"We had a real sense of dread that this was the way it was going to end up and we were saddened when we found the body to confirm our fears. These cases are just senseless violence."
- Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger
It was the 5th of September 2017. A Tuesday. Thirty one year old Laura Wallen was reported missing by her family. They became concerned about her when they were notified by her employer that she didn't show up for work. Laura was a teacher at Wilde Lake High School in Howard County. She loved her job and worked hard at it. She had spent several weeks preparing the work for her classroom in the run up to the start of the new school year. She was awarded “Teacher of the Year” in 2016 and couldn't wait for the 2017 school year to start. So when she didn't show up on the first day of the 2017 school term, everyone knew something was wrong.
When police carried out a welfare check at her home in Olney, Maryland, United States, there was no sign of her but there was also no indication that she had come to any harm there. Nothing seemed out of place.
There was even more reason to be concerned about her disappearance though. Laura was four months pregnant. Police reached out to her boyfriend, Tyler Tessier, and he told them he didn't know where Laura was.
A search began. Police found Laura's 2011 black Ford Escape parked in a gated apartment complex in Columbia. The complex was across from the high school where she worked. Volunteers focused on the area around Howard and Montgomery counties and handed out fliers and put up Missing posters. Tyler and Laura's parents took part in a televised news conference so that they could appeal for information and offer a reward. Did anyone see Laura?
Tyler Tessier and Laura's parents Gwen and Mark Wallen
Tyler spoke at the news conference and told reporters that he knew Laura for around ten years. He appealed directly to Laura:
"Laura, if you are listening, it doesn't matter what's happened, it doesn't matter what type of trouble, there's nothing we can't fix together. There are so many people, so many people that miss you, so many people who were out, who haven't slept. We haven't eaten. We are just looking or praying that you are safe."
But while Tyler was pleading with the public to provide any information they knew in relation to the whereabouts of Laura, police and Laura's family believed they already knew who was responsible for Laura's disappearance. And they believed that that person was Tyler.
Police believed that Tyler may have been involved in Laura's disappearance due to inconsistencies in some of the information he provided to the police. And the fact they allowed him to speak at the news conference was a calculated decision, one that the family approved of, so that they could try to get more information. At that point, Laura was a missing person and police had no idea what happened to her or where she was. But after further questioning, Tyler told police that Laura had approached him and asked for his help. He told police that Laura wanted to disappear as he claimed she told him that the father of her baby was a student of hers and she was embarrassed and worried and needed help before anyone found out about it.
But just two days after the news conference, on the 13th of September, Laura was no longer a missing person. Police searched the perimeter of a wooded area in Damascus. They were made aware that Tyler visited there and was known to have taken a number of trips there as of late. They found what appeared to be freshly dug ground in a secluded part of a field there. With the assistance of cadaver dogs, they found Laura's body buried in a shallow grave. The Autopsy revealed she had been shot once in the back of the head.
Police had to ascertain when she died, who killed her and why.
Police believed that Tyler was the last person to see Laura alive and on foot of that and the inconsistencies in accounts he provided of his movements, he was deemed a person of interest. Police knew that Laura was alive on the 1st of September as her family saw her that day. The next day, the 2nd of September, Laura went on a trip with Tyler. The police discovered that Laura sent a text message to her sister on the 2nd of September and told her that Tyler was taking her on an adventure somewhere but she didn't know where. The text message read:
"Tyler has me on an adventure in the country. Not sure why but it's for something. Waiting in a field."
The last transaction made on Laura's debit card was for a purchase made at a Safeway grocery store near her home in Olney on the 2nd of September between 8.30pm and 9.30pm. Police obtained surveillance footage from the grocery store and discovered that when Laura made the purchase, she wasn't alone. Tyler was with her.
But why would Tyler want Laura dead? Police discovered that Tyler was also in a relationship with another woman and that may have been the motive they were looking for. Laura and Tyler had been involved in an on/off relationship for ten years but every time they broke up, they got back together again. Their relationship was rocky but Laura was looking forward to having her baby. Despite the account that Tyler gave to police stating that Laura was pregnant with a student's baby, the baby was Tyler's baby.
