Note: Over the past 2 years quite a few readers of Medical Miscreants have asked us to review the Mark Wangler Murder case – to wade through the volumes of what has been written and clarify the issues considered by law enforcement and the jury. So we decided to do just that. You’re welcome:
On the night of September 4, 2006, Dr. Mark Wangler – age 52, and his wife, Kathy were reportedly asleep in their residence in Lima Ohio. Kathy was sleeping in a bedroom on the second floor, while Mark slept in the master bedroom located on the first floor. At 5:17 a.m. the Allen County Sheriff’s Office recorded a 911 call from Mark, who sounded in distress, saying that the carbon monoxide alarm in the basement was going off and that Kathy, age 48, was “having a seizure”. When the dispatcher asked if she was breathing, the answer came back, “No! I think she’s not breathing!” And when he was questioned as to whether his wife had a pulse, Mark Wangler answered, “No! She doesn’t!”
At about 5:22 a.m. Bath Township’s Fire Chief Joseph Kitchen was the first EMS rescuer to arrive at the residence. Upon entering the home, Chief Kitchen could hear the CO2 alarm screeching. Mark escorted Chief Kitchen upstairs to Kathy’s bedroom, where he found her lying with her upper body on an air mattress and her legs on the floor. Upon checking Kathy’s vital signs, Chief Kitchen determined she was not breathing and had no pulse. So he pulled her off the air mattress and onto the solid floor to begin proper CPR.
At approximately 5:24 a.m. Bath Township EMS arrived and the Paramedics began advanced life support protocols. Kathy was placed on an EKG monitor, which revealed there was no electrical activity in her heart. When she failed to respond to procedures, she was transported to Lima Memorial Hospital ER, where she arrived at 5:48 a.m. A sheriff’s deputy took Mark to the ER in a patrol car behind the ambulance, for treatment of his own CO2 inhalation.
Upon arrival at the ER, Dr. Rina Stein, the attending emergency MD, examined Kathy. She noted that her jaw was stiff; her neck was stiff; her skin was pale and cool; her temperature was 95 degrees, and her back showed clear signs of dependent lividity. (a pooling of the blood along the lowest parts on the body) Kathy was officially declared dead at 5:54 a.m.
Mark arrived at the hospital shortly after Kathy, and was treated for CO2 poisoning. A blood test revealed he had a carboxy-hemoglobin level of 13%. Carboxy-hemoglobin is a combination of red blood cells and carbon monoxide, formed in the blood stream when carbon monoxide is inhaled. His levels were not life-threatening, and after undergoing oxygen therapy, he was released from the ER 5 hours later.
While these things were going on, a firefighter with the Bath Township Fire Department, Cledus Hawk, responded to the home to measure CO2 levels. Hawk started in the basement where his measuring instrument, a 4-gas analyzer, gauged a CO2 level of 50 parts per million – which is extremely high. He went out to his truck and equipped himself with breathing apparatus for his own safety. He reentered the home and returned to the basement. This time the analyzer measured a lower CO2 level of 35-30 ppm. At 6:00 a.m. Hawk closed all of the windows in the residence and waited approximately an hour before retesting. At 7:10 the basement CO2 level had dropped to 20-15 ppm. Kathy’s bedroom measured 25-20 ppm. This meant nothing in the home was still generating the poisonous gas.
After the home was deemed safe, Sheriff Sergeant Philip Sherrick conducted a walk-through. Sherrick observed soot-like markings on the wall directly above a vent cover located in the floor in Kathy’s bedroom. Sergeant Sherrick then continued to the master bedroom. There he observed the carpet around the toilet was wet; a floor fan was on and the bathroom window was open. Towels had been tucked under the bedroom door. In the garage he observed two vehicles, a lawn mower, a snow blower and gas powered generator. Outside a motorhome was parked.
Back at the ER, Mark explained to Sherrick that he awoke to the CO2 alarm; that he went upstairs to check on Kathy and found her having a seizure; that he went back downstairs to call 911, and that he performed CPR until EMS arrived. He also said that sometimes the wind would blowout the water heater pilot light.
“I came to find that there was about another $60,000 worth of credit card debt that I had not been aware of. And she opened a secret bank account with $16,000 from our joint account.” (Mark Wangler to police)
The police officer thought it was odd that a man who had just lost his wife in a tragic accident, was criticizing her over private money matters before she had even been buried.
On the morning of Kathy’s death, Jan Zuber of Old Dominion Gas Company, walked the house to find the source of the gas leak. Zuber closed the windows and doors and ran the furnace and water heater one at a time. As each appliance was running, she measured the CO2 levels. The highest measurement detected was 3 ppm – practically nothing. Zuber also inspected the furnace and water heater and determined that each appliance was working perfectly.
The following morning Dr. Diana Barnett of the Lucas County Coroner’s Office performed Kathy’s autopsy. She sent samples of Kathy’s blood to Dr. Robert Forney, chief toxicologist. Kathy’s blood had a carboxy-hemoglobin level of 69.6% – almost impossibly high. Dr. Barnett knew with certainty that Kathy had died of acute CO2 poisoning. In her opinion, Kathy died at least one hour – and more likely two hours – before the 911 call.
