Suicide or murder? Woman marries uncle in Belize who ends up dead
10/11/2016 11:23 am PDT
A family at war, a very suspicious death and a controversial forbidden romance. Was Tim McNamara's death a suicide or was it murder?
The answer to that question certainly depends on who you ask.
One shot to the back of the head. But was it suicide or something else?
Shocking accusations and salacious rumors all leading to one unbelievable bombshell.
Apple-orchard owner Tim McNamara, known as simply "Mac" to his friends and family, made millions of dollars on his lucrative apple farm in Soap Lake, Washington.
By most standards, McNamara is successful and appears to have the perfect all-American family with his wife, Vicky, and two children, Caleb and Jennifer.
On the other side of town lived Tracy Nessl. She enjoyed a more modest existence, a far cry from the life of the well-to-do McNamaras. Tracy came from a broken family and grew up without a father figure. She confesses she admired the McNamara family from afar, even wishing she was one of them.
Tracy, at 17, moved far away from the small town to North Carolina and a fresh start. She eventually got married and started a family of her own, and the McNamaras and her life in Soap Lake are a distant memory. Then oddly enough one day, Tracy receives a wedding invitation: Tim McNamara's daughter is getting married.
"Tim McNamara invited me to the wedding," said Tracy. "He thought it would be a great idea for me to come out."
And love was in the air -- and not just between the bride and groom.
"I remember having these feelings for Tim, and vice-versa," said Tracy. "He expressed he did as well. Physical attraction. Physically attracted to him."
But any sort of love connection will have to wait. Tim is going through a divorce and Tracy is in a relationship back home in North Carolina. But when Tracy's relationship ends and Tim's divorce is nearly finalized, Tracy returns to Soap Lake and those untapped passions.
"It was a physical attraction, but it was more," said Tracy. "We were spiritually connected, we were soul connected, and he was a dad, he was my best friend, he was my lover, he was everything in one."
According to the rumors around town, that may have meant more than most people were comfortable with.
"They say my biological father is Denny McNamara," said Tracy. Denny is Tim McNamara's brother. Tracy's new lover Tim was Uncle Tim. And yet, Tracy makes the decision to continue the incestuous relationship.
After just months of dating, Tim transfers all of his properties into Tracy's name, including the apple orchard, his home on the farm, and two additional parcels of land nearby. Tim was concerned that his children would sell the farm and he wanted to keep the farm intact as a McNamara farm.
According to Tracy, she was definitely not a welcome addition to the family. No longer feeling accepted by his family or friends in Soap Lake, Tim and Tracy decide to take their forbidden love to Belize. Once in Belize, in 2013, Tim buys a 50-acre farm north of Belize City, where they plan to open a bed-and-breakfast. He also puts Tracy's name on the deed.
"It was our opportunity to go live our life and live it out, hoping that everyone would come around," said Tracy.
In Belize, Tim and Tracy are free to be together as husband and wife. Less than a year after moving to Belize, Tim and Tracy exchange vows. Taboo as it was, Tracy says they were in love. Tim had even written a will leaving everything to Tracy.
The will reads, in part: "When I die I wish to leave all I own to my partner Tracy Nessl McNamara, all life insurance and personal property and real estate I leave to her."
But after two years in Belize, how much is this really?
"We were broke, we were logging illegally on our property to get money, the forestry department was coming down on us and we had a week to get open for our bed-and-breakfast to get guests in there," said Tracy.
Money pressures and perhaps something else was weighing heavily on Tim's mind: Back in Soap Lake, there's a shocking accusation of molestation -- and it's coming from his granddaughter.
In an email exchange between Tim and his granddaughter, Tim writes: "I never molested you, never looked at you in a bad way, nor had a sick thought of you or anyone else."
His granddaughter responds, "You're the adult here. So don't blame anything on me, I've done nothing wrong."
A few weeks before Christmas, Tim begins reaching out to his kids via email in an apparent attempt to make amends. Tim and his children had become increasingly distant because of his incestuous relationship and the fact that he cut them out of the inheritance. By the time Christmas Day rolls around, it seems maybe Tim is feeling sentimental, reaching out to his son Caleb with these now haunting words:
"I sure have loved being your dad." This was Tim McNamara's final email.
Moments after hitting "send," Tim steps out on the patio.
"It wasn't uncommon for Mac to go out and fire shots to scare off whoever was there, potentially an animal," said Tracy. Tracy says she was in the kitchen making dinner when she heard the loud "pop" of a gunshot.
"I didn't check on him right away 'cause I didn't think anything of it, it was just common, and then I checked on him and he was laying there on his side," said Tracy.
Tim had been shot in the back of the head.
"I started screaming 'help me, help me, help me, please help me, Mac's been shot, or Mac's shot himself,'" said Tracy.
As he lays bleeding on the porch outside his Belizean home, he's cradled by his wife and niece Tracy Nessl McNamara.
"I said 'Mac get up,' and he didn't get up, and I went and kind of moved him and said 'Mac, come on,' but I never saw blood, I didn't see anything, so I still don't know really what was going on at this point, and so I screamed for a long time," said Tracy.
It was nearly three hours before an ambulance arrives. And during all that time, Tim McNamara was alive, but just barely. By the time paramedics arrive, it is most likely already too late to save him. Tim later dies in the hospital around 11:30 that night, a full five and a half hours after when police reports say he was shot. Soon after Tim is pronounced dead, Tracy reaches out to his son, Caleb, to give him the news.
