In December 2009, Shele Danishefsky Covlin was found dead in her bathtub in her Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan. What was initially ruled an accident turned into a drawn-out investigation and court case. On Friday, June 12, Dateline NBC is featuring the case in an episode titled “Endgame.” Ahead of that episode, here’s what you need to know about Danishefsky’s murder, of which her husband was eventually found guilty — after trying to frame his young daughter for it.
The Initial Accidental Ruling Made the Investigation Extreme Difficult
In December 2009, Danishefsky was found by her then-9-year-old daughter lying facedown in a bathtub full of bloody water. The girl rushed across the hall to her father’s apartment — Roderick Covlin and Danishefsky were estranged but not divorced — and he later told the police that he attempted to revive his wife.
According to the New York Times, when Danishefsky was found floating facedown in her bloody bathtub with a cabinet door hanging nearly off its hinges overhead, the investigators ruled it an accident. Because of that, the police did not dust for fingerprints, collect DNA, secure items to be taken into evidence, or search Covlin’s apartment or the building’s common areas for evidence. They also allowed Danishefsky to be buried without an autopsy, in accordance with her Orthodox Jewish family’s wishes, and they allowed the family’s rabbi to clean the bathroom with bleach, which eliminated any blood evidence that could have been gathered at a later date.
But as the months passed after her death, suspicions grew regarding Covlin, whom Danishefsky had told her sister, Eve Karstaedt, scared her at times because of his “anger and rage,” writing to her that Covlin “really can’t control his temper.” A babysitter also testified at the trial that she once heard Covlin screaming so loudly at his wife that she could hear them in the hallway and that he threw Danishefsky to the floor.
In May 2009, Danishefsky filed for divorce and intended to remove Covlin from her will. The prosecution argued that Covlin killed his wife because she was set to rewrite her will the day after her death and that would have meant Covlin was out $5 million in inheritance.
Eventually, Danishefsky’s family had her body exhumed and in April 2010, a medical examiner ruled that she had been strangled to death.
Covlin Became Increasingly Erratic And Tried to Frame His Daughter for Her Mother’s Murder
As the investigation grew, Covlin’s behavior became increasingly erratic and dangerous. The prosecution argued that he thought having custody of his children — daughter Anna and son Myles — would get him access to the money their mother left them. So when his parents, David and Carol Covlin, became the children’s guardians, he assaulted his mother, attacked his father, laid out plans to kill them, and even tried to get Anna to accuse her grandfather of raping her, which she refused to do.
Prosecutors also demonstrated in court that Covlin plotted to kidnap Anna and take her to Mexico where he could pay someone $10,000 to marry her, which would emancipate her from her grandparents’ guardianship. Finally, in June 2013, he composed a false confession on his daughter’s email account where she admitted to killing her mother in an attempt to frame the then-13-year-old for her mother’s murder.
Covlin Was Eventually Arrested and Charged With Second-Degree Murder
Because there was such a lack of physical evidence, the investigators had to rely largely on circumstantial evidence when building their case against Covlin. But in November 2015, nearly six years after Danishefsky’s death, he was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, according to the New York Times.
He was found guilty in March 2019 and sentenced to 25-years-to-life a month later by Justice Pickholz, who was unmoved by Myles Covlin’s plea to grant his father leniency in his sentence.
“Finally, after nine years, we have justice for our beloved Shele,” said her brother-in-law, Marc Karstaedt, after the trial (via the New York Post). “She was a beautiful person, both inside and out, extraordinary in so many different ways and angelic, and she was brutally murdered in a way that no one could imagine.”
Dateline airs Fridays and Saturdays on NBC.