I am unsure what surprises me the most about this case. First there is a young man who was obviously wholly manipulated by an older woman into killing her husband and then bought so many of her lies even after the crime was committed that he was very close to completely taking the rap for her. But then there is the manipulative woman who the prosecutor literally described as “stupid.” I would have to agree with the prosecutor. Here was a woman that was apparently miserable in her marriage and decided that murder was more profitable than a divorce, who manipulated her lover to commit the crime for her, but who also not only did not think the crime out completely but did not cover her tracks and then caved very easily it seems.
Kevin Mengel Jr was thirty-three years old and the father of three children when he was bludgeoned to death with more than one shovel (two broke in the process) in a garage in his landscaping business on June 17, 2010 in West Goshen Pennsylvania. His body would be left in the rarely used garage for another four days before the two perpetrators of the crime, Kevin's wife, Morgan and her lover (and Kevin's employee), Stephen Shappell. It was then that the two gathered the body and buried him behind a local high school. Kevin was murdered on the Thursday before Father's Day and apparently he was expected to go to an outing on that Sunday. In the days leading up to Father's Day it seems that Kevin's family and friends became suspicious and when he failed to show up Sunday they became more so. It was on that day that Kevin's mother contacted the police and reported her suspicions. Over the next few days Kevin's mother would call the police and speak to investigators a few more times about information she was finding. Kevin's Facebook had been updated and people were receiving text messages supposedly from Kevin saying that he had left his family and wanted to be left alone. Not only did his friends and family believe that this was very uncharacteristic of Kevin but they also believed that the writing style in the Facebook update and the text was not one that Kevin used. Kevin's mother would also tell investigators that Morgan was having an affair with someone named “Steve” a man who seemingly moved very quickly into the home after Kevin was gone. Investigators started by talking with employee's of Kevin's landscaping business and learned that “Steve” was likely Stephen Shappell.
On June 24th, one week after the murder investigators went to the Mengel apartment and talked to Morgan. She would tell them the same as she had told family members, that Kevin had left her and their three children. One of the detectives involved with the case said he was immediately suspicious because he saw things such as Kevin's toothbrush still inside the home. While they were there Stephen Shappell arrived at the home and it appears that both he and Morgan ended up admitting having an affair.
What exactly transpired on the evening of the 24th seems a bit confusing. Some information indicate that Kevin's brother was watching the Mengel apartment and saw Morgan and Stephen seemingly filling their vehicle with items indicating they planned to leave the area and he called the police. Whether he called right away, or called when they arrived at the Landscaping business is unclear. It is also unclear as to whether the police followed the lead and showed up at the business just after Morgan and Stephen or if they were already there talking to employees again when the couple pulled up. At either rate as the investigators were there Stephen Shappell got into the vehicle and drove away. He would be found three days later in Colorado. But, while Shappell was on the run Morgan was taken to the police station for questioning. It was during this time that Morgan would tell investigators what had happened to Kevin and where his body could be found but it appears that she indicated to investigators that she knew what had happened, but was not involved and put the blame on Shappell. She did admit to sending the text messages and updating his Facebook in order to make people believe that Kevin was still alive. At some point, whether it was prior to this interview, or later in the investigation, investigators would recover text messages between Morgan and Stephen that would prove that not only did Morgan know more than what she had shared with investigators but that she was involved more also.
Morgan would tell investigators that Shappell (although it would later be discovered to be her) added some liquid nicotine to one of Kevin's Snapple drinks. When that did not work in killing him Shappell would attack him in the garage of the landscaping business. Whether it was learned then, or later, is unclear but it was said that while Shappell attacked Kevin at least two shovels broke from the force used. She informed investigators that after a few days in the garage, the body was moved to behind the high school where it was buried with at least one or more of the murder weapons.
In the end both Morgan and Stephen would be charged in the murder of Kevin Mengel Jr. Morgan would go on trial in February of 2012 but that trial would end in a mistrial. The reason for the mistrial apparently came after the defense argued that a statement from a police officer while testifying was improper and prejudice. So what was the statement about? The police officer testified that he had spoken to Morgan's father at some point and that he had described his daughter as “despicable.” The judge agreed with the defense that this hearsay comment was improper and could have tainted the jury in way that they would be unable to deliver a fair verdict. But, before the mistrial was declared a lot of information got out. One of the most important things to come out was a statement and apparent proof by a former inmate of the county jail that while Morgan may have admitted her role in the crime the plan was to convince Stephen Shappell that while in prison she had given birth to twin sons, his, and get him to take all the blame. To be clear Morgan was never apparently pregnant at all and had obviously not given birth in prison but it was apparent that the goal was to convince Stephen that it would be best for their children for her to be out of jail and raising them. According to investigators however it took a lot of convincing to prove to Stephen that the twins did not exist and just what she was doing. In fact, my research indicates that they were unable to convince him completely prior to Morgan's trial in 2012. Once they were able to show Stephen just how much Morgan had manipulated him he agreed to testify against her in her next trial.
Morgan was scheduled to go on trial again in early 2013 but in February she decided to take a guilty plea. I found nothing to say that the prosecutor was seeking the death penalty in this case but considering that Morgan pleaded guilty to 1st degree murder and received a sentence of life without parole, plus an additional twenty years even with a plea indicates that the death penalty may have been an option. Keep in mind that by the time the second trial was coming around Stephen Shappell was no longer under her “spell” and was prepared to testify against her. With his testimony, as well as all of the other evidence they had on her, including the text messages, it seems that a guilty verdict was almost certain. Defense attorney's and defendants rarely care about the costs of trials to tax payers and generally only plea out for two reasons. One is because they are truly remorseful and want to spare their family the stress of a trial. Nothing in my research indicated that this was in any way the case here. The second reason that a defendant pleads guilty in a case is to either get a good deal from the prosecutor in less spending less time in prison, or to avoid the death penalty. If the death penalty was not being sought it is reasonable to believe that the sentence Morgan received (except for the additional twenty years) was the worse sentence she would have received if she had taken the case to trial. So again, although I did not hear that the death penalty was to be an option it seems as if it may actually have been.
A few months later Stephen Shappell also pleaded guilty to 1st degree murder and received a sentence of 40-80 years. Both he and Morgan remain alive and in prison obviously. The Pennsylvania DOC site does not have a lot of information on their inmates beyond where they are housed so I cannot say when either may have a parole hearing, if they have the opportunity.
Another odd thing about this case was that there was little talk of what a motive was for the crime. I saw nothing pertaining to any sort of life insurance that Morgan would have received. The couple apparently lived in an apartment, although it was eluded that it was an upscale apartment, so there was no mortgage on a home that could go away and Morgan benefit. I also heard no allegations of abuse. The only reference I found suggested that Morgan was simply unhappy in her marriage and feared that Kevin would receive custody of their children if she were to get a divorce. I found nothing that indicated why she would have believed this or even what she may have told Stephen as her reason for wanting her husband dead. Now of course we all know the cases where a lover kills a spouse for the sole purpose of being with the other person and the fact that Stephen was only about nineteen years old at the time of the crime likely played a role.
In the end for someone who wanted out of her marriage so badly and wanted to pin the murder on her lover Morgan really was “stupid” as the prosecutor stated. She sent text messages that despite being deleted from the devise could be found through the server; she rolled over rather quickly admitting at the very least she knew about the crime even if she did lie and downplay her involvement. If you're going to commit murder or be involved in a murder you should at least plan it better. She obviously does not watch Forensic Files!