The husband of an Alabama woman, whose family suspected for years was her killer, is now in a fight for his own life after being charged with capital murder in connection to her 2010 death.
Michael Wohlschlaeger, 62, was indicted by a Baldwin County grand jury May 19 for allegedly killing his fifth wife, Shirley Seitz, 59. She died of blunt force trauma to the head March 1, 2010.
Wohlschlaeger had previously told authorities he found her unresponsive in their Loxley, Alabama, home after she had been ill for weeks and had fallen down the stairs.
The Alabama state Attorney General Luther Strange announced the murder charge Tuesday in a news release, which refers to the indictment charging that Wohlschlaeger, a chiropractor who now lives in Pensacola, Florida, with his now-sixth wife, killed Seitz for “monetary gain.”
Wohlschlaeger has repeatedly denied he was responsible for Seitz's death and has said he believes she fell accidentally. If convicted in Seitz’s death, Wohlschlaeger could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
In a statement to ABC News, Wohlschlaeger’s attorney Clark Stankoski today said, “I am confident that Mr. Wohlschlaeger will be acquitted. There are reasons it took the State of Alabama this long to indict my client, and it is obvious that those reasons are not favorable to prosecution.”
The Wohlschlaeger case gained national attention after ABC News’ “20/20” first aired the story back in September, when Shirley Seitz’s family and Wohlschlaeger's third wife, Gloria Potts, came forward.
Steven Brannan, the private investigator Seitz’s family hired to look into her death, told ABC News today that “I do think the ‘20/20’ story helped open [the Attorney General’s] eyes” to the Wholschlaeger case, but declined to comment further. When reached by ABC News today, Seitz’s family also declined to comment on Wohlschlaeger’s murder charge.
Seitz’s family has long suspected her death wasn't an accident and filed a wrongful death action against Wohlschlaeger last year, but the civil suit was dismissed because of an earlier estate settlement, in which the family agreed not to sue him.
"I didn't like him at all," Myrtle Thomas, Seitz' mother, told ABC News' "20/20" at the time. "I just have to admit that."
Shirley Seitz’s previous marriage had recently ended in divorce when she met Wohlschlaeger, according to her family,
Seitz, then 55, and Wohlschlaeger, then 54, were married Feb. 11, 2006, just three months after first meeting. The two had both been down the aisle four times previously.
Wohlschlaeger's alleged financial problems troubled Seitz' family because one of Seitz' former husbands, Gene Seitz, had died and left her with an inheritance of $1 million.
Four years into their marriage, Seitz’s health took a turn for the worse, her family said. In an audio interview recorded with police investigators, Wohlschlaeger said that Seitz had been ill for weeks, including food poisoning and thyroid problems.
When Sietz’s mother and brother, Rickie Thomas, drove five hours to see Shirley in February 2010, Seitz was so sick that she was unable to get up and open the door, her family said, claiming that Wohlschlaeger told them Seitz might have fallen down the stairs while he was out.
Wohlschlaeger said he found Seitz unresponsive at their home March 1, 2010. She was taken to South Baldwin Hospital in Foley, Alabama, where she was pronounced dead.
Seitz' family became suspicious of Wohlschlaeger's behavior, especially when he demanded an autopsy right in the hospital shortly after Shirley was pronounced dead. When it came time to settle Seitz' estate, her family said Wohlschlaeger had depleted it.
Seven months after Seitz' death, Wohlschlaeger collected $100,000 on her life insurance.
Prior to his indictment, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation investigated Seitz’s death for more than a year but no charges were brought until now.
During their investigation, Seitz’s family discovered that Diana Yohn, Wohlschlaeger’s fourth wife, told police that she suspected Wohlschlaeger of trying to poison her and she complained of severe migraines at the end of their marriage.
Wohlschlaeger's third wife, Gloria Potts, who was tracked down on Facebook by Sharon Yeomans, said she too was traumatized by her former husband.
"I felt like I was being poisoned," Potts told “20/20” in September.
Potts also recalled one night from years earlier when she was asleep “and he hit me in the back of the head with a mallet."
"Then his hand came ... and covered my nose and mouth," she added.
Potts said she went to the hospital, but told them she had fallen in the tub. She and Wohlschlaeger did not divorce until about 10 years later, and she didn't tell anyone this version of the story until the time of their divorce when she also got a restraining order, she said.
The murder charge isn't the first time Wohlschlaeger has been charged with a crime. Nearly 20 years ago, police found Wohlschlaeger standing across the street from his chiropractic office, watching it burn. He claimed he had been trapped inside and that someone was trying to kill him. Wohlschlaeger was later convicted of arson. He received 15 years probation but no prison time.