What really happened in the house on the lake?

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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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  • Jeff "JD"

    I worked with Trey in South Bend for many years. Was a very good friend of mine. None of this makes any sense. He was not the type of person that would do something like that. I sat right next to him at work and had many long conversations with him about his love for life and I really admired him. My prayers to his family and I hope the true story is told so the family can put him to rest.

  • Sheryl

    This is unbelievable! There is no way this was a suicide. I cannot believe the lack of investigation done by the police and how quickly they closed the case. There are so many inconsistencies in the scene and the in the wife's story. She is totally not credible. How can the police not have investigated further? Did they test the wife and daughter for gun shot residue? The 9-1-1 call is very suspicious and the interview of the wife (poorly done) is even more suspicious. Plus, they didn't even let his family know until after the body was cremated and after the wife wanted the gun destroyed. Seriously? I sincerely hope someone does investigate this matter more fully. Justice has not been done for Trey. I feel so bad for his parents, brother and sisters. This is just terrible. Perhaps Dateline could investigate this story? Trey's killer(s) need to be brought to justice.

    • Tj Layden

      He was bullied by his wife. She got her in on the bullying as she got older. I know this to be fact. Countless times I’d pick him up in the middle of the night with broken nose, or bite marks from his daughter; all kinds of injuries. Never once, not once, did I ever she a mark on his wife or daughter. I know they attested to the contrary to the police in several of their versions and on the 911 call. But it was just as I had witnessed first hand several times, the police, in fact, stated the girls had no marks or injuries of any kind that night. Funny the police didn’t questioned that? Michelle was always embellishing; rarely truthful. I know this all to be true because I was trey’s brother. He was also my best friend. I knew them better than anyone in the area; all their personal, secretive life styles. Another fact michelle lied to the police about. One easy to prove; simple phone records would show the frequent communication we had with one another. Funny the police didn’t want to find out this truth either. I invite you , M, to look at the pictures of trey that night. All though the deputies stated that there were no signs of a struggle their own pictures show my brother was beat in the face and had cuts on his face. They also had pictures of his office door forced open; broken door jam, door knob broken off and bloodied. Of course, depending on which officer you talk to; that door was broken before that night, or that door was broken that night when trey pushed michelle through it, or they weren’t sure when it got broken. Funny the police didn’t seek the obtainable truth on that fact either? I’ll tell you what I told the police, don’t take my word. For it, find out for yourself. Until you do, be very careful of Michelle or Mackenzie.

  • Ashley

    This is so sad, but unfortunately not surprising. I actually moved in next door to this house after this happened. Coincidentally, my brother passed away last year who lived only a few houses down the road. They claimed it was suicide, but we feel it was murder. The police didn’t contact us for over a week and didn’t even investigate! It’s such a shame.

    • Tj layden

      I’m so sorry Ashley. We pay all these taxes and for what ? So, the sheriff can get new carpeting, new cars, new dogs ect., etc. …. And they don’t have to do their jobs. Amazing, yet you can’t do anything about it. I find it helps to put a in God’s hands. God bless you and your family. Maybe someday the people will get tired of the government running us.

  • Common sense

    La porte’s finest! They have a hard time cracking down on the drug infestation I am not a bit surprised they can’t solve an obvious murder…you should feel safe la portians!

  • Linda Jannert

    This was one of the sloppiest investigations ever. It makes me sick. If a person can’t see the lies coming out of that ladies mouth then they are blind. After she said she saw the whole thing and asked again she was blabbering with her hands flying around just trying to come up with something. She lied about the big long letter. She had him cremated before his family even knew he was dead. Really???? Sounds like they let another murderer run free because they are too lazy to do it right. SICKING

  • person

    In talking to people around the lake, some believe Trey was abusing McKenzie for years (and perhaps her friends too) Also, rumors about Trey picking up a woman at the Nowhere Bar and sexually assaulting her. Just saying what is going around. Sometimes rumors hold some truth, sometimes not.

    • Tj layden

      Not this time. I witnessed firsthand the abuse my brother received first from his wife and daughter. His nose was broken, he had bite marks on his arm from his daughter, cuts and bruises…. So many injuries and not once did I see so much as a scratch on his wife or daughter. But it doesn’t surprise me that his wife started bad rumors about my brother; lying is a way of life with her. Like the ‘big letter’ she told me my brother left and the police said he didn’t. So many lies and yet detective Hynek said “it’s not illegal to lie to the police. Finding out about involvement with another would be easy to prove; all the police have to do is check both their phone records. I’m certain this would be quite revealing, but police won’t investigate, maybe the rumor of his wife having an affair with a police officer is true. But please call the sheriff and ask for them to do an actual investigation, our family would greatly appreciate it.

  • Tj Layden

    Why is it when people leave a negative comment about Trey, they won’t use a real name? To go through the trouble of creating a new email account with a new fake user ID takes some time. All this just to comment negatively on another who’s been shot; something doesn’t ring truthful. I’m just saying.

    • person

      I am sorry for the loss of your brother and in such a terrible way, I really cant imagine it. I do not know what happened that night, I only know people who had the comments I passed along. I don’t mean to be hurtful to you or your family or Trey’s friends. This has been disturbing to the lake community. What do you think happened and why did it happen?

