GLT is partnering with true crime podcast Suspect Convictions to explore the 1998 murder of 3-year-old Bloomington girl Christina McNeil.
Her father was convicted of the crime but has long maintained his innocence, claiming an ex-girlfriend was the real killer—the same woman later convicted in a separate murder. New episodes air Fridays on GLT’s Sound Ideas. You can also subscribe to the podcast.
For listeners who’ve been following Suspect Convictions for the past 12 episodes, Barton McNeil is a convicted murderer, the voice you hear from behind bars at a southern Illinois prison.
This week on Suspect Convictions, hosts Scott Reeder and Willis Kern look at McNeil’s life before he was charged in his daughter’s 1998 murder.
McNeil grew up in a middle-class Bloomington family in the 1960s and ’70s. His parents divorced when he was young, and McNeil moved to Wisconsin with his mother and his brother, to be closer to his grandparents. His mother died soon after, either by suicide or drug overdose, relatives say.
McNeil and his brother, Bret, then moved back to Bloomington to live with their father, also named Barton, then an Illinois Wesleyan University art professor. His father, who remarried in 1967, later moved to New York. The younger McNeil stayed in Bloomington.
McNeil dropped out of school as a teenager. Larry Mize, one of McNeil’s teenage friends, said they considered themselves pot-smoking nerds. Mize said McNeil had the first home computer he ever touched.
McNeil never had big career ambitions. He worked kitchen jobs across Bloomington-Normal. McNeil met Misook (Nowlin) Wang—the ex-girlfriend he believes killed his daughter—when they both worked at Red Lobster.
“That’s the problem. I didn’t have a lot of ambition. I was more concerned about what I was gonna be doing with my buddies next weekend than I was two or three years from now,” McNeil said.
McNeil met his ex-wife, Tita, only after they became pen pals. She was working as a midwife in Saudi Arabia, and one of her friends suggested McNeil write to her. They exchanged letters for two years, and Tita later invited him to the Philippines so they could meet, he said. They later married.
McNeil cheated on his wife—then pregnant with Christina—with Misook, who was also married at the time. The McNeils divorced.
“I’m very much ashamed of what I did then. I’m not making any excuses or anything. I was weak-minded, weak at heart, morally compromised, whatever you want to call it. But I was under (Misook’s) spell. I was almost helpless to her ways and her charms,” McNeil said.
In June 1998, McNeil and Misook broke up for good, he said. The next morning, Christina was found dead in her father’s apartment, smothered to death. McNeil proclaimed his innocence and pointed the finger at Misook but was convicted of the murder himself. He’s spent the past 19 years in prison.
McNeil’s father returned to Bloomington for his trial. (His father died in 2017 in New York.)
“After I was convicted, I never saw or heard from him again,” McNeil said. (McNeil has received helped from other relatives throughout his fight for exoneration, notably two cousins featured on Episode 11.)
Another childhood friend, Jane Fairchild, says she can’t picture McNeil harming another person. The two were CB radio buffs together; McNeil’s call sign was “Bugs Bunny.”
“It’s just not Bart to harm anyone. It was not who he is,” said Fairchild, who’s visited McNeil in prison along with her husband. “That’s just not his heart to harm anyone, not alone his little girl.”
McNeil, now 58, maintains his innocence. He is now represented by the Illinois Innocence Project, which is expecting file motions in his case in hopes of winning a new trial and, ultimately, exoneration.
Misook also denies involvement. Thirteen years after Christina’s death, Misook was charged and convicted of killing her mother-in-law—a separate crime that McNeil’s lawyers say is similar to the 1998 case.
Listen to Episode 13:
On Next Week’s Episode: As Season 2 of Suspect Convictions ends, hosts Willis Kern and Scott Reeder recap the McNeil case and explore what court filings may be coming soon.
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