In 1980, Michele Dee Gates was 13 years old and living in Oregon, when she was suspected of drowning a four year old girl named Ruth Anne O’Neil, known as Ruthie to her family and friends. Because Michele was Ruth Anne’s babysitter and she had taken her for ice cream that day, she was brought in for questioning alone on two separate occasions. Police confronted her on some inconsistent statements she had given, after which, she admitted to drowning little Ruth Anne..
Michele’s mother Diane was a teenager and in an unstable marriage, because of this, Michele was being raised from a very young age by her grandmother and step grandfather. When Michele was 11 years old, her step grandfather, Norman Reese shot and killed his step daughter, Michele’s mother, Diane in her home, after finding her with a man late at night. He believed that she had been drawn into a life of prostitution. He was charged with first degree manslaughter and was sentenced to five years. These early events in Michele’s life no doubt shaped her perception of the world and how to resolve issues with others.
Before Michele admitted to killing Ruth Anne, she was asked to theorize on what she thought was the motive for her death. First she told them she thought she had been killed in a sex crime, then she changed that to possibly Ruth Annes mother had accidentally killed her. When the police didn’t believe her stories, she admitted to killing Ruth Anne. Michele told the police that she took Ruth Anne for ice cream to a shop called Herfys and afterwards, they changed into their bathing suits with the promise of going swimming in Michele’s above ground swimming pool. Michele said she purposely held Ruth Anne’s face down in the water until she quit moving. After that, she redressed Ruth Anne and picked up her body and threw it or some sources say she placed her body on top of a garbage heap in a neighbor’s yard as her body seemed to be placed in a purposeful way. She was barefoot, wearing blue corduroy pants and a blue sweater. Her body would be discovered by a volunteer after Ruth Anne’s mother reported her missing. As it turns out, Michele also helped in the search for Ruth Anne after the report was made. Ruth Anne’s underwear was later found in a nearby shed and her boots were found in the Herfys’ dumpster. It was determined by the coroner that there was no indication of sexual assault and that Ruth Anne had died from drowning. During the questioning by police, she surprised them by also confessing to killing her three year old cousin, Natyah Ottino by pushing him into a duck pond at the Washington Park zoo while he was in her care. This was two years earlier in 1978, when she was a mere eleven years old. At the time, authorities thought it was just a tragic accident. Michele’s grandmother, Deletta Reese sought counseling for her after her mother and her cousin’s deaths. Deletta would later tell a reporter that the psychiatrist had never heard of so many tragedies in one family before. After Michele admitted to these murders, she was taken to the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Home, where she reportedly confessed the murders to several of the residents. She was soon charged Ruth Anne’s murder, not as an adult, but as a juvenile. She was never charged with her cousin Natayah’s murder, because of her age at the time it occurred. She spent nine months at this facility while the courts were deciding on how to proceed with her case. It was eventually decided that her confession to the police would be thrown out due to her not being read her Miranda rights. Later on that year, in 1980, prosecutors tried a different angle, they wanted to use what Michele had told other girls at the facility as evidence against her. This too was rejected by the judge, due to a rule that juveniles receive a trial within thirty days of the charge. All charges against Michele were dismissed. A second petition was filed, this time it was to make Michele a ward of the state, stating that she was a danger to herself and others. This petition was passed and she was placed into the custody of the children’s services division, now known as the child welfare department. Michele was sent to a state school in Maine for disturbed children, where she was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, with schizoid and passive dependent tendencies. While she was at the school, prosecutors fought and won the right to reinstate the charges against her. Defense attorneys argued that she had been programmed to kill due to her upbringing and was unfit to assist in her defense.
When Michele turned 18, she was assessed again and it was determined that she was able to be tried. Michele had been living on her own at this time and it was discovered that she had been volunteering as a swimming teacher at a YMCA in Portland. Once the YMCA was informed of her background, she was removed from her position.
In 1985, when Michele was almost 19, she was convicted as a juvenile for the murder of Ruth Anne. Her defense attorney argued that she learned about immediate and self gratification from her mother and from her grandfather that the way to solve problems with others was to kill them. She was ordered to be in the state’s custody until the age of 21. After that, the courts no longer had any supervision of her. It was agreed by Michele and her attorney that she would need mental health care for the rest of her life.
