Dateline   |  February 15, 2013

'A Gathering Storm', Part 2

The family of murder victim, Russel Douglas, rallies to the side of his widow, even as homicide detectives have questions for her.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> death never takes a holiday. as a nurse, gail oneal knows that better than most, still, she was unprepared for the news that greeted her when she returned home from a late shift two days after christmas 2003 .

>> the minute i opened the door i saw my husband on the phone, and it was like something hit me in the pit of my stomach and then he said rhussel's gone.

>> her son's rocky marriage was on the mend.

>> is this another drama-filled call from brenna that they had another argument or something and what bob had done was repeated the words that brenna had told him that russel was killed and then all i could do was go sit down and sit there for a while.

>> russel 's sister holly, she instantly assumed russel 's personal troubles were to blame.

>> my first thought is that he probably committed suicide so i was in shock and realized i needed to get over to the island for brenna and the kids.

>> an alaskan bush pilot deliver the ared the news to russel 's father jim who was in the wilderness hunting and unreachable by phone. he said your son's dead sxhi to say, of course, which one? and russel and i mean, he didn't know a whole lot about anything other than he knew it was important to get me out of there.

>> russel 's brother matt was the last to know. he, too, had been out of cell phone range for several days while vacationing in british clom columbia.

>> we drove across the border and my phone had a seizure and it started buzzing for every voice mail message and text message that had been sent and it was matt, call me. matt, call me. matt, call me.

>> within days of his death, russel douglas ' far-flung family reunited on whidbey island .

>> we rallied around brenna .

>> we're sleeping on the room.

>> i ended up taking up the organization of the house, what do we do for meals?

>> russel douglas had left behind a lot of unfinished business . the oldest of three children born to jim and gail before they divorced, russel had been a late bloomer , but adulthood intruded early. shortly after he started dating brenna , she became pregnant. marriage and parenthood did little to help him mature.

>> i think he was mourning and missing being an 18-year-old who had a lot of dates and drank and went out with the guys and he did a little of that in college, but not a lot.

>> russel and brenna fought often over children, money and russel 's affairs with other women.

>> she'd called me after a really rough supposedly argument and i said, well, is he hurting you? is he hitting you? and she said no, really, he isn't physical. it's just emotional and verbal, but i've hit him a couple of times.

>> earlier that year russel had separated from brenna . he'd taken an apartment near seattle and had a new girlfriend. for his family, the ongoing drama of russel 's life was exhausting.

>> he stopped talking to, basically, all of us. i think he was so angry with the whole situation he was just saying, i'm cutting off everything.

>> but then just after thanksgiving all that seemed to change. russel had recently changed jobs and was close to completing an online masters degree program and as christmas approached russel reached out to family members and told his brother matt that he wanted to reconcile with his wife.

>> he said, you know, i think i need to start doing the right things. brenna wants me back. i want her back. i want to be involved in the kids' life.

>> then for reasons they could not fathom, their son, their big brother was dead, and the family became defensive when detectives suggested that russel 's wife brenna may have had something to do with his murder.

>> you don't want to believe that anybody that you've known for that long or is the mother of your grandkids would ever be a suspect.

>> so gail offered to help her daughter-in-law hire a lawyer.

>> one of the detectives seemed a little strong armed and i said, you know, you also need to get an attorney for all of your business affairs so let me see if i can find somebody for you.

>> the financial picture for brenna and the children was murky. russel and brenna had filed for bankruptcy a few years earlier and though brenna owned her own hair salon in this upscale shopping center . russel had handled the business end of things. if there was a bright spot during those days it was that russel douglas did have some life insurance .

>> i think when it comes down to it, he had a total of three life insurance policies, each one a couple hundred thousand dollars, i want to say.

>> in fact, the face value of those policies was more than half a million dollars. that money would come in handy, particularly since brenna was under pressure to buy the house she'd been renting from a woman who used to work at her hair salon . the landlady's name was peggy. peggy thomas. in those last, dying days of 2003 , russel douglas ' family had no idea how large that name would loom for them in the months and years to come.

>>> coming up, detectives get a call from a mystery man who says he knows who the killer is, but getting him to talk won't be easy. it sounds like he's afraid for his own life.

>> he said if i told you what i know the shooter's going to know that i told you.

>> when "dateline" continues. creates the