When a West Goshen landscaping entrepreneur vanished, his friends and family regarded his wife's responses suspiciously, said witnesses today in the murder trial of Morgan M. Mengel.
The 36-year-old mother of three is accused of conspiring with Stephen Shappell, her 22-year-old lover, to kill her husband, Kevin Mengel Jr. on June 17, 2010. Police said the intended murder weapon was liquid nicotine that was poured into the victim's Snapple at work by Morgan Mengel, who then left the premises. When the toxin didn't take effect, Shappell used three shovels, all of which broke, in a fatal bludgeoning, police said.
Chris Mengel, the victim's brother, testified that he and other family members became concerned when Kevin Mengel missed a Father's Day outing. Chris Mengel said he kept trying to contact his brother but only received texts that increased his fears because of their writing style. "My brother was never much for punctuation and sentence structure," Chris Mengel said. He said Morgan Mengel told him everything was fine and that her husband just needed some time alone. On the night of June 24, Chris Mengel and some friends spent the night in a parking lot with a view of the Mengels' apartment. The next morning, they saw Shappell carrying items from the residence and loading them into an MKB landscaping truck. When Morgan Mengel joined him, and the truck pulled out of the complex, Chris Mengel and his friends called police and followed the truck to the Mengels' nearby business on Rt. 3, parking across the street, he testified.
Police arrived shortly, according to testimony, and while West Goshen Det. David Maurer was talking to Morgan Mengel, Shappell fled in the truck. Chris Mengel said they attempted to follow him but lost the trail because it took too long to get across Rt. 3.
West Goshen Sgt. Michael Carroll testified that he had fielded calls from worried relatives of Kevin Mengel as well as one on June 22 from Morgan Mengel, who complained that her in-laws were harassing her. Carroll said that Mengel's demeanor was friendly and appropriate initially. She showed Carroll four calls on her cellphone from her husband as proof that he was contacting her. When Carroll explained that unless he talked to Kevin Mengel directly, he would have to classify him as missing and alert the media, he said her attitude changed. She said she would try and get the message to him and ended the conversation. Carroll said a June 22 change in Kevin Mengel's status on his Facebook page - "wants to be left alone" - was linked to the IP address of Morgan Mengel through Comcast records.
Steve Randazzo, a former MKB employee, recalled being with Shappell, also an MKB employee, and Morgan Mengel in the spring of 2010. He said Morgan Mengel expressed displeasure that she couldn't afford the $10,000 to $12,000 needed to hire a hitman for her husband.
Chester County Det. Joseph R. Walton, a computer forensics expert, testified that Morgan Mengel's computer was used to search for liquid nicotine, described as "more toxic than arsenic," sometime from June 13 to June 23, 2010. He also recovered "romantic emails" between Shappell and Morgan Mengel.
Today's final witness was Det. Maurer, who showed the jury the rope and shovel pieces, some of which appeared blood-stained, that were found in the grave that Shappell admitted digging near Marple Newtown High School, his alma mater. Many family members moved to the other side of the courtroom to avoid seeing Maurer's display.
The trial will continue tomorrow, when Shappell is expected to take the stand. Defense attorney Jack McMahon has suggested that Shappell plotted the murder by himself to impress Morgan Mengel, who did not take him seriously. McMahon said it was clear that Morgan Mengel wanted out of the marriage, but that didn't mean she had any role in the homicide.