It was a strange case from the beginning: a prominent Florida State University law professor shot to death in broad daylight at his home in an upscale Tallahassee neighborhood. And over time, the 2014 murder of Dan Markel turned stranger still.
Police quickly determined the killing wasn’t a robbery gone wrong. But two years would pass before they finally arrested two South Florida men, Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera. Cops alleged the pair drove up to Tallahassee to commit the crime. Another twist came soon after, when unsealed court documents revealed investigators believed Markel’s shooting was a murder-for-hire orchestrated by the wealthy Coral Springs family of his ex-wife Wendi Adelson.
Matthew Shaer, an Atlanta-based writer at large for New York Times Magazine, followed the case’s developments in astonishment. He added it to a list of stories he hoped to pursue eventually.
“People use the phrase ‘out of a movie’ way too much,” he says. “But I guess I’ll put a finer point on it: Do you know Carl Hiaasen, the novelist? Have you read his stuff? It is weirdly like a Carl Hiaasen novel. He does the Florida thing so well, the weird Florida thing, and bringing together the different worlds that exist within Florida. And I think that’s part of what this case is.”
Around the time Shaer was pondering how to tell Markel’s story, true-crime podcasts were taking off. Maybe a podcast was the right way to do it, he thought. The result — a series called Over My Dead Body — debuted on Valentine’s Day and quickly climbed to the top of iTunes’ charts. As of Thursday, it had been in the number one slot for days.
The podcast is the latest from Wondery, the network behind hits such as Dirty John, which was written and hosted by Los Angeles Times reporter Christoper Goffard. That series, about a con artist who preyed upon women, was later adapted into a TV show that aired on Bravo.
A first-time podcast host, Shaer says he sees parallels between the two stories.
“It’s a similar case in that it’s at heart a relatively small story about a couple, as is Dirty John,” he says. “And I think that people respond to those types of stories.”
Shaer and co-writer Eric Benson spent years looking into the Markel case and interviewing people connected to it, including friends and relatives of the couple. Two years after the police first made arrests, Rivera, a member of the street gang Latin Kings, had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and begun cooperating with prosecutors in exchange for a 19-year prison sentence.
He testified that Garcia’s girlfriend Katherine Magbanua — who was also dating Wendi Adelson’s brother Charlie and worked at the family’s dental clinic in Tamarac — was the connection between the Adelson family and the suspected killers. Magbanua and Garcia have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and are set to go to trial this summer. The Adelsons, whose attorneys called claims they were involved “fanciful fiction,” have never been arrested.
The many twists in the case — coupled with recordings of police interrogations and tapped phone calls — helped make for a compelling podcast, Shaer says. With three episodes out and three more to go, the podcast is holding strong in iTunes’ top spot. Shaer thinks listeners have been pulled in by hearing how Markel and Adelson’s relationship came together and then unraveled.
“I think that there’s an interest in peeking behind the curtain a little bit,” he says, “and seeing how this relationship worked.”