Unbeknownst to Laura, when they were on one of their breaks, Tyler began dating another teacher and moved in with her in 2012. He remained with her even when he got back with Laura. Neither woman knew about the other woman.
When Laura told her family that she was pregnant with Tyler's baby, her father, Mark Wallen, asked Tyler what his intentions were. He was aware of their on/off relationship and there were rumors that there was another woman at one point. Tyler assured Mark that he would look after Laura. He showed Mark an engagement ring and said that he planned to propose to Laura. He told Mark that he had not seen the other woman in two years.
Police later found out that the ring Tyler showed Mark was later used by Tyler to propose to the other woman, not Laura.
The other woman said yes and and their Wedding was arranged for just one month after Laura was due to give birth to their baby. While both Laura and the other woman thought he was dating them exclusively, it became apparent, during the course of the investigation, that Laura may have discovered what Tyler had been up to shortly before her death. She sent a text message to the other woman on the 28th of August asking her if she would meet up with her:
"It's important that some things are cleared up and I would imagine that if you were in my position, you'd want some answers as well. By no means is this an attempt at confrontation, just looking for an explanation, woman to woman."
Police believed that within days of that text message, Tyler began planning Laura's murder. They believed he had convinced the woman that he was living with that Laura was crazy and stalking him. Due to that, when she received the text message from Laura, she told Tyler about it via text and he replied with a text message that read:
"I could literally kill her."
Tyler initially denied that he was in a relationship with anyone other than Laura to the police but when confronted with the evidence, he admitted it.
Police believed that Tyler brought Laura to a remote location with the intention of killing her to silence her. She believed that she was going to that spot to look at land that Tyler wanted to purchase. It was an area he was familiar with as it was a field close to a farm where he worked. When Laura text her sister about the trip, her sister asked her to take a picture. She did and police matched that picture to the location where her body was later found. Tyler brought her to the location twice, once on the 2nd of September and once the next day. Police believed that Tyler shot Laura on the 3rd of September. He text a friend that same day and asked for a ride to Baltimore "late night" but the friend declined. He told Tyler it was a bad idea to go to Baltimore late at night. Tyler responded and said:
"It probably is. Just trying to clean up a mess."
They believed that after he shot Laura dead, Tyler then went about hiding evidence and trying to cast doubt as to who the father of Laura's baby was via text messages to her family members. He sent a text message to her sister from her phone which read:
"I am like 95 percent sure Tyler is not the father. I am going to try and get a hold of Antwan."
Laura's sister was confused by the text. She had a close relationship with Laura and knew that if Laura had any doubt as to who was the father of her baby, she wouldn't say it in a text message. She told police that Laura had dated someone named Antoine about two years before her death but had no contact with him since then.
Tyler was arrested and charged with first degree murder. He was also charged with obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence, and making false statements. He only received one murder charge due to Maryland law, which states the child must be viable outside of the womb.
When police questioned Tyler, he initially denied being involved or having any knowledge as to what happened to Laura. But he then provided a number of different accounts as to what happened to Laura.
He claimed that during an argument on the 4th of September, Laura was deeply upset and crying hysterically. Laura lunged at him with a scissors and in the process she ran into a post on the porch which caused her to collapse on the ground. Tyler believed she was dead so he brought her to the field and buried her. Police asked him if that was the case then why did the Autopsy show she had been shot. He told police that he was worried he might have buried her alive so he returned and fired one round at her to make sure she was dead as he didn't want her to suffer.
Tyler later changed his story. Tyler told police that African-American men entered Laura's home and kidnapped the two of them. The men forced them to drive to Damascus and Laura was shot there. When asked why he wasn't shot, Tyler said that he pleaded with the men to let him go.
