For a former Playboy Bunny and model, the last day of Eva Kay Wenal’s life was not particularly glamorous.
Kay was an attractive 60-year-old who could pass for half her age, and her alluring personality always seemed to make her the center of attention. Almost two decades earlier, her charms had caught the eye of Harold “Hal” Wenal, a jet-setting developer, when they both were married to other people. He swept Kay off her feet and, as her fourth husband, gave her a fairytale marriage.
“They had a lot of fun together,” Kay’s little sister Pam Sleeper told The Daily Beast. “Hal adored her.”
The Wenals were known in their Atlanta suburb for their luxurious lifestyle and extravagant trips. But Thursday, May 1, 2008, started out uneventfully, as Hal would later tell the police.
He left their five-bedroom home in the Atlanta suburbs around 6:40 a.m., as usual, to go to work after a quick breakfast with his wife. At 11:00 a.m., Kay joined him at his company’s offices, where one employee told police she stayed for about 30 minutes. She was wearing a casual outfit: blue sweatpants and a matching sweatshirt.
After the visit, Kay made a fateful decision. She’d intended to spend the afternoon helping to find tenants for her husband’s shopping centers, as a private investigator eventually learned. But she wasn’t feeling well, so she ended up staying home.
When she returned to the house just before noon, she took her last phone call, a telemarketing pitch from the Art Institute of Colorado. By mid-afternoon, she was lying on the couch, curled up reading a book with her glasses on, when someone arrived at the door.
When she went to greet them, she was met with sudden, shocking violence.
The attacker apparently assaulted her several times as she staggered around the first floor of her home—slamming her head against the wall or the floor, and punching her in the face. Then, the visitor slit the ex-model’s throat—twice. A bloody coup de grace that seemed intensely personal.
“The brutality of Kay’s murder was one thing that shocked us when we started investigating her death,” Ned Timmons, a former FBI Special Agent who was hired to be Hal’s private eye in the case, told The Daily Beast. “The way Kay was killed suggested anger. It was violent. Pure violence.”
The killer left no fingerprints and no signs of a forced entry, only a blood-stained towel in the closet of the upstairs master bedroom. Nothing was taken from the house—not the safe full of Kay’s expensive jewelry in the bedroom, not her wallet and credit cards, not her sexy bondage wear that investigators found in the closet.
They didn’t even take the rings from her fingers, even though the jewels “had the appearance of being valuable and likely expensive,” the Gwinnett County police noted in an investigator’s report.
“They were so close and always touchy-feely. Hal also would talk about sex with his wife—continuously.”
Hal discovered the grisly scene when he arrived home later that night. He told police that he found Kay lying in a large “pool” of her own blood.
The harrowing murder rocked their affluent community. And when the Gwinnett Police Department started investigating, they uncovered a host of secrets: a slew of lawsuits against Hal’s companies, sightings of a mystery man wearing wire-rimmed glasses who was lingering near the Wenals’ house, and a bizarre letter to a local newspaper claiming to be from Kay’s lovelorn admirer.
Still, for the past 15 years, authorities have been unable to find Kay’s killer.
Hal died just two years after Kay, in 2010. So Kay’s sister is the one who still holds out hope for a break in the case. “Someone knows something,” Pam Sleeper insists.
“All we need is one person to help us figure out what happened to my sister. I’m not going to give up.”
‘SHE LOVED BEING LOVED’
For as long as Pam could remember, her big sister Kay—born Eva Kay Smith in Nevada County, Arkansas—never had a problem fitting in. Or speaking her mind.
“Kay was a wonderful person,” Pam said. “She could come down hard on you if she thought you were wrong. She didn’t hold back on anything. She would hold you accountable. But she was also very giving and she shared everything that she had.
“She made you feel special.”
Still, Kay’s early years were a struggle. Her childhood was dominated by constant moves, due to their father’s job in the oil business and their parents’ bitter divorce.
Kay married young and had a child soon after college. Pam said that soon after, her sister left her first husband and child and moved to Texas to be with their father. But before long, Kay was on the move again, to Florida, and a second marriage ended in 1976. Around that time, she also became a certified dental assistant—and found quick success as a cocktail waitress at a Playboy Club in Miami.
“Everyone loved Kay there,” Pam said. When she visited her older sister during a trip to the Florida city, she got “first-class treatment” at the club. “That was kind of cool,” she remembered with a laugh.
