A celebrity dog trainer is murdered... now, exclusive interviews reveal the truth behind the crime
Produced by Liza Finley with Marcelena Spencer and Sara Rodriguez
(This story previously aired on Aug. 13, 2011. It was updated on Dec. 27, 2014.)
Mark Stover was known as the dog whisperer of the Pacific Northwest -- a man who could tangle with the most ferocious canine and bring it to its knees.
"He was almost more dog than he was human. I would see him get down on all fours and look at the dogs right in their eyes and he just had this amazing connection," said friend and client Andrea Franulovich.
"I think every once in a while you run across these people that are extraordinary. And Mark definitely was ... extraordinary," she continued. "He just had this way to be able to walk in the room and just grab the attention from everybody."
An outdoorsman and avid hunter, Stover was also a history buff and gun collector with over 30 firearms, says his sister Vicky Simmons.
Simmons described her brother as, "Highly intelligent, well-read, excellent cook. ...He could be difficult. He could be pointed in his comments."
A hard edge, she says, that came from a tough upbringing. Their father died when Mark was just 18 months old; then, a sister died.
"It wasn't a normal childhood. Survival was a pretty big item on our list," Simmons said. "And my mother just had a very hard time."
And she had an even harder time reining in her rebellious son. "He was on bad path," Simmons explained. "He got kicked out of high school for smoking dope ... I think he was stumbling in the dark for a number of those years."
And then, a German Shepherd named Gunther came into his life.
"Mark and that dog bonded that very day ... it gave meaning to his life. Gave purpose to his life," Simmons said. "That dog saved him."
Mark trained that puppy to become a search and rescue dog. He had found his calling -- a calling that eventually led him to the woman of his dreams, Linda Opdycke.
"I was looking to do some training with my dog and went through the phone book and found him in the phone book," she tells "48 Hours" correspondent Peter Van Sant in an exclusive interview.
The daughter of multimillionaire Wally Opdycke -- once co-owner of Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery and K2 Ski Corporation -- Linda was Mark Stover's type: tall, beautiful and rich. At first, she says, the feeling was not mutual.
"I felt he was very arrogant, actually rubbed me the wrong way initially," she told Van Sant. "But yet he seemed also to know a fair amount about dogs, so I thought, 'Let's try this out.'"
In Linda Opdycke, Mark Stover had met his match. This one time junior Olympic equestrienne could shoot and fly cast as well he. The high school dropout who came from nothing and the elegant beauty born of privilege fell in love.
"He was incredibly bright, eccentric - um, charismatic in many ways - very witty," she said.
Three months into their relationship, the couple opened a dog training business on Kiket Island, a private island owned by Linda's parents.
"I really had a vision for this business," Opdycke said. "I'd swim the dogs, we'd do massage therapy for them. Really a lot of custom care for the animals."
Mark Stover and Linda Opdycke
By 2002, Stover & Opdycke had grown into a million dollar-a-year enterprise. After 11 years together, Linda and Mark finally decided to get married.
Father Wally toasted his new son-in-law, but Linda's mother, Nancy Corbin, wasn't celebrating the moment.
"Mark is not a choice I would have made for Linda," Corbin said. "From the beginning, Mark showed an arrogance ... where he wanted to isolate Linda, all bad signs."
"I didn't listen and I should have," Opdycke said of her mother's concern.
Linda says the dark corners of Mark Stover's personality began to emerge more frequently.
"The last few years of being in a relationship with him was incredibly difficult," she explained. "The more the business began making money, the more obsessed he became with money... I would buy maybe a $5 item at the grocery store and he would be in a rage about it... For example, an avocado. That was too much money, really upset him."
"You guys had a million dollar business, he's upset that you bought an avocado?" Van Sant remarked.
"I recognized Mark was really somebody different than I had thought he was," Linda replied. "He was in rages and he had tantrums all the time, everyday and it was very, very difficult to live with. I saw him becoming more aggressive with people, for example, on the property."
Danny Jensen was clamming on Kikit Island when he came face to face with an angry Stover brandishing a gun.
"He threatened us with a handgun," Jensen recalled. "He told us that this was his land, we were not allowed to dig clams there, and that he would hurt us."
