Family of secrets: Marc Despain killed in plot hatched by wife, father-in-law
12/12/2017 1:15 pm PST
In Arkansas, the Despain family had more than enough money -- but all that cash certainly didn't buy them happiness. Instead, there was furious finger-pointing, nasty allegations, and eventually a murder.
Marc Despain's wife Michelle comes home to find the father of their children shot dead. The investigation into the murder of the aspiring real estate mogul unearths a diabolical family plot.
Few are more horrified than Marc's heartbroken parents. Marc's grieving mother Tana tells Crime Watch Daily she can't understand why anybody would want to kill her 34-year-old son.
Tana says Marc was a good husband to Michelle, his high school sweetheart. And she says they were both devoted parents to their two young sons, along with Michelle's teenage daughter from a previous relationship.
"I liked her, and as their children began to come along, I thought she was a good wife and a good mother," said Tana Despain.
Marc was a successful real estate appraiser and property investor. He had provided his wife and kids with a comfortable life in an exclusive area of Jonesboro, Arkansas, where they had a lovely home with a pool. Marc had learned the real estate business from his parents, who had owned hundreds of rental properties.
"We all worked together and we paid him for working with our real estate business," said Tana.
Marc launched his own realty company that Michelle helped him run from their home.
"He just always worked hard, whereas Michelle spent money hard," said Tana.
But Marc liked to indulge Michelle and their children in the best money could buy.
"She liked to buy things for the kids and it was always extravagance," said Tana.
Including overseas vacations at tropical resorts.
"Sometimes three and four a year to Cancun or Jamaica," said Tana.
Michelle pitched in to help support their rich lifestyle, keeping the books for her husband as well as working a second job at a local bank.
"The more money that Marc made, the more things she wanted," said Tana. "She liked to associate with people who had money. She liked to rub elbows with the big-wigs."
But the American Dream that Marc and Michelle had built for themselves suddenly came crashing down on August 24, 2011.
A hysterical Michelle Despain calls 911 after coming home from work to find Marc lying on the kitchen floor, shot dead. Michelle is almost incoherent as she tells the operator she's also afraid for her own life.
It initially appears to crime scene investigators that Marc had been killed by a burglar who'd entered the house through an unlocked rear door.
"There were things that were out of place, drawers opened, things on the floor. Someone had tried to go through the house looking for something," said Jonesboro Police Detective Vic Brooks.
But upon closer inspection, Det. Vic Brooks came to another conclusion.
"It appeared to be staged," said Det. Brooks. "The more I looked into the details, things that should have been taken in a normal burglary were not. There were valuables left, things of that nature. The crime scene just did not make any sense as far as being a residential burglary."
Brooks says Marc Despain's murder appeared to be hatefully premeditated.
"There was what appeared to be one gunshot wound to the left side of his chest through his shirt," said Det. Brooks.
And a second bullet wound in Marc's head, the kill shot, was apparently inflicted from close range after he'd fallen to the floor.
"I refer to it as 'execution-style,' almost directly between his eyes," said Brooks.
Investigators began the hunt for the heartless monster or monsters who did it.
"You're looking at anybody and everybody at that time," said Det. Brooks.
And that included Michelle Despain, who Brooks had questioned only briefly at the crime scene on the day of the murder.
"You are speaking with an individual who's just lost her husband," said Det. Brooks. "At that time she was upset, so I waited until the following day to conduct a formal interview with her."
Michelle tells Brooks she had seen Marc alive just a couple of hours before he was murdered when he took her to lunch near the bank where she works, getting back to work around 1:30 p.m. that day. Then, a little more than an hour later, Michelle says, she dashed home to retrieve some bills that needed to be paid that day, only to walk into a bloody nightmare. That's when she called 911.
Marc Despain's widow Michelle shocks detectives by pointing the finger of blame at Marc's own father Jack Despain.
"I mean, I hate to think his dad would do anything like that, 'cause it is his son, but he is just very, very cold-hearted," Michelle tells police in a recorded interrogation.
Michelle was not the only one to suspect Jack. Her father Carl Kelley told detectives he too thinks Jack killed his own son.
"Yeah, if I was gonna point a finger at anybody, if that's what you're asking, I'd point it at Jack Despain," Carl Kelley tells police during a recorded interrogation.
Detectives learn that the father and son had been locked in a bitter family feud that began several years earlier when Marc was still working for his parents' real estate company.
"We had a fight one night over money," said Tana Despain, Marc's mother.
Tana blames the fight on Michelle.
"The fight really began between Michelle and Jack, not Marc and Jack. But Marc stood up for his wife, and that put pressure between him and his dad," said Tana.
