at her home.  I was unable to determine what reason Diana gave Peggy when she called her that she was in the area but at any rate Peggy opened the door to Diana and Andrea (hence the no forced entry).  Diana and Andrea both proceeded to tell the investigators eventually what happened next.  Their stories differed a bit but investigators determined that it was Andrea's story that fit the evidence so I will tell her side and will note in the differences from Diana.  

As they entered the home it seems Peggy turned to go down the steps just inside and as she did Andrea began to strangle her. While she was doing this and Peggy was struggling Diana went to look for other weapons.  When she returned she had a large object (not sure I could determine what this was) and she proceeded to hit Peggy over the head and then began to stab her, leaving the knife inside her body.  Diana claimed both in her interview and apparently later at her sentencing that she did not hit Peggy or stab her but authorities saw this as an effort to lessen her role.  It was said that the evidence pointed to Andrea's story being the right one but to be honest, considering it was said that there were little to no forensics I am unsure how that was determined. In reality it does not matter if Diana laid a hand on Peggy or not.  Had it not been for Diana, Peggy would not have died that day.  

In the end Eltia Grant and Tanisha Joyner pleaded down from conspiracy to commit murder to obstruction of justice charges (I was unable to determine what their sentences were). Andrea Benson pleaded guilty to 2nd degree murder and received a sentence of 20 years to life.  Diana Nadell also pleaded guilty but to 1st degree murder and for that she received a sentence of 23 years to life but her story did not end there.  While she was in prison, and before she pleaded guilty to the charges, she had approached first a fellow inmate and then her brother Pete Grant (Eltia's father) in Jamaica to arrange the murders of Karen Hamm-Samuel (who was not charged but slated to testify against Diana in court) and Tanisha Joyner.  That plot was quickly foiled but there was enough evidence to bring charges pertaining to it.  She also proceeded to plead guilty to this and received a sentence of 5 to 15 years that is to be served concurrent (so at the same time) as her 23 years to life sentence.  So in essence the second charges added nothing but showed even more of her character.  No one else was charged in the connection, including Diana's husband (and Peggy's son), James.  As I stated earlier authorities determined that he had no knowledge of the plan.  However, I have to say that I thought his actions, or non-actions as some of them were, seemed strange.  First and foremost it was said that he supported his wife and stood by her.  Now, although he was a psychiatrist and presumably made decent money Diana's two adult sons from her first marriage (one a lawyer, the other an investment broker) provided her with her lawyer, at least the one on the original charges.  It was claimed they could not afford more fees as it pertained to the charges against her from the witness tampering and a public defender was given to her for that case.  It was reported that James did not attend the sentence hearing against his wife but that he was opposed his sister making a victim impact statement.  It seems that the murder and the circumstances surrounding it had caused brother and sister to quit communicating with each other.  

As I have often said I have a list of names or cases that I write down when I watch a television show or hear of a case.  I then go through that list later and determine which ones to blog about at a particular time and in that process I learn more about the case.  Of course there are some that I remember more than others.  It was not until I was nearing the end of my research on this case that it jumped out at me at just how similar this case is to another I blogged about not so long ago. It has also made me wonder that if this case had not been resolved as quickly as it was, that they would not have been even more similar.  The other case in which I am referring to is the case of the murder of Ben Novack Jr.  Both Diana Nadell and Narcy Novack were both born outside of the United States and had immigrated at some point.  They both were ultimately responsible for the murders of their wealthy mother in laws in order to obtain their estates.  While Narcy's mother in law was murdered in their home state of Florida, Ben Novack Jr. was murdered in the state of New York, just as Peggy Nadell was.  Diana and Narcy both enlisted the help of their brothers to help them commit and carry out their murders.  One has to wonder if Diana would have gone to the extent that Narcy did and later have her husband killed in order to have full control of the money.  Suzanne Nadall-Scaccio had initially believed her mother died in a fall and that is what was originally ruled in the case of Bernice Novack.  Was Diana hoping the same would happen in this case? I suppose the better question is was she hoping that Suzanne would be implicated paving the way for her husband to inherit the entire estate.  New York has rather strict "Slayer" laws that also continues to play a large role in the Novack case.  In essence it prevents anyone who is convicted of murder from benefiting, directly or indirectly, from the estate of the person they murdered.  It has been assumed (and although I cannot confirm I can also assume that this is true in this case) that since James Nadell presumably played no part in the planning or commission of the murder that he would  inherit his half of Peggy's estate.  However, by law none of that money can ever be passed on to Diana upon James' death. Although I cannot confirm this quite possibly may be the reason that Diana's adult sons paid for her defense and could involve the issues between James and Suzanne.  I know if I was Suzanne I would have argued that my mother's money did not pay to defend her killer.  In the case of Ben Novack Jr's estate the last I searched his estate has still not been settled properly as extended family members were still pushing through court to prevent Narcy's daughter from receiving the estate claiming there was a chance that Narcy would benefit.  Sadly.. it always seems to come down to money.

Peggy Nadell was 80 years old.  There were no real reports that I could find that said she had any serious health issues but she was 80 years old.  The odds of her living say another 20 years were likely pretty slim.  Who's to say regardless of the actions taken the next year, or week ... or for that matter even day she did not actually trip and fall (as Suzanne had suspected) or had a heart attack or succumbed to any number of things that the elderly can at any point?  This simply came down to what many cases do... greed. It is something that I will never understand.


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