Police in western Michigan say the mysterious death of a Canadian woman late last year is a homicide -- stunning members of her Winnipeg-based family who initially thought they were dealing with a suicide.
Lee-Ann Elizabeth Shannon, 34, was found submerged in water in the bathtub of her Hart, Mich., home on Dec. 29. At first, family and friends were told by police and the victim's husband she had apparently overdosed on alcohol and taken her own life.
But the case recently took an unexpected twist when police arrested Timothy Shannon -- a well-respected town councilman -- and accused him of killing his wife while keeping a mistress on the side.
"It seemed like a very loving and caring relationship. So when we found out, we were just... it's just a sad situation all around," Al LaRiviere, the victim's cousin, told the Free Press on Monday from his Winnipeg home.
Lee-Ann had dual citizenship but spent plenty of time in Canada, as both her parents were born and raised in Winnipeg. LaRiviere was one of her closest relatives and would often travel to Michigan to visit. He last saw Lee-Ann in May 2012, where he met her husband for the first time.
"They were both so popular in the community. He was on council, his father is a doctor, his family owns some orchards. And she was like Mother Teresa, she was so popular, so involved in the community, working with underprivileged kids," said LaRiviere.
He couldn't believe the initial report that his cousin had killed herself.
"I just thought, 'How could she do that to her kids?' " he said. Police apparently wondered the same thing as they kept the investigation open, leading to them laying a murder charge against the victim's husband.
Timothy Shannon has already undergone a "preliminary examination" in court in which a judge ruled there was sufficient evidence to take the case to trial. None of the allegations has been proven and he is presumed innocent.
The couple had been married for six years and had a three-year-old daughter and four-year-old son. The children are now being raised by other family members.
"They met while both were going to school at a Christian university in Michigan," said LaRiviere. Lee-Ann's mother, Irene Chaffin, is now residing in Texas after spending much of her life in Winnipeg until her husband, Robert, died.
According to published reports on the court hearing, Timothy confessed to police he held his wife underwater for several minutes until she stopped fighting for her life. He said they had been arguing after Lee-Ann consumed alcohol that night and he demanded a divorce.
His wife was supposed to move out of the home on the day she died.
Police say he then changed his clothes and waited several hours before calling 911 to report his wife had drowned. Police have also identified Timothy's alleged "mistress" as a key witness for the prosecution. The woman, Jamie Hathaway, lived in the same house as the couple between October 2011 and May 2012, where she claims to have had a sexual relationship with Timothy.
No trial dates have been set, and Timothy remains in custody without bail.
LaRiviere said he and other family members scattered across Manitoba and British Columbia will be watching the proceedings closely.