Almost one year after the jury found Jonathan Nyce guilty of murdering his wife Michelle, on a lesser charge than the victim’s family had hoped for, John Glatt’s paperback book about the case has brought the tale of the once high flying pharmaceutical CEO back into the spotlight.
Titled “Never Leave Me,” the book, published by the True Crime series of St. Martin’s Press, covers what everybody already knew about the case but also answers many lingering questions.
Glatt, a British tabloid journalist who started his book career with biographies of Bill Graham and River Phoenix, has written several other “wife murderer” books — including “One Deadly Night” (about a Kansas state trooper), “Blind Passion” (about a Greek sailor and a divorced wife), “Twisted” (about a Boston doctor who was a transvestite), as well as one about husband-murderer Kristen Rossum called “Deadly Beauty.” Other subjects include Marie Nye (who murdered 8 of her 10 babies under the guise of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), John Edward Robinson (an Internet “slavemaster”), and a lurid account of sex-torturer David Ray, called “Cries in the Desert.”
In 1995 Nyce had founded EpiGenesis, a company that is operating under new funding and leadership on Eastpark Boulevard at Exit 8A. When his company foundered, he lost his job and the marriage deteriorated. In January, 2004, he confronted his wife who was returning from a tryst. Nyce claimed her death was an accident and that he tried to cover it up by driving her, in her car, into a creek. He was convicted in 2005 of “passion provocation manslaughter” instead of murder, and could be eligible for parole in five years. It was the biggest crime case to hit Hopewell Township since the kidnaping of the Lindbergh baby.
After interviewing nearly 50 people, Glatt was able to lay bare some of the disparities (they could be called deceptions) in the biographical information that the Nyces had disseminated.
For instance: Nyce told U.S. 1 in 1999, in an anecdote that was widely quoted later, that his father had invented the first machine to make pantyhose but lacked the financial resources to capitalize on it.
Yet Glatt quotes Nyce’s father, Jonathan Jr., as saying only that he ran a 96-machine hosiery mill. “I guess you could say I designed things, and I made special stockings for showgirls.” But concerning the pantyhose machine, the 80-year-old father says wistfully, “I doubt that I invented it.”
Glatt offers some psychologically revealing details: The oldest of four boys, Jonathan played basketball at Methacton High School (Class of 1968) in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and was tall, ungainly, and shy around girls. He was always interested in science and co-founded an Explorer troop that focused on criminology — the lawyer’s work, not police work. Once, in an attempt to study anatomy by constructing a skeleton, he boiled a raccoon’s carcass on the kitchen stove to extract the bones.
The first in his family to attend college, it took him eight years to work his way through Temple University.
Glatt reveals that Nyce had been married before — to an orthodox Jewish woman. It lasted seven years.
Nyce wanted to earn a place in medical history, Glatt theorizes, and he quotes from an article that Nyce freelanced for Philadelphia magazine. Nyce wrote about how “solemn portraits of the University of Pennsylvania’s past medical greats line the wide, polished corridors and lavish staircases of the old medical school. Between classes a procession of students and faculty traverse the great stretches of hall, and small groups collect beneath one or other of the gilt edge frames to exchange notes.”
From 1983 to 1987 Nyce worked at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and the California-based Kenneth Norris Cancer Center, treating young leukemia patients. In 1987 he began to teach at East Carolina University (ECU), where a colleague described him as a “gentle giant,” and “something of an enigma.” He changed his focus from cancer to asthma when he and three other colleagues began working on “knockout genes” to use genetic methods to cure diseases.
Glatt quotes an official at ECU to explain the controversy over the rights to the patent with which Nyce founded EpiGenesis in 1985 and says that, at 39, Nyce had “everything going for him professionally but remained a complete failure in his personal life.” Nyce would soon marry Mechily “Michelle” Riviera, who, it is now generally accepted, was a “mail order bride.” She corresponded with Nyce for a long time from her home in the Philippines but met him only the week before the wedding. Nyce had lied to her about his age and sent her a picture of himself as a younger man. He, in fact, was 40; she was 21.
“Spending more time with venture capitalists and presenting medical papers, Dr. Nyce was now rarely in the ECU laboratory. He loved all the attention and was generally a good spokesperson for his company, although he was not above embellishing the truth when he felt it necessary,” writes Glatt. His “obsessive need for control would be his downfall in the years to come, but at the moment many were seduced by his charismatic and passionate ‘mad scientist’ persona.”
