Post by Graveyardbride on Jul 25, 2016 19:26:00 GMT -5
July 23, 2013: Who Killed the Pastor’s Wife?
On Tuesday, July 23, 2013, Karen Shahan, 52, failed to appear for work at Hobby Lobby in Homewood, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham. Attempts to reach her by telephone were unsuccessful and because she was such a loyal, punctual employee, her supervisor contacted the police. At approximately 11:15 a.m., police arrived at 102 Hugh Circle (above), a wooded cul-de-sac, to conduct a welfare check and when no one answered their knocks, entered the house and discovered Karen’s corpse. Apparently, she had been sitting on the livingroom sofa eating and watching TV when she was attacked. Police found a broken window in the basement through which they surmised the intruder, or intruders, had entered and a neighbor reported having heard a noise that sounded like breaking glass between 11 and 11:30 the previous night. The dwelling was in disarray and the victim's blood was all over the house. A crime scene investigator told reporters it was the most brutal murder site he had ever seen.
Police, neighbors, church members, co-workers and everyone else who knew Karen Shahan were dumbfounded. Karen was the wife of Richard L. Shahan, 52, Children and Families Pastor and Facilities Director at the First Baptist Church situated just a few yards away facing Lakeshore Drive. In fact, the church owned the property at 102 Hugh Circle.
Admittedly, there had been a few break-ins and burglaries in the vicinity, but it was highly unusual for a burglar, intent on stealing something he could sell, to break into a residence at 11 or 11:30 at night when he knew someone would be home. When asked for a comment, Sgt. Andrew Didcoct conceded, “We don't know if this is random, a burglary gone bad or what. We just don't know.”
However, according to a gentleman who lived on nearby Ashley Road, an officer with whom he spoke was more forthcoming: “The officer told me that when a burglar breaks in and there’s somebody in the house, they get out of there as fast as they can. If a burglar is surprised and threatened by someone, he might push them, he might even knock them over the head with something like a flashlight, but what he doesn’t do is hang around long enough to stab someone to death. He said that burglars are thieves, not killers. They want to get in, get what they can and haul ass. He told me that Mrs. Shahan’s murder wasn’t some run-of-the-mill burglary gone wrong. It was planned.”
As soon as the Rev. Charles Carter, interim pastor of First Baptist Church, and other church leaders learned what had happened, two staff members immediately set off for Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where Richard Shahan was visiting his son, Colin, who was serving in the army. They intended to drive him back to Homewood because after such a tragedy, he would be in no condition to drive himself. Richard had left the day before to visit his and Karen’s sons and grandchildren, first stopping in Franklin, Tenn., where Kyle was attending school.
Following autopsy, the medical examiner issued a report the following day indicating there were multiple stab wounds to Karen Shahan’s neck and torso, as well as minor defensive wounds. There was also food in her mouth and on her chest, indicating she had just taken a mouthful of her supper when she was attacked. This information was all released to the public. What wasn’t released was that semen was detected on the body, though there was no evidence of sexual assault.
People who knew Karen from work, church and the neighborhood were stunned and heartbroken. “She was a fine, fine Christian lady and a faithful member of the choir,” said Don Campbell, Minister of Worship at First Baptist Church. “[Karen] was always positive, always supportive and encouraging. ... She was always so positive and so gracious in opening her home to staff and others. ... And Karen was so supportive of Richard in his ministry. She was shy and quiet and preferred to fade into the background, but she was extremely supportive of him.”
Kathleen Fittro, who lived a few houses away from the Shahan residence, said she hadn’t seen anything suspicious and always considered their neighborhood safe. She told a reporter she was “shocked and saddened for the family” and hoped “the pieces of the puzzle will be solved and they'll find out who did this and bring the person to justice.” But at the time, neither police, neighbors nor anyone else had any idea who might have killed Karen Shahan – they couldn’t even speculate.
