HeyAfter Charlie Adelson was convicted of orchestrating his brother-in-law's murder in 2014 amid a contentious child custody battle nearly a decade ago, his mother called him in prison and revealed she was leaving the country.
Donna Adelson, a 73-year-old Miami Beach grandmother and matriarch of the wealthy Adelson family, told her son in the recorded calls that she was “taking care of things and making sure her grandchildren were taken care of.”
She talked about suicide in the call, according to an arrest affidavit, but later admitted to her plans to flee to a country without extradition. That country was Vietnam with a stopover in Dubai. The two countries do not have an extradition treaty with the United States.
With a one-way ticket to Vietnam in hand, Donna and her husband Harvey Adelson arrived at Miami International Airport – but authorities stopped them before they could leave.
Donna was taken into custody and now faces murder, conspiracy and harassment charges in the 2014 slaying of her son-in-law Dan Markel, a 41-year-old University of Florida law professor who was shot and killed outside his Tallahassee home.
Convicted Charlie Adelson's mother appears in court to face murder charges
Prosecutors allege the Adelsons conspired to get rid of Markel after a bitter custody battle between Markel and his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, Donna's daughter.
State's Attorney Jack Campbell said Tallahassee Democrat that the state didn't have the evidence to arrest Harvey, but it had enough to arrest Donna.
Her attempt to fly overseas precipitated matters and prompted law enforcement “to make a decision quickly,” Mr. Campbell said.
“That's what forced our hand,” Mr. Campbell said. “We started talking to some of our law enforcement partners about the complexities of trying to bring someone back from either Dubai or Vietnam. And this can be a very complicated and time-consuming process. That's why we had to make a quick decision.”
The charges are the same for which her son Charlie Adelson, 47, was convicted just last week. He faces a mandatory life sentence when he is sentenced next month.
As of the afternoon of November 15th, Donna was being held in the Miami-Dade County Jail without bond, pending transport to Tallahassee.
Donna is the fourth person to be arrested – an update that marks the latest twist in the 2014 killing arranged by Charlie Adelson's ex-girlfriend Katie Magbanua, who hired her ex-husband Sigfredo “Tuto” Garcia and his friend, Capt. of Latin Kings, Luis. Rivera to carry out the murder.
Magbanua and Garcia are serving life sentences and Rivera is serving 19 years after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and testifying against the others.
Here's what you need to know about the case:
Disturbing calls to the jail led to the arrest of Donna Adelson
The family matriarch had been on prosecutors' radar for some time, according to Leon County State's Attorney Jack Campbell, who said The Associated Press that while he believes his prosecutors already had enough evidence to convict Donna before Monday, her arrest had to be expedited when investigators learned of her plans to leave the country.
Those plans were discovered in prison calls made after Charlie's guilty verdict last week.
The calls included Donna telling her son that she was “fixing things, building trust and making sure her grandchildren are taken care of.”
“Donna discusses plans to kill herself, but also discusses plans to flee to a country without extradition,” according to the affidavit.
“Donna Sue Adelson has substantial financial resources to accomplish this,” the affidavit continued. “On November 7, 2023, Donna and Harvey Adelson booked flights to Vietnam with a stopover in Dubai.”
“It would be complicated and really difficult to try to bring them back, depending on where they ended up in the world,” Mr Campbell added. “The arrest wasn't just based on the flight, it played a role in the timing.”
What happened to Dan Markel?
On July 18, 2014, Dan Markel was murdered on the street outside his home in Tallahassee. He was 44 years old.
Just 48 hours later, his ex-wife Wendi and their two boys moved into a house within walking distance of the Adelson family home, prosecutors said. She later changed her sons last name from Markel to Adelson.
The Adelsons immediately became suspects after Markel's murder. Wendi told detectives the murder could have been arranged on her behalf because her parents – including her mother Donna, were “very angry with Markel”.
Wendi, who has denied involvement in the killing and testified in immunity at several trials, has not been charged. Neither did her father, Harvey Adelson.
Emails reveal Donna Adelson ‘hated' her son-in-law
Prosecutors have repeatedly said Donna “hated” her ex-son-in-law Markle, who was in a bitter custody battle with Wendy.
She had a court order barring her from moving from Tallahassee back to South Florida with their two young sons.
Authorities say the Adelsons offered Markel $1 million to let his ex-wife and sons move in, but when he refused, Charlie Adelson and other family members began plotting his death.
In a key email sent in July 2013, she told her daughter: “It's time to take control of your life and not let Jibbers think he's just ‘winning' anything by staying in Tallahassee, eight hours away from the only family you have. , and lose what will be a job that will give you and your children advantages they could never otherwise enjoy.'
“Let's show this [expletive] what will make him absolutely miserable,” the email continued. “You know his weak points. money, religion, control'.
“You have 5 weeks before your court date,” he wrote, underlining that text. “I know you have a hearth that keeps you very busy. However, the rest of your life, and by extension Dad's and yes, even Charlie's, will be affected by how well you can perform/act before July 31st.'
An investigation began, and in 2016, an FBI agent posing as an extortionist approached Donna outside her home and demanded $5,000 not to turn over information about the shooting to investigators.
This sparked a series of calls and meetings between Donna and her son. In the first call, she told him they needed to discuss “some documents” and that “you probably have a general idea of what I'm talking about.”
The wiretaps between Charlie and his mother played a role in his trial.
A sting operation called “The Bump” revealed that there was a pattern of phone calls leading up to the murder, and around the time of the murder, the calls “always went through” in this order: Donna Adelson to Charlie Adelson and Katherine Magbanua to Sigfredo Garcia, only for these calls to be returned in reverse order.