Asked if Mark Stover would have been capable of using that gun, Jensen said, "Oh, definitely."
Similar incidents followed and it was taking a toll on their marriage.
"I told him I was ashamed by the behavior. This is not how my family does things and this is my family's property and I would like him to approach people with respect," said Opdycke.
In 2005, after 14 years together -- three years of marriage -- Linda Opdycke had had enough. "I decided I could not be in the marriage with Mark anymore because it just continued -- the abuse, escalated and I really, literally, felt like I was dying."
She told Mark she was leaving him.
"He went just sheer white. His eyes went just crazy. He clenched his hands and fists and he was just in a shaking rage," she recalls=ed. "He says, 'You've got war! I'm not going to grant this to you. You've got a big fight on your hands.'"
Neither one of them had any idea just how big a fight it would be.
When Linda Opdycke asked Mark Stover for a divorce, she moved clear across the Cascade Mountains to Winthrop, Wash., hoping to start over. "I just wanted to go on with my life ... and I wanted Mark to go on with his life," she said.
Opdyke even let Stover stay on her family's land, Kiket Island, and take control of their million dollar dog training business.
"I received no buyout for the business," she said.
"Why were you doing that," Van Sant asked Opdycke. "Why were you giving up so much to this guy?"
"I wanted my life back. I wanted to get away safely," she replied. "I wanted him to leave me alone."
But Opdycke says it didn't buy her peace. In fact, it got worse - much worse.
Stover voicemail: This is war, this is g--damn war... you've wrecked my life enough.
Opdycke says Mark Stover tracked her every move.
"He was driving all over the state to try to find me," she said. "I probably had 50 or 100 calls on any given day. ...He told me he would hunt me down and he was going to ruin my life."
She says he pursued her relentlessly, traveling 150 miles through the wilderness until he found her mountain hideaway.
"All of a sudden I look up on the hill... and I see Mark Stover hunkered down with a hunting rifle pointed right at me through the window, looking through his scope..."
"And you thought, at that moment, you might get shot," Van Sant noted.
"Absolutely," Opdycke replied.
And now she says he was armed. He was dangerous. And he was inside her house.
"I was in bed about 9:00 at night, he walks in ... and he's got a gun in his hand," Opdycke said. "He put the gun right next to my head on the pillow. And he got down on his knees. And he was pleading with me to not leave him or the marriage."
Van Sant asked Opdycke, "Do you believe Mark Stover was capable of killing you?"
"Absolutely, I do," she replied. "He was very capable of killing me..."
Terrified, Linda Opdycke finally called Frank Rogers, the local sheriff.
"She didn't know what he could do. That maybe he would harm her. That maybe he would try to kill her," said Sheriff Rogers.
"When you hear these stories... that your brother was kneeling with a gun in his hand ... do you believe that's true?" Van Sant asked Stover's sister, Vicky Simmons.
"I think that some of the stuff could be true, might be true," she acknowledged. "But ... it was hard for my brother to lose someone he loved. That was difficult for him. And he would take a while to find his bearings and move on."
But Opdycke says her home security cameras show Stover was not moving on; the cameras show him lurking outside her home at 2:30 a.m.
"Every single moment, you're wondering when you walk out the door, is he going to be there..." she said. "Is he gonna come in through the front door? Would he break in through my bedroom window? ... And I never know when he's going to show up."
"This idea that Linda was, um, fearful of her life and scared and didn't want to go outside and all of this because of my brother - I don't believe a word of it," Simmons said. "It seems like the truth is just the opposite."
In fact, Simmons believes Linda Opdycke was baiting her brother. Linda had an affair with the best man at their wedding: John Bonica.
"If she wanted to hurt him and really knock his feet out from under him, having an affair with John Bonica could be about the worst thing she could choose to do," said Simmons.
Opdycke admits to having the affair after they split, but says Stover stooped to a new low: spying on them in their bedroom.
"I get a call from him telling me in detail what had occurred between John and myself that evening," Linda said. Asked if it was accurate, she replied, "Yes, it was -- accurate. It was horrifying."
After two years of terror, two years of angry legal battles, Mark Stover finally agreed to grant Linda Opdycke a divorce:
Stover voicemail: You got your g--damn divorce. But I better not ever find out that you are in possession of those wedding pictures.
