Ex-teacher guilty in murder-for-hire plot

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Nelson Replogle. Although Replogle is incarcerated for a crime that took place in Knox County, he’s being held in Blount County because of contracts that deal with the housing of federal prisoners in local facilities.

A former schoolteacher will spend up to ten years in federal prison for a bizarre murder-for-hire scheme that ultimately involved the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Bitcoin and a potential assassin lurking in the shadows of Knox County. 

Nelson Paul Replogle, 59, pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of murder-for-hire after reaching an agreement with federal prosecutors, court records show. 

Replogle, a retired high school social studies teacher from Michigan, will be sentenced at a later date by U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan. 

He was arrested in April by the FBI after a frenzied investigation in which federal agents managed to repeatedly obtain banking records without the usual procedural red tape due to the imminent “threat to life” to his intended victim — Ann Replogle, his wife.

On April 15, the former teacher had “used the Internet to contact a dark web entity that purported to arrange murders in exchange for money,” court records show.

Along with a Bitcoin payment valued at $17,853.49 in U.S. currency, he sent the would-be-killer his wife’s name, a description of her vehicle, and both a preferred location and time for the murder to take place.

The former teacher told the alleged assassin that he wanted his spouse’s death to look like road rage or a carjacking attempt, according to court documents.

On April 20, the BBC notified FBI Special Agent Clay M. Anderson of a possible murder-for-hire plot targeting a Knox County woman named Ann Replogle.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office was notified of the situation and immediately sent a protective detail of officers to the address she shared with her husband. Agents from the FBI and a local task force also went to the house and soon the couple was being questioned as to why anyone would wish to kill her, Anderson wrote in an affidavit detailing the investigation. 

Nelson Replogle was also questioned alone but maintained that he hadn’t tried to arrange his wife’s demise and couldn’t think of anyone who might wish to do so. 

While the ex-teacher was being interrogated, Anderson contacted the BBC for more information and was soon given enough to swiftly move the investigation forward.

Anderson said the BBC employees he spoke with “were able to provide transaction information from an unnamed source that showed payment that was made with the understanding that an unknown individual would murder the Victim while the Victim traveled from her residence to the veterinarian’s office while taking her pet for an appointment.”

“The information provided was very specific about date, time, vehicle make, model, and color,” he said. “The payment for the murder of the Victim was made using the virtual currency Bitcoin and the date and time of the transaction as well as the receiving Bitcoin wallet was provided.”

Anderson then provided a detailed description of Bitcoin and similar currencies. 

“Bitcoin is a type of virtual currency, circulated over the internet,” he explained. “Bitcoin are not issued by any governments, bank, or company, but rather are controlled through computer software operating via a decentralized, peer-to-peer network. Bitcoin is just one of many varieties of virtual currency.”

The investigation turned into a contest to see how fast the FBI agent could make his way through the labyrinthine paths that virtual currency can take when its owner wants anonymity. Anderson, however, was up to the task and used the threat of “imminent harm” to Ann Replogle to secure the cooperation of Coinbase, First Horizon Bank and AT&T. The companies immediately opened up their files, eventually revealing that Nelson Replogle was the owner of the account that had been used to pay for the alleged hitman. 

He was arrested the following day and charged under the federal murder-for-hire statute. 

He only faces up to 10 years in prison because his wife wasn’t injured. If she’d been hurt during an attempt on her life, then Replogle could have faced up to 20 years and — if she’d been killed — he’d have been looking at either a life sentence or the death penalty. 

Replogle has been held without bond since he was taken into custody.

One mystery left unexplained in court documents is how exactly the BBC — which often undertakes in-depth investigative stories in locations around the world — came across the information that was used to save Ann Replogle’s life.

A BBC spokesperson refused to comment immediately following Replogle’s arrest and couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. 

There was no mention of a potential assassin being arrested in the records or any indication of where Replogle’s money went, raising the prospect that the wannabe wife-killer had inadvertently contacted an undercover law enforcement agent or even a journalist rather than a bona fide hitman. 

Replogle worked at the Thornapple-Kellogg School district in Barry County, Mich., from 2000 until his retirement in 2018. He served as the senior advisor for the class of 2018, according to the school district’s website.

After his arrest, several of his former students contacted Hard Knox Wire because they had  either heard rumors or stumbled across news stories about him.

“It’s just hard to believe this is him, that he is capable of this kind of thing,” said one former student who didn’t want his name used in this article. “He was such a nice guy to us. It’s like it’s not real.”

Ann Replogle hasn’t responded to attempts to get her side of the story.

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com

Published on September 30, 2021.