-- Using an iPad, Valerie McDaniel started an audio diary to record her deepest thoughts. In her entries, the 48-year-old talked about her daughter, her dating adventures as a new divorcee -- and a dark secret.
“I hate the idea that everybody thinks I’m a monster,” McDaniel says in the recording she made on March 15, 2017.
And in her last recording made on March 25, McDaniel says, “I never wanted to hurt anyone.”
McDaniel was a veterinarian living in a two-bedroom condo at a luxury high-rise in the wealthy Houston neighborhood of River Oaks. When she wasn’t treating animals at the veterinary clinic she owned, friends and colleagues said McDaniel spent weekends on Tiki Island near Galveston, where she regularly hosted friends at her beach home.
She had been married to her business partner, Marion “Mack” McDaniel, but the two divorced after 17 years together and agreed to share custody of their now 9-year-old daughter. Friends said she was miserable in the marriage and her husband was never around.
“She would be very hurt by her husband,” said Dr. Brittany King, a veterinarian who worked for Valerie McDaniel. “It would be… a text or a phone call and then she would be in tears, and it’s so hard to watch someone in that much pain.”
She was largely unhappy until she was introduced to Leon Jacob, the now 40-year-old son of her neighbor and divorce attorney.
“I was completely turned off immediately by his attitude,” McDaniel recalled in a diary entry about meeting Jacob for the first time. “I was drawn to him but disgusted at the same time.”
But eventually, Jacob won her over. When they were first intimate, McDaniel recalled in a diary entry that, “it was like a movie moment… It was the most passionate, romantic moment in my life.”
Jacob moved into her condo and the two began living together early this year. In an interview with “20/20,” Jacob said they cooked together, even shared bank accounts and told people they were getting married.
But on March 27, McDaniel jumped off her seventh-floor balcony to her death. She left behind multiple notes detailing her final wishes and recorded her final words on her iPad, saying, “I have two great loves in my life -- I have my daughter, I have Leon.”
“It was just as much of a shock to me as it was to everybody else around her,” Jacob said. “There was nothing wrong.”
McDaniel's friends said they had a bad feeling about Jacob.
"[He was] very arrogant and full of himself," said her longtime friend Maggie Whitley, "I've just never seen anything quite like that... I've got a pretty strong intuition about people, and I did not feel good about it. And I let her know that."
It turns out some of Jacob's past relationships were tumultuous, including the one he had with his ex-wife, Annie Jacob. Leon Jacob recalled that relationship as having many highs and lows.
“We would fight, fight, fight, and love, love, love, fight, fight, fight, love, love, love,” Jacob said of his ex-wife. “It was one of those relationships that people are like, ‘God, they're crazy, but they're their crazy, and we love that.’”
After 11 years of marriage, Annie Jacob filed for divorce in 2013 and later pressed charges against him for aggravated stalking and intimidation. Court documents obtained by ABC News say he made calls, sent texts and emails, threatening to inflict bodily harm. But Jacob said it was blown out of proportion.
“Attempted cyber harassment is what I plead guilty to,” Jacob said. “She went a little overboard with her complaints about me.”
Jacob served probation for attempted cyber stalking and the other charges were dismissed.
Jacob moved to Ohio and entered another residency program there, but a superior said he lied about patient care following surgery and lacked medical knowledge overall. He was eventually terminated from the program.
Then in 2012, Jacob was arrested for allegedly burglarizing the home of a hospital administrator in Ohio. He pleaded guilty to criminal trespass.
By 2016, Jacob was in financial straits, filing for bankruptcy. He had also moved back to Houston and began dating a woman named Meghan.
This January, police were called to their home after an incident. Meghan claimed that during an argument, Jacob grabbed her face with enough force to wound her lip. According to the police report, Jacob admitted to putting his hand over her mouth.
Once again, Jacob recalled things differently.
“I didn’t put my hand on her physically,” he told “20/20.” “I never touched her, and subsequently, that charge has been dropped because there was no evidence.”
The assault charge was eventually dropped, but in February, Jacob was charged with stalking Meghan at her workplace after she had ended their relationship. He admitted to “20/20” that at the time, he had “kept on pursuing her for a little bit” and claimed he was “waiting” for Meghan when police were called.