But Stover still wouldn't let go. He began oddly fixating on their wedding photos, demanding Linda give them back. She said she didn't have them.
Stover voicemail: ...and you know I am a guy that can hold a grudge until I am dead. ...And you know what? I can hurt you too and I know how to do it.
"He's basically laying the groundwork that he's going to harm her," Sheriff Rogers said. "These are strong threats to me."
Deputies wanted to arrest Stover for stalking, but they didn't have enough evidence. Linda took matters into her own hands; she started self-defense training with Chief Deputy Dave Rodriquez.
"I was proud that she as a victim was taking steps to not just be cowering in her bedroom with his shades drawn," said Rodriguez.
Opdycke took shooting lessons and filled her house with guns.
"I had a gun bedside. I had a security company put a magnet right on the cabinet," Linda pointed out to Van Sant as they walked through her bedroom. "And they installed it behind the tapestry... Then I had one that I carried on my person."
Opdycke had amassed a small arsenal of more than 20 firearms and promised herself she would never again be a helpless victim.
"Were you ready to shoot Mark Stover if you had to in this house?" Van Sant asked.
"Yes," she replied. "No matter how much I would not have wanted to do that, I was prepared that ... if it were he or me, it was not going to be me."
With a stockpile of weapons inside her home -- always within arm's reach Linda Opdycke waited for what she thought would be a final, fatal showdown with her ex-husband, Mark Stover.
"Did you think you were gonna end up dead?" Peter Van Sant asked Opdycke.
"Yes, I really did," she replied. "You're constantly living with the fear of when is he going to get you? And you never know when it's gonna happen..."
Or what will set him off. Stover left this voicemail on his 56th birthday:
Stover voicemail: My world's falling apart. This may be my, my last birthday. I don't know what I'm about anymore. But I'm about to give up.
"What does that tell you?" Van Sant asked Sheriff Frank Rogers.
"That's a man that's ready to check out," Rogers said, pausing, "and take somebody with him."
Despite their worry, deputies still didn't have the evidence they needed to arrest Stover for stalking. Then they caught a break.
"As I pull up here, I notice there's a white station wagon here and there's a gentleman over at Linda's trash cans taking the trash out of the trash cans," Linda's neighbor, Ruthie Hagemeister, toldVan Sant. "I said, 'Excuse me, who are you?' He says, 'My name is John.' I go, 'Why are you taking my friend's trash?' And he's like, 'I have permission to take the trash.'"
Hagemeister knew his name was not John; it was Mark Stover. She immediately called Linda Opdycke, who called the sheriff's office.
"Our deputy saw the vehicle that was described. Pulled him over. It was Mark Stover. Did have the trash. And he arrested him," said Chief Deputy Dave Rodriquez.
Finally, the Okanogan County Sheriff's Office had the evidence to charge Mark Stover with stalking. But instead of going to jail, Opdycke says, "He got a slap on the hand. And it was very disheartening to me."
Stover agreed to a plea deal and was placed on a year's probation. He was also ordered to surrender all of his firearms. From that moment on, Julia Simmons believes her uncle never threatened Linda again.
"When Linda Opdycke took my uncle's guns away, that was it for him. She knew how much he loved to hunt. That made him completely done with her," she said.
Julia believes it was Linda Opdycke who couldn't let go. "It was like she was trying to pull him in, push his buttons and perpetuate the drama," she said.
Julia and her mother, Vicky, have never met Linda Opdycke, but they believe they know her.
"I don't think she is what she appears," Vicky said. "I think she is smart. I think she is extremely manipulative. I think that she's vindictive."
Vindictive enough, they say, to have the affair with Stover's best man ---"I mean, how cruel is that? said Julia -- and tough enough to take care of herself.
"Linda Opdycke is no shrinking violet," Vicky continued. "She was armed to the teeth ... she had many weapons ... She knew how to use them all..."
"You think there was paranoia in that house?" Van Sant asked Vicky.
"Absolutely," she replied. "You show me anybody's house that's got assault rifles and I'll show you someone who's paranoid."
"Getting all those firearms, was that wise? Or was that paranoia?" Van Sant asked Linda Opdycke.
