Michelle Lee Murder: Gary McGurk is Serving Prison Time Today

The latest episode of Oxygen’s ‘New York Homicide’ chronicles the gruesome murder of 24-year-old Michelle Lee in her Queens, New York, apartment in late April 2009. She worked as a rookie forensic investigator at the NYPD crime lab, and the authorities quickly nabbed her killer with the help of her diary entries.

How Did Michelle Lee Die?

Michelle Lee, originally of College Point, Queens, graduated with a forensic science degree from John Jay College in 2008. She started working for the New York Police Department in September 2008 as a forensic investigator. The intelligent woman had always dreamed of a career in law enforcement and was well on her way to becoming a top specialist in narcotics investigations by April 2009. Michelle loved her family and resided close to them with a female roommate in a third-floor apartment in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Queens.

She longed to own a pug and possessed the self-confidence to proudly sport “BarBe pink” nail polish, even amidst a challenging, male-dominated field. She not only thrived in this environment but also earned accolades for her academic achievements, earning recognition from her alma mater and New York City’s erstwhile police commissioner, Ray Kelly, who praised her as “exceptionally talented.” Her friends recalled her as a caring, lov­ing, and responsible friend who loved mac and cheese with ketchup, window-shopping, and reality shows on Bravo.

On April 26, 2009, the roommate returned to the apartment after a weekend trip on Sunday night and went straight to her room to sleep. She woke up on the morning of April 27 and decided to wake Michelle since they would be late for work. Both Michelle and her roommate worked in the crime lab. The roommate entered Michelle’s room to find a horrific sight — the 24-year-old unclothed NYPD crime lab worker was tied to the bed in a pool of blood with a knife stuck in her neck. The authorities assumed she had been dead for days.

The landlord of the 43rd Street building, Milenko Mijat, stated, “She (the roommate) came down the stairs screaming. She cried, ‘She’s (Michelle) dead in the bed.'” According to police sources, the victim had also been burned on her belly with an iron, hit on the head, and strangled with the cord of a cell phone charger, apart from the aforementioned injuries. The medical examiner determined the official cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head caused by a hammer. All of the other injuries to her body were done postmortem.

Who Killed Michelle Lee?

Investigators stated there were no signs of forced entry, nothing seemed to be missing, nor were there any signs of a struggle. The absence of bruise marks from the ligature indicated Michelle’s wrists were tied after she died. Even though she was brutally battered, the police found no blood splatter. They photo­graphed the scene and covered Michelle’s hands with bags to preserve trace evidence — things like hair, fiber, skin, and blood that might be caught under her fingernails during a struggle.

The detectives also covered and later swabbed the kitchen knife used to murder Michelle for DNA and cut the material utilized to tie her to the bedpost. However, the knots were left intact to search for the perpetrator’s fibers and skin cells. They checked the apartment’s surveillance system, though the footage was too grainy to identify the male suspect Michelle had met with on the night of the murder. The forensic investigators collected personal items like her diary, computer, and cell phone to pinpoint suspects and a possible motive.

While the forensic evidence retrieved from the crime scene had no match in the national database, the breakthrough came from Michelle’s diary. Entries were men­tioning a relationship with a man named Gary McGurk, a 23-year-old student at her alma mater — John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. One of her last diary entries read, “Dear Journal, My mind is rambling … I’m not ready to lose Gary. I’m trying to figure out the right time to tell him I love him. I truly do.”

The police brought him in for questioning on the evening of April 28 in the interview room of the NYPD’s 108th precinct. Irish-born and scruffily good-looking, Gary was close to earning a degree in forensic psychology, training designed to give insight into the mind of a murderer. The investigators soon realized he had used his police training to throw them off the scent. Forensic experts stated Gary’s statement to the authorities revealed telltale signs of that training and suggested he tried using his knowledge to outsmart his interrogators.

They initially asked non-threatening questions designed to encourage the suspect to share information willingly. Gary discussed his family life and then recounted his interactions with Michelle. He mentioned how he first noticed Michelle in 2004 autumn while she was jogging at the John Jay gym. He asked her out, leading to a brief dating period that eventually evolved into what he described as a “friends with benefits” relationship. He also disclosed that she had provided financial assistance during his periods of unemployment.

Gary resorted to deception, falsely claiming he had stage IV cancer and lacked health insurance to swindle thousands of dollars from her. He falsely asserted that this fictitious cancer had spread to his kidneys, liver, and lungs, and he had stopped taking his medication. An emotional Michelle wrote in her diary, “He’s so brave. I can’t stop thinking. I can’t stop crying. I love him so much. I wish he would get better. I wish I could hold him forever.” However, Gary claimed he was tired of being the distressed lover who owed his life to his partner.

He claimed to have moved on and was in a new relationship on the night of the incident in question, which was corroborated by his new partner. He went on to describe the night of the murder in careful detail­ – his date with his then-girlfriend, including exact times, subway lines, even the cost of a boat ride – but his ac­count became fuzzy at the approxi­mate time of the murder. Gary even claimed he found his line of work upsetting. He stated, “The pictures turn your stomach. It’s too much to handle. I find crime-scene pho­tos and cadavers disturbing.”

However, the police determined that Gary had been inside Michelle’s apartment using his cell phone records. Subsequently, it was discovered that his new partner had provided a false alibi. Gary then alleged he had gone there to retrieve a $500 loan and claimed Michelle was alive when he left her without the money. However, the police had enough physical evidence to charge him with murder and evidence tampering. He was arrested in May 2009 from his mother’s Woodside, Queens, while escaping with a bag of clothes and a passport.

Where is Gary McGurk Now?

The prosecution claimed Garyn tampered with blood evidence and Michelle’s BlackBerry to cover up the crime. They alleged he had also altered the position and inflicted additional injuries to throw the investigators off the scent. A possible motive was Michelle having figured that he had scammed her. Gary pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter and evidence tampering in May 2010 and was sentenced to 29 to 37 years in June 2010. The 37-year-old is incarcerated at the Sullivan Correctional Facility and will be eligible for parole in 2030.

Read More: John Meehan: Who Was He? How Did He Die?

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