Oct. 11, 2007 -- The family of a 24-year-old Denver woman who flew to Las Vegas in August to spend time with a prominent hotel chain CEO and ended up dead from a mysterious drug overdose is demanding answers about what happened.
The woman, Michelle Hatchel, called and text-messaged friends to say she was scared and hiding in a closet after the man's angry ex-girlfriend showed up, her family says.
"She told them she was afraid,'' her grandmother, Helen Barker, told ABC News. By night, she was dead.
The friends reported that they lost contact with Hatchel around 3 a.m. Aug. 29. By 6 a.m. they were trying to reach her again, but the phone went straight to voice mail, Barker said..
Around 8 p.m. the next evening, the CEO, Walter Edward Scheetz, called 911 to report that he'd come home from work and found Hatchel, whom he called "my girlfriend,'' dead in bed, according to Las Vegas Metro police. Listen to 911 Call
The Clark County Coroner's office reported that the woman died of an "acute'' overdose of cocaine and the painkiller oxycodone.
But questions continue to swirl around what exactly happened that August evening in the Turnberry Towers condominium apartment at 2777 Paradise Road.
Brandy Bergman, who works for the financial media relations firm Sard Verbinnen, returned a call placed by ABC News to Scheetz's Greenwich, Conn., home. Bergman said she represented Scheetz and that while she was aware of the family's questions about the final hours of Hatchel's life, she could not comment further. She said Scheetz was not available.
Police who arrived at the scene reportedly found pills and powder near her body, and initially thought Hatchel had committed suicide, according to a police spokesman, who said detectives on the scene eventually decided to turn the case over to the county coroner. But no police report or incident report was ever filed and no investigation undertaken, according to Las Vegas Metro Police spokesman Jose Montoya.
The coroner who examined the body declared Hatchel dead at 10 p.m. Aug. 30 but didn't list an estimated time of death on her report, Hatchel's family said, making it difficult for her family to retrace her final steps.
And Barker said her granddaughter's cell phone has apparently disappeared.
Finally, no one in the family has ever heard personally from Scheetz, who was described in a 2007 Crain's New York Business story on "Rising Stars" as an "aggressive" young real estate investor "but in a straight-laced kind of way."
Hatchel's mother, Kim Barker, suffered a heart attack the day of her funeral, and is recuperating. Her mother, Helen Barker, is acting as a spokeswoman for the family, she said.
Scheetz resigned Sept. 20 from his post as president and chief operating officer of Morgans Hotel Group. According to a company press release, he resigned "by mutual agreement … to address personal issues." The group owns the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the Delano in Miami and the Royalton in New York, among others.
Hatchel's death in the apartment where Scheetz was staying was first reported more than a week later in a local newspaper.
Scheetz told police that he left for work at around 9 a.m. the morning of Aug. 30 and returned home about 8 p.m. to find Hatchel's body in the bed, according to the 911 call released Wednesday.
"Holy ****! Oh my God,'' Scheetz can be heard saying to a 911 operator who received his call.
"She's not moving and she's in like rigor mortis,'' he said. When the operator instructs him to move her from the bed to the floor and prepare to provide emergency aid, he hesitated, then agreed. "OK,'' he said on the tape. "But she's stiff and she's funny colors."
It's unclear how Scheetz, 42, and Hatchel, 24, met, but Hatchel flew from Colorado to New York with a girlfriend before the Vegas trip to be with the hotel chain magnate, her friend told the family. Then Hatchel flew on to meet Scheetz in Las Vegas, while her girlfriend returned to Colorado.
The last friends heard from the young woman, she "was afraid and she was hiding in a closet when she called a friend in the early morning hours of Aug. 29, Barker said. "Scheetz didn't call 911 until 8 p.m. the next night. We don't know how long she was actually dead or what happened in between."
In another message to friends, she said that Scheetz was "being mean,'' according to her family.
A former Las Vegas law enforcement official told ABC News deaths like that of Michelle Hatchel are not completely uncommon in the desert gambling mecca.
"Vegas is one of the hardest towns on women,'' the former official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "It's exceedingly judgmental. It's really a rough place on women because the assumptions are often that some young [woman] comes to Vegas for the wrong reasons and gets herself in trouble." The former official said it wouldn't be that surprising if local police did not aggressively investigate the young woman's death.
Hatchel's family said she was not romantically involved with Scheetz, who was in the midst of a divorce when Hatchel died, but they acknowledge that she has lived on her own for several years.
"She told her mother earlier in the summer that there had been a job offer, from Scheetz or someone else we do not know at this point,'' Barker said, adding that her granddaughter was a "fun-loving, outgoing'' young woman who was taking lessons to become a pilot.
Police told ABC News the death was handled routinely and properly.
"We did respond but it was handled by the coroner's office," Montoya, the Las Vegas Metro Police spokesman, told ABC News. Montoya said he couldn't recall all the details of the incident but didn't deny that drugs were found in the room, a detail first reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal. The Review Journal attributed the fact that drugs were discovered near her body to a different Las Vegas police spokesman.
"I did have the field supervisor call me that night and explain to me the situation. He said that detectives were en route,'' Montoya said, acknowledging that the detectives were dispatched from the department's violent crimes bureau. "I later on found out they decided it was going to be handled by the coroner's office."
But that's not enough for Hatchel's family.
"We got a list of everything the property administrator turned over [with the body], and there was no cell phone listed,'' Barker said. "What happened to that cell phone? She had it at 3 a.m. when she was calling her friends, when she said she was afraid. Where did it go? It's very suspicious."
Further fueling suspicion among family members is the motivation of a private detective who contacted Hatchel's brother and father after her death and offered to be of assistance, according to Barker. He told the father and son he worked for Scheetz, and offered to pick up Hatchel's property from the county coroner's office and hold it for the family, according to Barker, who contacted a Las Vegas lawyer Tuesday because, she said, she wasn't getting any answers from the local police.
"And we haven't heard a word from Scheetz since this happened,'' Barker said. "Not a single word, no card, no note. Nothing."