Wealthy Grandmother Charged in Law Professor’s Murder Was ‘Conductor’ of Dentist Family, Feuded With Murder Victim Over Kosher Meals for Grandkids

Donna Adelson, now in jail awaiting trial for the contract murder of Dan Markel, would feed Markel’s children McDonald’s cheeseburgers, in defiance of Jewish dietary laws, according to Markel’s mother.

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Donna Adelson, 73 and shown in court, is charged with the contract murder of her former son-in-law, the celebrated law professor Dan Markel. Courtroom Feed

Donna Adelson is not one to sit idly by. That’s according to the grieving mother of the late Dan Markel. And it’s likely prosecutors will try to convince a jury of that same narrative when 73-year-old Donna, now sitting in a Florida county jail, heads to trial in September for Dan’s contract killing.

Dan – a Harvard-trained law professor – was shot to death in the driveway of his Tallahassee, Florida, home in July of 2014. At the time, he was caught in a nasty custody battle with his ex-wife, Wendi, who is Donna Adelson’s daughter. 

Fast forward to today, and four people have been convicted in the killing of the observant Jewish professor, who studied the role of retribution in criminal justice. The latest person convicted is the millionaire traveling periodontist, Charlie Adelson, who is Wendi’s brother and Donna’s son. He was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of hiring Latin Kings hitmen to kill Dan. Those two hitmen – Luis Rivera and Sigfredo Garcia – were previously convicted in the murder, along with Katie Magbanua, Garcia’s common-law wife and Charlie’s then-girlfriend, who prosecutors said was the connection between the wealthy, respectable Adelsons and the criminal element who would carry out the murder.

Now, Donna is in the hot seat after being charged, almost ten years later, of conspiring with Charlie and others to kill Dan. The charges against her include first-degree murder, conspiracy, and solicitation — the exact charges successfully brought against her son. Shortly after Charlie’s conviction, she was arrested on November 13, 2023, while trying to board, alongside her dentist husband, Harvey, a Miami flight to Vietnam via the United Arab Emirates. It’s worth noting that neither Vietnam nor the United Arab Emirates have an extradition treaty with the U.S.

Donna Adelson makes a court appearance in jailhouse garb after her arrest. Courtroom feed

Prosecutors, who’d long been circling Donna, had rushed to arrest her earlier than planned after recordings of jailhouse phone calls with Charlie revealed she was considering suicide or fleeing the country.

When it’s her time to stand trial on September 30, prosecutors will aim to convince a jury that Donna was motivated to seek Dan’s demise because of her desire for control over her family and animosity towards Dan. 

During the divorce proceedings, Dan was deploying his considerable legal skills to assiduously block Wendi from moving with their two young sons to her family stomping ground of Miami, an at least eight hour drive from Dan’s job in far less glamorous Tallahassee. As tensions increased with Donna, and Danny came to believe she was poisoning his relationship with his sons, he  requested that a judge issue a protective order that would require Donna to be supervised when visiting her grandchildren. Contemporaneous messages between Donna and Wendi reveal that Donna was enraged by Dan’s maneuvers.

To further examine the case that will likely be made against Donna this fall, Court TV anchor Vinnie Politan recently spoke with a variety of guests on his “Closing Arguments with Vinnie Politan” podcast. Last week, he spoke with Dan’s Canadian mother, Ruth Markel.

Dan Markel and Wendy Adelson, married for six years, feuded until the end. File Photo.

“Donna was the major interference,” Ruth said of her son’s growing rift with Wendi prior to their divorce and nasty custody battle. “This is not a normal relationship now. It’s like Princess Diana said, ‘There were 3 in the marriage.’”

In detailing some of the events that led to the couple’s split, Ruth talked about how Wendi and Donna began to go behind Dan’s back to give the couple’s two children foods “that are not a part of the Jewish dietary law.” And Donna allegedly proved to be particularly menacing when it came to feeding the children a non-kosher diet.

“When Wendi and Danny had agreements to take kosher food to the daycare, Donna was the one who came in and said, ‘Don’t bother giving them tofu hot dogs, don’t do that,’ and then she takes them to McDonald’s and gives them cheeseburgers.”

Eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger would violate multiple Jewish dietary laws: eating in an religiously unclean establishment, eating meat that was not butchered according to kosher laws, and mixing milk (cheese) and meat, which is proscribed.

