Seventeen-year-old Mackenzie Cowell had big dreams and boundless hope for a future that matched her ambitious outlook on life. With close family and a boyfriend she loved, she had a safe life in the town that her parents believed to be secure. At least it seemed safe. No one, not even Mackenzie, could have foreseen the disaster that unexpectedly shattered her joyful existence.
From her passion for dancing wherever she went to her fun-loving personality, Mackenzie Cowell brought life and light into the lives of everyone she touched. It was just another day of pursuing her dream to become a hairstylist when the cheerful security of the teen’s routine was violently snuffed out, leaving her family reeling at the devastation of it all and many questions to be answered.
Mackenzie Cowell Dancing Through Life
Fashion, family, and root beer floats filled 17-year-old Mackenzie Cowell’s dreams as she aspired to build a life centered around her deepest passions. According to Peter Van Sant of CBS News, in February of 2010, Mackenzie flourished in the small town of Wenatchee, Washington, where she was intent on doing it all. Her days were jam-packed between high school dance team, modeling, and hair design school. When her father’s fiance, Sandy Francis, was asked why Mackenzie had chosen hair design, she said, “I think her modeling and her love of clothes, and you know, the makeup and primping and being a girl.”
Skipping out the door by 7:15 am each morning, Mackenzie danced through her busy and creative schedule. Literally, “She loved to dance, dance, dance. Anywhere we went, she danced. Grocery stores, gas stations, anywhere if a song came on, she would break out in a boogie,” Francis said.
Mackenzie was described as “5’8, strong, and beautiful,” and it seemed nothing could get in her way. But, one fateful day, her determined stride was brought to a sickening halt.
On February 9, 2010, Mackenzie’s father, Reid Cowell, was looking forward to a “father-daughter date” with his little girl. However, he was sent straight to voicemail when he called her cell phone around 5:40 pm to get her ETA. Small as this might seem, he knew Mackenzie, and this wasn’t normal. Two hours passed, and he still hadn’t heard from her.
When his phone finally rang, it wasn’t Mackenzie. It was the police. Dinner with Dad wasn’t the only obligation the teen had been found missing from that day. To their utter horror, the family received information that she had left the Academy of Hair Design earlier that afternoon. She had informed her peers that she was stepping out for fifteen minutes.
Detective John Kruse arrived the next day at the Academy of Hair Design, Mackenzie’s last known location before her disappearance.
The detective observed the young woman conversing with a classmate before exiting the building and heading to her car. Analysis of her text messages showed that she messaged her boyfriend with a simple “hey.” After that, as Detective Kruse put it, she seemingly “drives off the face of the earth.”
The news about Mackenzie’s disappearance was now public. Her father, future stepmother, and even those unfamiliar with the teen personally began searching for any clue about her whereabouts. Reid Cowell said he used to lie awake, asking where she could be on earth.
After four terrible days, the answer came. The news relayed by phone from the FBI agent was far from what the worried family wanted to hear: the authorities had found a body. Mackenzie had been discovered at a bend in the Columbia River, one of the significant landmarks of the state in which Cowell had always believed his family was safe. Discovering their lively girl lifeless was distressing, and the condition of her body even made investigators cringe.
In their grief, Mackenzie’s parents could only cling tightly to each other, struck by the unthinkable tragedy. But the police had work to do, and they were determined to get to the bottom of the brutal murder. It was time to start questioning suspects in the most disruptive investigation in Wenatchee Valley history.
Seemingly contradictory, those closest to Mackenzie, who presumably loved her the most, had their innocence questioned first. “I would never describe Reid or the mother, Wendy, as a person of interest in this case. But we certainly did look at them,” Detective Kruse reportedly said. It appeared that Reid wasn’t offended by the investigation of the family, as he agreed that Mackenzie had most likely met her violent end at the hands of someone she trusted.
Early on, Mackenzie’s boyfriend was subjected to a lie detector test that yielded ambiguous results. When asked multiple times if he had killed Mackenzie, Joaquin Villasano failed the test despite his repeated response of ‘no.’ Condemning though this might appear, he soon secured an alibi. The next suspect brought into question was the boyfriend of Mackenzie’s mother, Wendy Cowell. Joe Fisher’s track record with Mackenzie was littered with spats and tension. Things became so heated that Mackenzie reportedly told her mother to choose between Fisher and her. The fact that they’d had an enormous argument the day before she went missing was also notable. However, when it came down to it, there was no evidence that Fisher had anything to do with her murder.
With the close relations cleared, it was time to broaden the search. As it turned out, the police didn’t have to seek out the woman who took the already heart-wrenching case to another level of bizarreness; she came forward on her own.
