Did a woman known for giving life to others have her own taken by the person who once swore to cherish her forever?
Renee Pagel was a teacher and nurse-practitioner by trade, but Renee Pagel was much more than just her titles.
"Everybody who met Renee, they loved her," said Renee's friend Joyce Schaner. "My sisters and I used to jokingly say Renee was out to save the world. Her passion was saving the underdog. She would give you the shirt off of her back."
And a whole lot more than that. When she learned that the father of one of her students was suffering from kidney failure, Renee, who lost her own mother to the disease, donated one of her kidneys. And if she'd do that for a virtual stranger, you can imagine what she'd do for her three kids.
"She loved her children fiercely. She loved them so much," said Renee's friend Chris Crandle.
But Renee's friends say that when it came to the children's father, Renee's husband Michael, things were a little more complicated.
"He was not as outgoing as Renee," said Joyce Schaner. "He seemed to be a little bit more in the shadows, where Renee was everybody's best friend."
And after a few years of marriage, the disparities between the two became harder to ignore.
"About two years after Renee had their twins, they had had a pretty significant fight," said Joyce. "She actually spent the night at my house, and that was the first time ever."
But reportedly, it wouldn't be the last.
"I talked to Renee on the phone every single day. And we talked at length about her relationship with Mike," said Joyce. "Renee was a little concerned that he had some anger issues. She actually sent him to a physician to have his testosterone checked, because she felt like it was not in balance and perhaps that was driving his anger."
Crime Watch Daily has not been able to independently verify Renee's friend's claims about their marriage. But according to her friends, Mike's behavior only got more troubling as time went on.
"She had discovered that he was taping her phone conversations," Joyce tells Crime Watch Daily. "That was very weird. That was the tipping point for me, where I said to Renee, 'This is very disturbing. This would be a deal-breaker for me.'"
Eventually it's Michael who files for divorce.
"He served her with divorce papers, and I believe that was in March, and in the summer he moved out," said Renee's friend Chris Crandle.
But the couple's problems didn't exactly go away when Mike did.
"He wanted full custody of the children and there was absolutely no way on this planet was Renee going to allow that to happen," said Joyce. "And then he also wanted the house and he wanted her to pay him alimony. The judge directed Mike to get a full-time job, they were going to be splitting custody, with Renee having primary custody."
It should be noted that in Michigan, where the divorce took place, family court records are sealed, so Crime Watch Daily could not review the documents. But Renee's loved ones say that was the judge's decision, and that it left Mike fuming.
"She said 'Chris, he's so angry. He expected the house, the kids, and $2,000 a month," Chris said.
And according to statements given to authorities, these were the thoughts racing through Renee's head during one of the most vulnerable times in her life.
"She was even worried that he was going to potentially come to the hospital while she was donating this kidney and do something to her," said Kent County Sheriff's Sgt. E.J. Johnson.
Renee did make it out of the hospital OK, but her friend Chris says that on the night she went to see her kids at Mike's, all those fears came rushing back with a vengeance.
"She's holding her side out of the hospital, and he had her 3-year-old on his hip. Mike threw her 3-year-old at her and she fell to the ground," said Chris Crandle. "She believed that that was an attempt on her life. She was so scared, she was freaked out, she called me that night just absolutely horrified and freaked out."
Crime Watch Daily did reach out to Michael Pagel for his side of the story, and through his attorney he denied it ever happened.
But Renee's friend Joyce says she also got a disturbing call from Renee that same night.
"She had begged me to spend the night with her, which was an odd request," said Joyce. "I couldn't because I had a commitment the next day, on a Saturday, all day, and I absolutely could not."
The next day, August 5, 2006, Renee suddenly wasn't there.
"She was supposed to go with a friend of ours to a craft bazaar, and she never showed up," Chris tells Crime Watch Daily.
After several unreturned phone calls from friends and family, Renee's father went to check on her. And after that, lights and sirens.
"We were greeted by her parents, who appeared very upset at this point. I don't think they really knew what was going on," said Kent County Sheriff's Deputy Andrew Kozal.
That's when they led investigators back to Renee's bedroom.
"The bedroom itself did not look out of normal, except for what we found with Renee," said Deputy Kozal. "That she had been stabbed multiple times in her own bed."
A violent end for a woman who was anything but. And for the people who knew Renee best, there was little mystery to the murder.
"My question was, When are you going to arrest Mike?" said Joyce.
There were no signs of trouble in the kitchen, nothing out of place in the living room. But what investigators found in Renee Pagel's bedroom was the stuff of nightmares.
"I would say there was rage in that room," said Deputy Andrew Kozal.
The 41-year-old mother of three had been stabbed multiple times while lying in her own bed recovering from a kidney donation.
"It was a bloody scene," said Kent County Sheriff's Sgt. E.J. Johnson. "She did put up a fight. The struggle, in my opinion -- I mean, there was blankets everywhere. There was a lamp knocked over, a clock knocked over, and she had defensive wounds on her hands and on her feet, from obviously trying to block stabbing motions of the suspect."
Unfortunately, officers weren't able to find any physical evidence pointing to her killer. But Sgt. Johnson says the nature of the attack itself speaks volumes.
"This wasn't a burglary, no one had taken anything, so you know, in my experience of 21 years being an officer, it was somebody close, somebody had something out for Renee," said Sgt. Johnson.
