Dan Markel, Wendi Adelson and Charles Adelson

Nate Bloom blogs on this week's Jews in the News.

Something Very Different

I almost never cover high profile crimes. But this one is different. About ten days ago, I stumbled on a Youtube video about the 2014 murder of DAN MARKEL.  At the time of his death, Markel was 41, and a law professor at Florida State University (FSU), Tallahassee.  

Fairly quickly, I realized that this was a “big case” that had been covered, on-and-off, for almost a decade by 20/20, Court TV, and other media outlets. As I learned more details, I thought had this murder not taken place in Tallahassee, but in a media capital, like New York or Los Angeles, “everybody” would already be familiar with this truly unusual case.

Unusual in that Markel was Jewish, as is his ex-wife, WENDI ADELSON (now 44)—and they both were law professors--and almost from the day of his murder, Wendi, and/or her family (her brother, her parents) were suspected to be involved in Dan’s murder.

Also, almost from the beginning, the police suspected that the couple’s custody fight for their two, very young sons, had something to do with the murder. Of course, custody fights are common. But it is rare for such a fight to end in a murder---and such murders virtually never involve Jewish professionals.

Well, the case is back in the news. The murder trial of CHARLES ADELSON, Wendi’s brother, began last week. Court TV and scores of other, similar Youtube channels are covering it. Adelson is a wealthy, Miami-area based dentist. He works with his father, a very successful dentist. Charles is charged with hiring two Miami-area men to murder Markel.

Markel grew-up in Toronto in a “very Jewish” family. He was a Harvard grad (undergraduate and law degree) and, on a fellowship, he did graduate work at Hebrew University. He was living in Washington, D.C. when he met WENDI ADELSON on JDate. I gather that she was living in D.C, but frequently visited her family home in South Florida.

In 2016, “20/20” extensively covered Markel’s murder (program called “Over My Dead Body”---its posted on-line). A friend of Markel told 20/20 that the couple’s parents agreed to split the cost of the Dan/Wendi Jewish wedding (2006). Dan wanted a kosher caterer and he was sure that Wendi’s parents, who were hiring the caterer, would honor his request. His friend said that Dan was shocked, on his wedding day, that the food wasn’t kosher. It was a “omen”, the friend said, of bad things to come.

In 2005, Dan began teaching law at FSU. It was a tenure track position. FSU offered Wendi a lesser, “contract” law professor position, which she took.

Their sons were born in 2009 and 2010 and Dan is described by all, including Wendi, as a very loving father. However, Wendi describes Dan as “emotionally abusive” towards her. Hard to judge what that exactly means—but it’s clear that Wendi hated Tallahassee, a north Florida city that’s more like an Alabama town, than a Florida city, and she felt her legal career could go nowhere there.

She left Dan in 2012 when he was out of town. She took the children with her. The court granted joint custody to Dan and Wendi, but ruled that the children had to remain in Tallahassee. Wendi challenged this ruling several times before Dan’s murder, but kept on losing.

The Adelson clan were enraged and Wendi’s mother even suggested that that Wendi should threaten Dan this way: she (Wendi) would have her sons baptized in the Catholic church if he didn’t let her, and the boys, live in South Florida!

In 2016, Dan’s murderers, Luis Rivera and Sigfredo Garcia, were arrested. Garcia was the former boyfriend of Katherine Magbanua, a store clerk. He was the father of her two children. At the time of Dan’s murder, Magbanua was Charles Adelson’s girlfriend.

Garcia and Rivera were convicted in 2019. Rivera “cooperated” and got 19 years. Garcia got a life sentence. In 2022, Magbanua was convicted and got life. She’s now willing to testify against Charles and a new audio tape (2014) has emerged that seems to implicate Charles. “Everyone” is wondering if enough evidence will ever emerge to tie Wendie and/or her parents to Dan’s murder.

Final note: Dan’s mother, RUTH MARKEL, has written a book that is just out: “The Unveiling: A Mother’s Reflection on Murder, Grief, and Trial Life”. Earlier this year, Ruth saw her grandchildren for the first time in about 10 years. Florida law formerly gave no right to grandparents to visit their grandkids. A new Florida law, called the Markel Act, passed in 2022. It gave grandparents visitation rights in narrow, tragic situations.


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