Caleb is on the next flight out.
The following day, Belizean police bring Tracy in to ask a few questions about the tragedy. Tracy says she told them she believes Tim most likely took his own life over money concerns and personal trouble related to the family drama. And her attorney agrees.
"All of the evidence point to suicide, all of it no question about it," said Tracy's attorney, John Henry Browne.
Belizean police also question Caleb. But they don't appear to be favorable to Tracy.
"Caleb said 'I highly recommend that you leave Belize now,'" said Tracy.
Advice Tracy readily accepts. She quickly catches a flight back to Soap Lake, Washington, and two weeks later, Belizean officials release their forensics report.
"And that's where it changed," said Tracy. "Then I became a suspect."
The findings put forth in the National Forensic Science Service Ministry report is damning for Tracy: First, it claims there was blood spatter on Tracy's shirt. Second, it states there was no gunshot residue or blood present of the victim's hands. Third, it finds that based on the bullet's trajectory, the person who fired the shot was shorter in height and standing behind Tim. The conclusion? "He was not the one who fired the shot causing the wound."
Tracy's attorney is quick to discredit the report.
"What's on Tracy's shirt is transfer, it is not splatter, it's not blowback," said Browne. "Also he makes a big deal about there being no blood on Tim's hand. Tim was laying in the rain, Tracy is desperate because she couldn't get anyone to come for almost three hours. He's in the pouring Belize rain for three hours -- you expect there to be blood on his hand?"
But what about the report's findings that make it seem impossible Tim could've shot himself?
"If you shoot yourself here and you turn your head this way, the path of the wound would be consistent," said Browne. "It doesn't prove homicide by any stretch of the imagination."
"I don't want to laugh on national TV, but that is not my understanding of what happened, in fact we have made a paper gun in here a cardboard gun and we've been trying to shoot ourselves that way that he would have had to shoot himself in order for it to enter and exit the way it did," said attorney Karen Koehler. "We can't contort ourselves quite enough to make it happen."
After reviewing the forensics report, Tim's children Caleb and Jennifer are convinced Tim was killed and that Tracy did it. Soon after, they hire attorney Karen Koehler to help build a case.
"The motivation was financial, that's our allegation," said Koehler.
According to Washington state property records, Tim transferred over all of his properties in Soap Lake, Washington to Tracy, including his apple orchard, farmhouse, and two additional nearby parcels of land.
Over the course of the next two years the McNamara children claim Tracy rendered their millionaire father penniless.
But while Tim may have been broke, Tracy was not. After his death, it's uncovered that there are two life insurance policies worth almost a half-a-million dollars, all in Tracy's name.
But Tracy maintains Tim must have killed himself. And, she says, it's not like he didn't have some very serious issues weighing on his mind, including a stunning claim apparently made by Tracy's own mother: "That Tim had molested me as a child."
Tracy says her own mom has accused Tim of abusing her when she was just a young girl.
"But I had no recollection of that nor do I believe that ever occurred," said Tracy.
However, it wouldn't be the only time Tim was accused of such offenses. Let's not forget the allegation made by his own granddaughter shortly before he died.
Caleb and Jennifer's attorney Karen Koehler calls these latest molestation claims a distraction from the fact that Tracy murdered Tim. The children have filed a wrongful death suit against Tracy.
"We believe that she unduly influenced him, she gained control of all of his assets, convinced him to make her beneficiary in all of his life insurance, and then we believe that she killed him," said Koehler.
But is this lawsuit based on a case of cold-blooded murder, or hot and heavy heartbreak?
On the night that Tim McNamara died, his son Caleb took the first flight out to Belize and stayed with Tracy -- who is his first cousin and stepmom.
"Caleb stayed with me the very first night at our home. He stayed with me one night, when Mac died," said Tracy. "We took a shower, we were involved."
According to Tracy, she and Caleb had been carrying on an illicit affair with Caleb for years.
Caleb denies the affair, but Tracy said Tim knew about it and it ate him up inside.
"Mac had nightmares about his son, that taunted him a lot," said Tracy.
Are Tracy's actions those of a murderer or a lonely grieving widow? And is she even a widow?
"You can't marry a person of one-degree separation in Belize," said Tracy's attorney John Henry Browne.
Wife, niece, cousin, stepmom, murderer? Belizean police want to chat with Tracy Nessl McNamara, and issued a warrant for her arrest on May 26, 2015.
Tracy cannot travel freely. She's stuck in Soap Lake, Washington for now. While both sides await the pending civil lawsuit, all of Tim McNamara's assets are frozen, including his properties in Washington, Belize, and both life insurance policies.
The FBI is involved in this case as well. They are working with Belizean officials, and FBI agents confirm to Crime Watch Daily there is not a warrant for Tracy Nessl McNamara at this time, but she remains a suspect.
The Belizean government could request U.S. extradition, and in that case she would not be hard to find: Tracy's still living at Tim's farmhouse and running his apple orchard in eastern Washington.
FBI agents did confirm that police in Belize asked for their assistance on this case. And after looking into that arrest warrant, those agents told Tracy and her attorney in a recorded conversation that they believe that warrant is not valid, meaning at this time extraditing Tracy to Belize would be highly unlikely.