Two students ruined their life: one to take revenge and the second for $1000. One got life imprisonment and the other got 30-year in prison. They planned the incident but failed as forensic investigations and evidences came into play.
This is a case study from the Forensic Files cases of Shoot to Thrill, Season 13, Episode 3 of Ken MacLennan’s murder.
Summary of Shoot to Thrill: The Murder of Ken MacLennan: Forensic File
On January 14, 2003, around midnight, Ken MacLennan (53), a vice president at Creating Memories was found dead on the hardwood floor of his home. His son Jason Alexander MacLennan (17), was the first that called 911 and reported the incident.
Jason told the investigators that he arrived home around midnight, took a shower, and was going into the kitchen to eat something when he discovered her father.
The scene at first appeared like a robbery since Kenneth’s wallet, watch, some cash (national and international currency), and a few IDs were missing. However later forensic investigation showed Ken was shot by four different types of ammunition that pointed toward an intentional killing.
Recovery of forensic evidence such as 3 sets of footprints, a shell casing that was accidentally left by the culprits, DNA evidence from recovered clothes, and weapon of crime helped the investigators to solve the well-planned murder involving young teenagers.
Let’s take a deeper look at the case
Who were Ken MacLennan and His Family?
1. Ken MacLennan: Ken MacLennan was born on August 28, 1949, and a widower. He moved to the USA from Canada with his wife and 17-year-old son Jason. Ken secured a high-end management job and was a vice president at a photo album company called Creative Memories.
2. Dead wife: Betty Irene Relf was Ken MacLennan’s wife. She was suffering from breast cancer and had two mastectomies (breast tissue removal surgery) and died on July 13, 1999. The family was living in Florida during her treatment but moved to Canada temporarily to allow Betty to be close to her family during her final time.
3. Fiancé: Laurence Morand (Forensic Files referred to her by the pseudonym “Alessandra.”), a Swiss businesswoman, she was in courtship at the time of Kenneth’s death. Ken and Laurence started dating in 1999 shortly after Betty’s death and she eventually moved into the MacLennan’s’ house. They were also planning their wedding.
Laurence Morand was also a beneficiary of $100,000 from Kenneth’s Creative Memories life insurance policy. She was initially listed as a suspect but as she was in Switzerland at the time of the shooting, so police ruled her out.
4. Son: Jason MacLennan was the only child of Ken and Betty born in Canada on Feb 22, 1985. The MacLennan family lived in Florida for most of Jason’s childhood. He was a student at St. Cloud Tech High School. Jason had a troubled relationship with his father.
Net worth: Kenneth had about $1.4 million of insurance and assets.
How did Ken McLennan Died?
On January 14, 2003, Jason and Matt waited for Ken to come home from the business trip and fall asleep.
Around midnight, Moeller walked to the front door and rang the doorbell. Ken came to open the door and walked toward the stairway where Jason was standing with the rifle.
Jason shot his father seven times. Matt picked six shell casings (and forget one) and Jason put on a glove and disturbed the house to make it look like a robbery.
After that, Jason changed clothes and both drove to the Matt family’s property and disposed of bloodied clothes and belongings they stole. Matt kept his rifle in his car. Jason went home and took a shower while Matt drove to his home.
- Wounds are present on Temple, forehead, chest, throat, hand, and back. One gunshot had gone through Ken’s hand (he might have tried to stop the killer).
- Firearm used: 0.22 calibers Rifle (with 4 different types of ammunition).
Who Murder Ken MacLennan?
Ken MacLennan was murdered by his son Jason McLennan with accompany by his schoolmate, Matt Moeller.
The Shooting of Ken McLennan was planned by his son Jason and Matt Moeller (his schoolmate). Matt offered his .22 caliber rifle to Jason for the purpose of killing his father in exchange for money.
Why Jason was a Suspect in Ken McLennan’s Killing?
Following were the reason why Jason was a suspect:
1. He was the First to Report
Usually, the first responder is considered a suspect until evidence support otherwise. Jason was the 1st responder who called 911 to report that his dad had been shot.
Jason stated he did not know how or why his father had been shot and implied that an intruder must have been responsible for the shooting.
2. His footprints were Around the House
At the crime scene, the police found three different shoe impressions outside the home.
Jason told the police that two of the impressions had been from him and Matt (his friend). The third print was suspected to belong to the killer.
3. He wants to Avenge his Mother’s Death
Jason’s mother died of breast cancer. He blamed his dad for abandoning his mother. During Betty’s treatments, Ken often went on business trips and left his son to manage alone and care for her.
What was the Motive for Jason Killing his Father?
The possible motive was Ken’s $1.4 million estate and Jason’s hatred of his dad.
1. Majorly to reason to reap the money: Several of Jason’s friends testified that Jason usually shows off his wealth to his schoolmates. He treated his father like “a bank” and talked about inheriting wealth upon his father’s death.
2. Revenge against his mother’s death: Jason hated and blamed his father for abandoning his mother, and engaging with Laurence Morand. The tension between the father and son increased since Laurence started living in MacLennan’s house.
What is the Involvement of Matt Moeller?
Matt Moeller was an average student who went to the same school as Jason. Before the shooting, Jason was offering money to students if they could help him kill his father (Police tipped by a parent of a female school student).
Everyone said no, except Matt who wanted to earn some extra cash. Matt agreed to give Jason a gun in exchange for $1,000.
How Matt Moeller helps Jason in Killing Ken?
- Matt provided a .022 caliber rifle to Jason.
- He helped Jason to plan out the whole shooting.
