It had been a quiet summer in Tallahassee, Florida's capital. Lawmakers and students from the local universities were mostly out of town. But last week, one of the city's most notable and well-liked citizens was killed with a single shot to the head, and no one yet knows why.
Dan Markel, a Harvard graduate, criminal law professor at Florida State University, and creator of the popular PrawfsBlog, was found shot at his home shortly after police responded to a bang in his upscale neighborhood. It didn't seem typical of a robbery—no signs of forced entry, and he was shot midmorning on a Friday in one of Tallahassee's safest parts. But by the time Markel was pronounced dead in a local hospital the next morning, police believed they had a murder on their hands.
It's hard to find anyone willing to say a bad word about Markel, 41, whose law blog was nationally renowned, and whose students declared him exacting but brilliant. Accolades and memories have poured in from the legal and blogging communities. Yet the local police, stingy with many details, assured residents that Markel's was a calculated, targeted killing:
Detectives in Florida say Toronto-born law professor Daniel Markel was shot in the head, but won't say whether he was shot from the front or back.
They say he was gunned down at his home in broad daylight, but won't say if he was found inside the house or outside.
They released a photo of a vehicle of interest, but wouldn't confirm exactly where the car was seen or even the make and model.
But they have made one detail perfectly clear: Whoever did it wanted Markel dead.
The online rumor mill quickly focused on Markel's ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, with whom he'd had two children and recently participated in an acrimonious divorce with nearly 150 actions, filings, and counterclaims.
Markel gaily recounted on his blog how he'd proposed to Adelson on a trip to Israel, and the pair's joyful 2006 nuptials had been covered in the New York Times. Adelson, was a successful human rights attorney who earned a master's at Cambridge like her husband, who promoted her on his blog in 2011 when she published a book based on her work.
But Adelson (shown above in a Facebook image with her sons) filed for divorce the following year, and records indicate she may have wanted to relocate with the couple's children, possibly to her native South Florida—inflaming a flurry of legal battles.
"She's devastated by it," said Jimmy Judkins, her lawyer. "She's a basket case over the plight of her children now. She's scared because she doesn't know who did this or why it occurred and it's got her thinking the worst in so many different ways."
New York University law professor Rick Hills, Jr., last saw Markel when the Florida resident stayed with him in New York just two weeks ago.
Markel had not told many of his friends yet, but he told Hills that he was happy in a new relationship with a woman after going through a divorce with the mother of his children in the past two years, Hills said.
"He was rebuilding his life after a really, really difficult period," Hills said. "I was watching him as he was in my apartment Skyping his kids and saying goodnight on his cellphone … he was so happy."
They've put out dragnets for surveillance video footage that businesses and residents may have recorded around then. Beyond that, if the police have any leads, they've given no indication to the public or a reporter.
But the stakes couldn't be much higher for the Tallahassee Police Department, which has seen a string of high-profile cases and mishaps.
It is widely considered to have mishandled the high-profile rape allegation against a famous local football player last year. About the same time, the longtime chief resigned after video emerged showing his officers beating a woman at a DUI stop. And the community still stings from the time, in 2008, when police coerced a 23-year-old woman with a minor marijuana charge into running a sting operation for the department. She was sent in to buy an illegal pistol from some targeted suspects. She ended up shot dead with the gun she'd tried to buy. (Her death, and the cops' role in it, was investigated in a 20/20 episode.)
In the mystery of Dan Markel's death, however, they vow to see justice done. "TPD will work tirelessly to follow up on all leads and evidence in this case and our thoughts and prayers are with the Markel family as they endure this terrible tragedy," the new chief said.
"It doesn't make sense on any level. But at least the initial theory was that it was some kind of robbery gone wrong, which is awful, but at least makes sense," said Michael McCann, a friend who teaches law at the University of New Hampshire and who recently collaborated with Prof. Markel on a journal article. "This has become a story that no longer makes sense. If, in fact, he was somehow targeted, I literally just cannot understand that."
[Photo credit: FSU]