Wendy Adelson, ex-wife of Dan Markel, testifying at her brother’s murder trial. Courtroom Feed

Ruth, the author of “The Unveiling: A Mother’s Reflection on Murder, Grief, and Trial Life,” went on to say that Donna “liked to call the shots” and “organized all of the activities of the families.”

“I would say, if you were writing a symphony, [Donna] wrote the score,” Ruth explained. “She was the conductor, and she also played everybody’s instrument, so I think that you’re not dealing with a normal rift in a relationship.”

Another podcast guest who spoke about Donna’s potential motivations for Dan’s killing was Carl Steinbeck – a former prosecutor and defense attorney who shares criminal case commentary on his YouTube Channel Jury Trial Mentor. He commented on emails sent from Donna to Wendi after Wendi’s petition to relocate her and Dan’s children was denied. 

At the time, Wendi was trying to move the children from Tallahassee to Miami – where the rest of the Adelson family lived – but “the court [did] not find that the wife [had] met the burden of proof that a relocation [was] in the best interest of the minor children.” Instead, “the court [ordered] the parties to mediation to resolve the remaining issues pending final hearing in this case” which was set for July 31 and Aug. 1 of 2013. The resulting email from Donna allegedly read as follows:

Charlie Adelson is shown in court receiving a life sentence for orchestrating the contract murder of Dan Markel. Courtroom Feed

“It’s time to take control of your life and not let [Markel] think he’s just ‘won’ anything by having you remain in Tallahassee, eight hours away from the only family you have, and lose out on what will be a job that will afford you and your children advantages that they will never otherwise be able to enjoy.

“Let’s show this [expletive] what will make him absolutely miserable. You know his weak points; money, religion, control.

“You have 5 weeks before your court date. I know you have a hob (sic) that keeps you very busy. However, the rest of your life, and consequently, dad’s mine and yes, even Charlie’s, will be affected by how well you can perform/act before July 31st.

“You can be a good actress when you want to. I’ve seen you in action. You need to put on the performance of your life! [Markel] hasn’t beaten the Adelson family yet.”

Donna Adelson, in chains, at a court proceeding. Courtroom Feed

Mr. Steinbeck said this email correspondence showed “a level of hatred and the desperation, really, [that the Adelsons] had to win this case.”

“The Adelsons had to win against Dan, and they were gonna lose badly against this judge,” Mr. Steinbeck said on the podcast. “This judge was gonna see through exactly what kind of shenanigans Wendi was playing.

“She was not acting in the best interest of the children. I think Dan went into a lot of good details explaining how he was denied the first right of refusal for visitation for the two boys and so you get this whole flavor that things were just really being viciously and intentionally directed against Dan just to really get under his skin, just really to upset him.”

Mr. Steinbeck went on to say that “the irony” of it all was that Donna and her wealthy dentist husband, Harvey, who were selling their practice and had time and flexibility, “could have easily moved up to Tallahassee” if they wanted to be closer to the children and make things simpler. 

Hitmen Sigfredo Garcia, the father of Katie Magbanua’s two children, and Luis Rivera, a high-ranking member of the Latin Kings. File Photos

“They [were] pretty much ready to wind up their [dental] practice and whatnot,” Mr. Steinbeck said of the couple at the time. “Instead of doing that, they thought it’s better to kill Dan Markel to get the kids down there, and everything worked beautifully for many years for them that way.”

Katie Magbanua, Charlie Adelsen’s ex-girlfriend, convicted of Dan Markel’s murder, testified against Adelsen. Courtroom feed. Courtroom Feed

Even though he believes Donna played a “key role” in how everything went down, Mr. Steinbeck did say he thought Wendi was at the root of the bitterness that led to the ensuing disaster.

“I think Donna had more the uncontrolled rage towards Dan, but Wendi was the one that was feeding her all the details to get her to that point of rage and to the point of wanting to get Dan murdered and executed in his own garage,” Mr. Steinbeck explained. “So, if you really think about who is starting the whole chain of events it was really Wendi more than anybody.”

In text messages with her mother, after Charlie’s conviction, that were made public, Wendi coldly wrote to Donna that “I’m not responsible in any way for Charlie’s situation. I am not guilty because I did not do anything wrong and I was not involved in any way with Danny’s death.” 

Wendi Adelson has not been charged in Dan’s murder, and neither has her father, Harvey. All prosecutors will say is that the investigation is still ongoing.


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