At the same time he was being charged with stalking his ex-girlfriend, Jacob was already living with Valerie McDaniel.
If he were to be convicted of the stalking charge, it might very well jeopardize his chances of getting a license to practice medicine. According to authorities, Jacob allegedly came up with a plot to make Meghan disappear in order to have the stalking charge dropped.
Police said Jacob gave $5,000, two Cartier watches and a laptop to a former U.S. Army sergeant and Purple Heart recipient, who went by the alias “Zach,” as payment for a hit on Meghan.
Police say Zach did take the money and disappeared, never carrying out the hit.
When Jacob could not find Zach, police say Jacob reached out to bail bondsman Michael Kubosh for help in locating him. Kubosh had not only gotten Jacob out of jail on bond after the stalking charge, but once put up bond for Zach on an unrelated matter.
“He [Jacob] said, ‘I’ve paid him [Zach] a lot of money to take care of a matter,’” Kubosh told “20/20.” “And I said, ‘To take care of what?’ He said, ‘I want her out of the picture.’ … and he wanted to send her out of town.”
“The way he talked to me, I felt like I was talking to Satan himself,” Kubosh added. “All of this alarmed me.”
Kubosh, who is also a city councilmember in Houston, said he immediately called his police contacts and Meghan was taken to a safe house.
Police tracked down Zach, who they said admitted that Jacob hired him to kill Meghan, and they convinced him to cooperate with their investigation. With police listening in and instructing him on what to say, Zach called Jacob and -- following a storyline provided by police -- told him he had outsourced the hit job to another hitman. That so-called hitman was actually an undercover officer named Javier.
“The reason that we wanted Zach out of the picture and for me to replace Zach as the "hitman" was just to … collect evidence and be able to capture the conversation on audio and or video,” Javier told “20/20.”
But as Zach was talking with Jacob on that phone call, authorities say Jacob raised the stakes.
“When they’re talking on the phone, Leon says, ‘Are they going to take care of both issues?’” said Harris County Assistant District Attorney Nathan Moss.
That’s when police say it was first revealed to them that a second hit was being requested -- one that targeted Valerie McDaniel’s ex-husband, Mack McDaniel.
“Upon hearing that, I was shocked that Leon wanted two people killed, and that his girlfriend Valerie would also be involved,” Javier said.
According to Moss, Jacob and Valerie McDaniel met up with Zach and Javier at an Olive Garden restaurant to finalize the plan.
“This is where I first get to meet Leon and Valerie,” Javier said. “This is where I get to read Leon, what type of person he is, and it was very obvious to me during that first meeting that Leon was serious about killing Meghan and Mack.”
“Leon told me that he believed that Valerie's ex-husband was a really bad person, he mistreated Valerie. He was bringing a lot of pressure on Valerie by attempting to take their daughter away,” Javier added.
At one point during the meal, authorities say Zach and Jacob stepped outside for a cigarette break, leaving McDaniel and Javier, the undercover officer, alone together at the table.
“He finally gets her to say that she does, in fact, want him [Mack] to be killed,” said prosecutor Samantha Knecht. “She actually turns over what kind of car he drives, where he can be found, where he lives, and gives some pretty personal details so that Javier knows where to find him.”
“And that's when he said, ‘Well, if you want that done, it's going to be another $10,000,’” she continued. “And Valerie said, ‘Ok, I have to pay you out in installments of it, but I'll pay you $10,000.’”
Prosecutors say Valerie McDaniel had taken out a $1.2 million loan to buy out her ex-husband’s share of the veterinarian clinic as part of their divorce settlement so money was tight for her at the time.
Police tipped off Mack McDaniel about the alleged hit. Working with authorities, Mack McDaniel agreed to pose for photos that would make it appear like he had been murdered in a carjacking gone wrong. A fake bullet wound was fashioned on his head and he was photographed slumped over the wheel of a car.
Authorities asked Jacob’s ex-girlfriend Meghan to pose for similar photos. She agreed and was photographed by officers as if she had been kidnapped -- tied up to a chair with zip ties binding her wrists and ankles with duct tape over her mouth.