When it comes to a person whose life is centered around selling drugs, mingling with those on the wrong side of the law, and “doctor shopping” to ensure that they never run out of oxy, it’s advisable to take the words they speak with a grain of salt. But, in the case of a woman named Liz Reid, the fact that she was already an informant to the police caused the authorities to listen up when she claimed to have information on Mackenzie’s brutal death.
As Reid gave her account to the police about what she claimed had happened to the unfortunate teen, she immediately started dropping the names of two notable figures in her disreputable circle, Sam Cuevas and Emmanuel “Buddah” Cerros. These men were street-hardened criminals, which quickly fueled the fire of Mackenzie’s already gut-wrenching case.
In Reid’s account of the killing, she claimed that Mackenzie’s brutal death was intended for someone else and was executed by Cuevas and Cerros. She continued to fan the flame of her tale by inserting gruesome details about how the men had had to choke Mackenzie twice because she didn’t die the first time and that the men laughed as they tortured the trapped young woman. She even turned on the waterworks for dramatic effect.
Her story convinced a great many, and for a time, it appeared that the police had found the killers. However, when there was no sign of the murder video Reid claimed was caught on tape, Detective Kruse began to doubt the validity of the informant’s story, hard as she’d worked to sensationalize an already painful tragedy. In the end, Reid abandoned the tale completely, confirming that it was a falsehood.
Black Sheep or Murderer of Mackenzie Cowell?
Reid’s story dismissed, focus returned to the final footage of Mackenzie while she was alive. Notably, Mackenzie’s classmate Chris Wilson exited through the same door shortly before Mackenzie did. It was believed that they might have been planning to meet up. With that, the police zeroed in on a new suspect.
As a man most would label ‘artistic,’ it was said that Wilson would have perfectly fit into a city like New York but stuck out like a sore thumb in Wenatchee. His artwork and photography leaned toward darkness, and the Hannibal Lecter tattoo on his arm only enhanced his edgy persona. Though a few of his friends and family voiced concerns about the night that had become a part of his personality, his mother believed him to be a good person. His best friend echoed the sentiment that his eccentricity was harmless with the following statement: “I mean, Chris isn’t so bizarre. It’s just that it’s such a normal little town where everyone looks just the same.”
The lead in the Mackenzie Cowell Murder Case.
As it was, the lead that turned the police’s attention to Wilson came from another disturbed soul like Reid. This informant’s name was Theo Keyes. As a friend of Wilson’s, Keyes came forward claiming that there was mental instability in the suspected murderer’s past. He also explained that Wilson was fascinated by “dead bodies … and serial killers.” Considering he worked in a funeral home, the information was tracked.
When asked if he had been to Crescent Bar, the location of the murder, Wilson claimed he hadn’t. Detective Kruse, who had worked tirelessly to bring Mackenzie’s murderer to justice, replied with: “Well, you know your DNA was.” At that point, Wilson knew that he was cornered and lawyered up. It was a good move, as he would need that lawyer in the coming months.
According to Jefferson Robbins of the Seattle Times, another suspect was also questioned. That person was 22-year-old Tessa Marie Schuyleman, another friend of 30-year-old Wilson. It was Schuyleman’s denial of knowing anything about Mackenzie’s murder that first placed her on thin ice. However, it wasn’t long before police uncovered video evidence disproving her ignorance claim. One incriminating piece of footage showed Schuyleman inspecting a spot of blood (which had been tested and assigned to Mackenzie) on the carpet of Wilson’s apartment. There were pictures of her posing on the floor as if she were a deceased shadow in a twisted game of CLUE.
Schuyleman was charged with a class B felony for ‘rendering criminal assistance,’ carrying a 10-year prison sentence.
Quiet Mourning of a Senseless Death Mackenzie Cowell
Though Mackenzie’s vibrance had been snuffed out far too soon, the town of Wenatchee chose to grieve quietly while celebrating everything the teens on the brink of womanhood had brought to their lives. According to CBS News, Mackenzie’s friends, neighbors, and fellow dance team comrades gathered in the local arena to pay tribute to the beloved teen. Her high school dance team, the Apple-Ettes, performed in honor of her passion for the sport, and the Reverend spoke a few heartfelt words: “We are here today because someone stole her life…They did something that only God is allowed to do.” The murderer and his accomplice had been brought to justice at last.
Despite some feeling Wilson’s sentence was lenient considering the joy taken from their lives, the case was ultimately closed. Despite her gruesome end, Mackenzie would always be remembered for the vibrancy she’d brought to the world during the seventeen precious years it had her. “She was full of life,” Detective Kruse remarked. “She was just going a mile a minute and taking life full blast.” And she certainly had, racing toward her dreams until her final day on earth.