Kay’s beauty and determination always made her stand apart, Pam said. Her attractiveness and work ethic were even mentioned in a December 1972 Playboy Clubs International letter, reviewed by The Daily Beast. In the note, Kay is described as an “asset to Playboy” and she’s also commended for helping out a local organization, VIVA Florida.
By the 1980s, Kay was on her third husband and had a career in modeling. Pam said that at least one of her sister’s former spouses had also remarried, but Kay did not make an effort to keep in contact with her exes. Kay’s third marriage, to a casino worker, lasted less than a decade, and they divorced in 1987. By that time, Pam said, her sister had already met Hal, and the two “seemed to hit it off right away.” The pair got married on Aug. 5, 1992, and honeymooned in Africa.
“Kay was—when she would get something in her mind, that’s it,” Pam said. “She wanted Hal.”
“Why not just walk in and shoot her with a gun? Why the violence? It’s not easy to cut anyone’s throat.”
In the late 1990s, the Wenals settled in Atlanta, where Hal made a killing by buying land, building strip malls, and then flipping them for a profit. At the time of Kay’s murder, his company owned shopping centers in Atlanta and Lawrenceville, Georgia, and had previously managed projects in New York, Texas, and California.
Friends of the Wenals told The Daily Beast that the couple always seemed extremely in love, sometimes to the point where their public displays of affection made others uncomfortable.
“It was sometimes even embarrassing,” A.J. Block, an Atlanta attorney and friend of the family, told The Daily Beast. “They were so close and always touchy-feely. Hal also would talk about sex with his wife—continuously.”
Timmons said that he believed Hal was “proud” to have a woman like Kay on his arm—noting that even at the time of her death the 60-year-old was “a workout freak” and that she’d had several plastic surgery operations.
“She loved being loved,” Timmons said. “We had questions about whether her desire for attention may have prompted her to seek attention from other men.”
The private investigator noted that Hal also had secrets of his own—including that his company was perhaps not as successful, or even lawful, as the world seemed to believe.
From the outside, friends of Hal Wenal said, he was an “attractive” and wealthy man who had a penchant for extravagance and for beautiful women.
“He was a successful real estate developer,” Block said. “But years later, I found out that a lot of these shopping center projects were in trouble.”
In fact, at the time of Kay’s murder, the Wenals were both named in an ongoing federal lawsuit about one of Hal’s construction properties, according to court documents reviewed by The Daily Beast. (The federal case was ultimately settled in 2011, where several parties, including Block acting as Hal’s executor, had to pay $10,000.)
That lawsuit was one of at least 10 legal actions involving Hal, in various states, over a period of 17 years starting in 1990. Court records indicate that Hal was named in several lawsuits—including one in Pennsylvania where he settled for over $6 million in 1992 and two New York cases that transferred to Florida. In one judgment, Hal had to pay more than $570,000 to Marine Midland Bank in 1992—and then was named in a second judgment that owed a total of over $23 million to MMB Realty Credit that same year. (It is not immediately clear if any of the judgments was ever paid.)
Kay would sometimes talk about Hal’s finances to her sister. Pam noted that at one point, money was so tight for them that she even felt compelled to send Kay $500. Marie Lundquist, who began working for Hal in 2007 as an administrative assistant, told CBS’ 48 Hours that she also believed that her boss would sometimes “cook the books.”
“We sold a shopping center in Lawrenceville,” she said. “And the whole deal was bad. He was paying tenants’ rent so when the new owners bought it the books looked like they were paying rent every month, when, in fact, Hal was paying their rent. Some of them.”
In December 2007, Hal was named in the federal lawsuit about the Villages shopping center in Gwinnett County, Georgia, for several alleged misdeeds, including breaching a contract and fraud. “Harold dismissed the lawsuit, indicating that it was trivial to him and of little consequence,” the investigative report states.
Amidst the ongoing litigation, Hal gifted his wife a trip to Miraval Spa in Phoenix, Arizona, in April 2008. Pam said her sister had explained that the trip was a “surprise” because “Hal did not want to bother her with the lawsuit” and that he would be working late.
At the spa, Kay made a new friend—Tami Mulcahey, who was at the Arizona retreat with her sister ahead of her nuptials. They bonded after Kay encouraged Tami to take a morning swim fitness class with her. The two women forged an easy friendship as they enjoyed the luxury wellness resort, whose pampering activities included horseback riding and spiritual drumming.