The Prosecution believed they had a solid case and that there was no doubt that Tyler was responsible for Laura's death. It was their case that after successfully living a double life for a number of years, Tyler was aware it was about to end. Laura had found out about everything.
After Laura text the other woman, Tyler planned Laura's murder. He was due to spend the weekend of the 2nd of September with the other woman in Pennsylvania. He was supposed to go with her to look at bridesmaids dresses. Instead he told her that he couldn't go on a four hour drive as he hurt his knee while walking her dog. But there was nothing wrong with his knee. He just had other plans.
He arranged to meet Laura and take her on an adventure to a remote field in Damascus in Montgomery County.
It was the Prosecution case that the murder was planned out in advance and that was evident from the location where Laura was killed and buried. They wanted to bring the Jury to the location where Laura's body was found. The Prosecution believed that Jurors would only be able to fully understand what Tyler was accused of doing by seeing exactly how remote the location was and traveling the same path he took with Laura. They planned to seek leave of the Court to allow them to bring Jurors to the location and it would require the use of four-wheel drives as the area was off road and they would need to then ascend a curved path of a long hill and go down the other side to the corner of a grassy field. They would then be able to see that the location was not just remote but hidden too. It would also show, they argued, that the murder was a premeditated one.
They also wanted to show Jurors KS Kuts, an animal processing facility, that is close to the field where Laura was found. A skid loader was on the property at the time and the Prosecution believed Tyler used it to dig the shallow grave for Laura’s body. Laura's front license plate and her cell phone were found by staff in a dumpster on the property.
The Prosecution were worried that photographs were not enough to show the Jury just how hidden the field was. They believed that to choose that location, somebody must know the area well. They had an aerial image of the site with a photo of a tree line at the site and of Laura seated in a truck at the site. Laura had sent her sister a picture of herself when her sister asked and the location was the same as where her body was found.
The Prosecution planned to show the Jury the phone records for both Tyler and Laura which placed them at the location where Laura was later found dead.
The Prosecution planned to tell the Jury that after Tyler buried Laura's body, he drove Laura's car to the apartment complex in Columbia where it was later found. The Prosecution were prepared to call witnesses. One such witness was one of Tyler's friends who claimed that he contacted him and asked him to give him a ride from the apartment complex in Columbia where Laura's car was later found parked. It was alleged that Tyler asked the friend to lie to police if they ever asked him about picking him up from that apartment complex.
Prosecutors were seeking a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if Tyler was convicted.
But the Prosecution would never get the chance to outline and prove their case before a Jury. On the 6th of September 2018 at 5am, just hours before opening statements were to begin in Tyler's Trial, Tyler's body was found in his cell. He hung himself inside his jail cell at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Rockville, Maryland. He left behind five suicide letters on the top of his bunk bed.
Bruce Goldfarb, of Maryland’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told WTOP:
“The cause of death was hanging, and that was ruled suicide. The toxicology showed no drugs or alcohol in his system.”
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said the letters indicated that he had been contemplating suicide for a while.
Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy addressed the media the same morning Tyler's Trial was due to begin:
"We were robbed this morning of the opportunity to allow the public to know the true nature and details of this crime. There should be no question in anyone's mind in this county that this was Laura's killer. I think today was where it was all going to crush down on him. He knew the discovery. He knew the evidence and he knew today was the reckoning. I think he took the cowards way out. He had psychotic behavior that he carried on as he maintained a dual relationship with two women; one for ten years and one for seven years. To Tyler Tessier, lying was like breathing."
Assistant State's Attorney Donna Fenton agreed and said:
"It was planned. It was deliberate and it was premeditated and the state has absolutely no doubt that this defendant would have been found guilty of first degree murder."
Laura's family never got to see Laura's accused killer face Trial but her mother, Gwen Wallen, found some sense of peace:
"As awful as today is, I feel at peace because I was worried for my family and I was worried for my other two grandsons to have such a diabolical human, if you can call him that, in the world."
The comments below have not been moderated
"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
Join Our Community
Check out our new Book Club!