August 17, 2022

‘Life after Death’ on Netflix: Here’s What Really Happened in Tyler Henry’s Grandmother’s Murder Case

For those tuning in to Netflix’s Life After Death with Tyler Henry, you’re going to get all of the psychic feels that you usually get when the medium to the stars is on screen. But Life After Death is about more than just cold reads and warm emotions. There’s also a true crime element to Henry’s new series — and the crime he’s trying to solve is one from his own family’s past.

At the end of the season premiere, we find out that Tyler’s mother Theresa has spent the last few years looking into her family history. Two years ago she found out that the woman who she believed to be her biological mother was actually not that at all. Theresa wasn’t related by blood to the family she grew up in — and this actually gave Theresa a feeling of relief because her “mother” is a murderer.

You read that right. The woman who Tyler Henry grew up believing to be his grandmother is a murderer who served over 30 years in prison. This shocking reveal becomes the through line for the season as Tyler and his mother search for answers about her birth parents and we learn more about this crime. And because of this structure, Life After Death doesn’t get into the details surrounding the murders until Episode 4. If you just started the season and want to know all of the details, we’ve got you covered — and then some. SPOILERS ahead (but just for this one storyline).

Life After Death with Tyler Henry S1. (L to R) Theresa and Tyler Henry in episode 8 of Life After Death with Tyler Henry S1. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022
Courtesy of Netflix

As we learn in Episode 3, Tyler Henry’s grandmother Stella left her two biological children — Peter and Felicia — in California for roughly two years when they were very young. During that time, she lived in Louisiana and at some point during that period, she… well, as another medium claims later in the season, Stella stole newborn Theresa right out of the hospital and forged her birth certificate. When she returned to California, Felicia and Peter were told that Theresa was their sister and that was their reality until just recently when a DNA test revealed the truth. Stealing [albeit allegedly?] a baby would not be the last of Stella’s crimes. On top of being an abusive mother, she would often involve her children in various cons that she’d run on trusting members of her church.

Stella’s crimes escalated to murder when she was convicted of killing Judy Wang, the owner of the Fowler motels/" 1376 target="_blank">Motel, and Wang’s boyfriend Wai Lee. After the murders, Stella called her 18-year-old son Peter and had him help with burying the two bodies in a shallow grave. To cover her tracks, Stella told Peter that the couple were killed by someone else, someone who would kill Stella and Peter if the “truth” ever got out. When Stella was arrested, Peter was charged as an accessory to the crime. Reflecting back on the crime, Peter now believes that his mother killed Wang and Lee in an attempt to take over the motels/" 1376 target="_blank">motel. It’s a bizarre motive… but it’s also true.

The show gets into a lot of detail about the double homicide, but it leaves out a bit of context and some of the details surrounding the investigation. There are many answers to be found if you dive into local newspaper archives — so that’s what I did.

The first question: when did Stella murder the owner of the Fowler motels/" 1376 target="_blank">Motel? As reported by The Fresno Bee on July 26, 1977, two unidentified bodies were found on Friday, July 22, 1977. The victims, each with multiple gunshot wounds, were stacked on top of each other in a shallow grave just three feet away from one of the motels/" 1376 target="_blank">motel rooms. It was actually Stella — then going by the name Maria Lisa Nestle — who tipped off the sheriff to the bodies; Stella’s initial plan was to call the authorities and claim that someone else had called her and told her that someone had been killed and buried on the property. Investigators believed the pair had been buried for about a week before being discovered.

What happened at the Fowler motels/" 1376 target="_blank">Motel week earlier? Why did Stella murder Judy Wang and Wai Lee? Well, her son Peter seems to be correct: she wanted the motels/" 1376 target="_blank">motel. Stella actually worked as the maid at Fowler, but she told investigators that she’d been placed in charge of the motels/" 1376 target="_blank">motel by Wang while she and her boyfriend went on a trip to Taiwan. According to Stella, Wang and her companion left her in charge of the motels/" 1376 target="_blank">motel on July 15.

Life After Death with Tyler Henry S1. (L to R) Tyler Henry and Peter in episode 4 of Life After Death with Tyler Henry S1. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022
Courtesy of Netflix

Stella actually called the police on July 16 to tell them that a group of armed men had robbed the motels/" 1376 target="_blank">motel in the morning and threatened to be back for more that night. That’s roughly the same story that she told Peter to get him to come and help her bury the bodies of Wang and Lee. The authorities then staked out the motels/" 1376 target="_blank">motel and arrested four individuals — two men and two women — who arrived at the motels/" 1376 target="_blank">motel that night. Then Stella was like, “Yep, those are people who threatened me!” If you read the initial report of the incident from before the bodies were found, the police seem to take Stella’s word as truth and just arrest four people who were staying at the motels/" 1376 target="_blank">motel. This also gave Stella a bit of cover and some likely suspects when she later tipped the police off about the bodies she buried.

It didn’t take long for the police to get to the actual truth about what happened. Stella was arrested on July 28, 1977, six days after the bodies were discovered. During their investigation, Wang’s brother told police that he thought it was extremely unlikely that his sister would leave anyone outside of their family in charge of the motels/" 1376 target="_blank">motel. Even more damning: multiple people said that Stella had asked if they would help her tie up Wang and Lee. When the bodies were discovered, both their hands and feet were bound. Peter was arrested a few days later on August 2, and that’s when he told investigators that his mother led him to believe that “some Mexicans” killed Wang and Lee. And wouldn’t you know it — the people Stella presumably framed a few weeks earlier for robbing the hotel were all Mexican-American.

I’ll add that all of the reports from the time don’t make the connection between the murders, Stella’s report of an extortion attempt, and her lies about who “really” killed the couple. In hindsight, it seems to me like Stella used this elaborate extortion/robbery lie to create a commotion and get the Fowler on the sheriff’s radar so that the authorities would have suspects when she called to report that there were bodies buried on the property.

In May 1978, Stella was sentenced to two concurrent life terms in prison for the murders. For helping his mother bury the bodies, Peter was placed on probation for two years. As for the four individuals arrested for allegedly attempting to rob and extort the Fowler, those charges were dropped when it was discovered that the only witness was the person who actually committed the murders.

Life After Death gives a quick summation of this crime as the show is much more concerned with the emotional fallout of what happened rather than all the details. The season lets you know all of the key information without getting into the extortion setup or the dark details of Stella’s hostile takeover of the Fowler motels/" 1376 target="_blank">Motel. There was a lot more to this case, for sure, but Tyler Henry’s show is more about healing in the present and less about opening the wounds of the past.

Life After Death with Tyler Henry S1. (L to R) Tyler Henry, Peter, Theresa and Felicia in episode 9 of Life After Death with Tyler Henry S1. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022
Courtesy of Netflix

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