That's when Marc left his parents' company to start his own real estate appraisal and investment business with his wife. And dad Jack tells detectives that was fine with him.
"My wife and I both wanted to be separated from Marc and Michelle as far as the business was concerned," Jack Despain tells detectives in a recorded interrogation.
But the conflict between father and son hit a point of no return when Marc and Michelle allegedly found topless photos of their teenage daughter Brooke on grandpa Jack's cellphone. Michelle says Marc wanted nothing more to do with his father.
"He just immediately stood up for Brooke and stood up for me," Michelle said in the interrogation.
And Marc's mom Tana left Jack because of the scandal -- only to return to him when it was learned Brooke had borrowed Jack's phone, and that the pictures were selfies.
"She had taken photographs of herself and was sending them to another boy," said Tana.
"There were never any charges filed in that particular case," said Jonesboro Police Detective Vic Brooks.
And Tana claims it turned out to be a cruel plan cooked up by Michelle to smear Jack.
"We found out later that Michelle had just decided to put Brooke up to doing that so that it would draw a wedge between us and the family," said Tana.
Despite Jack being exonerated, the plan apparently still worked to some degree, with father and son never speaking to each other again. Their feud followed Marc to his grave.
"He was hard-nosed, my son. He was not a very good people person," Jack Despain tells police in a recorded interrogation. "As long as he could get that dollar out of you, he'd turn around and crap on you and walk away, you know, and that's the way he was."
Detectives are stunned that a father could talk about his just-murdered son like that.
"He's told Marc he's the devil his self. He's the devil's advocate. He's told him that more than once, and he believes it," said Carl Kelley, Michelle's father. He worked for Marc and Michelle's real estate company, and claimed Jack had made serious threats against his own son.
"Jack Despain told Marc, he said, 'I will ruin you and your family," Carl Kelley tells police. "I've heard him say that."
Investigators are now highly suspicious of Jack Despain, who is speaking ill of his murdered son one moment and uncontrollably sobbing over his death the next. Detectives suspect he's faking his grief. Then Jack tries to deflect the blame on Carl, who he says hated Marc.
"And my suspicion is that you know, did he finally piss off Carl enough that he actually done something like that?" Jack told police. "That's, once again, I'm not trying to point my finger, that's just a concern."
Jack tells detectives Marc was constantly rude to Carl.
"I have seen him personally, how he had just treated him like a dog," Jack told detectives.
Carl denies that.
"I went deer hunting with him and everything else. He treated me real well," Carl Kelley told police.
And Carls's daughter Michelle backs him up.
"He has a really good relationship with both of them," Michelle told police.
Jack says they're lying to help hide Carl's guilt, alleging Carl had made death threats against both him and Marc.
"Carl's told me that he's gonna kill me personally, but he has also told my son that, you know," Jack told police.
Jack claims an angry Carl even waved a gun around on one occasion.
"And said 'I'll just kill your ass right now,' and had the gun pointed right at me," Jack said in his interrogation.
Jack also tells detectives he suspects Carl's daughter -- Marc's wife Michelle -- may have been involved in his son's murder.
"I know he treated her like, pretty much like he treated his father-in-law. Does she have anything to do with it? That's another slight suspicion of mine," said Jack.
"He was good to me," Michelle tells police.
Michelle denies the allegation, telling police that Marc was good to her. But investigators would learn that Michelle was not so good to Marc.
Homicide detectives have a tragic and tangled "whodunit" on their hands. Marc Despain's widow Michelle and her father Carl Kelley were each telling investigators they think Marc was murdered by his own father Jack, and a sobbing Jack pointing the finger of blame back at Michelle and Carl.
"Jack Despain was a broken man that had just lost his son," said Jonesboro Police Det. Vic Brooks.
Det. Brooks says he became convinced Jack's grief was genuine.
"From all the interviews and everything that I have done over the years, it was very obvious that Mr. Despain was representing and showing true sadness," said Det. Brooks.
Jack was the first to be cleared as a suspect when investigators verify that he was at home with wife Tana at the time of their son's murder. Now Det. Brooks turns his attention to Michelle, learning she and Marc were far from the happy couple they appeared to be.
"Michelle had told me that she was having an affair with a co-worker, a young man, I believe he was 24 at that time," said Det. Brooks. "Marc did not know about this."
No one knew Michelle, who was 33, had her 24-year-old secret young lover living in style.
"She was paying his rent. She paid for him to move. Bought him groceries," said Det. Brooks.
"I gave that young guy a lot of money," Michelle says in a recorded interrogation with police.
Money that the big-spending Michelle was allegedly swindling from the family real estate business, which had fallen into a deep financial hole.
