Did Ohio anesthesiologist gas his wife to death?
By early 2007, four months had passed since Kathy Wangler died from an apparent accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Somehow, while sleeping in the same house, Dr. Mark Wangler had escaped death.
Kathy's mother, Sara Schlarman, and her family were convinced Mark was getting away with murder.
"I know we all felt Mark did it," says Kathy's sister, Diana.
The police investigation seemed to be going nowhere, so Sara and her daughters launched their own plan. They stayed close to Mark, pretending they believed his story.
"That's what we wanted him to think," says Diana.
"Keep you friends close, keep your enemies closer. That was the philosophy," comments Van Sant.
All the while, they were writing down Mark's actions after Kathy died, hoping to build a case against him.
"The fake crying. Getting rid of her stuff right away," Diana reads from her notes. "He kept giving different stories about how she died."
"He didn't want to be buried beside her and he didn't care where we buried her," says Sara.
"In the limo on the way to the grave site in Celina, Mark was kind of short with my mom," Joanne recalls. "He told a joke about how people were dying to get in the cemetery."
Convinced Mark was responsible, Sara called the Allen County Sheriff's Office with an ultimatum.
"And I said, 'You people have never returned our phone calls. ...We have now decided that we're going to the media,'" she says.
Soon after, the Sheriff's Department assigned Clyde Breitigan, a veteran investigator, to the case.
"The family had some doubts but the family wanted answers," says Breitigan, who had questions of his own.
"What did kill her? They were looking for the answer.... was it the hot water tank? ...Was it something inside that home?" he says. "I conducted like 80 or 85 interviews with different people."
Breitigan quickly learned from Kathy's family that the Wangler marriage had become a disaster.
"Mark and Kathy treated each other equally evil, and that they would do things to each other just to get under each other's skin," he says.
And Mark's story of a faulty water heater that emitted carbon monoxide wasn't quite adding up. Breitigan interviewed gas company workers who had been at the Wangler house after Kathy's death.
"And they examined and tested the water heater, the furnace, the vent-free fireplace," Breitigan says. "They could not find anything malfunctioning on the morning of the 4th."
And Mark's behavior - his lack of anger - struck Breitigan as odd.
"From my point of view, if my wife had died in our home and there was any suspicion from an appliance I would be...yelling and screaming 'OK, who installed this, and what did you do wrong?' None of that ever took place here," he says.
And there was that seemingly strange coincidence - an anesthesiologist whose wife dies from being gassed.
"As an anesthesiologist, you know about carbon monoxide," says Van Sant.
"Not really," Mark replies. "Carbon monoxide isn't something that comes into play as an anesthesiologist."
But Breitigan learned from one of Mark's medical partners, that simply wasn't true.
"He had told me Dr. Wangler was a master with gases and that he had been trained in the old-style anesthesiologist techniques and knew all about gases, knew all about carbon monoxide," explains Breitigan.
But where exactly would the carbon monoxide have come from? Breitigan figured right in Dr. Wangler's own garage, which held two cars and a generator... with a camper in the driveway.
"By that point I had formulated a theory that, a mobile source of carbon monoxide - one of the cars, the generator, whatever, had introduced carbon monoxide into the home," says Breitigan.
Police performed tests on the camper.
"...and either by using - and I can't prove or disprove this - but use of a hose, introduced, the carbon monoxide into the furnace with the furnace motor running," Breitigan continues.
The poisonous gas traveled through the duct work of the house into Kathy's bedroom, two floors above, killing her.
Mark's defense attorney, Chris McDowell, says the hose theory is nonsense.
"Crazy. Wrong. Speculation," he tells Van Sant. "The hoses that were in this house were the hoses that were in anyone's home - a garden hose. And tests were performed on the garden hose, and there's no residue of this hose ... the hose theory is totally debunked."
In fact, McDowell says any theory involving gas from a motor is impossible, because that hot gas would have had to travel downward - from the first floor garage into the basement.
"According to the prosecution, the gas then goes down these steps and into the basement. It defies the laws of gravity, the laws of what gas does," McDowell explains as he walks down the steps and into the Wangler's basement. "According to them, it goes into the furnace area... and then he somehow unscrews all of these screws. ... It's absolutely bogus. It's science fiction."
But Breitigan acted on his theory. The detective got a search warrant and removed sections of the duct work from the Wangler home. He had it tested at a lab for the presence of microscopic exhaust residue.
"Their conclusions were that something had been introduced into the ductwork, and at a very high rate of speed over a short duration of time," says Breitigan.
McDowell says that's "crazy, because had that really occurred, they would have found him dead right here."
What really happened, McDowell says, was a tragic accident caused by a defective vent connected to the water heater. "And gas from this water heater that ordinarily would go outside is now trapped inside the home. And it ... eventually makes its way up to the bedroom where Mrs. Wangler is sleeping."
But police don't buy that. Three years after Kathy's death, they finally arrest Mark Wangler and charge him with murder.
"Just in a nutshell, horrible. I just had a real sick feeling," Mark tells Van Sant of his arrest. "You just feel all that energy drain out of you."
"You've gone from being a valued member of this community to, in some people's eyes, an evil genius who killed his wife," Van Sant remarks.
"Yeah. I guess that would be a correct assessment of the situation."
While awaiting trial, Dr. Wangler takes comfort in his religion.
Kathy's loved ones hope that judgment day is near.
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