“We nicknamed her ‘Julie,’ the Cruise Director from The Love Boat, because she knew everybody,” Tami told The Daily Beast, adding that Kay had smuggled them “booze and cheese.”
During meals, Tami said, her new friend would “gush” about her relationship with Hal and “how in love they were.” But Kay also revealed that she was at the glamorous retreat because of her husband’s legal problems—a task that would keep him “busy for many days” and resulted in her getting an “open-ended stay at the spa.”
“She didn’t seem upset or worried,” Tami added. Kay later revealed the litigation was about one of his “building projects.”
When Tami left to go back home to Texas, Kay was still at Miraval. The two pals exchanged information so Tami could send photos of their trip together. Weeks later, Tami said, she said she got a call from a Georgia police officer asking to meet.
On the way to the local police station, she learned that Kay had been murdered.
Murder Most Foul
When Kay returned to Georgia from her spa trip in late April 2008, Pam called her to chat. She was hiding something from her sister and “I wanted to tell Kay my secret. At the last minute, I decided that I wasn’t going to tell her.” Instead, they only talked for a short time.
“My secret was that I started smoking again after I had stopped for years,” Pam told The Daily Beast.
To this day, she wonders whether, if she’d told her sister the truth, Kay might have disclosed a secret of her own in return. “I am just wondering, if I would have just told her that I was smoking again, maybe she might have said something to me about something,” Pam said. “Maybe we would have a clue.”
About three days later, she received a call from her sister’s home. But it wasn’t Kay. It was a distraught Hal, who told Pam how he came home from work and found Kay murdered and lying in her own blood on their kitchen floor.
The Gwinnett County Police Department would later discover that Kay was also punched before her throat was slashed in the afternoon attack, which occurred on the first floor of the home they rented in Lawrenceville.
When Hal first arrived home, a police report noted, he knew something was wrong. He drove his Bentley into the garage just before 7 p.m., and “found it unusual that Kay did not meet him at the garage to [the] kitchen door,” the report states. “He claimed that this was her usual custom upon hearing the garage door being activated.”
Hal later told police that when he entered the house and found Kay in the kitchen, he “believed that she had the house phone clutched in her hands and must have been trying to call for help when she was killed.”
“On that day he was crying, ‘Oh my wife, what happened? What happened to you?’”
Authorities were called to the house on Sugar Lake Court at around 6:54 p.m. on May 1, 2008. When officers arrived, Kay’s body was already “cold to the touch,” and Hal was exceedingly “distraught,” the investigative report states.
The report notes that while Hal “repeatedly stated that he had no idea why anyone would do this or what happened to Kay,” the scene suggested a personal attack. Timmons noted that the way Kay’s body was positioned, it appeared she had been lying on the couch reading a book when he believes she let her killer inside.
“Her sneakers were still in the living room by the couch,” the private investigator said. “And there were blood droplets everywhere. The droplets suggested it was a violent attack, and that she was hit hard with a very intense blow that must have stunned her.”
The manner of Kay’s death was overly gruesome, Timmons said, suggesting either a crime of passion or a paid hit. He also noted that nothing was taken from the home—even though the safe in the master bedroom was full of Kay’s jewelry. Authorities also found a white towel with Kay’s blood on it in the adjoining closet.
The investigative report says that a medical examiner concluded that Kay sustained “two distinct lacerations” on her neck and died from the blood loss.
“The first [blow] would have killed her. The second one is what was called ‘an insurance cut,’” Timmons said. “Why not just walk in and shoot her with a gun? Why the violence? It’s not easy to cut anyone’s throat.”
An autopsy noted that Kay exhibited no signs of being sexually active or assaulted prior to her death, and that she sustained at least two contusions to the head during her attack, one to the forehead and the other on the right side of her face. The wounds were consistent with being “struck a hard blow or having the forehead against something such as a wall or floor” and then again with “a punch or other strike.”
“She said she loved me. But that was a lie too. I told her this would happen if she didn’t keep her goddamned promises to me.”
Investigators say that Kay was most likely murdered in the middle of the afternoon and hours before Hal returned from work—a fact that stunned several of the Wenals’ neighbors.
“It was in broad daylight, which was the weirdest part,” neighbor Sundus Adhi told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at Kay’s funeral five days later.
