The mother of two teenagers, slain more than two months ago by their father, revealed details of the downward spiral of their marriage in an exclusive interview and various legal records she provided to The Union Democrat.
Sean Plummer married Philip Marshall on April 14, 1995. In the earliest years of their marriage, there were no signs of Marshall’s dark side, she said.
“He was not mentally ill when I met him,” Plummer said. “He was very charming and funny … everybody loved him. I was fooled, and that’s how good these people are.”
About a year after their son, Alex, was born in November 1995, Plummer said she “started seeing signs of anger … he couldn’t find something (so) he’d just tear things up.”
According to a Jan. 7, 2009, treatment summary written by Florida psychiatrist Dr. Liana Urfer, and provided by Plummer to The Union Democrat, Marshall was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder after “a period of apparent manic symptoms occurring in 2001 to 2003.”
In 2002, Marshall, a professional airline pilot, “was smoking a lot of (marijuana) … and absolutely should not have been flying a plane,” Plummer recalled.
Urfer wrote that prescriptions of Wellbutrin, Lamictal and Provigil were successively given to Marshall then discontinued “due to lack of perceived efficacy.” She saw “no evidence of active manic or hypomanic symptoms” during treatment from September 2006 to December 2007.
When the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks occurred, Plummer said Marshall developed an obsession.
“I think whenever you get that intent on something … you start alienating yourself,” she said. “That was his whole life.”
Marshall went on to research and write two books theorizing Saudi Arabian and United States government collusion in the attacks — 2008’s “False Flag 911: How Bush, Cheney and the Saudis Created the Post-911 World” and “The Big Bamboozle: 9/11 and the War on Terror,” published in February 2012.
The United Airlines pilot injured himself on Sept. 3, 2004, carrying several pieces of luggage up a jetway and stairs when he experienced a pop in his left knee, according to records from a Redwood City clinic.
A February 2006 visit to the same clinic revealed non-work-related degenerative damage to his hip. He took the painkiller Vicodin at that time and went on to have knee surgery in November 2006 as well as an injection to block the hip pain.
Marshall made brief attempts to return to work but last flew for United on Nov. 30, 2005, effectively ending his 16-year career with the airline. A Nov. 17, 2006, letter to Marshall from United stated the airline began to pay him a $9,008 monthly disability benefit in December 2005.
The family moved regularly. In retrospect, Plummer said she can look back and see it as an aspect of Marshall’s controlling nature. She worked as a buyer for Nordstrom and started her own clothing line among jobs at various stops.
“Whenever I would do really well, we would move,” Plummer said.
The couple separated briefly in 2006 while living in Florida.
Plummer said Marshall convinced her then to see a psychotherapist.
The therapist helped in an unexpected way.
“All the sudden I figured out it wasn’t me,” she said, adding the therapist described Marshall to her as a “charismatic sociopath” and a narcissist.
Though not a formal diagnosis, this is how Plummer views Marshall’s mental illness.
“This is a charismatic sociopath,” Plummer said. “Period. The end. There is no medication for that.”
Marshall obsessed about having control and bullied people, including herself and their children, Alex and Macaila, in different ways, Plummer said.
“Phil treated Alex totally different from how he treated Macaila,” she said. “She always stood up for herself. She would never leave my side. He was scared of Macaila and he never showed Alex his true colors (regarding) me. With Alex, it was more like ‘You’re too short to play this sport or that sport.’ … Macaila, he basically just ignored her for years.”
Later in 2006, the family moved together to the Forest Meadows home where Philip Marshall ended his and their children’s lives. Plummer said she then found out Marshall was having an affair with a woman who lived in Murphys.
The tension in their marriage peaked in 2008. Plummer often refers to that year as a shorthand for the ugliest point in their family’s history prior to the double murder-suicide.
The couple legally separated on Aug. 15, 2008, according to court records. Plummer moved into a home in the Fieldstone subdivision of Murphys, while Marshall remained at the Forest Meadows house.
Plummer said Marshall had cut off all financial support to her for six months and she found part-time work at a candle shop in downtown Murphys. She relied on a support group of dedicated friends and family, she said.
On Nov. 11, 2008, a Calaveras County sheriff’s deputy arrested Plummer on suspicion of petty theft, trespassing and possession of drugs without a prescription after Marshall hid in a shower and videotaped her removing his painkillers from the bathroom of the Forest Meadows home.
Plummer claims she took the pills to give to her lawyer as proof of Marshall’s drug use. She spent two days in jail, and charges were dropped nearly a year later after she attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
On Nov. 21, 2012, Calaveras County Superior Court Judge John Martin signed an order granting the couple’s mediated agreement to share custody of the children and have Marshall begin to pay $2,400 a month in child support and $1,000 in temporary spousal support.
On Dec. 5, Marshall allegedly slapped Erin Chamberlain, Plummer’s sister, and was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence. No charges were ever filed.
Plummer’s friend Deana Richter was there when the Dec. 5 incident occurred and recalled in an email to Plummer last week that “Phil pointed his finger at me like a gun and smiled. After that he would do that to me whenever he saw me. It was disturbing when I would see him with the kids, they would run up to me with hugs, like they always did, and I would look over at him and he was pointing that finger gun at me.”
