What really happened in the house on the lake?

Nestled in the quiet countryside of Rolling Prairie, Indiana is a little cottage on the lake. It is a peaceful setting that was shattered on a December night in 2012 with an emergency call that Elmer Layden III just committed suicide. The family is not so sure it was suicide.

Their brother, nicknamed Trey, was the grandson of a legendary Notre Dame football player made famous in the 1924 win against the Army. With dramatic prose, a celebrated sports writer linked Knute Rockne’s powerful backfield to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – famine, pestilence, destruction and death. The image stuck and the Layden name became a part of Notre Dame lore.

The Layden’s made the papers also when they sold the family’s Indiana farm to talk show queen Oprah Winfrey.

But what happened here at the lake cottage is a long way from the fame and fortune of the past. No one really knows what happened behind closed doors. There were signs of violence including a busted office door. But who was hurt? Michelle, Trey’s wife, wouldn’t talk with WGN-TV, but is recorded telling a 911 operator: “He was really mentally not right and he was kinda hitting my daughter tonight and I didn’t wanna call the police because I didn’t want any problems and then I went in there and he just shot himself.”

However, when the police showed the family the crime scene photos, Layden’s brother TJ said, “My family rose out of their seat because the first photo we’re looking at he has a busted up face.” He added that his brother’s lip was cut and his mouth was so swollen it appeared to have been hit by something.

There was no photo evidence of any violence to Trey’s daughter or wife.  The police photos do show a rifle lying on the bed next to Trey. Within hours, his death was ruled a suicide by the Coroner’s office. The LaPorte County Sheriff’s office agrees.  There was no autopsy. No evidence was collected. In less than 48-hours Trey’s body was cremated and his wife Michelle signed a request to have the gun destroyed. Christmas is a week away and the case was essentially over.

But get this: All of that took place before Trey’s brother, sisters, mom and dad even knew he was dead. Trey died on Monday, but they were not informed until Friday.

“It’s not normal behavior. I mean who does that,” questions his sister Karen Layden.

Trey, they say, had plans. He promised to fly down that week to drive his parents from Florida to Chicago. Suicide made absolutely no sense to them.

So, when the family finally got a chance to sit down with police they offered a different theory of what happened. The day before his death, Trey had a long talk with one sister saying, “Somebody in my family needs to know what’s going on. Michelle is back to her usual tricks…I know she’s taken money from me. My shotgun is gone, Karen and I haven’t seen it in six weeks.”

There are plenty of charges and counter charges from both sides, but the investigation never got very far. Detectives re-interviewed the wife and daughter and looked for DNA on the gun, but it had been handled by so many people that the tests proved nothing.

“They treated this thing like you would criminal damage to property, not a death case,” according to private investigator Paul Ciolino. WGN asked Ciolino to look at the police evidence. He’s troubled by the conduct of the Sherriff’s Department. “You better treat it like it’s a criminal case. They treated this like a civil matter like it was a divorce. Let’s move him out of the house. Well he got moved out feet first that’s the problem,” says Ciolino.

WGN asked the LaPorte Sheriff to discuss this case on camera. He declined writing, “…the answers to some questions are occasionally unattainable.” He added that the department determined it was a suicide. “Based on scene evaluation, historical data, witness statements, and forensic evidence.” Ciolino doesn’t think they went far enough, “If someone committed suicide great let’s find someone he talked to. Was he distressed? Was he upset? Did he call his brother? Did he call his father, his best friend?  Did he text his sister? Did he call work and say I’m not coming in I’ve having a big problem at home? None of these things happened that we’re aware of. This is police 101 you’ve got to immediately check this stuff.”

Ciolino points to a number of red flags missed by the officers starting with the 911 call. Michelle says she witnessed the shooting. That’s what the police reports from that night show too. Yet, in the videotaped interview by LaPorte Detectives two weeks later, she changes her story saying only her daughter actually witnessed the shooting.

Another red flag, according to Ciolino is that when either Michelle or her daughter called 911 they hung up. That’s right, just hung up. It was a 911 operator who had to call back twice offering help.

And then, in a voicemail to Trey’s brother, she said there was a big letter written about how Trey was going to kill himself.  But to officers, she says, “There was no note.”

The family believes there was something terribly wrong that happened in the house according to TJ, “And the two people that know that are Michelle and Mackenzie. What they’ve told the police you would never convince me is the truth. There is too many inconsistencies in their story.”

