In December of 2009, Shele Danishefsky Covlin’s body was found in the bathtub of her Manhattan apartment. Her estranged husband (who lived across the hall from her) called 911 and told the operator he had tried to revive her. Investigators determined her death had been the result of an accident — a fatal slip as she was getting into the tub. A few days later, Shele’s body was buried. An autopsy had not been performed.
For nine years, that was Shele Danishefsky Covlin’s story. Then, in March of 2019, her estranged husband, Roderick Covlin, was charged with her murder. What happened to Shele Danishefsky Covlin? Here’s what we know.
What happened to Shele Danishefsky Covlin?
When Ms. Danishefsky Covlin was 36 years old, she attended a party for Jewish singles in New York. That’s where she met Rod Covlin, who was 25 at the time. The two made an instant connection and were married just six months after they first met. They had two children together, Anna and Myles.
Ms. Danishefsky Covlin had enjoyed a successful career as a senior vice president for private wealth management at an investment bank. She worked hard and had a comfortable life. Rod never reached the same level of success in his own career as a stockbroker.
In an episode of Dateline, Ms. Danishefsky Covlin’s sister Eve Karstaedt discussed her sister’s growing concerns about Mr. Covlin’s lack of work ethic, as well as his bad temper. In January of 2009, she wrote to Eve saying that she was “very scared that at some point in the future all his anger and rage may result in something bad happening — he really can’t control his temper” (per The New York Times).
Just a few months later, Ms. Danishefsky Covlin filed for divorce. The two separated (with Ms. Danishefsky Covlin renting the apartment across the hall from her estranged husband) and soon became embroiled in an ugly custody battle. Mr. Covlin tried to sabotage his estranged wife’s life, telling her employer that she used drugs and had stolen money from their joint account. He coached their 3-year-old son to falsely accuse his mother of sexual abuse. He also told a woman he met online that he planned to kill his wife.
Ms. Danishefsky Covlin made plans to remove her estranged husband from her will — which seems to have been the tipping point. While he was in her will, he stood to gain access to $5 million in the event of her death. However, after Ms. Danishefsky Covlin was found dead in her apartment, Mr. Covlin didn’t get the money. Instead, his parents became the legal guardians of the children.
Eventually, Ms. Danishefsky Covlin’s family arranged for her body to be exhumed, and a medical examiner determined that she had not merely slipped and fallen in the tub. She had been strangled. Mr. Covlin became the primary suspect in the investigation of his estranged wife’s death. Still, he wasn’t arrested for several years.
Before his eventual arrest, Mr. Covlin continued to attempt to get access to his estranged wife’s estate. He laid out several plans to kill his parents (though he did not carry any of them out). He stole $84,000 from his children’s college fund. At one point, prosecutors state he even plotted to kidnap his daughter Anna and take her to Mexico, where he would pay someone $10,000 to marry her, thereby emancipating her from her grandparents. This plan did not come to pass, either.
Mr. Covlin even tried to frame his daughter for Ms. Danishefsky Covlin’s murder, drafting a confession email from her account so it would look as though she wrote it. Although it took nearly a decade, the courts eventually found Mr. Covlin guilty of murdering Ms. Danishefksy Covlin. Although his conviction cannot bring Ms. Danishefsky Covlin back, her family was relieved to finally know what really happened to her and to see her killer brought to justice.
Watch Dateline cover the story of Shele Danishefsky Covlin on Friday, June 12 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.