“Leon would tell me he wanted Meghan kidnapped and scared to the point where she would leave town and never come back,” Javier said. “Leon kept using the word ‘disappear.’ He would say, ‘I want her gone. I want her to go away forever.’ And I took that to understand he wanted her dead.”
The photos were taken to prove to Jacob and Valerie McDaniel that the "hit" on Mack McDaniel had taken place. Javier said he called Jacob to tell him he had “news” for him. He said Jacob asked him to come over to Valerie McDaniel’s condo. Upon arriving, Javier said, “She [Valerie] gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I did find it a little unusual.”
After hearing from the "hitman" that Mack was “gone”, Javier says, “I then ask Leon if he wanted to see a picture and he told me he did not want to see anything.”
But then, police say Leon handed over $1,800 in cash to Javier – partial payment for the job.
Later that same night, Javier said he got back in touch with Leon to tell him that Meghan was dead as well.
The charade continued with officers showing up at Valerie McDaniel’s condo later that day to tell her that her ex-husband had been found dead. Jacob was also in the apartment at the time.
The officers were armed with body cameras to capture the couple’s reaction.
According to police, the two feigned shock over the news and Jacob offered up an alibi about the couple’s whereabouts -- even before officers asked them. Having seen enough, they arrested McDaniel and Jacob on solicitation of capital murder charges.
Before Valerie McDaniel was taken into custody, officers allowed her to retrieve her daughter, who was in her bedroom at the condo at the time, and hand her off to her ex-husband waiting in the hallway, who, she had just been told, was in fact very much alive.
Three days after she was arrested, Valerie McDaniel was released on $50,000 bond. She visited some friends but mostly confined herself to her apartment, recording her final thoughts on her iPad.
“I didn’t wake up one day and just say, ‘Hey, I want to kill my ex-husband,’” McDaniel says in an entry. “I didn’t really want to do it.”
But prosecutors say McDaniel did want to go through with having her ex-husband killed and confessed to hiring the hitman after her arrest when she was with officers in the hallway of her condo.
“They keep having to tell her to speak up,” Moss said. “And they say things like, ‘So you wanted your husband killed? You can't nod. You have to say yes,’ and she'd be like, ‘Yes, that's what I wanted.’”
But her friend Maggie Whitley said she believes McDaniel never would have ordered an alleged hit without Jacob’s influence.
“It's something that happened to her. I truly believe that,” Whitley said. “This was not something that she would've ever done.”
According to Whitley, during Jacob and McDaniel's roughly eight weeks of dating, Whitley only saw her friend one time. She also said McDaniel told her there was a “constant barrage of hatred” from Jacob about McDaniel’s ex-husband. McDaniel’s former colleague Dr. Brittany King said Jacob used to answer McDaniel’s phone for her.
Jacob denies keeping McDaniel from her friends.
“When you’re first in a new relationship… you kind of isolate yourself… with each other,” he said.
Jacob has now been in the Harris County Jail in Houston for almost seven months, awaiting trial on charges of stalking and hiring a hitman. He has pleaded not guilty. He refused to talk about the details of the case during a jailhouse interview with “20/20” but denied all wrongdoing.
“I am innocent of these charges. I still maintain that throughout,” Jacob said. “I find them to be atrocious in manner because I'm not some monster that wanted my ex-girlfriend killed and her ex-husband… I’m a healer by nature.”
Jacob said he does not feel responsible for McDaniel’s suicide, saying “That was a decision she made on her own.”
“She had so much pressure on her,” he added. “And I wasn’t there to help support her.”
Jacob asked a judge to allow him to attend McDaniel’s funeral but his request was denied. His request to be released on bond was also denied.
Jacob’s defense attorney George Parnham say the police overstepped their bounds and accuses them of entrapment.
“They [the police] were active players in this whole solicitation of capital murder,” Parnham said.
Parnham also said Valerie McDaniel was to blame and that if it weren’t for her, his client wouldn’t be behind bars.
“Valerie was extremely instrumental in the… situation that lands my client in jail,” he said.
As for Jacob, he plans to keep fighting, as he has done all his life.
“I’ve been knocked down a bunch in my life, and I always got back up,” he said.