Another neighbor, Som Sharma, told the paper in 2008 that Hal had “called home around midday to invite his wife out to lunch, but she didn’t pick up the phone.” Later, when Hal discovered Kay’s body, he ran to Sharma’s house for help. (Sharma and Adhi did not respond to requests for comment.)
“On that day he was crying, ‘Oh my wife, what happened? What happened to you?’” Sharma said.
The Man in the Wire-Rimmed Glasses
From the start, police tried to piece together whether Kay’s murder was a crime of passion.
Authorities quickly ruled out Hal as a suspect, as he had an alibi. The investigative report notes that after briefly visiting an employee at home, Hal was in and out of work all day. He even stopped at Taco Bell for lunch.
“Hal went all over on the day of the murder—and a lot of those places had security cameras,” Timmons said, adding that investigators were able to piece together his day and conclude he had an “ironclad” alibi.
As for Kay’s exes, the model had apparently heard from her third husband just months before the murder. Pam said that he had called to say hi, and offered that “his wife wanted to have dinner with Kay and Hal.”
“Kay didn’t see any reason for that to happen,” the sister added.
But Timmons, the private investigator, noted that his team looked into Kay’s third husband and saw no indication that he was involved. It is not clear if authorities looked into her other former spouses.
Then, on July 23, 2008, authorities were alerted to a “suspicious package” that had been mailed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which had previously reported on the crime. Inside the manila envelope, officers discovered an unsigned “letter comprised of letters cut from magazines and other source clipping glued to a sheet of paper to compose a message.”
The letter purported to be from Kay’s jilted lover.
“I bet Kay Wenal never told anyone what she really was. It turns out she was just a money-grubbing whore,” the note, a copy of which was reviewed by The Daily Beast, began.
“I loved her. She said we could be together. She told me she hated her house and That fat Miserable lying mother fucking husband. She said she loved me. But that was a lie too. I told her this would happen if she didn’t keep her goddamned promises to me.”
The note stated that Kay’s “white trash” family “screwed everything up.”
“His money was more important than our love,” the note added. “We could have been so happy together but they fucked everything up.”
Authorities were unable to identify who sent the letter, and no DNA or other useful forensics were found on it. Mary Ellen O’Toole, a retired FBI agent and Behavior Analysis Unit profiler who examined the note for The Daily Beast, said that the “very negative” tone of the note “does indicate familiarity with the victim and her husband.”
O’Toole noted that while the author suggested an intimate relationship with Kay, she believes that portion was “purposely misleading.” But she added that the author might have had a connection to the Wenals’ home given their decision to claim that Kay hated the property.
As for the decision to send the note to a news outlet, O’Toole said that points to the author’s desire to “publicly shame” the Wenals—which again suggests that the unknown individual may have known Kay.
“This guy clearly knows them. To this day, we don’t know who this is.”
“The themes of the note also suggest that the author, in everyday circumstances, might make insulting and or demeaning off-handed comments about the victim and her husband in conversations, for the same purpose—to ‘put them down’—but sans the profanity,” O’Toole added.
A police spokesperson told The Daily Beast that despite the “angry” tone of the letter, it did not point to any known suspects.
While investigators found no evidence that Kay had been having an affair, they did discover some racy “fetish-wear” inside the master bedroom closet—a “black corset, two star-shaped silver colored nipple pasties, a fishnet bodysuit, a black brazier connected by a strap to a matching thong and an outfit best described as ‘lederhosen’ incorporating a neck strap,” the investigative report states.
“Hal tried to tell us that all of Kay’s kink stuff was from a Halloween costume,” Timmons said. “Yeah right. I think there was something more to that. I think she had a secret life and I think Hal knew about it.”
Still, the investigative report notes that authorities asked Hal point blank about whether he believed Kay was having an affair—and he responded that he honestly didn’t think his wife was cheating and believed that she “opened the door to the wrong person” on the day of her murder.
“Harold expressed his concern that Kay was often too friendly with people she encountered,” the report adds. “When asked about the anger or revenge motive, Harold reported that he had been in the business over 40 years and nobody, not even the mafia, would kill a man’s wife.”
Timmons and his team continued to investigate the case for two years alongside the police department. At one point, they looked into reports that a Hobby Lobby employee had allegedly asked Kay out for a drink.
