Produced by Christopher Gidez
On Aug. 28, 2017, police in upstate Corning, New York, were called to the home of Michele Neurauter. Police found the 46-year-old mother of three hanging from a rope — an apparent suicide. But Police Chief Jeff Spaulding had doubts, calling a rope mark found on Michele’s chin “unsettling.”
Michele’s mother Jeanne Laundy thought she was murdered, and pointed fingers at Neurauter’s ex-husband, even though he was more than 2,500 miles away on a job interview in California when Michele was found dead.
“I’m thinking it’s more than likely Lloyd killed her,” Jeanne Laundy told “48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty.
Lloyd Neurauter was Michele’s ex-husband. For five years, the couple had been embroiled in bitter custody battles. Michele accused Lloyd of turning their daughters against her.
On the day police found Michele, the couple’s 19-year-old middle daughter, Karrie, at college in Rochester, told investigators that over the weekend, her father helped her move into her college apartment and that he had spent all night at a hotel.
But when police checked the hotel video, they actually see Lloyd getting into Karrie’s car with Karrie — who had visited him at the hotel. In the video, Lloyd doesn’t return until the next morning.
Police soon began listening in on phone calls between father and daughter — and that’s when the investigation turned in a way no one saw coming.
¬†“We just don’t have cases like this, where this level of pervasive evil trickles through an entire life and then ends in such a horrific event,” said Steuben County, N.Y. District Attorney Brooks Baker.
On a cold January day in 2018, 45-year-old Lloyd Neurauter was surrounded by local and state police five months after Michele’s death.
POLICE RADIO: We’re out with a male suspect on the top floor of the Spring Street garage.
D.A. Brooks Baker | Steuben County, N.Y.: He’s on a ledge on the fifth story of a parking garage in Princeton, New Jersey, threatening to jump.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Almost 30 years earlier in 1989, 16-year-old Lloyd had fallen for an older classmate, Michele Laundy.
Jeanne Laundy: They were going to the same high school. And she was graduating, and we told her she could invite friends, and ‚Ä¶ she invited Lloyd.
Michele’s mother Jeanne Laundy remembers how quickly the relationship developed.
Erin Moriarty: How did she feel about him?
Jeanne Laundy: Oh, she was falling in love.
Two years later, in 1991, Michele and Lloyd tied the knot.
The newlyweds headed off to college.
Michele gave birth to a daughter, and two years later, a second child, Karrie.
The family settled in the upstate New York community of Corning.
D.A. Brooks Baker: It’s the kind of place where a lot of folks still don’t lock their doors.
Corning is a quaint, family place best known as the headquarters of Fortune 500 company Corning Glass. Lloyd worked there as an engineer. Michele gave birth to a third daughter and she homeschooled the kids.
Later she would teach at a local college.
Mina Raj: She was an English professor when I met her, so she was big on reading and writing ‚Ä¶ and ‚Ä¶ she would always really encourage her girls to be well spoken and educated.
Mina Raj met the Neurauter’s middle daughter Karrie in ballet class.
The two quickly bonded.
Mina Raj: All of our dance families were very close.
Her mother Cynthia would become one of Michele’s closest friends
Erin Moriarty: When’s the very first time you met Michele?
Cynthia Raj: I met Lloyd first, because he would bring the children to class, dance classes ‚Ä¶ he would do their hair ‚Ä¶ and the mothers were rather smitten with him.
Mina Raj: I thought he was a really amazing person. He’s very charismatic, shows a lot of care.
But as Mina spent more time with Karrie, she became concerned about Lloyd’s overbearing parenting style.¬†
Mina Raj: There were times when I’d call my mom and tell her that I was worried about how strict of a disciplinarian he was, for really, really small things. It was sort of like you never knew when he would snap. ‚Ä¶ and if he decided he was mad at one of them, he would call them over, yell “front and center.” ‚Ä¶have them drop to their knees in front of everyone.
Cynthia Raj: The first time I witnessed that ‚Ä¶ Karrie was very close to me, and I could see, physically see her body shaking
Mina Raj: I’ve seen him slap them.
Erin Moriarty: Slap? Across the face?
Mina Raj: On the face, yes.
Erin Moriarty: Would he do things to Michele?
Jeanne Laundy: He would put her down ‚Ä¶ with a smile on his face.
And then around Thanksgiving 2007, Michele suddenly cut ties with her parents. Her mother believed Lloyd was behind the rift.
Erin Moriarty: What do you think happened?
Jeanne Laundy: I think that he threatened her, either to harm the children ‚Ä¶ or to harm her.
Cynthia Raj: She said, “Cynthia ‚Ä¶ It was Lloyd that made me cut off contact with them.” He didn’t want her to have a place to go if she wanted to leave.
But it turned out to be Lloyd who left the following year. In 2008, he took a new job in New Jersey, leaving Michele and the kids behind in Corning.
Cynthia Raj: Once he was gone Michele seemed like a different person.
Erin Moriarty: Better?
Cynthia Raj: Better, she seemed much more relaxed.
Susan Betzjitomir was Michele’s attorney.
Susan Betzjitomir: Her husband had filed for divorce.¬† Michele was surprised that he filed for divorce, she was a stay at home mom, she had done everything she thought she could do to make him and the family happy.
And in 2013, after the couple had divorced, Michele moved into a new house with the girls. And that’s when the real trouble began. Lloyd wanted sole custody of the kids.
Susan Betzjitomir: Lloyd was relentless in using the legal system to harass Michele. ‚Ä¶ It just never ended.