"Oh, I think it was very wise," she said. "I'm dealing with somebody that's incredibly skilled with firearms ... he was somebody who would go on hunting trips and he would stay on his hunting trip until he acquired his kill. I knew this was somebody who could take my life ... It was a real threat."
There were no more reported stalking incidents after his arrest, but Opdycke still feared for her life and continued seeking ways to protect herself. It was a search that led her to a weapons expert named Michiel Oakes.
"I'm a writer and inventor. I've written several patents in my name and I've had over 200 articles published - over 50 percent of my articles have been for gun-related magazines," said Oakes, who also specializes in hand-to-hand combat.
"You've been described as Linda Opdycke's bodyguard. Is that accurate?" Van Sant asked.
"I really don't think ... I don't believe it's accurate," Oakes replied. "Let's put it that way. She never paid me to be a bodyguard. I did a little bit of research and I did an analysis of her home security situation and made some suggestions on that front. And that was the extent of what I would consider my professional interaction with her."
Michiel Oakes and Linda Opdycke
But their personal relationship began to flourish. Gradually, long talks about books over coffee turned into love poems over wine.
"She's almost six feet tall. And I'm 5'6". She's never had children, I have four children," Oakes said. "So it was an unlikely romance."
Oakes says he fell in love with Linda.
"Michiel was somebody that honestly I have been waiting for my whole life," Opdycke said of Oakes. "I went through all of this hell in my previous relationship. And I felt like I had done everything right, learned what I wanted in a relationship with a person and here he was."
Michiel Oakes became a single father when his first wife left him with their four kids.
"He's definitely a super mom, stay-at-home dad," his oldest daughter, Amanda, said. "I feel truly thankful to have him in my life."
"He is sincere. He's genuine. He's caring. He's loving," said Opdycke.
He's also more complicated than he appears, says his second wife, Jennifer Thompson. Thomson and Oakes lived as a blended family -- her two boys and his four kids -- before divorcing in 2008.
"Michiel Oakes had a dual personality," she explained. "By day, he was a family guy. And in his head, he had this whole other reality, this action hero persona ... Michiel saw himself as a protector of his children, of his family, and of all the people who couldn't defend themselves in the world."
In Linda Opdycke, he found his perfect match, says Julia Simmons.
"Linda Opdycke and Michiel Oakes are a disastrous combination of neediness," she remarked. "Michiel Oakes seems to need to be this vigilante. And he found his damsel in distress. They just seem to have been in this fantasy world of a non-existent enemy."
But this enemy was very real, says Oakes.
"The Mark Stover you got to know, was he a frightening man?" Van Sant asked Oakes.
"Very," he replied.
"Very much so."
"Constantly with me," said Oakes.
And Oakes says Stover set his sights on a new set of victims - convinced that Stover was a clear and present danger to his family.
"And did you act on that?" Van Sant asked.
"I acted on it, but not in the way that you or others may believe," Oakes replied.
In the summer of 2009, Mark Stover's friends and family say he finally put the anger and hurt of his divorce from Linda Opdycke behind him.
"He was starting over and building on much more solid ground," said his sister, Vicky Simmons.
Stover relocated his business from Kiket Island to his new home in Anacortes. He even met a woman he wanted to marry -- Teresa Vaux Michael.
Asked if Stover was a happy man, Michael says, "Oh, he was... he was like a kid. You know, he was joking with me all the time. He was very happy."
And not at all like the monster described by Linda Opdycke, says Private Investigator Leigh Hearon.
"Mark Stover was a wonderful guy, beloved by his clients, by his friends, by his family," said Hearon.
Clearly, he also had his enemies. Mark Stover the stalker was about to become Mark Stover the stalked.
It began with an anonymous phone call to the Skagit County Sheriff's Office on Aug. 3, 2009.
It's a drug deal, the caller says. And he names the man who will be transporting the drugs:
911 Operator: Skagit 911, what's your emergency?
Caller: There's a crime that's going to take place in the morning.
Caller: The last name is Stover.
911 Operator: Is someone there with you? Why are you whispering?
Caller: This is very dangerous... carries a gun, I wish you guys would do something before he kills somebody.
Mark Stover was pulled over the following day.
