Jason Slaughter killed two men trying to collect online life insurance policies he'd fraudulently bought, but he never quite got the scheme right, authorities say.
His last mistake was forgetting to leave identification on Michael Haegele's body when Slaughter and his wife dumped it May 6, 2010, along a rural Georgia road. Kids on a school bus saw the body the next day and told the driver, who called authorities.
All investigators knew was they had the body of a young white man, shot in the back of the head, with some odd writings on his skin and tight, circular bruises. They called him "John Doe."
They sought help from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which gave local media a sketch of the dead man's face, descriptions of the body and ways anyone could offer tips to the identity.
"We had no idea who it was," recalled Danny Jackson, the GBI Special Agent in Charge. The agency resorted to trying to track a serial number on an implant in the victim's leg.
The mystery lasted nearly a week, and then Jason Slaughter couldn't wait any longer. As a prosecutor later put it: "You can't have a 'John Doe' on an insurance scam."
A life insurance policy won't pay off if the deceased can't be identified, so Slaughter called authorities to report the body might be Haegele, the 21-year-old who for about a year had been living with Slaughter and his wife, Donna, in their trailer in Mauk, Ga., in Marion County.
Agents started questioning the Slaughters, and soon became suspicious -- particularly when a search of their trailer turned up two policies from Household Life Insurance Company.
One insured Haegele's life for $500,000. The beneficiary was Jason Slaughter.
The other was a $250,000 policy issued June 15, 2007, on Christopher P. Masters, a 22-year-old shot in the back of the head on Dec. 14, 2007, in New Castle County, Del.
There Masters' friend Jason Slaughter had told police Masters was killed during a home invasion in which Slaughter also was hit by a blast of shotgun pellets.
The beneficiary of Masters' policy also was Jason Slaughter, but it never paid off because Slaughter, under suspicion of having committed the homicide, never tried to collect, investigators said. Instead he moved to Georgia, and tried again.
His target here was Haegele, a homosexual lover Slaughter persuaded to move to Mauk from St. Louis, Mo., despite Slaughter's having by then married Donna, a disabled woman with English citizenship.
Her disability became a clue in the murder case, because she cracked under questioning and confessed, unlike her husband who still maintains he is innocent.
According to Assistant District Attorney Ray Daniel, who assisted Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker in prosecuting the Slaughters, the wife provided this scenario:
While the husband sat by Haegele on the couch, the wife quietly came up behind Haegele and shot him in the head. A plastic tub had been left nearby so they could push Haegele into it to keep blood off the floor.
Then they drove 30 miles to the Marion-Macon County line to dump the body. Because of her disability, Donna Slaughter could not have moved the body on her own, Daniel said. Her husband had to have helped her.
Before they discarded the body, they marked it up to give the appearance of a hate crime: They wrote "FAG = HELL" and "KKK" on it. Then they tried to bruise it as if Haegele had been beaten. Donna Slaughter said she struck the body repeatedly with a hammer, leaving small, round bruises.
According to the scenario, they did all that to murder a man and mark his body to deflect blame, but forgot to leave ID on him to collect his life insurance.
The investigation uncovered other bizarre evidence: After Haegele was killed and before Jason Slaughter volunteered the body's identity, Jason Slaughter lay on the bed in the room Haegele had used and audio-recorded himself talking to the dead man's spirit.
"He was speaking to him on the 8th, the day after we found the body," Daniel said. "He's speaking to the spirit of Michael Haegele laying in the guy's bed, saying, 'I miss you' and 'If you can move with us, we'll get another house, and you can come with us, but if you can't move, I'm going to stay here.'"
At one point Jason Slaughter set the recorder down and said, "Maybe you can say something that the recorder can hear but I can't hear," Daniel said. Then he let the device record for 10 or 15 minutes for a response.
Despite this odd conduct on May 8, Jason Slaughter continued to pretend he did not know for sure whether Haegele was the unidentified body he called authorities about on May 12.
After finding his Delaware life insurance policy on Masters, investigators here contacted authorities there: Did New Castle County police know Slaughter fraudulently had insured Masters' life for $250,000?
They did not. But that gave them the evidence they needed to charge Slaughter with Masters' homicide. On July 20, 2012 -- months before either Slaughter was tried for Haegele's murder -- Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden announced a grand jury had indicted Jason Slaughter for Masters' slaying.
Here in Georgia, prosecutors with the Columbus-based Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit opted to try the Slaughters separately.
In Marion County Superior Court, Donna Slaughter was convicted Nov. 1, 2012, of murder, concealing a death, tampering with evidence and using a firearm to commit a crime. She was sentenced to life plus 15 years in prison, Daniel said.
Jason Slaughter was convicted Aug. 15, and given the same sentence, the prosecutor said, adding the result of this sentence is that each will spend at least 40 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.
Jason Slaughter's trial here drew other connections to his conduct in Delaware, Daniel said: Investigators found a former lover there who told them Slaughter had tried another kind of insurance scam: Insuring the contents of his home and then faking a burglary.
The first time it paid off: He got about $3,000, claiming lost valuables he probably never had, Daniel said. The second time it did not.
The second time, Slaughter's lover said, they tried to make it look like a hate crime by drawing "FAG = HELL" and "KKK" on the walls -- the same words that were on Haegele's body.
Among the consequences of Jason Slaughter's insurance scams were two lawsuits against Household Life Insurance Company.
In March 2011, Cynthia and Terry Masters, parents of the Delaware victim, sued the company claiming it recklessly endangered their son's life by issuing a policy benefitting someone to whom he was not related.
The company responded that it had acted in good faith, because it could not have known Jason Slaughter was impersonating Christopher Masters online, though Slaughter used an incorrect address, and used the same credit card to insure his own life for $25,000 with Masters as the beneficiary, to make the arrangement look mutual.
The Masters' suit was settled April 2, 2012. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
On March 25 of this year, Haegele's uncle, Gregory Haegele of St. Louis, sued the company with similar claims. That suit was settled out of court Aug. 6.
Today Jason Slaughter remains in the Marion County Jail, awaiting extradition to Delaware to face murder charges.
Daniel believes investigators were lucky to have caught the killer before he tried his scheme again, or inflicted other harm.
They never found the Haegele murder weapon that was discarded in a Dumpster -- sifting through a landfill yielded no evidence -- but in the Slaughters' trailer they found an arsenal.
"You should have seen the guns we found," Daniel said. "He had all kinds of assault rifles, every kind of gun."
Slaughter had a previous felony conviction, and could not legally buy a gun, Daniel said: "He had Michael Haegele buy them for him."
Where they got the money remains a mystery, he said.