Susan Betzjitomir: There were 26 separate sets of filings post-divorce.
Erin Moriarty: And how unusual is that?
Susan Betzjitomir: That is super unusual. If you have two or three, it’s a lot. To have 26 is astounding.
Erin Moriarty: And what was he suing for? What were these filings for?
Susan Betzjitomir: He continually filed things making false claims against Michele ‚Ä¶ Lloyd was trying to get out of child support.
And Michele accused Lloyd of trying to turn the kids against her.¬† The oldest daughter was already living with Lloyd and Karrie had gone off to college.¬†
Susan Betzjitomir: Karrie was ‚Ä¶ at RIT, she was set to graduate in another year.
But Lloyd continued to fight for custody of their youngest child, then 14 years old. “48 Hours” we agreed not to show recent pictures of her.
D.A. Brooks Baker: I think anybody who worked in a courthouse had heard about the Neurauter case, this husband and wife were going at it nonstop. ‚Ä¶ So, this is one of those cases that everybody sort of heard about, talked about over the water cooler or at a bar and the name came up. It was one of those cases that just didn’t go away.
But in late August 2017, Lloyd did something unusual.¬† Betzjitomir got a text from Michele:
Susan Betzjitomir [reading text to Moriarty]: He says, “I’m in shock, Lloyd did not show up for the appearance for his petition for sole custody ‚Ä¶ ¬†He did not withdraw, he did not ask for an adjournment. He did not answer the courts phone calls, emails, nothing ‚Ä¶
Erin Moriarty: How unusual is that for him, knowing how many of these filings he’s made
Susan Betzjitomir: It was very unusual. It was very unusual. It was unthinkable, really.
Because of Lloyd’s no-show, the case was dismissed. Michele seemed relieved and happy.
Susan Betzjitomir: It was summer, and she had a mutual friend of ours and the children sliding on big blocks of ice down a hill of grass.
Two days later, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, a family friend came to pick up the Neurauter’s 14-year-old for swim practice. Instantly, he knew something was very wrong:
911 OPERATOR: 911 Center.
CALLER: Got something strange happening ‚Ä¶ at our friend’s house. ‚Ä¶ I thought I saw the mother standing in the stairway, but she’s motionless.
Corning Police Sergeant Jon McDivitt was the first to respond to Michele’s house that afternoon.
Erin Moriarty: Alright. So, tell me what you did.
Sgt. Jon McDivitt [outside Michele’s house]: So, I walked up to the front door here. And through these three panes of glass I could see inside. ‚Ä¶ And I could see a female laying at the bottom of the stairs. ‚Ä¶ Opened the door. A dog came running out. I came running in. ‚Ä¶ And as I got closer I could see ‚Ä¶ There was a rope around her neck. ‚Ä¶ there was no pulse. She was cold and stiff to the touch.
He found 46-year-old Michele Neurauter dead.
Erin Moriarty: So, your first thought when you saw her was what?
Sgt. Jon McDivitt: It appears to be a suicide by hanging.
But, Corning Police Chief Jeff Spaulding wasn’t so sure.
Erin Moriarty: Because you couldn’t figure out how she got a mark here [gestures a U shape around her chin].
Chief Jeff Spaulding: No, I didn’t like that, that was unsettling.¬† it appeared as though ‚Äď somebody ‚Ä¶ had gone behind and thrown a rope over the neck and pulled back and down and caused that.
What’s more, Michele’s youngest child ‚Äď the 14-year-old at the heart of the custody battle, and who was supposed to be picked up for swim practice — was nowhere to be found.
D.A. Brooks Baker: Obviously the number of possible outcomes there that are bad is tremendous.
Lt. Jeff Heverly | Corning Police Dept.:¬† I said ‚Ä¶ “have we checked, you know, basements? Have we checked attics? Have we checked garages?”
In the hours after police arrived at Michele Neurauter’s home, a frantic search was on.
Lieutenant Jeff Heverly couldn’t find her 14-year-old daughter anywhere¬†
Lt. Jeff Heverly: She should have been around. I knew that she resided with mom.
Later that day, he got a phone call:
LT. JEFF HEVERLY: This is Lieutenant Heverly. Can I help you?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Hi. My name is Karrie.
It was 19-year-old Karrie Neurauter, Michele’s middle child:
KARRIE NEURAUTER: My friends called me earlier today and told me about my mom and that she ‚Äď [sobbing]– I’m sorry.
LT. JEFF HEVERLY: That’s OK. Take your time.
KARRIE NEURAUTER: They called and told me that my mom hung herself [sobbing].
Karrie told the officer that her younger sister was safe:
LT. JEFF HEVERLY: and ‚Ä¶ is still with you now?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Yeah, she’s in my apartment.
She was nearly 100 miles away with Karrie in Rochester, New York.¬†
Karrie then told Heverly how it happened. She had driven back to Corning late Saturday night to spend one last night in her bedroom at home:
KARRIE NEURAUTER: ‚Ä¶ when I got there, my mom started freaking out. She would freak out a lot.
Karrie said her mother raged at her, accusing her of taking her father’s side in their family court battles:
KARRIE NEURAUTER: And so, she started freaking out and screaming. ‚Ä¶ And she woke ‚Ä¶ my little sister up.
Karrie says she decided to leave, taking her younger sister with her.
Lt. Jeff Heverly: She claimed that ‚Ä¶ she was concerned for her younger sister, so she had taken her ‚Ä¶ outside, put her in the car ‚Ä¶ and then had driven her to Rochester.