A Family Affair – The Murder of Jerry Heiman

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6th March 2021  •  3 min read

Barbara Opel enlisted her 13-year-old daughter and a group of her teenage friends to murder a man who had taken her family under his wing.


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Barbara Opel enmeshed herself in her children’s lives to an extremely unhealthy degree. Her 13-year-old daughter, Heather Opel, had been encouraged to date from a young age. Each year, when valentine’s day rolled around, Barbara hosted a party and supplied the guests with alcohol. Barbara and Heather’s father had long divorced and she kept him from the children. They also had another 11-year-old son together while Barbara had a 7-year-old daughter from another relationship.

Barbara and her children were taken under the wing of terminal cancer patient, 64-year-old Jerry Heiman. Jerry had hired Barbara to care for his 89-year-old mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease. Jerry converted the basement in the home for Barbara and her children to live in while providing care for his mother.

However, shortly after Barbara and her children moved in, she started to plan something extremely sinister. Jerry had recently come in to $40,000 from the sale of a house and Barbara decided that she wanted that money and in order to obtain that money, Barbara decided that she needed Jerry to be dead.1

Barbara Opel.

Barbara didn’t want to murder Jerry herself so she turned to Heather’s boyfriend, 17-year-old Jeffrey Grote. At first, Jeffrey refused to kill Jerry but when Barbara promised to buy him a car and pay a group of his friends to help, he changed his mind. Barbara enlisted Jeffrey, Heather, 14-year-old Kyle Boston, Kyle’s 13-year-old cousin, and 14-year-old Marriam Oliver to carry out the murder. On the 13th of April, 2001, the group of teenagers hid in Jerry’s house and waited for him to come home. As soon as he entered the home, the teenagers set upon him.

One of the teenagers cracked Jerry over the head with an aluminium baseball bat. He fell to the floor and begged for mercy but his pleas fell on deaf ears. The three teenage boys hit Jerry over and over again with baseball bats while Heather and Marriam took turns in stabbing Jerry with a 10-inch kitchen knife. As the attack was unfolding, Barbara was in the basement. Mid-way through, Marriam became squeamish and retreated but Barbara yelled at her: “Get up there and do what you’re supposed to do! You’re supposed to be Heather’s friend. You’re supposed to be there for her!”2

To make sure that Jerry was dead, he was cracked one final time over the head, splitting his skull open. Afterwards, they dragged Jerry’s body to his own car while Barbara ordered them to mop up the blood. Barbara then ransacked the home. They then drove Jerry’s body to a lonely spot on the Tulalip Indian Reservation and dumped it. After the deed was done, Barbara treated the teenagers to dinner and accommodation at the Rodeway Inn, all of which was paid for with Jerry’s credit card.

After committing the murder, Barbara then used Jerry’s check book to rent a truck which she then packed with all of Jerry’s valuable belongings. They left Jerry’s mother home alone in her blood-spattered wheelchair. She would be found a week later by concerned relatives who hadn’t heard from Jerry; she had been reduced to eating newspapers for sustenance. 3

Police would be alerted to Barbara when it was discovered she had rented a truck with Jerry’s check book. She tried to claim that Jerry was alive and well and was simply out of town. Her 11-year-old son, however, informed the police of the truth and would lead them to Jerry’s body. All of the teenagers involved in the murder readily confessed to their role. Police would also find a note written in Barbara’s diary which read: “So my mom said if I helped kill Jerry I can go get one,” in reference to a new dirt bike that she had her eye on.

During the murder trial, Barbara had tried to claim that Jerry had become abusive towards her and she had wanted to teach him a lesson. She claimed that her plan was to have the teenagers beat Jerry up but not murder him. She contended that the teenagers had concocted the murder themselves. However, all of the teenagers would tell a different story and contend that they had been paid by Barbara.

Ultimately, the jury would reject Barbara’s defence and would determine that she was the mastermind of the brutal murder. She was found guilty and sentenced her to life imprisonment. Jeffrey Grote pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Heather Opel pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 22 years. Kyle Boston was sentenced to 18 years. His unnamed cousin was tried as a juvenile and released when he turned 21. Marriam Oliver was sentenced to 22 years.

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Footnotes:

  1. Tyler Morning Telegraph, 9 April, 2003 – “Woman Convicted of Masterminding Murder”
  2. Daily News, 17 August, 2008 – “She Made Them Killers”
  3. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 25 April, 2001 – “Teens Hired to Kill Man”

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Dee
Dee
1 month ago

So messed up that a single grown woman ruined so many lives of children and their family! What an absolute sad story.

Erin
Erin
1 month ago

I really wish Emily would do more write ups. The podcast is great, but it’s the articles that got me into morbidology and what I can most conveniently consume.

Ellen
Ellen
7 days ago

This is disgusting of how far someone who would go for greed.

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