And they also investigated a stranger—a man who wore wire-rimmed glasses—who had been seen in the neighborhood at the time of Kay’s death.
The investigative report states that neighbors told investigators they believed the physically fit and clean-shaven white male was between 45 and 55 years old and that he was no more than 5 feet, 10 inches tall. One neighbor, Vishal Sharma, told investigators that the stranger approached him about a house for sale on their street—and Sharma saw him again, walking on Wenal’s driveway, on the day of the murder.
“A few minutes later Vishal… intentionally looked out the window, looking for the subject. He did not see him,” the investigative report states. “Vishal was certain that this was the same individual who had approached him the afternoon before.” (Sharma did not respond to a request for comment.)
After Hal’s death in 2010, when investigators were going through the developer’s personal effects, they found a photo of a man who looked similar to the description of the stranger in the wire-rimmed glasses. According to a 2012 Gwinnett Daily Post article, the crime sketch appeared to match the individual, who showed up in two photos from the 1980s.
But authorities still do not know the identity of the man in the photographs. A spokesman told The Daily Beast that there have been “there have been… tips of people fitting the description but when investigated it eventually did not pan out.”
“We’ve talked to everyone we can get our hands on who knew [the Wenals]—I mean, everyone,” Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith told the Daily Post at the time. “This guy [in the photos] clearly knows them. To this day, we don’t know who this is.”
Pam added that she does not recognize the spectacled man, but believes that identifying him could be an important clue to figuring out what happened to her sister.
“Somebody has to know this guy, right?” she added.
‘The Definition of a Cold Case’
After Kay’s murder, Hal offered a reward for leads that eventually grew to $250,000. He also refused to leave the rental home he shared with his wife of 16 years, Pam said.
“He said he felt closer to Kay by staying there,” Pam said. “I was always scared [to go back] when we went back to help Hal with different things.”
Hal also hired a team of private investigators, led by Timmons, in his desperate search for answers—and, his lawyer friend Block speculates, to squelch any speculation that he might be connected to his wife’s death.
Block, who said he took Hal home with him the day of the murders and began acting as the Wenal’s family spokesperson, believes one reason for the lack of answers was that the investigation “was not handled well.”
“I think it’s the definition of a cold case from day one,” Block said. “It was never an exciting investigation or an intense investigation from my perspective.”
The 132-investigative report details that authorities tracked down dozens of Hal’s business associates across the country—but came up empty on leads. A police spokesperson told The Daily Beast that investigators looked at Hal’s “finances and didn’t find anything that would lead us to believe there was a connection” between his money troubles and the murder.
Two years after Kay’s slaying, Hal was trying to adjust to a “new normal” without his beloved wife. He threw himself into work. In June 2010, he met up with a longtime friend, Mike Galla, to discuss business—and the thousands of dollars Hal owed him.
“Harold reported that he had been in the business over 40 years and nobody, not even the mafia, would kill a man’s wife.”
“We went to a very upscale restaurant. We had some wine, and we had an appetizer. I think we had ordered dinner and were in the midst of a conversation when he fell to the floor,” Galla said. “There was a nurse at an adjoining table, so we did CPR. He was still alive when the emergency folks got there.”
But by the time Galla and Block got to the hospital, Hal had died from a heart attack. Block said he had to identify Hal’s body because he arrived at the hospital first. Afterward, Block said he became the executor of Hal’s estate and quickly learned that his long-time friend had been hiding many monetary secrets.
“Did the stress of losing Kay, of seeing his finances fall apart, contribute to his health? I don’t know, but I knew he was under a lot of stress. I know he wanted answers,” Galla said.
With Hal gone, those answers have remained elusive. The Gwinnett Police Department spokesperson told The Daily Beast that while the case is still active, no suspects have ever been identified and the identity of whoever wrote the note is unknown.
Kay’s sister Pam said that after Hal’s death, she believes the momentum in the murder investigation diminished—especially since Timmons and his team were no longer leading their own private search. She hopes that someone might still come forward with a clue to the identity of the man in the wire-rimmed glasses. That, she hopes, could be the puzzle piece they are missing—the thing that could crack the case wide open.
As the police spokesperson noted to The Daily Beast, “every cold case is deemed to be ultimately solvable given the right circumstances.”
“Someone somewhere knows what happened—and all it takes is for someone to come forward to offer new evidence.”
Leave a Reply