AVON LAKE, Ohio – An Ohio woman who called 911 to report that her husband committed suicide by suffocating himself has been charged with his 2011 murder.
A three-year investigation into the death of 55-year-old Michael Gabel concluded that he didn’t commit suicide and that his wife, Jeane Harrington, had killed him, police said. She had reported Gabel’s death to police, saying she found him dead with plastic wrap around his head.
“We know that suicide in this manner is very unusual,” Duane Streator, police chief of Avon Lake, told reporters Friday.
Streator said there was no immediate evidence of a struggle, but the Lorain County coroner ultimately determined Gabel died of asphyxiation, blows to his head and body, and electrical burns.
Harrington, 56, was arrested Thursday, and her son – 11 when Gabel died – was turned over to a relative.
In the 911 call, Harrington had reported that Gabel, a local car salesman, left a suicide note, and she described heavy debts coming due, suggesting he’d taken his own life.
Harrington told police she owned a stun gun and had used it several times on Gabel in a fight earlier that evening that she described as “mutual.” She said the disagreement centered on the couple’s financial woes.
“He got a letter from the Internal Revenue Service the other day wanting $17,000,” Harrington said during the call. “And then the following day he got a letter from some collection company wanting $16,000. And tomorrow they’re supposed to sell our home at sheriff’s auction.”
Harrington said she last saw her husband alive at 2 a.m. on Aug. 16, 2011, when he walked from the den to the bathroom. She found his cold body on a sofa later that morning after she returned from errands, she said.
Authorities now believe she stunned Gabel multiple times before suffocating him with industrial-strength, restaurant-grade plastic wrap.
It wasn’t immediately clear who is currently representing Harrington. A message was left for a lawyer who represented her in 2005 during divorce proceedings, which ended in reconciliation, and with another lawyer who represented her in a 2007 foreclosure case.
Divorce filings indicated Harrington’s pay at the Avon Public Library gift shop had been halved and that Gabel had used money from a 401(k) account and from mortgaging the couple’s rental property to pay gambling debts.
Streator said police had been called to the couple’s address before on domestic issues.