Real Name: Michelle Dawne Mellema Witherell
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Date: December 19, 1992
Details: Michelle Witherell was a twenty-four-year-old newlywed who moved with her husband, Jeremy, from their home in Denver, Colorado to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On the evening of December 19, 1992, she was found near death on the asphalt underneath her third-story apartment balcony. She was immediately rushed to the hospital and Jeremy was questioned by police. He stated that he was playing solitaire in the living room when he heard a sound from outside. He went out, looked over the balcony railing, and discovered her body on the ground below.
Michelle's parents were soon contacted by Jeremy's mother and were told a second version of the events. In it, he claimed that she was hanging up Christmas lights and was standing on the ledge of the balcony when it collapsed and she fell. When her parents arrived at the hospital, they learned that her skull was fractured, she was in a coma, and that her jaw was broken, although her teeth and nose were oddly unharmed. They could not understand how she received certain injuries to her head, but did not receive others.
Hours after the alleged fall, Michelle died of her injuries. Shortly after her death, Jeremy told her parents a third version of what happened that night. He stated that she had gone out to the balcony, and that when he had done so he saw her hanging onto its side. He claims that he could have saved her but was unable to.
Jeremy, however, claims that he only gave one story of what happened that night. When police began investigating the case, they found that he and Michelle were having problems in their marriage, and that there were several arguments between them. Neighbors claimed that their arguments were extremely loud. Some were so loud that the neighbors complained to the building manager. They also believe they heard them turn violent on occasion.
Michelle's parents became critical of the investigation, believing that they were not questioning Jeremy's account of what happened that night. Her parents found inconsistencies in his story. First, her wrists were broken, but her palms were completely unscratched. If she fractured her wrists trying to break her fall, her palms would have been scratched. Also, one of her shoes was discovered twenty-six feet from her body, and the other one was never found. Finally, even though Jeremy saw that Michelle was critically injured, he took the time to almost close the balcony door and double lock their apartment before attending to her injuries.
However, authorities claim that Jeremy took two polygraph examinations and passed both of them. Also, the Allegheny County Coroner's Office ruled Michelle's death as undetermined, meaning that it could have been an accident, murder, or suicide. Her family insists that her death could not have been a suicide, as she had no apparent mental problems and no reason to commit suicide. They also do not believe that her death was an accident. The balcony was 48" which was chest high for her; this meant that it was nearly impossible for her to have lost her balance and fallen accidentally.
Michelle's family had her medical records sent to three different forensic pathologists; all three determined that she was murdered. The pathologists believe that it is possible that her death was not even due to the fall. According to forensic experts, if she had fallen three stories, she should have had injuries on both sides of her brain.
Pathologist Cyril Wecht noted that Michelle had extensive head injuries, but they were only to the left side. They are direct impact ones, which occur when someone is assaulted. He noted that her other injuries were consistent with an assault, and not a fall. He noted that her pelvis and internal organs were undamaged, which was extremely inconsistent with a fall. Also, her body was found nine feet from the building, which he felt was impossible if she had fallen accidentally.
Finally, in January 1998, the Allegheny County Coroner's Office reopened the investigation into Michelle's death, ruling it a homicide. Although the coroner's report did not specify how she died, her family believes they know what happened. They believe that she and Jeremy got into another argument, and that she told him that she would be leaving him. They believe she fled the apartment and that he followed and attacked her outside. He then dragged her body to the location in which it was found, and then made up the "accidental fall" story to explain Michelle's injuries.
Jeremy and his family maintain that he is innocent and that Michelle died accidentally. Her family, however, is certain that he was responsible.
Suspects: Jeremy Witherall is the prime suspect in Michelle's death.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the April 9, 1999 episode. Jeremy and his family declined to be interviewed for it.
Results: Solved. On December 20, 1999, seven years to the day after Michelle's death, Jeremy was charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. During the trial, several coroners, including Wecht, testified that the manner of death was a homicide. They also testified that she was violently struck on the head and face with an object. Jeremy's conflicting statements about her death were also brought up. There was also testimony from her friends, who stated that she suffered emotional abuse and jealousy from him. Other witnesses stated that he was physically abusive towards her and had seen bruises on her. Her mother testified that she had mentioned several times that she wanted to divorce him.
Another witness was Jeremy's friend, Geoffrey Patterson. On the first anniversary of Michelle's death, they went out for dinner. During the dinner, he virtually confessed to killing her, stating that things got out of hand, that he was sorry, and that "it" shouldn't have happened.
However, in January 2001, he was acquitted of all charges. Jurors said conflicting testimony about the cause of Michelle's injuries influenced their verdict. One stated that they felt that "something" may have happened, but there was not enough evidence to prove it. Police have since closed the case, ruling her manner of death as accident/suicide. Her family still believe that Jeremy killed her, but due to double jeopardy laws, he can't be retried.
- Michelle Witherell on Unsolved Archive
- Pathologists find new clues in coroner's report on Michelle's death
- Balcony death case takes new direction
- Husband is charged in wife's 1992 death
- Husband charged in balcony death
- Jurors seated in murder trial
- Witnesses: Witherell changed accounts of wife's death
- Attorneys: Dead woman is 'key witness'
- Dead woman's mother testifies
- Michelle Witherell trial updates
- Expert disputes defense witnesses
- Husband is found not guilty in the 1992 death of his wife
- Man cleared of killing wife 8 years after her fatal fall
- Husband free: Acquitted in first wife’s deadly balcony fall
- By Blood and Water: The Witherell Case
- Michelle Witherell on Find a Grave