Larry Isenberg and his wife Laurcene, known as Lori, had a relationship their friends envied.
Married for 17 years, there was rarely any cause for tension between the pair, apart from Isenberg perhaps being a little over-generous in giving money to her six daughters from a previous relationship. But she had a salary of her own, so it was hers to give away.
She worked at North Idaho Housing Coalition, a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing affordable homes for low-income families. As the executive director with access to up to $3 million (£2.2 million) in grant funding every year, Isenberg played a big role.
The couple shared a love of fishing, so on the chilly morning of 13 February 2018, Larry and Isenberg took out a boat on Lake Coeur d’Alene, in North Idaho.
Mid-morning, Isenberg called police in a panic. She reported that two hours earlier, 68-year-old Larry had fallen overboard while he was trying to fix the boat’s motor. She said that as he leaned over, he’d fallen in – and she’d tried to grab him but she’d tripped over and struck her head.
She claimed she hadn’t reported it earlier as she was trying to find him and had left her phone back on land. A huge search was launched.
Isenberg went on to say that Larry had been feeling unwell lately and believed he might have suffered a medical episode that caused him to fall overboard.
She said Larry had looked “grey” and “awful” leading up to the boating trip, and texts from Larry to friends said he’d had flu and might have suffered from a “mini-stroke”. But no one had seen him ill – and one of his messages contained an emoji, which he never used.
For the next few days, rescuers tried to find Larry but sonar efforts were delayed because of choppy water and cold weather. Isenberg tried to help narrow the search but rescuers described her as being “ditzy” and “silly”. They soon became suspicious of Isenberg’s version of events – and she was about to get even more attention from the law.
Not long before Larry went missing, an accountant working for North Idaho Housing Coalition found cheques forged by Isenberg. The company investigated and found that she had stolen $579,000 (£421,000) from them over the course of three years, even going so far as to set up fake businesses to steal the money with the help of some of her children.
So on 26 February, just 13 days after the ill-fated boating trip, Isenberg was arrested and charged with 40 counts of forgery and one count of grand theft. Rather than stick around to prove her innocence, she skipped bail, only handing herself in three months later.
Meanwhile, on 1 March, Larry’s body was finally found in the lake. It was thought an autopsy would reveal that he’d drowned – but the results were shocking.
There were no signs that Larry had suffered a stroke or had drowned. He had, in fact, died from a drug overdose. Tests revealed there were lethal levels of diphenhydramine – or the over-the-counter antihistamine Benadryl – in his system.
As well as treating allergies, the antihistamine can also cause drowsiness and is used as a sleep aid. When taken correctly, between 100 and 1,000 nanograms per millilitre of blood would be detected. But there were 7,100 nanograms in Larry’s system – a deadly dose.
Over the next few months, investigators tried to determine what had happened to Larry. In the meantime, Isenberg was facing the
In early 2019 she pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud, saying she had stolen the money to help her struggling children. She was sentenced to five years in prison, while four of her daughters would later be convicted on conspiracy charges, as funds were distributed to them. But there was still a very big loose end. Larry’s death was determined to be unlawful and investigators found a trail of disturbing evidence.
Just one month before Larry’s death, his will had handwritten changes on it that altered the amounts his and Isenberg’s children would receive. Larry’s children were due just 20%, while Isenberg’s got 80%.
With Isenberg’s known history of fraud, was she responsible?
Police also discovered that after Isenberg’s company had confronted her before Larry’s death, she’d started looking up information on the internet for drowning, water depths, currents and boating accidents.
The week Larry died, she’d also cancelled the local newspaper delivery to the house – a paper that had heard about her theft and was planning to publish an article about it. Then, in the days after the fateful boat trip, Isenberg had liquidated all of their joint accounts and transferred other community properties to herself, her daughters and her sister.
The money was a compelling motive – Isenberg feared that if Larry found out about her stealing, he would have divorced her and
kept some, if not all, of their jointly owned property worth around $1.5 million (£1.1 million). She needed him gone.
Last year, Isenberg was charged with first-degree murder by use of poison – a charge that would carry the death penalty.
In February this year, she admitted second-degree murder with an Alford plea. It allowed her to maintain her innocence while acknowledging she would likely be found guilty if the case went to trial.
Prosecutors described Isenberg as “manipulative and cunning”. They said that she was smart, persuasive and resourceful, enabling her to live a double life and embezzle more than half a million dollars from her employer. But everyone had been on the cusp of finding out about her fraudulent activities.
Prosecutors said experiments proved that Larry’s body could not have entered the water where his wife said it did. Instead, she
must have put Larry in the water and lied about where he’d fallen into the lake. While the prosecution couldn’t determine just how Larry had been drugged, Isenberg admitted she had spiked a drink she’d brought along.
Isenberg claimed the drink was for herself, to escape the shame of her crime. “From the very beginning, a week or two after the embezzlement was discovered, I knew my life was over and I had two options,” Lori said. “Death or life in prison.”
In court, Isenberg said that she was going to take her own life to save her family the embarrassment but while she was sleeping, Larry had taken her deadly cocktail and drunk it.
She said she couldn’t help any further on the events of that morning, though, because the “shock” of that day meant she couldn’t remember anything.
She insisted she’d thought about following him into the water and claimed she’d vowed to eventually take her own life – but not until
after she got things in order with her family.
In May, Isenberg, 67, faced sentencing and made a long, rambling statement defending herself. “I know Larry would still be alive if it were not for me fixing a drink with Benadryl in it so that I would be able to selfishly and cowardly take my life,” she said.
“If I would not have had that bottle in there, he would not have accidentally drunk it. That is my fault. I take total blame and responsibility for that.”
But Larry’s children were angry that she wasn’t telling the whole truth – and even two of her own daughters called her a liar.
More importantly, Judge Scott Wayman didn’t believe Isenberg’s words. “I have no doubt that the statements you made today are your truth… that’s the truth you have decided on,” he said. “But your truth doesn’t hold up.”
The judge said one thing was true – that Larry loved Isenberg. “He loved you,” he told her. “He trusted you. And you killed him.”
Isenberg was sentenced to life in prison and told she would serve a minimum of 30 years – and she showed little emotion when she learned her fate. She remains the only one alive who knows the truth about what happened on the lake that deadly day.
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