When pediatric AIDS researcher Eric Miller was found poisoned by arsenic, no one thought that Eric's wife, Ann—an attractive, demure, educated scientist—could be capable of such a horrible crime. But homicide investigator Chris Morgan knew better. From the moment Morgan saw the 30-year-old widow in the interview room at the Raleigh, N.C. police department on December 2, 2000, he knew something was not right. "I got that funny little feeling in the back of my mind," Morgan says. It is a feeling that had served him well in his twenty-nine years as a cop.
Piece by piece, Ann Miller's tangled web of death and deceit would come to light—but not before more lives were ruined, and another life was taken.
Veteran journalist Amanda Lamb follows Lt. Morgan for a behind-the-scenes look into the inner workings of a high profile homicide investigation, and reports how Morgan spent a gritty four years in pursuit of justice.
Interview By Barry Leibowitz, Senior Writer at 48 Hours | Mystery
What drew you to this story?
Lamb: I was initially drawn to this story because it involved people who could be my next door neighbors, my co-workers, members of my family. They were young college-educated professionals with a baby, living what looked like the American dream to outsiders. But on the inside it was a very different story. Their story was fascinating to me and to so many people in our community because they didn't seem like the kind of people who would be caught up in such a bizarre murder mystery.
It also had all of the elements of a good mystery-attractive people, sex, deceit, intrigue, and an old-school cop who refused to give up his pursuit of truth and justice.
What's the most compelling or surprising aspect of this case that you can reveal?
Lamb: I think the most compelling thing that I learned through my research and interviews was that the woman police ultimately arrested for killing her husband, Ann Miller, had spent her life perfecting a demure little girl persona that won over so many people. She wasn't beautiful, but she had a certain charm and neediness about her that attracted men and women alike. People believed in Ann's innocence until the bitter end. I really didn't understand the power of her woman-child act until I heard a taped telephone conversation between Ann and the victim's sister, Pam. She sounded like a wounded bird, with her high-pitched childlike voice, as she complained about how hard her life had been as it related to the media attention surrounding the case.
What fascinating forensics or investigation details came to light?
Lamb: To me, the most amazing scientific detail in the case was that Ann Miller had been poisoning her husband, Eric Miller, for a full six months before she killed him. These results were obtained by examining his hair. Arsenic doesn't stay in the blood or urine for a long period of time, but the history of someone's exposure can be discovered by testing the person's hair.
This result was curious because as a scientist Ann surely knew how much arsenic it would take to kill her husband. There are two possible theories. One is that she intended to create a pattern of Eric being sick so that when he finally died no one would be suspicious. The other more gruesome thought is that she simply wanted to torture him before she killed him. Arsenic causes every organ and bodily function to deteriorate and slowly shutdown. It is a very painful way to die.
Police Lieutenant Chris Morgan is clearly the hero of this case. What makes him tick?
Lamb: Chris Morgan is the guy that shows like "Law and Order" and "C.S.I." use as their templates for a character. He is the real deal, raw and unfiltered. Morgan started police work thirty-some years ago when we didn't have the Internet, cell phones or DNA. He learned how to do it the old fashioned way - pounding the pavement, talking to people, following your intuition - and it served him well. Morgan is one of those guys who becomes totally wrapped up in a case to the exclusion of everything else in his life. He is passionate about finding justice for his victims and can't rest until he does.
Do you ever have nightmares because of this story?
Lamb: I think what this story has left me with, as do all of the murder cases I cover, is a sense that there are truly innocent victims in this world who do nothing to lead to their own demise. Eric Miller's biggest fault, if he had one, was that he trusted Ann. He was by all accounts a good man, a loving father and a dedicated scientist. He's someone with a lot of potential who didn't deserve to die young. It is hard for any regular person to imagine what kind of mindset someone must have to think he or she has the right to remove someone like Eric Miller from the world. In fact, I think it is impossible for us to fathom this sense of misguided entitlement. But in every case there is something to be learned about what makes people kill. Hopefully, this knowledge will lead potential future victims to get out of dangerous situations when they see red flags.
Why didn't Ann Miller simply leave her husband - why did she have to kill him?
Lamb: This is the question I get asked every time I speak about the book. It is an obvious question, but one with a complex answer. Ann Miller didn't want to be a divorced woman. She didn't want to have to deal with child custody, child support and everything that goes along with the breakup of a marriage. She simply wanted Eric out of the way. There wasn't any real money in the estate. Her repeated affairs never seemed to have risen to the level of "true love." So it wasn't a man or money. Ann simply wanted what Ann wanted and that was for Eric to be permanently out of her life. She wanted this to happen with her reputation intact. She realized being a widow would garner her much more sympathy than being a divorced woman. In fact, right after she killed her husband she had the gall to spend Christmas in Indiana with Eric's family. She even slept in his boyhood bed. Clearly, she was a cold woman.
Amanda Lamb has been a television reporter for almost twenty years. She covers the crime beat for WRAL-TV, one of the country's top CBS affiliates, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Amanda received her undergraduate degree from Duke University and her graduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.