Ex-Wife of Murdered Florida Law Professor, Whose Family Police Have Tied to His Death: 'This is My Side of the Story'
More than a year before police alleged a link between her family and the accused killer of her ex-husband Dan Markel, fellow former Florida law professor Wendi Adelson opened up about public suspicion that she was involved in the 2014 murder.
“He died violently and young, and likely at the hands of a professional killer, and the media had a field day in response,” Adelson wrote and recited on a podcast, which was part of a writing class she took last year in South Florida. “I turned on the TV to find photos of my children with Nancy Grace, George Stephanopoulos saying my name in reference to our ‘acrimonious divorce,’ and a picture my friend took when I was her maid of honor showed as evidence of why I should be treated as a murder suspect, and not the mother of two fatherless boys.”
At the time she was taking the class, Adelson had recently moved to South Florida with her two young sons from Tallahassee, where both she and Markel taught at Florida State University’s School of Law. Her move away with the boys had been a point of contention in the couple’s divorce, which Adelson had sought and which was granted in July 2013.
One year later, in July 2014, Markel was shot execution-style in the head while in his car in the garage of his Tallahassee home. At the time he was waiting for a court hearing to be scheduled on his motion to limit access to the boys by Adelson’s mother, whom he claimed had made “disparaging comments” about him to his children, according to a police affidavit.
Police last month arrested an accused killer, Sigfredo Garcia, 34, and alleged that Garcia’s business associate and the mother of his children, Katherine Magbanua, had a “personal relationship” with Adelson’s brother, Charlie. Authorities further alleged the motive for Markel’s murder was “the desperate desire of the Adelson family to relocate Wendi and the children to South Florida, along with the pending court hearing that might have impacted their access to the grandchildren.”
Adelson has not publicly addressed those allegations, and her attorney, Jimmy Judkins, has not returned PEOPLE’s calls seeking comment. Police have not identified any members of the Adelson family as suspects, but say additional arrests are likely.
Those twists were unknown when Wendi Adelson enrolled in the writing class and subsequently shared her thoughts on the murder and the attention it was receiving.
The writing course and Writing Class Radio podcast, co-sponsored by the University of Miami School of Communications, identifies Adelson as a student and provides this bio: “Wendi Adelson is an immigration lawyer, mama of two scrumptious boys, maker of soup and merriment who has found a home in Miami, Florida.”
Asked by the podcast host why she decided to share her personal writings in class and for broadcast, Adelson explains, “I think for me, a lot of the additional pain I felt, on top of the murder and everything associated with it, was it felt unfair that I couldn’t at least tell my own story, that the story got told for me. So I think there was an aspect of empowerment, of being able to say, no, this is my side of the story. This is what things looked like from my perspective.”
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Adelson read aloud in a podcast episode titled, “Wendi Tells the Story of Her Ex-Husband’s Murder.” The teacher and host, Andrea Askowitz, had given the students a writing prompt that asked, “How are you really?”
“On July 18, 2014, someone shot my ex-husband in the head while he was pulling into our garage after he dropped our then 3- and 4-year old sons off at school,” Adelson wrote and recites. “I only found out this information when the police picked me up from a lunch date I was having with two girlfriends and insisted that I come with them back to the station, and then interrogated me for eight straight hours. Because it’s usually the ex-wife.”
Murder Victim’s Ex-Wife: ‘I Miss My Life’
Adelson writes: “I’m not really okay. I list the things that are going well when people ask this question. My children are thriving and happy, we live with my parents who are incredibly devoted to our well-being. I started my own immigration practice, and I just signed up to do a one-year clerkship with the federal Eleventh Circuit in September, which means I can get off Obamacare and have one year guaranteed of a steady income.”
“But the truth is that I miss my life. I was a professor at Florida State University College of Law. I was so proud to be a public interest attorney and a mentor to my students. The novel I had just written about my clients’ stories had just been chosen as the common read for all first-year students at FSU. In August I was supposed to be the commencement speaker, and then I was supposed to take my brain-cancer-surviving, just-turned seventy father on a trip to Machu Picchu.”
“And I don’t get to complain that I didn’t do any of those things, because I am alive,” she concluded.
After hearing reaction from her classmates, Adelson returned with a more-developed version. An acquaintance of Adelson’s tells PEOPLE that comments which could appear flippant instead reflect Adelson’s familiar wry irony:
“Ten months ago someone killed the father of my children. First we got divorced, and then he got murdered. In casual conversations I don’t know whether to call him my ex-late spouse, or my late ex-spouse. Except that ‘late ex-spouse’ sounds like Latex spouse.”
Elsewhere in her essay, she wrote: “We married when I was in my mid-20s, when I thought I could cheat the system and marry a man I lacked passion and love for because, hey, didn’t that die anyway during marriage? I saw his intellect and big heart, and thought he would make a wonderful father for my children. Our marriage dissolved after the children arrived, as the loneliness of being married to someone that didn’t view me as an equal crept in. I do believe he loved me the best way he knew how. I mean, he didn’t like fiction, so why read my novel? It was logic, not a lack of love.”
And she added: “It feels sacrilegious these days even to suggest something less than heroic about my late ex-husband because he was murdered.”
She concluded her thoughts: “I sat on a bench last week and watched the boys play. An older woman sitting next to me commented on how adorable my boys are and asked, ‘What does your husband do?’ I hate this question. I haven’t yet said, ‘He doesn’t do much because he’s dead.’ But I think it sometimes.”
“I find when I tell people that my children’s father died, they feel sad. But when they ask the follow-up questions and find out we weren’t married, they seem to feel better. I don’t.”
In a second, subsequent podcast, Adelson writes in response to the teacher’s prompt, “What do you have to lose?”
“In some senses I feel I have nothing to lose because when he was killed the media already had a field day with me, our acrimonious divorce and my potential involvement in the murder of my children’s father,” she recites. “So in a sense, they had already taken from me most of the things I would have feared I would lose, like my professional identity, this veneer of safety we sell ourselves, and any semblance of privacy.”
The Year After the Murder was Spent ‘Creating a New Normal’
Adelson continues: “But the truth is, I’ve spent the better part of this last year creating a new normal for the boys and me. It’s shaky, like a new little calf, wobbly in the knees and aching to walk and then run. And now I feel like I have everything to lose, because I know how tenuous and precious life is, and know that it could be snuffed out in an instant. I mean, if the man I thought I’d spend my life with could be murdered on a sunny summer morning, then what is to stop me from getting cancer and leaving my children orphaned? I have everything to lose but minutes with my boys at their sweet young ages, while my parents are also young and healthy enough to be rambunctious with them.”
Adelson wraps up: “I’m participating in this class, because I wanted to do something for myself that was more than just occasionally exercising. I love being able to tell my children, ‘Mommy is going to school,’ and then when they giggle, telling me that adults don’t go to school, I got to tell them that learning never stops as long as we are open to new things.”
“So I say, what do I have to lose in being here? Life feels painfully short these days, as I watch my parents age and listen to friends tell me stories of losing their moms and dads,” she writes. “I want to live it fully and well, and I imagine this class won’t be a regret.”