“By the summer of 1997, EpiGenesis started to take off in a big way, and Michelle was feeling neglected. The only person who suspected anything was wrong with Michelle was her husband’s faithful research assistant, Sherry Leonard.” Nyce had hired Leonard as his technician when he came to ECU. Leonard “began to worry that her boss’s wife might think she and Jonathan had become romantically involved, when nothing could be further from the truth.”
Mezunich, a New York-based asset management company, invested $5 million and orchestrated the company’s 1998 move to 5,000 square feet on Eastpark Boulevard in Cranbury. “Dr. Nyce looked every inch the CEO with expensive made-to-measure suits and a growing collection of brightly colored designer ties,” Glatt writes. In 2000 the company expanded to 20,000 square feet and the Nyces moved from Sayre Drive to an expensive home in Hopewell.
The promise of Nyce’s asthma drug faded, and the investment climate soured after 9/11. New investment came from Care Capital, based on Nassau Street, but Nyce found himself out of a job. He got two year’s pay plus benefits, but bills piled up. Glatt does not say whether Nyce tried to find work, only that he devoted himself to such pursuits as writing a children’s book and devising a perfume for a company that he planned for Michelle to start.
Glatt quotes Amanda Gillum, former vice president of operations at EpiGenesis; Anthony Sandrasaga, another former Epigenesis executive; and an unnamed employee at EpiGenesis, who was hired to conduct clinical trials. He also interviewed Roz Clancy, the mother of one of the Nyce children’s classmates who also ran a modeling agency. According to Glatt, Clancy had offered to book Michelle for modeling jobs but Jonathan, jealous, forbade her to model. Glatt chronicles each day of the trial, telling the tactics of the attorneys and how they fared under the gavel of Judge Bill Mathesius.
Other sources were personal and professional friends in North Carolina, Andy and Cynthia Sjamsu (neighbors of the Nyces on Sayre Drive), Larisa Soos (Michelle’s best friend), Miguel deJesus (Michelle’s lover who worked at Ostrich Nursery in Robbinsville), Amy Sumayang (a co-worker of Michelle’s at Macy’s cosmetics department), Gary Jodha (the attorney who represented Michelle’s lover), Jean and Keith Larini (friends of the Nyces), various police officers, and various friends of both families.
Glatt devotes an entire chapter to Nyce’s attorney, Robin Lord, “the consummate performer in the courtroom, providing juries with many a Perry Mason moment. Robin Lord knew that ultimately she would have to put Michelle Nyce’s lifestyle on the stand . . . That would be the only way Jonathan Nyce would win.”
One such Perry Mason moment came, in front of the jury, when Lord began to unpack Michele’s large suitcase, stuffed with G-string thongs, lingerie, and bras. “Up until now there had always been a mystique about the contents of the case found in the back of the Land Cruiser. Now, as she asked a detective to open it, most of the jurors were on their feet, trying to get a better look. The only person not amused was the judge.” He accused Lord of turning the courtroom into a yard sale.
Repeatedly, Mathesius chided Lord for histrionics. “To a flurry of successful objections by the prosecuting attorney, Lord finally threw up her arms in frustration at the judge’s repeated rulings against her. The jury is seeing pathos appearing on your face, Miss Lord,’ chided Judge Mathesius. ‘Be a little more stoic. This is not Drama one-o-one.’”
Sometimes, says Glatt, Lord rolled her eyes out of Mathesius’s sight — but then, so did the pathologist called by the prosecution. “During the judge’s lengthy directive, Dr. Raafat Ahmad sat in the witness box, rolling her eyes and shaking her head in disagreement at the jurors. And this spectacle, which could have led to a mistrial, went unseen by Judge Mathesius.”
Glatt describes Mathesius, “presiding over what would be his final criminal case. The 65-year-old judge bore more than a passing resemblance to Warren Beatty, with his carefully blown-back gray hair and black robes.” According to the judge himself, he had been hand-picked to preside over Robin Lord’s cases. “They wanted her not to be able to play one judge off another.” Judge Mathesius said he personally liked Robin Lord, and respected her professionally. “‘I enjoy her,’ he said. ‘I think she’s very bright, but I don’t know that she enjoys me as much. She goes as far as you’ll let her.’ And there would be many skirmishes between the two.”
Glatt interviewed Judge Mathesius about the pivotal points of the trial. Lord made three pre-trial motions and all were denied,
But the judge granted Lord’s request to have the jury tour the site of the crime, Jacobs Creek, and he upheld Lord’s objection to introducing, as evidence, the baseball bat found in the garage, in what Glatt calls “a rare victory for the defense.”