Both Ruth Anne’s and Natyah’s mothers attended the proceedings and were understandably upset and bitter with how long it took to get some justice for their children. Ruth Anne’s mother, Gale O’Neil once told a reporter that at the time Michele was babysitting for her, she thought Michele was the sweetest, best mannered, best behaved girl she had ever known. Also, the O’Neil home, which was occupied by Mrs. O’Neil, and her two daughters, Bethany and Ruth Anne, had been burgled right around Christmas, the only items stolen were gifts that were meant for Ruth Anne, gifts that Michele helped Mrs.O’Neil pick out. The O’Neil's had planned on moving shortly after Christmas, sadly Ruth Anne was killed before this could take place.
On a side note, this would not be the only tragedy that the O’Neil's would endure. Ruth Anne’s first cousin would later be convicted of killing his mother and step father, he is currently serving life without parole in the Oregon State penitentiary.
In April of 1991, Michele had legally changed her name to Michele Shorthouse and she was successful in having her juvenile records expunged.
In 1992, when Michele was 26, she found herself in trouble once again. She was engaged to a man named Joe Shorthouse, who was fighting for custody of his five year old son from his ex-wife, Lisa Mackie. Michele also wanted revenge against Lisa for getting her fired from her job after informing them of her past. With Lisa Mackie out of the way, this would allow Michele to adopt Joe’s son after they got married. Michele hatched a plan to hire a previous boyfriend, Anthony Johnson, to murder Lisa and set her house on fire. Lisa Mackie, who was newly married herself, was on her honeymoon, when Johnson set fire to her house and destroyed it. Shortly thereafter, an anonymous call came into the Bellingham Herald newspaper and informed them of the murder and arson plot by Michele. The call was traced and it led back to Anthony Johnson. Johnson agreed to cooperate with the FBI, and several calls were taped between Michele and himself, discussing the murder plans. In one of the calls, she instructed Johnson to kill Lisa’s husband if he was present, and was told to shoot Lisa twice in the head just to make sure she died. It was decided that February 21st or 22nd would be best, since she would be in Texas for a job interview on those dates.
Michele went to trial and pleaded guilty to paying Johnson to set fire to Lisa’s house and hiring him to kill her. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In 1997 she filed an appeal stating ineffective counsel and that there were inaccuracies in her pre sentencing report. Her appeal was dismissed. Her fiancé at the time of the plot, Joe Shorthouse, was never charged in connection with this crime.
Michele was released from prison in 2005 and completed her probation in 2008. By this time, she was married to a man named Mark Leland, the couple had two children and were living in Glendora California. In December of 2018, the family was visiting a home in Colville when police were called to the home for a shooting incident. When officers arrived, the victim, fifty one year old Mike Leland who had been shot twice in the abdomen was able to recount to them what had happened and who did it. The owner of the home, Susan Alexander handed over what she thought was the weapon, a .357 magnum pistol. Leland was transported to a local hospital where he died later that night. James C. Gates, father of Michele Leland, formerly Gates, was arrested for the second degree murder of Michele’s husband Mark. He refused to answer any questions without an attorney present, but he did say the shooting was in self defense. When Alexander and Michele were questioned, they claimed that Mark pushed James to the ground, a claim that Mark had earlier denied to officers. His story to the officers was that he went into the garage and found James on the ground, and when asked what happened, James accused Mark of pushing him. Alexander and Michele said they were in the house when the shooting occurred and that the two men didn’t get along. Their demeanor was described as stoic and emotionless. James Gates was also described as being calm and collected at the time of his arrest and when he was told he was going to jail, he asked how far it was that he needed to use the bathroom.
James went to trial in October of 2019 and pleaded guilty to first degree manslaughter and was sentenced to seven years.
A GoFundMe was set up for Michele and her kids for the death of her husband, nothing about the manner of his death was mentioned in the description, only that it was untimely.
As a result of Michele’s case, The Oregonian sued and won the right for juvenile proceedings to be open to the public.
The Oregon legislature was also able to pass a bill as a result of this case, that juveniles with convictions of murder or sex crimes on their record, will not be able to have their records expunged.
Despite how minutely Michele was studied and the years that were spent on this case, no motive was ever established for the murders or Ruth Anne and Natayah. Ruth Anne’s mother believes she killed her so that her sister Bethany could enjoy being an only child like Michele was. She told an Oregonian reporter that Michele once said to her, wouldn’t it be really weird if somebody grabbed Ruthie and killed her? Bethany would then have all these toys and everything she wants would be hers, and she wouldn’t have to have a little sister anymore.
Legal proceedings would later reveal that the motive of Natayah’s murder was jealousy, she felt in competition with him over her grandfather’s attention. This grandfather, who passed on the lesson to Michele, that killing was the way to resolve issues.