- He helped Jason to make a third set of footprints with his own Lugz shoes, to mislead investigators.
- Moeller walked up to the front door of Ken MacLennan’s house and rang the doorbell. Kenneth came out of his bedroom toward the stairway where Jason shot him.
- He helped Jason to dispose of the bloodied clothes and stolen belongings on his family property.
- He damaged the rifle barrel to escape positive ballistic examination and identification.
Forensic Evidence Found in Shoot to Thrill Case
A. Initial Forensic Evidence at Crime Scene
1. Cartridge case: One cartridge case was left behind by the shooters at the crime scene.
2. Four Different kinds of Slugs: At Ken’s autopsy, seven slugs were recovered. 4 Different types of 0.22 caliber gun slugs have been used. During the investigation, Matt mentioned that they used four types of ammunition to mislead the investigators.
3. Shoe prints: Three sets of shoe prints were identified in the house’s backyard and front yard.
Out of the three, two were claimed by Jason as his and Matt’s, as they were standing and smoking outside the house. The third print was determined to have been from a New York Lugz shoe (popular hip-hop shoes) by Solemate software.
The shoes had been sold at several stores in St. Cloud. The shoe prints led to the front door but never left the house.
4. GSR test: Tests were performed to detect the presence of GSR on Jason’s hands and clothes. Both results came negative.
5. Computer and Emails: The police went through Ken’s computer and discovered emails between Ken and his fiancé that proved their wedding was on hold, and some tension between the couple. However, she was in Switzerland at the time of the murder which ruled out her suspicion.
B. Later Discovered Evidence
1. Collection of Evidence from Matt’s property: A student tipped police about the evidence that may help the case. Police recovered the following evidences from the swamp land of Matt’s family property:
- Bloodied red plaid shirt, jeans, and white socks.
- A glove in the back pocket of jeans.
- ID cards, national and international currency.
- Blood and skin cells from the above evidences were later used as a source of DNA analysis.
2. Shotgun/Rifle: The murder weapon a 0.22 caliber rifle was recovered from Matt’s bedroom.
3. Lugz Shoes: A pair of Lugz shoes—the third suspected shoe print that police found prints in the woods—was recovered from Matt’s basement.
Forensic Techniques used to Solve Ken McLennan’s Death Mystery
Following are the techniques used to solve Ken McLennan’s murder case.
1. Firing Pin Marks
A side-by-side comparison of firing pin marks was done on the test and recovered cartridge case. The firing pin marks gave positive identification.
2. Land and Groove Match
Test slugs (obtained from firing in a 600-gallon water tank) were compared to the slugs recovered from inside Ken’s body. The two of the slugs didn’t match due to a tempered barrel.
3. Instrumental Analysis of GSR
Instrumental analysis of GSR particles is majorly done by Scanning Electron Microscope with Energy Dispersive X-ray Analysis (SEM-EDX). The test shows the recovered hand gloves positively indicated the use of four different types of ammunition.
4. Shoe Prints
Black dyed impressions from shoes (like taking fingerprints) were obtained on the transparent sheet. These when then compared with life-size (1:1) photographs of the shoe print impressions by superimposition method.
- Two shoeprints were matched with the shoes of Jason and Matt.
- The third print matched the Lugz shoe recovered from Matt’s basement.
5. SoleMate® FPX
SoleMate® FPX is a new forensic evidence management tool that incorporates the shoeprint database and comparison software program for the rapid identification of shoe prints. The software narrowed down the 3rd shoeprint as New York Lugz brand, which was rare to find.
6. DNA Analysis
- DNA testing on jeans: Ken’s DNA was found on the bloodied pant leg of Jason’s jeans.
- DNA testing on skin cells: Skin cells recovered from the gloves gave positive DNA identification for Jason.
How Firearm Recovered from Matt Muller Examined?
Part 1: Why it is hard to do a ballistic examination from the recovery shotgun from Matt Moeller?
The intentional damage to the barrel of the rifle made it difficult to do the ballistic examination. Comparison of Land and groove marks gave negative results due to the same reason. Matt used Allen wrench in the barrel of the gun to alter it.
Part 2: How Examination was done on the shotgun recovery from Matt Moeller?
- Firing pin marks: side by side comparison of firing pin marks with the help of a comparison microscope helped in positive identification.
- DNA from inside of barrel: One of the shot were on Ken’s right hand. It seems that he tried to grab the weapon in self-defense when the shot was fired. This result in blood spatters inside the muzzle of the barrel. A test was done and it gave a positive identification for Kenneth.
What Punishment did Jason MacLennan and Matt Moeller Get?
The trial began on September 8, 2003, in Duluth, Minnesota. Matt and Jason were charged with murder just two days after the crime, on Jan. 16, 2003. Jason pleaded not guilty, but at trial, said he killed his dad in self-defense.
A. Jason MacLennan:
- Jason was convicted of first-degree murder and got life imprisonment.
- In 2005, Jason requested a new trial, stating he was a victim of the battered-child syndrome (physically abused by parents), but his plea was rejected by the court.
B. Matt Moeller: Pleaded guilty and charged with second-degree murder. He got 30 years in jail.
Where are Jason MacLennan and Matt Moeller Now?
- Matt Moeller: Matt is imprisoned at the Minnesota Correctional Institution, Moose Lake. The prison website lists his anticipated release date as Jan 17, 2023.
- Jason MacLennan: Jason is imprisoned for life at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Watch the Full Episode of Shoot to Forensic Files Season 13, Episode 3