Former teacher guilty in bizarre murder scheme

0
161
Nelson Replogle. Although Replogle is incarcerated for a murder-for-hire scheme 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. He pleaded guilty Monday and faces up to a decade in federal prison.

A former schoolteacher appeared in federal court Monday to formally plead guilty to trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife. 

Nelson Paul Replogle, 59, of Knoxville, admitted to one count of murder-for-hire during the hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Leon Jordan. Replogle had signed off on the plea agreement last month, but it didn’t become official until Monday’s hearing when it was approved by Jordan.

Replogle, a retired high school social studies teacher from Michigan, faces up to ten years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and up to three years of supervised release when he’s sentenced on February 24, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The bizarre murder-for-hire scheme that Replogle cooked up ultimately involved the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Bitcoin and a potential assassin lurking in the shadows of Knox County, court records show.

His plot was shut down in April 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.

Five days later, the BBC notified FBI Special Agent Clay M. Anderson of a possible 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 he hadn’t tried to arrange his wife’s demise and claimed that he 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 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.

If his wife had been hurt during an attempt on her life, Replogle could have faced up to 20 years behind bars instead of the maximum 10-year sentence he’s currently looking at. If she’d been killed, he’d have received 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 bust the former teacher.

The BBC has refused to comment on the case. There was no mention of a potential assassin being arrested in court records, raising the prospect that the wannabe wife-killer had inadvertently contacted an undercover law enforcement agent or even a journalist rather than a genuine 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 October 26, 2021.