February 28, 2022 | By Kaitlynn Sorondo
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
Michele MacDonald always carried a big black planner full of appointments, reminders, and special dates.
Her daughter, Audrey Grey, says that was part of what made her an adult.
“I wanted to be just like her, so when she got me my own planner, it felt like she was passing on this way of being responsible,” she said. “I was honored and proud that she believed in me in that way.”
On a mother-daughter dinner date at Pizza Hut in December of 1994, Michele gave young Audrey the new 1995 planner insert and they each had a Hawaiian personal-pan pizza.
The first entry in Audrey’s planner was her mother’s death.
Audrey was 10 years old at the time and the murder has never been solved.
Michele was born on December 1, 1954, in Florida and was the second oldest of five kids. Being the oldest daughter, she was a “daddy’s girl that lived up to expectations,” as Audrey described. Michele was the responsible peacemaker in a busy house.
From a young age, Michele wanted to make the world a better place. When her older brother dropped out of high school, she convinced him to go back to school and graduate with her help. She donated blood as often as she could because it was used to save lives. She volunteered her time and talents to help others.
Michele lived her entire life asking herself, “how can we make the world a better place?”
Michele got married and had three daughters: Audrey, Mary, and Kelly. Audrey says that as a mother, Michele was very self-aware. Even when upset, she always reminded her girls how much they were loved and tried to create a safe space for them.
Audrey recalls times when her family was poor, but it never felt that way because her mother was full of joy and love. Michele encouraged silly and magical thinking. When the girls each got to the age of finding out the truth about Santa Claus, Michele explained it as Santa not necessarily being a jolly man living in the North Pole, but rather a feeling of giving and caring for others in their hearts.
Christmas was Michele’s favorite time of year. During the time of giving, she and her daughters would decorate their local Catholic church with deep red poinsettia flowers and volunteer whenever possible. Michele was an example of kindness and a bright light wherever she went.
“She was easy to smile,” Audrey recalled. “Her smile would take up her entire face.”
Audrey described her mother as beautifully feminine and petite with an hourglass figure, hazel eyes, bitten nails, and faint freckles. She mostly wore contact lenses but would occasionally wear glasses. Michele would frequently perm her shoulder-length hair and took very good care of herself.
Audrey distinctly remembers her mother’s hands. During the cold and dry Arizona months, Michele carried lotion because of how badly her hands cracked.
It was during one of these dry and cold Arizona months that Michele was getting ready to go to work at American Express. She went outside to manually open the garage door.
As Michele prepared to leave, she was shot in the forehead and died instantly.
Michele’s three daughters were with their father at the time of her murder. The couple was in the process of filing for divorce.
Michele’s sister and brother-in-law found her body on January 7, 1995. She was 40 years old.
The original plan was for the girls to live full-time with Michele following the divorce. After Michele’s death, Audrey and her sisters lived with their father temporarily before they were removed from their father’s care by Child Protective Services because of his violent tendencies. Audrey and Kelly ended up together with one aunt while Mary was placed with a different aunt and uncle.
Audrey says that her mother’s death destroyed her family and its sense of stability.
“I felt like I was on my own and it has felt that way since I was 10,” she said. She still struggles with the day of her mother’s death, even over two and half decades later.
On Michele’s birthday, Audrey spends a day out as if she was with her mom and visits her grave. With her mother’s birthday being at the beginning of December, Christmas being her favorite time of year, and the anniversary of her death in January, winter is a difficult time for Audrey.
Since Michele’s death, Audrey has been searching for who she is without her mother but is getting nervous about her upcoming 40th birthday.
“I’ve never imagined I would live past 40. I don’t know what my mom would do,” Audrey says, nervously. “Most of my life I have been keeping her alive by trying to do what she would want me to do.”
Audrey is determined to ensure people like her mother are never forgotten. In remembrance of Michele, Audrey now volunteers and donates blood just like her mom did. In this way, she continues her mother’s legacy of giving and compassion.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Michele MacDonald, please call the Phoenix Police Department at (602) 262-6151.
Research & Impact
For many survivors of violent crimes, there’s one term that they will hear early and often – “victims’ rights.”
While victim rights are vital for helping a survivor understand and navigate the judicial process, for survivors of a cold case homicide, those mandated guidelines can often seem skewed. One of the more commonly cited rights is the one giving voice to victims of crime through impact statements presented at the close of the judicial process – the sentencing phase.
The purpose of the victim impact statement is to allow a victim to articulate the impact of how a crime has affected them emotionally, physically, and financially, while, of course, speaking on their overall loss. It can be a very emotionally draining and challenging experience for a survivor.
For many of the families Project: Cold Case works with, the opportunity for a victim impact statement is drastically limited.
Spotlight Articles, like the one you are reading now, provide survivors an opportunity to give a voice to their loved ones, detail a life well lived before the homicide occurred, and describe their own personal journey pushing forward while fighting and advocating for their lost loved one. For families participating in the Spotlight project, there can be empowerment and healing as we allow survivors to lead the conversation of awareness for a loved one.
Through these stories, loved ones are no longer defined by their final moments, but rather their entire life.
To learn more about the Project: Cold Case Spotlight project, please reach out to our office. For more information on victims’ rights specific to your area and circumstances, check with your local state attorney’s office.
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