The Murder of Michele LeAnn Morgan
Cases that involve the murder of a child are always the most difficult for me to write about, but that does not stop me. I have done several cases that involve the murder of a child. So many of these children are often murdered by a stepparent or a boyfriend/girlfriend of one of their parents. But, I think what is almost more disturbing is how many of these children could have been saved if people would have simply done their job. It is rare that by the time the child has died that there has not been any sign or notion that the child was being abuse. It is almost staggering how many of these cases were actually reported to welfare agencies or at the very least doctors were aware or suspicious and either absolutely nothing was done, or the cases were dismissed as not being credible. Now, the case of Michele Morgan is a bit different in the sense that her murder occurred in 1961, likely long before “mandated” reporting for people like doctors, nurses or social workers were enacted. In fact, it was said that an inquiring done into her death three years after her death by the Air Force it was said she “suffered from the newly recognized 'battered child syndrome.” Even still nothing was done, not before her death in 1961 and not for nearly another forty years later.
In August of 1961 Billy Morgan and his wife Mary “Rae” were living near Mascoutah Illinois. Billy was in the Air Force and stationed at nearby Fort Scott. Mary was not his first wife. The two had met in 1960 when Billy was stationed in Scotland. Mary was a citizen of that country. The couple married and Mary immigrated to the United States later that year when the couple settled in Illinois. It is not completely clear just how many children Billy had fathered at that point, nor is it clear who the mother, or mothers of his children were and what had happened to them. It is not even clear if the children were with Billy in Scotland when he met Mary. What I can say is that Billy had at least two children, George and Michele. Some reports list George and Michele as half siblings who were four years apart in age. It would later be said that from the time of Michele's death, until her arrest in 1996 Mary had raised four other children. Whether George was considered one of those children or if those children were biologically hers is unknown.
Michele was four years old when she died on August 11, 1961. We have all seen or heard of cases in which the justice system has failed someone and those are difficult, especially when it involves the death of a child. In this case it was not just the justice system, including prosecutors both in 1961 and in 1976, that failed Michele but doctors, coroners, police officers and even the United States Air Force, not to mention obviously family members. No one seems to have any clear cut answers as to why it took Michele's brother, George, who was serving time in prison in 1996, had decided to research his genealogy, and was only eight at the time of her murder to get justice for his sister. It was not that he did not know what happened, he had witnessed it, but being eight at the time he assumed everyone knew what happened. When he applied to receive Michele's death certificate he discovered not only was it not issued and signed until 1976, some fifteen years after her death, but that the cause of death was listed as pneumonia and he knew that was not correct.
Some reports say that George, who was, and continues to serve a forty-five year sentence in a Missouri prison for the rape and sodomy of his own stepdaughter, contacted the funeral home that had handled Michele's case in 1961. Other reports claim that he contacted Rick Stone who was coroner the coroner in Mascoutah in 1996. Either way the case did make it to Stone's desk. Stone had been coroner since 1984. He had begun his career as a patrol officer and before being elected coroner had been a homicide detective. Rick Stone started doing some research and looking into George's claims. So, what were those claims? According to George on August 9, 1961 he had witnessed his stepmother, Mary “Rae” Morgan, hold his sisters head under water and stomp on her chest. George would describe it as seeing his sister “bounced like a rag doll” because Mary believed that the child had lied about something, although after all these years no one seems to remember what that something was. George stated that at dinner that night his sister was “throwing up blood clots” and would die the following day (note that the official date of death seems to be listed as August 11th). George would claim that he too had suffered from abuse by his stepmother during his childhood.
Of course no one can just take the word of someone and bring murder charges against someone else, especially considering the crime had happened more than thirty years prior and the man making the accusations was only eight at the time. Whether Rick Stone began looking into the case on his own or recruited local law enforcement is unclear, but the case was looked into.
