PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — The crime that police described sounded as though it were ripped from the pages of a pulp-fiction novel.
A suburban mother, stuck in an unsatisfying marriage, takes up with a young worker at her husband's landscaping company.
Secretly, they plot her husband's murder. The young laborer tries to poison his boss' lemonade, then beats him with a shovel before burying the body in a field. The woman tells everyone her husband simply left. The paramours plant diversions: She signs on to Facebook and changes his profile. The lover sends her phony texts from the dead man's phone. But the questions build. First from relatives. Then from police. So does the pressure.
Their plan unraveled Friday, Chester County authorities said, when 34-year-old Morgan Marie Mengel admitted to conspiring to kill Kevin Mengel Jr., 33, the father of her three children, and told them where to find his body. The next day, police and cadaver-sniffing dogs found Mengel's body near Marple Newtown High School.
On Sunday night, police announced that the manhunt for Stephen Michael Shappell had ended with his capture in Denver. The 21-year-old worker was last seen leaving the Mengels' landscaping business on Friday. When he fled the area, Shappell was driving the Mengels' white Ford pickup truck with a pile of clothes on the backseat, police said.
A Denver Police Department spokesman said members of the force's fugitive unit, acting on information from West Goshen Township police, found Shappell walking in an area west of downtown Denver. He was taken into custody without incident.
Morgan Mengel remained jailed in Chester County Prison as investigators awaited toxicology tests to determine her husband's cause of death. Records show Shappell has had minor scrapes with the law, including a drug-possession charge.
First Assistant Chester County District Attorney Patrick Carmody called the case strange and disturbing. "Obviously, this is an extremely tragic case for the three children who are left with no parents," he said.
The children — a 12-year-old girl and her brothers, ages 10 and 6 — are with relatives, police said. Neighbors and others who knew the family were stunned.
"I'm speechless. That's just so horrible," said Laura Delgadillo, who lived in the same townhouse development, the Golf Club Apartments, along West Chester Pike. "I just saw them a few days ago and everything seemed normal."
But the couple's problems were not new. They married 12 years ago, around the same time they had their first child, records show. In 2004, Morgan Mengel filed for divorce but later withdrew the petition.
The next year, Kevin Mengel incorporated his landscaping business, MKB, according to state records. He ran it from a garage about a half-mile from their development.
Both Mengels worked for the firm, and neighbors said they would often see them leave together in their matching blue polos shirts with the company logo — MKB — one initial for each of their children.
"I never saw any problems," said Kevin Buckingham, a friend who occasionally did landscaping jobs with the Mengels. "They were always smiling together."
But Morgan Mengel wasn't happy, she told police, according to an affidavit from West Goshen Detective David Maurer.
She said she and Shappell began their affair in March. Weeks later, they hatched their scheme - "so they could be together," according to the affidavit.
On June 17, it says, Shappell placed "some sort of drug" in a bottle of lemon Snapple. Morgan Mengel allegedly left the bottle on the hood of her husband's truck at the garage.
"No one else that worked there drank Snapple," the detective wrote. "She knew Kevin would drink it."
Soon after, Shappell sent Morgan Mengel a text message telling her that he had struck Kevin Mengel in the head with a shovel, the affidavit says. She asked whether the body still had a pulse.
"Get down here now," Shappell allegedly replied.
Kevin Mengel's mother initially stirred police interest. Three days after the killing — on Father's Day — Kathleen Barton called them to report her son missing.
Barton said her daughter-in-law had told her that Kevin Mengel was stressed about his work and money and had simply left. Barton told police it was "extremely abnormal" for her son not to have called her, according to the affidavit.
At the townhouse complex, Morgan Mengel tried to keep up appearances. A neighbor who asked not to be identified said the woman went to the pool at the complex last week with the three children - and with Shappell.
Kevin Mengel's mother kept digging. By midweek, she told police that someone other than her son appeared to have changed his Facebook page. She said she learned that Morgan Mengel had been having an affair, and that she had been cashing big checks from the landscaping company's accounts.
On Thursday afternoon, Maurer interviewed Morgan Mengel and Shappell at her townhouse, according to his statement. Both denied any affair.
Mengel told the detective her husband had "packed up all of his belongings and had moved out." But, Maurer said, he noticed what appeared to be Kevin Mengel's clothes in the bedroom and his toothbrush in the bathroom.
Around 6 a.m. the next day, the detective went to the Mengels' landscaping business to interview employees, according to his affidavit. Soon after, Shappell and Morgan Mengel drove up in the white pickup filled with clothing. Maurer asked what the clothes were for and got conflicting answers.
As the detective walked with Morgan Mengel into the shop, Shappell climbed back into the truck and sped away, according to the affidavit.
Morgan Mengel agreed to go to the police station for an interview. It's not clear how long the questioning lasted, but the affidavit said she ducked out "numerous times" to smoke. Then she outlined the whole plot, the affidavit said.
After the visit from the detective last week, Shappell decided to leave the area, Morgan Mengel told police. On Thursday night, the affidavit says, "Morgan observed Stephen looking at maps and places to go to hide."