And if you believe Renee's friends, there was only one person who fit that bill.
"When I heard 'Chris, Renee's dead,' I knew he killed her," said Renee's friend Chris Crandle. "I knew. I held out the very least bit of hope for her kids' sake that it had been a complication from the surgery. But I knew he did it."
Of course, that's just speculation, and Michael vehemently denies having anything to do with the death of his estranged wife. But Renee's loved ones say their belief is based on information they got directly from Renee just before she was killed.
"Just hours before she had died, she was very agitated," said Joyce Schaner. "The last words she spoke to me were 'Joycey, I can't die, I can't let that [----] get my kids and my house.' Those were the very last words she ever spoke to me."
Renee's friends did share those thoughts with police immediately after the murder.
"We spoke with Renee's father and her stepmother and friends, and the common theme from all them was she was going through a divorce with her husband Michael, and that it was pretty contentious. The divorce had a lot of issues," said Sgt. Johnson. "At this point the family and the friends were pointing at Michael as a potential suspect."
But even if they weren't, police always start with the people closest to the victim. So just hours after that gruesome discovery, it was time to pay Michael a visit.
"We went and made contact with Mr. Pagel at his residence and immediately wanted an attorney," said Sgt. Johnson. Johnson says it put the focus of the investigation directly on Mike Pagels.
"He didn't want to know anything about her condition. Didn't want to know what happened, just stated that he would prefer to talk to an attorney," said Sgt. Johnson.
But Michael's attorney tells us police know his client is innocent, and that the only reason they're focused on Michael is because they have no other leads. He adds that Michael has an absolute airtight alibi, and that the reason Mike hasn't gone public himself is because the media is out to destroy him, even forcing him to move away from home.
So then, are Renee's loved ones letting raw emotion get the better of them, and was there anyone else who might have wanted Renee dead?
"Renee had no enemies at all, and there were a few names that have come up," said Sgt. Johnson. "For instance, there was a gentleman that lived in the pole barn, it was actually an apartment next door. He was there during this incident. We interviewed him. He has jumped through every hoop that we asked and has been completely cooperative."
And he says every other person of interest they've questioned has done the same. Everyone, that is, but Michael Pagel.
"We definitely think that Michael is a definite person of interest, and many things point in his direction," said Deputy Kozal.
"He hasn't been cleared yet, so we're keeping everything open, but at this point in a divorce, that somebody is not getting what they want, that could be a potential motive in something like this," said Sgt. Johnson. "So yeah, our crosshairs are on him."
And Renee's friends say the reason why is obvious.
"Well, it's extremely clear to me," said Chris Crandle. "I think when the judge said 'Mr. Pagel, you're going to have to get a better-paying job,' he decided he'd have to go to Plan B, because he wanted everything. Murder. She had to go."
As for Michael's alibi, his attorney tells Crime Watch Daily that Michael was at his mother's house miles away that entire evening, as were all of his children. Still, Renee's friends question how true that is.
Renee's friends and family are keeping her memory alive in the only way they can.
"We've put up posters, we've established a website for her, we've held candlelight vigils and we've gotten together as friends just to share stories," said Chris Crandle.
But they've also been accused of going too far in their efforts by very publicly pointing the finger at Renee's estranged husband, Mike Pagel.
In fact, while he won't talk to police about anything related to Renee's murder, Mike has complained to the Michigan State Police about what he calls harassment from Renee's friends.
"I think he just wants us to all go away. I think he wants everybody to forget that it ever happened," said Joyce Schaner.
And as for what friends say Mike Pagel considers harassment?
"Well, apparently Mr. Pagel was getting scripture cards in the mail, so apparently his family felt that he was being harassed," said Chris. "And I heard that he even had to move out of the area because he felt so harassed by these awful scripture cards."
Michigan State Police did look into Michael's claims, but say they saw nothing rising to the level that would require action. Either way, in court records, Mike says he had to move away to protect his kids from the constant accusations and media scrutiny.
"He has retained an attorney, which he has a right to do. He has not offered any help," said Sgt. Johnson. "He has never called. He has never inquired, offered any assistance. We have gotten nothing from him.
"It's pretty bold, but what I find odd too is his family members have not really reached out or helped us either, which is kind of weird," said Sgt. Johnson.
And with that in mind, we decided to try once more to get Michael's side of the story -- not from his attorney, but from the man himself. No luck knocking on his door, so we tried to reach him by other means, but we were unsuccessful.
Through his attorney, Michael Pagel denies having anything to do with Renee's murder and says he's just as worried as everyone else that there's a killer out there. He goes on to say he even fears for his own safety.
Is Michael Pagel still a suspect?
"He is definitely a person of interest and has not been cleared," said Sgt. Johnson.
The cross-hairs in the investigation are on him?
"They are definitely focused on him," said Sgt. Johnson.
But police say they still need that one piece of hard evidence, or for someone with inside knowledge to speak up.
"It is unpunished. But in my mind, it's solved," said Renee's friend Joyce.
But until police solve the case, Renee's friends say they'll do everything they can to keep fighting for closure.
"We need the truth to come out, and we need justice," said Chris Crandle.
Even though police named Renee's estranged husband a person of interest, he has never been arrested, and denies having anything to do with her murder.