"The police found a small metallic box on the undercarriage of Mark's vehicle which contained a couple of marijuana cigarettes and some very low-grade cocaine," said Hearon.
Stover was not arrested pending further investigation. But he was so alarmed, he hired Hearon to get to the bottom of it.
"It was such a deliberate act," Hearon said. "It said, 'We're setting you up. We want you to go to jail.'"
"All he kept saying is, 'Who would want to destroy me? Who would want me out of the picture? Who would want to destroy me like this?'" recalled Amber Baker, an employee of Stover's. "And I didn't say anything. And he says, 'You know, who I'm talking about.'"
"He told me that he suspected that Linda Opdycke and/or her father were out to get him," Hearon told Peter Van Sant. "He told me he 'would not be surprised if they want to have me killed.'"
Investigators never found any evidence that either Linda or her father, Wally Opdycke, were involved in the drug plant or that they plotted his murder. But Stover continued relaying his fears about his ex-wife.
"He was very fearful," Teresa Vaux Michael said. "He told me -- he said, 'She will not rest until I'm dead.'"
"Mark Stover saw his own death," said friend and client Andrea Franulovich.
Mark Stover and Dingo as a puppy
Without his guns, Stover had one last line of defense: His attack dog, Dingo.
"Ding was utterly devoted to Mark," Hearon said. "Ding would have done anything she could possibly do to protect her master."
Ding would be put to the test before dawn on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. Amber Baker was the first employee at work that morning,
"The dogs were uncontrollable and would not stop barking," she recalled.
She walked up to the house. "On my way up the hill, I noticed some blood in the driveway and my thought was, 'Oh, my gosh! What did that dog kill now."
Baker then went to the back door.
"The door was locked which it never was because he had Dingo, and she was a protection dog..." she told Van Sant in tears as they stood by the back door. "I turned the handle. But I didn't want to knock."
She then made a decision that may have saved her life: she left.
"You realize today that the suspect was very likely in the house at that time. You understand if you had gone in what could have happened to you?" Van Sant asked.
"I want to believe that Mark protected me that day," Baker cried. "And I know in my heart he did."
Another employee, Stephanie Poor, arrived shortly after Baker left. She noticed Mark Stover's white station wagon backed up to the door.
"I saw who I thought was Mark going into the house, coming out of the house putting stuff in the back of the hatch," Poor explains. "He got in his car... and just screamed down the road -- didn't hardly stop at all at the street, and then just took off."
Minutes later, she went up to the house to use the bathroom. "I opened the door, and it was just like a blast of bleach," she said.
She looked down and saw three splotches of blood.
"There was a sense in the house that was very uncomfortable," she continued. "I can only describe it as evil ... And I wanted out of there as quick as I could."
"All day I tried Mark on his cell phone. And it was so unsettling that he had not called me back," said Baker.
The next day, still no Mark Stover and no returned calls.
"I think we were all trying to not think the worst," said Poor.
Then, as Poor was walking up the driveway, "I looked up and there was Ding sitting at the back door ... she was on all fours, and she was growling."
They got Ding to the vet. The news was both shocking and foreboding: Ding had taken three bullets in the face.
"I think putting that many bullets into a dog and still not killing it, I think that really says that she tried her hardest to save him," said Franulovich.
Ding's wounds, the bleach, and the blood in the house all added up to one inescapable conclusion: murder.
Mark Stover's premonition of his own death had come true. But who had hunted him down... and why?
"I think there's certainly spite, hatred, greed. That the usual suspects are behind this murder," Vicky Simmons said. "I just don't know how the story works yet."
But Simmons and her daughter, Julia, think they know how the story begins.
"It is my opinion that Linda Opdycke played a part in what happened to my uncle..." said Julia.
Convinced, Mark Stover had been murdered, police search remote mountain lakes and lowered a min-sub to scour the sea floor. But nothing is found.
Detective Dan Luvera of the Skagit County Sheriff's Office searches Stover's house for clues.
"The blood on the walls. The blood on the carpet. It told a story of what took place," said Det. Luvera.
Traces of a murder, but no trace of Mark.
Twenty-four hours earlier, Tami Gilden and her mom report a trespassing.
