In September, a military veteran went missing and was found dead in Kentucky, his body riddled with bullets.
Months later, his estranged wife was also found dead with a gunshot wound outside the couple’s former home some 25 miles away in Tennessee, a terse, cryptic, and remorseful letter left by her body.
Friends of the dead man have speculated that the two deaths are linked, but authorities have kept a low profile.
Michael Harding, a 53-year-old Army and Navy veteran, was last seen alive on September 20, 2022, according to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee. A Timestamp image his black pickup truck took him to the Bowling Green area of Kentucky on the day of his disappearance. Friends immediately reported his absence.
At the time of Harding’s disappearance, Deputy Chief of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office Rick Lisa said in an interview with AM radio station WUCT that there is no suspicion of foul play.
Six days later, however, Harding was there found dead with multiple gunshot wounds at a residence in Cumberland County, Kentucky.
The house didn’t belong to him – and it was otherwise empty.
An apparent break in the case came on December 8, 2022, when Thomas Francis O’Donnell, 60, was arrested and charged with Harding’s murder. O’Donnell, who is from Napa, California, was arrested at Sacramento International Airport just as he was about to board a plane to Tennessee. He has allegedly waived extradition to Kentucky.
The same day, Harding’s estranged wife, Julie Vernan HardingThe 49-year-old was also arrested, but not in connection with Harding’s death. Tennessee police charged her with stalking and burglary. Earlier this October, she was seen on a Ring cam from a home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, whispering to her late husband’s dog: charliebefore putting a leash around his neck and walking him away.
The TV station later reported that in the house where the dog was stolen, Netflix accounts were hacked: profile pictures were changed and various other accounts on the device were deleted.
The dog had stayed with the woman who was dating Michael Harding at the time of his death. This emerges from a report by the local news channel KCRAThere had been arguments about when and where she would give the dog to her late friend’s wife.
Two days after her arrest, Julie Harding apparently committed suicide. Her body was found in the front yard near the driveway of the home in Celina, Tennessee, that she and her husband bought two years ago. According to Clay County Sheriff’s comments brian boone and reports from Sacramento-based CBS affiliate KPIX, a postman, and “another man” were the first to find them. She died from a single gunshot wound, the sheriff said. No foul play is suspected.
Like O’Donnell, Julie Harding has a connection to California: at the time of her death, she was a Yuba Sutter commanding officer and captain of the California Highway Patrol, where she had worked since 1999. She assumed her leadership role in 2018. The agency has told various media outlets that she was on leave when she died.
Police have not commented on whether assassination was behind Michael Harding’s death or what O’Donnell’s alleged motive for the alleged murder was.
However, Michael Harding’s friends seem to think the man’s estranged wife is to blame.
At the time of his disappearance, Michael Harding was a best man in PrestonClearyupcoming wedding. On the day he went missing, he was on his way to pick up his tuxedo but stopped to make a service call for the heating and air conditioning business he owned. He never made it to the tuxedo shop.
“Mike was a good man,” Cleary told KCRA this week. “He didn’t deserve what happened to him. He was [an] ‘Integrity through the roof’ type. He couldn’t lie. He would always please everyone.”
He told the TV network he was shocked to learn his friend was the victim of such a crime, but also felt bad to learn Michael Harding had disappeared.
“Deep down, I knew we wouldn’t find Mike alive,” Cleary said.
The couple’s deaths less than four months apart has rocked three states, prompting investigations by numerous local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. O’Donnell was arrested with the help of the FBI.
Law enforcement officials have not speculated as to the cause of Julie Harding’s death, and a message left with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office was not returned in time for release.
However, sources have told KCRA that authorities are working to determine how the Hardings’ deaths are linked. According to the Los Angeles Times, investigators are focusing their efforts on whether O’Donnell targeted Michael Harding in an assassination attempt, citing a “source familiar with the Kentucky investigation and not authorized to speak publicly.” Julie Harding is said to be connected to the conspiracy, this source told the newspaper.
Cleary has said he believes Julie Harding hired a hitman to kill her husband.
“I think it was months of planning,” Cleary recently told WBKO. “He was afraid for you know his life because his doors were chained, they were braced. Like you want to keep someone out. And I think he knew what she was capable of.”
Cleary said the Hardings had a variety of marital problems and that Michael had asked Julie Harding for a divorce.
According to a still grieving Cleary, Julie Harding had left a note that read, “Mike I think you win.”
[images: Julie Harding via California Highway Patrol; Michael Harding via Clay County Sheriff’s Office]
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https://lawandcrime.com/crime/mike-i-guess-you-win-california-cop-found-dead-days-after-being-arrested-in-tennessee-and-months-after-her-estranged-husband-was-found-shot-to-death-in-kentucky/ The mysterious deaths of Michael and Julie Harding