At first, Marie Michael thought the figure silhouetted in her bedroom doorway was her son’s fiancée, Angie Ver Huel, perhaps slipping in to grab one of her possessions from the dresser. Then she blinked as a red laser light passed her eyes, illuminating a pillow. And then she realized the figure was too large to be her son’s fiancée or, indeed, her son Justin.
The intruder crept away. But moments later, Michael heard gunfire, followed by some shrieking. “I heard Angie scream, ‘Oh my God, oh my God,’” Michael told Dateline in September 2015. “I knew something terrible had happened.” She wasn’t wrong. Angie Ver Huel and Justin Michael – who had planned to get married in little more than two months’ time – had been the victims of a vicious and devastating attack.
The intruder fled the scene before they could be identified. And in the aftermath of the crime, the police considered a host of theories. Did Michael owe money? Was he a drug dealer? Or someone with an interest in organized crime? “For a moment,” Val Huel told Dateline, “I was thinking, was I about to marry somebody that I had no idea who he was?”
Angie Van Huel was a math teacher at South Middle School in her hometown of Waukee, a small but fast-growing city in Dallas County, Iowa, when she met Justin Michael in June 2013. And there was an instant attraction. “After our third date,” she told Dateline, “I texted my friend and I said, ‘I am pretty sure I am going to marry this guy.’”
Justin Michael, meanwhile, was one of life’s givers. The 30-year-old was a keen outdoorsman, an adventurer, a gardener and a volleyball player. A graduate of Iowa State University, he also had a degree in public service and administration. And having accompanied his father on a mission trip to Egypt, he was passionate about community service. In fact, he subsequently volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization dedicated to building affordable housing.
After a whirlwind romance that took the couple sky-diving, Michael and Ver Huel became engaged in August 2013, just two months into their relationship. The couple planned on a fairly long engagement with a big family wedding to follow by the sea. Naturally, Michael’s work colleagues congratulated him. But one co-worker, David Moffitt, was quietly dying inside.
Moffitt, a 26-year-old accounting graduate from Pleasant Hill, IA, worked with Michael in the same department at financial services company Wells Fargo. What’s more, he was no stranger to Michael’s fiancée. In the spring of 2013, Moffitt had met Ver Huel in a bar and they had started dating on a casual basis. Three months later she met Michael. No longer interested in Moffitt, she dumped him with a text message.
The engagement apparently deeply unsettled Moffitt. In January 2014 he complained to his therapist about having murderous thoughts. Then, by April of that year, he appeared to conduct a number of bizarre Google searches on his computer, such as “How to get away with murder,” “Love triangle murders,” “Fruit that resembles the human skull,” “St. Anthony confession times,” and “What does hell look like.”
Moffitt then appeared to conduct surveillance on Michael’s home on Southeast Jacob Street in the community of Grimes, where Ver Huel had been living since December 2013. He apparently made notes on possible entrances to the building, as well as the comings and goings of Michael’s neighbors. He seemed to be planning a break-in.
Finally, Moffitt forged a fake ID in the name of Andrew Wegener – another ex-boyfriend of Ver Heul. Moreover, he then used it to purchase a second-hand 9mm carbine from Drew Bahlmann, a school teacher and part-time gas station employee from Sigourney. Bahlmann had advertised the gun for sale online.
On May 8, in the dead of night, Moffitt, clad in dark clothes, broke into Michael’s house. In an apparent attempt to make the break-in look like a robbery, Moffitt unplugged a DVD player and left it lying on the floor. Then he crept into the room where Michael’s mother was staying; she had been visiting in the run-up to Mother’s Day.
Moffitt crept away, located Michael’s room and opened the door. Michael was asleep on his back next to Ver Heul. Moffitt took aim and shot Michael four times: in the face, neck and temple. “I heard the bedroom door open, then I heard a pop, pop, pop,” Ver Huel told Dateline. Michael was dead when investigators arrived shortly after 3:30 a.m.
Moffitt fled, but approximately half an hour after the shooting, he crashed his red Ford Taurus Limited some five and a half miles from Michael’s home. An off-duty cop spotted it and a deputy rushed to the scene. Moffitt presented himself as the vehicle’s owner, and a taxi took him home.
The next day, however, investigators searched the wrecked vehicle and uncovered a slew of incriminating evidence. There were two magazines containing ammunition that matched shell casings from the murder scene. And there was a receipt in the name of Andrew Wegener, the man whose identity Moffitt had apparently pilfered in order to purchase the gun.
The fake ID was subsequently discovered during a search of Moffitt’s home. Moffitt himself was arrested and on May 9, 2014, he was charged with first-degree murder and burglary. Somewhat implausibly, in the ensuing trial, Moffitt pleaded insanity.
Moffitt’s lawyer J. Keith Rigg claimed that Moffitt had experienced a psychotic breakdown after learning about his ex-girlfriend’s engagement. As a result, after developing “homicidal ideations,” Moffitt was prescribed medications by his therapist, which according to Rigg, had deleterious side effects which caused his client to act violently. “What happened here, for lack of a better term, is crazy,” he told the court.
Meanwhile, State Prosecutor Steve Foritano argued that Moffitt had murdered Michael in a pre-meditated manner and therefore could not have been insane. He pointed to Moffitt’s Google searches and the procuring of a gun in Wegener’s name. “David Moffitt had a plan,” Foritano told the court. “He had a plan to kill Justin Michael. He took steps to not only execute that plan, but to blame other people.”
Given the overwhelming evidence against Moffitt, it is no surprise that the jury sided with the prosecution. As a result, on July 1, 2015, Moffitt was convicted of first-degree murder and burglary. And on July 28 he received the requisite sentence for first-degree murder in Iowa – life without parole.
Clearly, it was a bittersweet moment for Michael’s loved ones. “It has been an ordeal for the family in hearing all the details, and just a waiting process, but we are very pleased with the citizens of Des Moines who served on the jury and did their job according to what they heard,” Justin’s father Weldon Michael told NBC. “All we have for Justin is to make sure justice is served, and I think it was.”
Who knows how life might have turned out for Justin Michael and Angie Ver Huel if David Moffitt had not murdered Michael in an apparent fit of jealous rage. Luckily for Angie, she was able to love again. On July 20, 2017, she married Tom Unger in Johnston, Iowa. Moffitt, meanwhile, remains incarcerated.