"They were in a tremendous amount of debt, and I'm talking over $2 million," said Tana Despain.
"Looking at the books and everything, it appeared that they were living well beyond their means," said Det. Brooks.
And the infidelity and money problems were said to be causing a lot of friction in the home.
"I believe that Marc had finally became a little bit suspicious as to the events as they were happening," said Det. Brooks.
Marc confronted Michelle about it just a week before his murder, saying he wanted to end their marriage of nearly 15 years.
Detective: "Michelle, did Marc ask you for a divorce recently?"
Michelle Despain: "He didn't ask me for a divorce."
Detective: "What did he tell you?"
Michelle Despain: "That he didn't know if we would stay married after the kids were grown."
Marc's mother believes that's when Michelle hatched a plan to have Marc murdered.
"And Michelle wasn't going to be divorced. She wasn't going to lose her money train," said Tana Despain.
And investigators uncover stunning evidence to support that theory: a total of a million dollars that Michelle would collect from two life insurance policies in the event of her husband's death.
"It was greed. It was money," said Det. Brooks.
"It's always about the money with Michelle," said Tana.
But investigators can't prove Michelle had Marc killed until they get a surprise tip: an anonymous caller identifies a man who'd been boasting he pulled the trigger in the Marc Despain murder -- Terrence Barker, street name "Qualo."
"I supposed to been shot a [----]. I didn't shoot no [----]," Terrence Barker told police in an interrogation.
Barker initially denies killing Marc Despain, but ultimately confesses under an avalanche of evidence against him, including eyewitness reports and cell tower records placing Barker in a blue Mercedes seen near Marc Despain's home just before his murder.
And the driver and owner of that Mercedes, Johnny Hubbard, would confirm to detectives that Terrence Barker was the man who shot Marc Despain dead in his home.
"He said he shot him in the side and then shot him in the face," Hubbard says in an interrogation.
"Everything that they stated lined up with the evidence as it showed," said Det. Brooks.
Detectives discover that Hubbard was one of Marc's tenants, and that Michelle's father, Carl Kelley, had approached him about killing his son-in-law.
Detective: "If you don't do what he tells you to do, you'll be on the street?"
Johnny Hubbard: "Yeah."
But Hubbard says he instead passed the job along to Barker, a known criminal-for-hire.
"Terrence Barker's statement is is that Carl Kelley provided him with a firearm in order to do that with," said Det. Vic Brooks.
But detectives say Michelle appeared to be the one calling the shots.
"Terrence Baker, he stated to me that she was giving play by play to her dad," said Brooks.
Right up to the morning of Marc's murder, sending her father an urgent text: "Has to be today."
Carl replied: "OK, can you get him to lunch?"
And detectives say surveillance video was part of that lunch date that shows Michelle luring Marc away from his home office long enough for Carl to let Terrence Barker into the house. And detectives say Michelle pretended to be shocked to find her husband's body lying in a pool of blood.
Det. Brooks confronts Michelle Despain with the findings of the investigation.
Detective: "I have the man that shot your husband, the one that killed him, in jail right now."
Michelle Despain: "You know for sure?"
Detective: "Yes ma'am. He is in jail. OK?"
And she gets more bad news.
Detective: "At this point I will also be arresting your father."
Michelle Despain: "My father?"
Detective: "Yes ma'am. Your father will be arrested for murder. I have all the information, all the evidence I need."
Michelle Despain: "Not Marc's father?"
Detective: "No ma'am, your father. Carl Kelley is responsible for setting this up partly to have your husband killed."
Michelle then turns on her own father when she's asked if he was sharing in the million dollars in life insurance she would collect on Marc's death.
Detective: "The implications are, and everything else that's been gathered, this money's supposed to have been coming from you. He's greedy and lazy. What would he get out of this?"
Michelle Despain: "He would think that I would take care of him."
Michelle refuses to answer any more questions without an attorney.
Michelle Despain: "I don't want to talk about this again."
Detective: "I know you don't."
Michelle's father Carl Kelley and gunman Terrence Barker both pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Marc Despain and are sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Johnny Hubbard pleaded guilty to hindering apprehension and was sentenced to 18 years in prison, plus another 20 years for violation of probation on a previous drug conviction.
Michelle Despain eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of hindering apprehension and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
"I felt Michelle was the ramrod of it," said Tana Despain. "I think Carl and Hubbard and Barker were just taking orders. I just knew that in my heart."
Marc's mother is just glad she didn't get away with it.
"Vic Brooks never gave up," said Tana. "He told me he would get her, and the day that they arrested her was the best day of my life."
Michelle continues to say she only knew about the murder after the fact. She's still serving her 30-year sentence and is eligible for parole in 2019.