Finally, there is the suggestion by Trey’s wife that there was trouble at his work. She told police that Trey constantly threatened to quit. No one for the Sheriff’s Department attempted to verify her claim. If they did, they would have heard a different story. “I think he loved his job,” says Roger Leyden, owner of Se-Kure Controls. Trey sold security equipment for the company from his home. The company let us look at his computer. Trey’s last day was spent making dozens of phone calls, cutting deals, and e-mailing clients. As late as 6:16pm that night in December, Trey was e-mailing a client. An hour later he was dead. His boss says he was devastated.

What’s more, Trey knew he was about to receive a $20,000 dollar bonus before Christmas.

Trey’s boss kept the promise even after he died, paying the bonus to Trey’s wife.

Perhaps, this is a good time to step back and describe how police say this suicide took place and why it raises so many questions. Police reports say Trey took a necktie and wrapped it around the butt of a rifle. He tied one end to his foot and other with some tubing to the trigger. Why lying down in bed he shot himself, in of all places his armpit. Kim Layden, Trey’s sister wonders, “Who kills themselves, commits suicide by your left armpit?”

Forensic expert Brent Turvey asks the same question, “The reality is you wouldn’t be assured of killing yourself. What you’d be assured of doing in that position blowing your arm off possibly. And you’d maim yourself severely.” He suggest the trajectory of the bullet was not consistent with a shot to the armpit but rather a shot from the side, “What we’re meant to believe by what was reported here is he did it in this position and somehow the buckshot took a left turn into his chest. That didn’t happen.”

There is now a nasty split between Trey’s wife and daughter and the rest of Trey’s family. They aren’t speaking. That too makes it difficult. What happened in the house on the lake is just a tragedy.

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56 comments

    • Elmer F Layden IV

      This is Elmer F Layden IV, he did not commit suicide he was expecting a phone call from me on christmas day…if anyone thinks he commited suicide then you did not know my father. This is not exploitation we requested this so the case will be reopened.

  • NDFAN101

    Very sad for Trey. He was a very private man and would not approve of his suicide being exploited on national TV.

  • Fran Csepp

    It doesn't bother me in the least that you have deleted my message! Any mention of the Almighty and the media goes scrambling and hiding down below like the devil himself!!!!!!!!!!! Time tells the truth and when some of what I have said comes out of the wood work— LET ME KNOW!

  • Nicole Dunifon

    Thank you for this commentary. Trey and I were good friends many , many years ago. When I received word of his death, I had a terrible time believing that it was suicide. Trey was a good person, loved the outdoors and had many years of his life ahead of him. My thoughts and prayers go out to his parents, his sisters and TJ. May we one day find out the truth to this horrible incident and justice be served.

    • T.J. Layden

      Thank you! From the Layden Family. Please have others view this segment, and most importantly, leave their comments. Constructive ones like yours. Thanks again!

  • Anonymous

    I find it funny how WGN chose to include all the info about the Notre Dame connection. The back story has no relevance to the investigation but I’m sure this wouldn’t be a story at all without the history. WGN like all media outlets are in it for one reason….to make money by having viewers. WGN you should be ashamed but I know you aren’t. I know you you had a meeting with members of the police department. You were given the reports and information about the investigation but you chose to air enough information to create a controversy. Why? Then you hire two so called experts. Your forensic expert is a joke. Funny how there are plenty of professions out that will do and say anything as long as they are paid or can benefit with the spot light. Thank you WGN. I will no longer watch you pathetic programming.

    • Wassup

      The Layden back story may not be relevant, but it does not detract from the heinous crime that has apparently occurred, the apparent mis-handling by the police department, and the continued attempts to take attention away from the story by attacking WGN.
      According to the article: "WGN asked the LaPorte Sheriff to discuss this case on camera. He declined writing, “…the answers to some questions are occasionally unattainable.” " As far as I can tell, being an outside observer, the police reports were represented, and a company like WGN knows better than to seriously mis-represent the truth, as that would have serious consequences.
      And as for the the forensic expert, I don't think it takes an expert to realize that someone as familiar with guns as Trey appeared to be would not dream up such a ridiculous way to kill himself. He'd blow his head off, rather than tying a necktie around his toe to shoot himself in the side. Not that this man would have ever thought of killing himself.

      The real question is: What is your real motivation to attack this article?

    • Shaun

      It's the families background, not a lot of people know who the Laydens are. They probably did it because they wanted to get as much attention as possible so this case will be re-opened. I'm surprised they isn't some kind of petition going around.