Two days later Steve Erlenbach, an engineer with SEA Limited, a forensic investigation firm, was asked by the Sheriff’s Office to investigate the gas leak. Erlenbach conducted a walk-through and observed and photographed soot stains on the wall above the heater vent in Kathy’s bedroom, as well as soot-stained carpet around the vent cover. He noted 3 natural gas appliances – a furnace; a water heater and a gas fireplace. All three were located in the basement. Erlenbach operated the furnace, water heater, and gas fireplace one at a time under different conditions (i.e., basement door open and closed, bathroom exhaust fans on and off, windows open and closed). After testing each appliance, Erlenbach determined that each appliance was operating properly and none were the source of abnormal levels of gas. Whatever happened, had occurred suddenly and was now gone. Steve Erlenbach’s report ended with the following opinion:
“If it is true that Mrs. Wangler had a carboxy-hemoglobin level of 69%, she had to have been exposed to gas levels in excess of 1,200 ppm. If Mark Wangler was in a room with windows open and a fan running, that could explain why his gas levels were so much lower than his wife’s. There is nothing in the home that logically explains the origin of the gas.” (Investigator Steve Erlenbach)
The following year, search warrants turned up numerous items including a personal computer and three handwritten journals; the heater vent cover from Kathy’s bedroom and a swatch of carpet surrounding it.
On September 17 2009, the Allen County Grand Jury indicted Mark Wangler on a single count of Aggravated Murder.
“On the very night that your wife is killed by carbon monoxide, you just happened to be in another bedroom with towels tucked under the door; the window open and a fan going?” (Allen County Prosecutor Jurgen Waldick)
In subsequent months Mark filed numerous motions to suppress evidence collected in the home. In January 2010, the trial court overruled Mark’s motions to suppress any evidence.
In August 2010, Mark filed a motion requesting the court to exclude the testing performed by the forensic lab, and the testimony of the laboratory experts. The trial court saw no valid reason to deny the jury the right to hear this evidence.
On February 28 2011, the case proceeded to trial, and on March 16 2011, the jury returned a guilty verdict of Aggravated Murder after deliberating for two days. The court sentenced Doctor Mark Wangler to life imprisonment. He is eligible for parole after 25 years.
In telephone interviews, the following reasons were given as to the jury members‘ disbelief in Mark Wangler’s version of events:
1. CPR – At trial, Chief Kitchen – as well as other medical professionals – testified that in order to properly administer CPR, the victim needed to be lying on a solid surface. Kathy was on an air mattress, which made any CPR effort useless. They believed a physician would at least know the proper CPR positioning.
2. CPR – The first responders on-scene related that when a victim is given chest compressions with their clothes on, the material over the chest rubs against the sternum hard enough to leave fabric imprints. Kathy’s chest showed no signs of having compressions done.
3. Body Temperature – At the ER, it was Dr. Rina Stein’s opinion that Kathy had died before she arrived at the hospital. For one, medical professionals estimate times of death by using the rule-of-thumb, that a body cools about 2 degrees during the first hour after the heart stops, and about 1 degree for each additional hour. A normal adult body temperature is about 98.6. Kathy’s temperature at the time of her ER arrival was about 95 degrees Therefore a logical estimate is that this particular victim had been dead for about 2 hours.
4. Lividity – is the process in which the body’s blood will stop moving within the arteries and veins after the heart stops. The blood settles in the capillaries in direct response to gravity. An individual found lying on her back would show blood from their chest gravitating towards the floor or the bed. Lividity presents as a dark purple discoloration along the lowest plane of the body. It is almost never visible within the first 20 minutes after the heart stops.
5. Rigor Mortis – normally appears within the adult body around 2 hours after the deceased has passed away. The face and jaw, the upper neck and shoulder muscles are generally first to visibly suffer from its effects. Kathy’s neck and jaw were well into the initial stages of rigor at the time she was found by Paramedics in her bedroom.
6. The Seizure – Mark Wangler told the dispatcher his wife was “having a seizure”. A seizure is chaotic brain activity. It is simply not possible to have the brain activity necessary for a seizure, while in the intermediate stages of Lividity and Rigor Mortis. That would be science fiction.
7. Expert Opinions – Dr. Diana Barnett and Dr. Robert Forney of the Lucas County Coroner’s Office knew with certainty that Kathy had died of acute CO2 poisoning. In their opinions, Kathy died at least one hour – and more likely two hours – before the 911 call.
8. Statement by Friend Sherry Miller – “She told me her husband was out to destroy her financially, emotionally, psychologically, in the community and at her church.”
9. Statement by Friend Rodney Null – “And I said to her, ‘well take care of yourself.’ And she said, ‘you have to, when somebody is trying to destroy you. And I mean that literally.’ Three days later she was dead.”
10. The Shower – When Mark Wangler was discharged from the ER he told the sheriff he wanted to go home and “take a shower.” Why on earth would anybody even think of using a gas appliance in the home that you’re convinced just killed your wife?
So in the end of a very sad case, a jury decided that the observations and opinions of 80 people questioned over an investigation that lasted 4 years, carried far more weight than a physician whose story failed to line up with very simple physical – and anatomical – facts.
There is a tenet in logical thought that holds up very well. It is called Occam’s Razor, named after the English monk and philosopher, William of Ockham. It has kept emotional minds grounded for more than 700 years. At it’s most basic, Occam’s Razor goes like this:
In any situation where we don’t know the answer to how something happened, the simplest answer is tends to be the truth.
Doctor Mark Wangler does not sit in a prison cell today because a jury wasn’t very smart. He sits there because it is far more likely – than not likely – that a gas expert MD fashioned a hose attached to an engine exhaust to introduce odorless, poisonous fumes into the heating duct to his wife’s bedroom. And if his wife had been dead for at least an hour – and possibly two – he had more than enough time to disconnect the hose; drive away and toss it into a dumpster miles away.
For those who believe Mark Wangler is innocent – that’s your prerogative. But your work is still ahead of you. You still have to come up with a more logical scenario.