      • Tj Layden

        My sisters and I know my brother feared for his life the day before he was shot. He called each of us individually and said ‘If something happens to me follow the money”. We also know that his wife Michelle was taking money from him and taking out credit cards and loans in his name without his knowledge; this she had been doing for years. In fact, two years before he was shot she had created debt in excess of $80,000. This almost caused a divorce; but she begged him and called all of us to stop him from divorce. This is sad but it’s true, she bullied him. She kept his own bank records from him. This she did for over the 16 plus years they were together. Yes he could have gotten them from the bank himself, but as I said he was bullied and intimated. He easily bent to her will to keep his marriage going. This time, the year leading up to his shooting, she did again. I need to back track on something at this point; for the 15 years while he worked at Tire Rack 30% of his paycheck went on accounted for; that was $30 to $40 Thousand a year. A Year! That is the kind of money that leaves a trail. That is the kind of money people kill for. And yet the sheriff did not want to check into this. Or anything else for that matter. But as I was saying she did it again and Trey found out. It caused many fights in his final years. I would pick him up in the middle of the night with a broken nose from his wife or bite mark in his arm from his daughter and many other injuries. We all told him to call the police when this would happen, but he wouldn’t have it. In fact, always, shortly after I’d pick him up he’d call her and want to goback; he’d blame himself. I should have called the police myself, but that is a failure I have to live with. Never once, not ONCE did I she a single mark or scratch on any of the girls. They told 911 that night he had been hitting Mackenzie, his daughter, that he stabbed her with a pen. The police verified and admitted there was no marks on her, none at all. Once again, Michelle lied. This is a fact, Trey was shot on a Monday. Michelle could have called me anytime. She could have driven to my house. She could have someone else call, but she didn’t. She was supposingly too distraught. But she manage to have his body cremated before the legal time to do so; within 48 hours; this she had help with from a friend who owns a funeral home in Three Oaks Michigan. She managed to sign a request to destroy the shotgun that very night. She managed to put in a claim for his life insurance from work the very next day; and she lied to the company about cause of death to avoid nonpayment. She managed to contact his employer the very next day for his $20,000 bonus to put into an account she managed to create different than the one on his payroll deposit. She did all this and more, but she couldn’t contact any of our family until Friday that week. FRIDAY! And she didn’t even call herself. When I did talk to her she told me nothing but lies; how he left a big letter, how the police took everything from the house, his phone, his computer, the letter. What was even worse she told me how we were going to set up a funeral when she got back in town; and how Mackenzie was going to need my and my wife’s help to get her through this. She really played me. I found out later that night, Friday, that she was still at home. God led me out to Trey’s home that night to say good bye, but the house was lit up; all kinds of people moving around. But when I went to the door and knocked someone through a bed sheet over the door and they didn’t open. I just left feeling as though I was intruding; I felt bad. As I drove away I called Michelle’s phone and left an apology. Then it hit me; she lied. She lied about being out of town, why? I get a call from my sister; there is no body, it had been cremated. Another lie! Why? On my drive home I’m trying not to believe what’s taking shape. This is another fact, in the days that followed we would discover one lie after another; nothing she said to anybody was truthful, NOTHING! Why? She even text me the next day and asked if I’d come and distributed Trey’s ashes with her and Mackenzie. Then she stopped talking to us completely. She even told the police she feared for her life from me; that I had tried to break into her house that Friday night. I was in tears for the loss of my brother, heartbroken, I just knock on their sliding glass door once; she lied again! Why! I will have to continue this later; it hurts too much right now. Sorry!

    • person

      Thank you, TJ for replying. I can see the pain you are dealing with is overwhelming. I certainly agree with you and the WGN story that your brother’s shooting does not appear to be a clear cut case of suicide. Your former sister-in-law’s actions also are very strange and suspicious. People at the lake may have suspected sexual abuse to McKenzie, but even with that, people also seem to believe Trey’s death was a homicide and not a suicide. I don’t know what went on in that household but homicide was not the way to solve any problems that may have existed. Is there anyone at LaPorte County that is interested in helping you reopen this case? Have you gone to the top of the police department? What about the district attorney for the county? Are they not interested in the ballistics reports? It would seem that would cast doubt on the physical possibility of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

      • Tj layden

        Please respond to the people on the lake that sexual abuse was never an issue in my brothers house. It was never an issue with my brother period. It’s terrible that such a sick rumor even got started. It’s extremely hurtful to his family his friends and his love ones that knew him best. My Brother worked all the time and when he came home he had to keep working. Michelle never cleaned; she was a horrible housekeeper. I know this first hand. I lived with them for half a year when Mackenzie was a toddler. I’ve lived in the Laporte area ever since. Trey’s free time, as little as it was, was spent with his family. He loved to take his daughter out on the lake fishing, or on trips up to Mackinac, or up along the shore in Michigan to shop or kite board. He loved doing things as a family. Unfortunately, between working to sustain his family and caring for his household he had a little time to be involved in the upbringing of their daughter. Michelle was the major influence in Mackenzie life. I hate to say this but Mackenzie was the spookiest child I’d ever met. She was cold as ice; you’d say Hi to her and nothing. She was this way to all of our family. I’d find out years later that Michelle was telling her horrible things about our family. To our face Michelle was very loving behind our backs she was poisoned with hatred. Very two faced. But I was always good enough when she wanted her car fixed or peir put in the lake or her house needed painting or when she’d break down on the side of the road or when she didn’t want my brother to leave. My brother was not perfect, but Michelle was a user of the worst kind. Their daughter turned out to be similar. I pray for the both of them everyday! God will bring justice to this.

    • person

      Thank you for the insight. I will tell people about this website. With time, the people in power in LaPorte county will change and hopefully you will have this case reopened but what about appealing to the Indiana State Police? I would even be writing letters to the Governor. You are probably exploring these avenues. I am sure Paul Caolino had some suggestions? Where are Michelle and McKenzie now? You must have loved your brother very much. So sorry.

  • Steve

    This is how the pd of Laporte handles all cases that are not cut and dry . My uncle died years ago . With mounting evidence to murder and not suicide . Back door open rugs tossed in hall way from back door and many other things . But police said this is how I want u to say it happend . What a joke of a police department.