"48 Hours Mystery:" Love And Death In Alaska

The Cold Truth in a Crime of Money, Power and Sex; Now, Another Death Turns This Murder Case on its Ear

This story was first broadcast on March 8, 2008. It was updated on Aug. 7, 2010.

In 2006, Mechele Linehan, a suburban Washington state wife and mother with a master's degree, found herself charged in a decade-old Alaska murder case.

In the mid-1990s, Mechele was making ends meet as an exotic dancer at "The Great Alaskan Bush Company," where she not only made lots of money, but also attracted the attention of several men who wanted to marry her.

Prosecutors charge a million dollar life insurance policy was motive for Mechele to have one of those men killed.

Was Mechele a manipulating schemer who got men to do her bidding as prosecutors charge or is she innocent and a victim of circumstance Correspondent Susan Spencer reports.

In 1994, Mechele Hughes, as she was then known, headed to Alaska, after first leaving Louisiana for New York as an 18-year-old to work in a modeling agency. She'd been dancing at The Great Alaskan Bush Company only a few months when a shy 35-year-old fisherman, Kent Leppink, walked in the door.

According to his parents, Betsy and Ken, he'd always had an impulsive streak and sometimes lost his footing. He'd been caught skimming money from the family business in Michigan. They'd hoped Alaska would be a new start.

Kent also saw it as a break from his past, and when he met Mechele he thought he'd found his future. He proposed to her after just a month.

But Kent didn't tell his parents Mechele was a dancer when they met her in Anchorage. "She would kind of pull back a bit physically when he'd put his arm around her," Betsy remembers. "It's hard for a mother to be this honest, but it didn't seem like she loved him like he did her."

Betsy says she was suspicious that there were other men in Mechele's life, and her intuition was right.

When traveling salesman Scott Hilke met Mechele at the club late in 1994, he fell hard too. Hilke says he soon asked Mechele to marry him, becoming another fiancé.

And then there was John Carlin, who had just lost his wife to cancer and was raising his teenaged son alone. He wandered into the club in the summer of 1995.

By the time he discovered she was seeing other men, he was in too deep to care. "I was in love with her, so I said 'What the heck?'" he says.

Carlin professed his love, and around Christmas 1995, says he popped the question, becoming yet another fiancé.

It is mind boggling, but prosecutors say that over an 18-month period Mechele had three fiancés, or at least three guys who seemed to think they were her fiancés. Even more confusing is that for part of that time she lived in the same house with two of them, though not always the same two.

"They became entangled in this bizarre - it wasn't even a love triangle. It was like a love hexagon," says Megan Holland of the Anchorage Daily News, who has been covering this case.

What is it about this woman?

"I think she outsmarts most people that she gets involved with. I think she reads the situation figures out how to recreate her personality in such a way that she will profit from that," Scott Hilke says.

And profit she did, from every boyfriend. "She got lots of jewelry, she got lots of furs," Hilke says.

Not to mention car payments, house repairs, diamonds, furs. All went on the tab.

"But a lot of regulars buy you gifts," says Tina Brady, an exotic dancer who knew Mechele.

Tina reminded us that Mechele's fiancés also were her customers, and they were all at least 10 years older than she was. "I don't think that she had any intent on marrying anyone," Tina says.

She says Mechele was just playing the game.

Hilke finally got the message. By late 1995, he had had it. Though he and Mechele would still see one another on and off, he left Alaska, which only made John Carlin turn up the heat. "Our relationship started to go into full bloom when she broke up with Scott," he says.

Meanwhile, Kent was telling his family to get ready for a wedding. On a trip to Anchorage in the spring of 1996, his dad says he was expecting to see his future daughter-in-law. But by the time he got there, Mechele was mysteriously missing; Kent was mortified.