      • Wassup

        Um, if you're going to insult someone's intelligence (Not that that's an effective tactic anyway), you should really check your spelling and word usage more carefully. Otherwise you may appear to the audience to be exactly what you are calling your opponent.

        (Okay, this wasn't worth my time, but it was just too easy!)

    • T.J.

      Don't you have the courage to say who you are. Weasels are pathetic! By the way, what WGN disclosed was only the tip of the iceberg of lies. Lets she the convince 12 people on a jury!

    • Colleen

      The facts from who??? Andy Griffith and the Good ole boys over there at Mayberry RFD?? Detective Andy Hynek who was the lead detective on the case and has been a detective for barely 2 years and prior to that was a patrolman ( the head coroner shared THAT with me in a phone conversation) that sheriffs department makes incompetent people look competent.:( here are some of the niceties that were extended to the families inquiries when questioned about the plethora of inconsistencies .. things like ” you people are watching to much CSI ” and “dont read to much into the paperwork”. Or ” dont be so dramatic”. And my favorite by Detective Pat Cicero, ” You just dont want to accept it was a suicide because you are Roman Catholic and suicide is a sin, I know because I’m Roman Catholic as well”. And what about Michelle asking the 911 operator

      “This wont be in the newspaper will it?”. What a piece of garbage.. She lied about her finances and as far as cooking dinner? that broad ate like there was no tomorrow and took loads of diet pills, but she never cooked that’s the biggest joke! And since when do they bring a form to the crime scene to dispose of the gun, how convenient when Michelle of all things, thinks to make sure and know to ask them to dispose of the rifle?? SOP?? and they say they ruled it a suicide based on eyewitness accounts. WHO the wife and the daughter??? and WHAT historical data?? The convoluted and twisted account of what happened according to that liar Michelle. Watch her police interview, she changes her story ever 5 minutes and is tapping on the table like a woodpecker with a nervous tick. Her daughters interview is spookily devoid of any emotion, normal I guess for a kid who never once refers to Trey as dad or my father, only “him” and goes on twitter and never tells a soul her father is gone. Scary little girl 15 dating a 19 year old .. Well, you are entitled to your opinion… But you know what they say, opinions are like a**holes and you are one”” oops I mean EVERYONE has one including me… And hopefully soon 12 jurors will get to express theirs about Michelle and MacKenzies actions or inactions

  • T.J. layden

    What is wrong with LaPorte Sherriffs? They have more than enough "cause" to have a warrant issued for Michelle and Mckenzie. WGN has served it up on a silver platter. Why in our country can't we get justice? My brother paid his taxes. he deserves his justice! "… and justice for all". If Michelle and Mackenzie are truely innocent why are they afraid to face 12 the their peers? I, T.J. Layden, would accept it's outcome. The world now knows she lied to the police. Michelle where is the "big letter"? My goodness, you even told me Trey's body was still at the funeral home and we'd decide on a service for him on Sunday when you returned from your dad's. But you had him cremated three days before, AND you weren't even at your dad's! You LIED to me!! Why would someone with nothing to hide lie about something like that, WHY? Laporte Sherrif! Do your job! The only TRUTH
    Michelle or Mackenzie told you about this shooting was Trey is dead. If this was your son or brother sherriff you'd find the truth!

  • Wassup

    Perhaps the back story is not relevant, but that does not change the facts. And yes, the network must make a profit. That also does not change the facts. The sheriff responded “…the answers to some questions are occasionally unattainable.” That sounds like pleading the 5th to me. As for the experts, it doesn't take an expert to see through this. Would an experienced gun owner tie a necktie around his toe to fire a rifle into his side? No. he'd put the barrel in his mouth and blow his brains out. Do bullets make right turns? Only if your name is Kennedy.

    You ask why WGN airs enough information to make a controversy. The real question is: Why do you feel the need to attack the article? Could you perhaps have something to gain from minimizing it?

