Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Third Man Pleads Guilty in Seasons Trace Murder-For-Hire Scheme

Nace Eugene Houchin Jr. (Courtesy Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail)
Nace Eugene Houchin Jr. (Courtesy Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail)

A 34-year-old Fort Eustis soldier pleaded guilty Tuesday to the July 2013 murder of a woman in Seasons Trace, joining two others who have already admitted their involvement in a murder-for-hire scheme.

Nace Eugene Houchin, his wife, Nicole Michelle Houchin, and another man police believe is 25-year-old Gregory Andrew Crawford, went into the Seasons Trace home of 42-year-old Dana Patterson Mackay on July 27, 2013. Nace Houchin went upstairs and beat her to death with a breaker bar, which is a tool similar to a socket wrench, said Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green.

Dana Mackay’s husband, John, had been involved in an affair with Nicole Houchin, a coworker at the Merrimac Trail AutoZone. Their tryst spiraled into a plot to murder Dana Mackay, which culminated in Nace Houchin agreeing to a $20,000 payment for carrying out the killing. John Mackay, a member of the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Eustis, was in New York at the time of his wife’s death.

By pleading guilty Tuesday, Nace Houchin joins John Mackay and Nicole Houchin in admitting involvement in the murder-for-hire scheme. The Houchins and John Mackay all faced the death penalty and initially pleaded not guilty.

Plea deals for John Mackay and Nicole Houchin agreed to Feb. 9 required them to divulge all knowledge of the plot to investigators. The death penalty was dropped against them, and they face decades in prison. Nace Houchin’s plea deal also drops the death penalty, but he still faces life in prison.

Green said Tuesday the Houchins and a third man — whom Green did not identify during the hearing, but court records have identified as Crawford — went to the Mackay house on Teal Way in the early morning hours of July 27, 2013. Nicole Houchin had already been watching the house to record when Dana Mackay left and returned to the house.

They got inside the house by using a credit card to shimmy open a door. Once inside, Nace Houchin went upstairs while the other two conspirators remained on the first floor.

Nace Houchin then kicked down the door and went inside the bedroom and attacked Dana Mackay, who was asleep in her bed. He hit her 15 to 20 times with the breaker bar. John Mackay told the conspirators his wife was recovering from surgery on her head and was especially vulnerable there.

Blunt-force trauma wounds were found on her head, and defensive wounds were found on her hands, Green said.

He then went downstairs, where Nicole Houchin told him to go back upstairs to make sure she was dead and that he should break her neck if necessary. Green said Nace Houchin went back upstairs and hit her at least one more time.

Investigators believe Crawford — a coworker of John Mackay and Nicole Houchin at the AutoZone — suggested ransacking the house to make it look like a robbery that went wrong. He is believed to have collected the clothing they wore, which he then allegedly burned. He is also accused of disposing of the breaker bar in the James River.

Dana Mackay’s mother grew concerned after not hearing from her daughter all day on July 27. The two had been communicating frequently due to “medical difficulties” the victim had, Green said.

The mother called a neighbor, who went to the Mackay house and discovered Dana Mackay’s body in the house around 6 p.m. July 27. The James City County Police Department responded, and investigators found parts of a blue latex glove underneath Dana Mackay’s body.

Police first turned to John Mackay, who spoke with investigators over the phone from New York and admitted his affair with Nicole Houchin, though he denied any involvement in her death. Nicole Houchin was interviewed at the AutoZone and admitted she was involved in an affair with John Mackay, though she also said she did not know anything about what happened to Dana Mackay.

On July 29, police received a cell phone from a friend of John Mackay’s. John Mackay loaned him the phone and had left himself signed into the email account, so the phone received numerous emails detailing parts of the plot to kill Dana Mackay.

When confronted with this evidence, John Mackay described the discussions of killing Dana Mackay a “fantasy” before telling police that Nicole Houchin called him July 27 and said “it’s done” and that “there was a lot of screaming.”

John Mackay and Nicole Houchin were then arrested and charged.

Investigators later found a piece of a blue latex glove on Nace Houchin’s front lawn at his home on Fort Eustis that was the same type as the one found in Dana Mackay’s bedroom, though investigators were unable to match tear marks on the recovered glove fragments.

Sometime between their arrest and September, Nace Houchin’s girlfriend asked him about the murder and his involvement in it. She told investigators Nace Houchin mentioned “some things” about his wife’s involvement in Dana Mackay’s death but stopped short of saying anything else, Green said Tuesday.

But she kept asking him about it and became more suspicious. In September, Nace Houchin went AWOL from his post at Fort Eustis. Two days later, he showed up at his girlfriend’s house and told her he killed Dana Mackay and he told her what went on in the Mackay house on the night of the killing. Nicole Houchin later corroborated these details to investigators following her plea deal, Green said.

The murder capped a months-long affair between John Mackay and Nicole Houchin. The investigation determined John Mackay was hesistant to leave his wife to continue the affair with Nicole Houchin because of how much money he would have to pay her in a divorce and the potential for adultery charges in the military.

The emails police found in the phone and from records requests made to Google revealed repeated conversations between the couple about how to orchestrate Dana Mackay’s death.

Several emails speculated about making Dana Mackay’s death look like an accident and of finding someone to kill her. Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green said in one email, sent July 6, 2013, Nicole Houchin wrote she wanted Dana Mackay dead immediately.

“It will make me feel better,” Houchin wrote, telling John Mackay she planned to carry out the killing on her next day off from work.

“Sweet,” John Mackay replied.

On July 24, the pair emailed back and forth discussing a plan and questioning when Dana Mackay would be at home.

“Will she be gone before I get back?” “I’ll be forever in debt to you and will show you every day,” John Mackay is said to have written. “Trying to make it happen asap,” Nicole Houchin replied, according to a criminal complaint filed against her in Williamsburg-James City County District Court.

With the Houchins and John Mackay all having pleaded guilty, only Crawford remains. He was arrested Feb. 16, one week after John Mackay and Nicole Houchin agreed to tell investigators everything they knew.

His case has not yet advanced to circuit court, where felony cases are heard. His next hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. March 3 in Williamsburg-James City County District Court.

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