It was discovered that when Michele died in 1961 the original autopsy showed a cause of death of massive trauma to chest. It had determined there had been a brain hemorrhage and there were wounds to her head and thighs. The autopsy also showed two rib fractures that had apparently taken place long before her death. However, that autopsy was apparently not filed by the coroner, Clifford Kane, until his retirement in 1976. In fact, the death certificate was not issued until then either. Then it seems that a new coroner for reasons unknown signed the cause of death on the certificate as pneumonia. This is the copy in which George Morgan had received. An investigation showed Michele had been taken to the hospital at the Air Force base, allegedly over twenty times within the last year of her life. Michele had apparently suffered from injuries that ranged from a broken nose, to burns on her skin, a broken arm and “multiple injuries” to her chest and back. Mary Morgan had told doctors that these injuries had occurred during mysterious “fainting spells” that Michele was experiencing. During one of these hospital visits Michele was kept for nearly a month while doctors observed her and tested her for things such as epilepsy. It was reported in the chart that nothing was found related to any medical condition that would have caused the alleged fainting spells. It was also reported that every time Mary would visit with Michele in the hospital the child would scream, almost to hysterics, but would calm down after Mary left.
Nearly four decades later an officer with the Illinois State Police would say that at the time of her death there seemed to be a dispute among Air Force officials and the local police department as to who should investigate the case. This was not a situation in which both sides felt they had the right to the case and everyone was doing what they could to solve a crime of murder, but instead was a case in which both sides argued the other should investigate. The Air Force felt that since the crime did not occur on the Base, and the prime suspect, Mary, was a civilian they did not have the right to investigate. Obviously local officials felt differently and the end result was that no one investigated.
In the course of the 1996 investigation Mary and Billy Morgan were found to be living in West Columbia Texas. They were said to be upstanding and well thought of citizens and admired for their work with orphaned children in Mexico. Mary it seems often took trips back to her homeland of Scotland. When confronted with the new allegations Mary denied causing Michele's death. It appears that Billy Morgan was never accused or thought to be a suspect. Whether authorities believed that he suspected his wife had murdered his child was never mentioned throughout my research. The investigation continued looking at Mary's life after the death of Michele. As I stated earlier, reports stated that Mary had raised four children after Michele's death. The investigation revealed that between those four children they had visited hospitals over one hundred and fifty times collectively before they reached the age of five.
A court order was obtained to exhume Michele's body in December of 1996. This is one spot in which I believe my research became sketchy and a bit contradictory. It was said that authorities were hoping that she had been buried in basically a good casket that was placed inside a vault. Apparently neither of these things were true. There was no vault and she had been placed in a wooden casket that had “rotted away” over the more than thirty years it had been in the ground. Some research stated that despite this the body was in surprisingly good condition while other research indicated that there was little more than bone fragments found and had to be sifted through and removed “bit by bit.” The remains were sent to a laboratory to be examined. It was alleged that there was enough left to determine that Michele had been beaten to death. The following day Mary Morgan was arrested. But, once again information seemed a bit contradictory. One report stated that she was in preparations to leave the country at the time of her arrest while another states that she and her husband were stopped while driving and they stated that they were headed to Illinois to speak to an attorney.
Illinois authorities charged Mary with first degree murder. She was allowed to make bail and was placed on house arrest and allowed to live with relatives in Missouri, just over the state line. In October 1998 Mary pleaded guilty to the charge of involuntary manslaughter. The following month Mary was sentenced to five years in prison. There seems to be no other information aside from the fact that she was released in 2001.
Michele LeAnn Morgan was failed. She was failed by her father who must have been either oblivious, ignored or participated in the events inside his home. She was failed by the doctors that treated all of the injuries preceding her death. She was failed by the pettiness between the local law enforcement officers and the Air Force. She was failed by the coroner who failed to report the autopsy results or the death certificate. The one person who did not fail her was a person who was convicted of committing a crime almost as vile as the murder of a child. It is almost too strange to be to be fiction, let alone the truth.