Another friend, Sheila Krpan, said she never liked Marshall and could see disturbing aspects of his personality.
“Phil was very, very good … at manipulating people and getting people to buy his side of the story,” she said.
Despite all the turmoil of 2008, Plummer dropped the divorce proceedings the following year.
She said Marshall had become suicidal.
“It’s hard. Being a mom you know, you just want to be a family,” she said. “I didn’t want the kids to lose their dad. He was on his best behavior a month and then he started with the bullying (again) … if I left with the kids, it would have been called kidnapping. We dropped the proceedings because it was too gnarly. I was winning and (Marshall) said I was winning.”
Though their relationship remained strained, “I took (Phil) to Istanbul with me,” Plummer said, recalling a trip done as part of Broads Abroad, her business buying goods overseas for domestic retailers. “I had him here for the holidays. I included him fully in our life because I never wanted to go back to 2008.”
Plummer was back in Turkey when she learned of her children’s deaths at Marshall’s hands sometime between Jan. 31 and Feb. 2.
As she holds plastic bags containing the children’s ashes, she recalls her first thoughts upon receiving them.
“I was literally thinking, ‘Can I put them together again?’” she said.
Raised on beaches from Southern California to the Spanish island of Ibiza, Plummer said she found something comforting in the ashes’ appearance.
“It’s sand,” she said. “The whitest of white.”
Marshall also killed the dog Plummer had bought for Macaila, a Shih Tzu named Sukie. The dog, like Macaila, usually lived with Plummer. Alex split time more evenly between his parents. Plummer said just the right set of circumstances had to come into play to put them all there the weekend they were killed.
While Plummer was in Turkey, Macaila would have typically stayed with friends, but she went to her father’s house after a golf cart mishap that left her legs badly scraped up, Plummer said.
“I thought that bullet would be for me always,” she said.
Plummer said Marshall devised a plan to hurt her even worse than just killing her.
“I had become too strong. I became the woman he married again,” she said. “There is no category for that (act). This is not something I would have expected ever … he loved his kids. He loved that dog. (But) he loved himself more than anything.”
“He couldn’t control (Alex) anymore. He could never control Macaila,” she said. “He couldn’t control me anymore.”
Plummer said toxicology reports of moderate levels of alcohol in the system of each child surprised her.
“Alex would never, ever have anything to drink in front of Phil,” she said. “He set Alex up. He probably said something like ‘You’re a big guy, c’mon.’”
Records provided by Plummer showed the Forest Meadows home was financially distressed. The couple had “negative equity” of $63,000 in the house, according to a letter to the couple from a mediator in their divorce proceedings, which Plummer renewed in October 2012.
Marshall also left records at the crime scene indicating $67,000 in unspecified debts, sheriff’s officials said.
Plummer said she knows “for a fact” Marshall told friends she was suicidal and he expected her to discover the bodies and kill herself after learning of his act.
Friends of Alex and Macaila saw Philip Marshall’s body from a front window Feb. 2 and called police, who discovered the children’s and dog’s bodies upon entry.
Plummer said she has paid little mind to conspiracy theories circulating online and even picked up by Iranian television that say the U.S. government covered up a murder of Marshall and his children. Plummer did say she thinks Marshall knew those theories would abound in light of his books.
“He wanted me to see (the crime scene). He was the epitome of a bully. Society helped him be a bully, not just society but government … sure, yeah, give him a gun. Let him buy ammo,” she said. “I’ll never be able to be inside his head. I’ll never be able to know for sure … (but) he missed a little something about me. I have too much faith in God.”
Plummer said she did not learn until long after Marshall bought the 9mm Glock he used to kill himself and their children that he possessed it.
“He said pilots had to have them for work,” she said.
Marshall retained his pilot’s license at the time of his death despite his grounding by United. New Orleans media reported he flew planes over the Saints’ practice facility and MetLife Stadium in New Jersey last summer carrying a banner to protest the NFL’s suspension of Saints coach Sean Payton.
Plummer said she will campaign for increased gun control and better treatment of mental illness.
“I need to use my voice for Macaila. I need to use my voice for Alex,” she said. “Just because they’re physically gone doesn’t mean they’re gone.”
Plummer left her rented Greenhorn Creek home this week to move back to Southern California and be closer to other family members.
Philip Marshall’s toxicology screen showed the painkillers hydrocodone and morphine in his blood as well as hydroxybupropion, a derivative of the antidepressant bupropion, according to the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office.
A property report of items seized from Marshall’s home by investigators after the killings lists numerous prescription bottles belonging to Marshall: a bottle of hydrocodone mixed with Tylenol; two bottles of bupropion; and one or two bottles each of the antidepressants amitriptylene, escitalopram, aripiprazole and bupropion, some of which were empty.
Plummer said the Sheriff’s Office has provided her the name of the laboratory that still has possession of Marshall’s computer and her children’s cell phones. She is working to have them returned.
She also expects drugs seized from Marshall’s home to be tested to help determine what effects they may have had on his mind when combined.
“It’s going to take a lot of people to figure out what went wrong,” she said.