911 Operator: Skagit 911. What's your emergency?
Tami Gilden: I need a sheriff to come out here to Summit Park Grange.
Two vehicles, including Mark Stover's missing white station wagon, are illegally parked. Gilden sees a man moving a large object wrapped in plastic from the wagon into a black SUV.
"My first thought was, 'Oh, a body,'" she said. Gilden gave the 911 operator the SUV's license plate number.
Minutes later, the black SUV with that license plate is spotted and pulled over for trespassing.
The driver hands over his license. It's Michiel Oakes - Linda Opdycke's live-in boyfriend and protector.
"It was raining, he had sunglasses on which was unusual. He was extremely nervous," noted the deputy who pulled Oakes over.
The deputy notices that bundle in the back, but has no reason to check it. He gives Oakes a warning and sends him on his way. Oakes then takes a strange detour. He visits his ex-wife, Jennifer Thompson.
"He looked very disheveled and frumpy. He's usually meticulous -- neat and tidy," Thompson said. "Well I said, 'Are you OK? And he said, 'No, I think I'm in trouble.'"
Oakes then drops a bombshell.
"Michiel told me that ... if law enforcement had seen what was in his car, he'd go away for life," she told Van Sant. "I didn't know how serious to take it ... I was concerned for him because he was so upset."
Oakes then said he had to leave.
"I kissed him on the cheek and that haunts me because he had a body in that car," an emotional Thompson recalled.
Oakes drives into the night; 160 miles across the mountains back to Linda's house. He arrives just after 11:30. That plastic bundle is gone and Linda is waiting for him.
"Did you tell her what happened?" Van Sant asked Oakes.
"Oh no, not at all," he replied. "I think my exact words were, 'I'm having the worse day of my life.'"
"When Michiel came back from this trip, what did he say to you?" Van Sant asked Opdycke.
"I don't want to go there," she said. "We really didn't talk much...
Linda Opdycke says she didn't know anything was wrong until she received a chilling email from a former employee of Stover's the next day. It read: "Mark is missing, blood in house, Dingo almost dead."
"When I found out Mark was missing ... my first thought was -- was he coming over to my place to kill me?" she said.
Soon, there was a knock at her door.
Chief Deputy Dave Rodriguez and Sgt. Gene Davis were investigating the disappearance of Mark Stover and told Opdycke they were there to talk to Oakes.
"She seemed a little surprised that we were there," said Rodriguez.
"She kept on askin' me, 'I don't know what's going on here. What's goin on here? I'm so confused,'" said Davis.
"They say, 'This isn't just a social call this time. We want to talk to you, Michiel," said Oakes.
Rodriguez asks Oakes if he'd been in Anacortes.
"He said, 'Yes, I was over there, but I was over visiting my ex-wife," Rodriguez said. "Then he started getting pretty agitated. ...And he's looking around. And he goes, 'I gotta find my medication.'"
Oakes heads to his SUV.
"I see Oakes open the back hatch, reach inside, and take out a plastic bag," Davis said. "He throws it over an embankment."
Davis recovers the bag. Inside is a .22 caliber pistol. Right then, Michiel Oakes is arrested on suspicion of murder.
"I thought this had to have been just a misunderstanding or mistake and that this would be cleared up very shortly," Opdycke told Van Sant.
But Det. Luvera was sure he had his killer. "All the physical evidence we have leads up to Michiel Oakes" he told Van Sant.
"Did you set out on the morning of Oct. 28, 2009, to murder Mark Stover?" Van Sant asked Oakes.
"I most certainly did not," he replied.
"Michiel would not want to kill anybody," Opdycke said. "That is contrary to everything about Michiel."
But the investigation was just beginning. Detective Luvera wondered if there was a conspiracy - whether Mark Stover's killing was a murder for hire.
"Did you want to talk to Linda Updycke?" Van Sant asked the detective.
"Oh, most definitely," said Luvera.
"Did she agree to speak with you?"
"No, she did not."
"That was our question. Why not?"
Investigators were now turning their attention to the heiress from one of the most powerful families in the state of Washington.
"I have no involvement in this," Linda said crying. "There is nothing there!"
The conclusion of this twisted tale that no one could have predicted!
- Part two: The Dog Trainer, the Heiress and the Bodyguard
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