  • Colleen

    Well Michelle did outweigh ( and from what I can see still does) Trey by about 50 lbs and with the help of her 15 year old daughter Mackenzie could have easily broken that door down and shot Trey. As for the person who says Trey said he was estranged and hadn’t spoken to his son in years, how does he explain the email correspondence between father and son with Trey asking his son if he would like to fly to Indiana for Christmas?? If you were such a good friend to Trey and knew what his relationship with his son was so well, why like a coward do you post inaccurate information anonymously and not print your name?? Then you must know Michelle and mackenzie quite well too and must know that Michelle has and has had several bank accounts and credit cards in here, her daughters AND her mothers names, which grey knew NOTHING of and you must know then that Michelle drove their family into debt running up credit card bill to the tune of almost 80,000 dollars and that although she touts having a degree, has never been able to maintain any sort of employment for any length of time and she lied about where she was working like when she said she was hired at the La Porte Herald Argus and when asked they say that she has never worked there or been hired in any capacity. She is a liar and a thief and here daughter is just as disgusting as she is with a mouth and manners that would make a truck driver cringe. All I have to say is that I hope that the affair grey mentioned he was suspicious of Michelle having with a La Porte County Sheriff( YES..heard it myself) is not true and remember this you two, LIFE IS LIKE AN ECHO, IT ALWAYS GETS BACK TO YOU… And I hope you two live your meaningless insignificant lives looking over your shoulders and with this constant reminder that you took someones life and you will have to answer somehow in the end, that you can be sure of. Another thing to think about as you lay your heads on your pillows at night, is this; That there is NO STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS on PROSECUTING someone for MURDER… NONE. Sleep well :)

  • T.J. Layden

    is it really that easy to kill someone in laporte? why doesn't the sherriffs department care when someone lies about a shooting? with all my heart i hope this doesn't happen to another family here. justice shouldn't be allowed to die!

  • A Neighbor

    First of all thank you to WGN for reporting. I live across the lake from Trey's house. Although I never knew Trey personally I would see him here and there, since he was at his father's farm. Trey was always so kind and very friendly, you just knew he was a great guy. I saw his obit in the paper back in Dec. and it really saddened me. I thought maybe he was sick (cancer) I found it strange that his wife and daughter really weren't mentioned. This is unbelievable, my heart goes out to Trey's brother and sisters and all his family and friends. When I heard the 911 recording I thought to myself "are you kidding me – mental problems"???? That was not the person I have seen over these years. I am so disappointed in La Porte County Police, including Det. Hynek (suicide note.. no suicide note), the coroner and any of our proud officials who had anything to do with this investigation. To Trey's brother and sisters, mom and dad I pray that you continue this investigation and find the answers that you need, Trey deserves it he was a great person!!

    P.S. The "Cottage" sadly just came up for sale… VERY Sad!

  • T.J. Layden

    If Trey was Det. Hynek's or Det. Cicero's or Sherriff Mollenoher's brother, don't you think things would be different? I'm certain they would!

  • Don

    It sounds as if the police did not want to bother with it. Which is a shame since they are supposed to be there to protect us all. goodness has become bad wickedness is becoming good. The good are hurt & the wicked are let go.

    • Wassup

      Maybe there's a reason, other than laziness, that the police rushed and hushed this investigation. One of the other posters hinted at a relationship. Could that have influenced the investigators? Surely there's a higher authority that should be appealed to. Perhaps the sheriff is the highest authority in the county, but the state government is higher, no?

  • Kate

    I think in the spirit of good journalism and justice, wgn should continue to investigate and report on this story. Obviously this case should not be and is not closed.

  • Dave

    After watching the video…i cant believe alot of what happened… How could this happen nowadays when someone gets cremated so quickly and why did she want the cremation so quickly!!!! The wife is so lost in this situation… Why was this a closed case so quickly.. The TRUTH will come out… i hope and pray for the family..He seemedl like such a great guy….Dont give up Leyden family. I pray that all will turn out for your family… and the one who truly did it… will suffer in the end

  • layden family friend

    So sorry for the Layden family. My sister dated Trey in high school. She said he would NEVER lay a hand on a woman, much less a child. God knows what truely happened and it will be very very hard to explain that. Good luck getting into paradise. And, good luck living with this behemouth the rest of your lives. One of your will turn on the other and it will be settled. Woe will be that day for u.

    • guest

      I believe she previously sold electronic equipment to area police departments….that could explain why the police accepted her story hook, line and sinker-because they had business dealings with her in the past and were willing to accept her story without using any of their investigative powers.

  • Nickie Dunifon

    The next step for the family should be trying to get Dateline or 48 hours to investigate. They may be able to force some info out of the authorities. Please don't give up Layden family. Don't let Treys death go unpunished.

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  • Tammy

    My prayers go out to Trey's family every day, but especially today on the anniversary of his death. I hope someone decides to really investigate his death so that his family can finally find closure.

    Love and Prayers,
    Tammy

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