If Mrs. Shahan was having supper – and there’s every indication she was – a light would have been on in the livingroom. Why would a burglar break into a house in which he knew someone was up and about? How could he be sure the woman’s husband, or other family members, weren’t also in the house? And if the breaking window was heard by a neighbor, surely Karen Shahan heard it too. Yet, the lady didn’t move or interrupt her meal and, in fact, had food in her mouth when she was attacked. How could someone she didn’t know have broken into a house with which he was unfamiliar and gotten all the way to the living room so stealthily that he was able to sneak up on Mrs. Shahan with a knife and stab her to death? And why was there blood “all over the house”?
More than 200 people attended the memorial service for Karen Shahan held Saturday, July 27. Rev. Carter praised Mrs. Shahan for her devotion to her family and church, indicating her strong faith carried over into all aspects of her life. Then he addressed the horrendous manner of her death: “In this instance, we see a totally depraved human mind and human personality. Whoever did this dastardly deed is a sinner in need of salvation. ... This tragedy that we have seen is a commentary upon what man is by nature,” he continued. “We cannot conceive of any human being doing the tragic, murderous act that was done here last Monday night/Tuesday morning. It’s inconceivable, and yet it was done.” The lives of Karen’s husband, sons, daughter-in-law and grandchildren would never be the same.
Richard Shahan was a grieving husband who had just lost his wife in what seemed to be a senseless act of violence, but it was vital that police question him as soon as possible. He was initially questioned informally, then on Wednesday, August 7, he was interrogated at the Homewood police station. When asked to explain his whereabouts during the time of his wife’s murder, Shahan said he left Homewood, Monday, July 22, to visit his and Karen’s sons in Tennessee and Kentucky. He drove to Franklin, Tenn. – a distance of approximately 185 miles – where he had hotel reservations. Investigators used his cell phone records, credit card purchases and electronic hotel lock to track his movements and confirmed he stopped for gas, ate at a restaurant and purchased some personal items at Wal-Mart. He also sent text messages and bought tickets to two different movies. At 3:25 p.m. when he turned off his cell phone, digital tracking ceased and did not resume until 2:30 a.m., August 23, when he opened his hotel room door.
The following day, the pastor was taken into custody for “investigative purposes” and jailed. Alabama law permits the holding of a suspect for a period of 48 hours, but if he isn’t charged, he must be released and the prosecutor lacked sufficient evidence for a charge of homicide.
The minister’s arrest was almost as shocking to the church community as the murder itself and people began to speculate. Those who knew the family well couldn't believe the minister had anything to do with his wife’s death, but nevertheless, began to talk and ask each other questions. Had there been any signs of trouble in the marriage? Was there another woman? Shahan seemed to have an airtight alibi; could he have returned to Homewood, killed Karen and driven back to Tennessee surreptitiously? Could a minister who had admirably served his church and community be so cold, callous and ungodly that he would murder his own loyal and loving wife in cold blood?
Richard Shahan insisted he had nothing to do with his wife’s death and the fact he was still a free man seemed to confirm his innocence. The church still supported him, but he needed to get away and accepted a position with the Children’s Ministry of Bible Mission International, which would take him abroad. He would be working primarily in Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country and former Soviet state. He resigned his former position effective December 31, 2013, and New Year’s Day found him at Nashville International Airport awaiting his flight to Frankfort, Germany. But just moments before his departure, Homeland Security agents approached and took him into custody. Although his plans had been announced in the church bulletin, when Jefferson County authorities learned he was leaving the United States, they feared he was fleeing the country and knew extraditing him from a foreign nation would be difficult, if not impossible. Consequently, he was jailed in Nashville pending extradition to Alabama, which he did not fight.
On January 3, 2014, following Shahan’s arrest, Rev. Carter insisted it was wrong to accuse the former associate pastor of attempting to flee because the position in Kazazkstan was legitimate. He further indicated he had doubts when it came to Shahan’s guilt. “I don’t know all the facts,” Carter said. “I’ve tried to remain neutral. I don’t know all the facts the authorities know, but I tend to believe that he’s innocent.”
The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office disagreed. According to Assistant DA Laura Poston, her office had obtained 3,000 of Shahan’s emails, which included messages indicating that once he arrived in Germany, he planned to travel to Russia and eventually become a citizen of the United Kingdom and marry an online boyfriend. When he was arrested, Shahan was carrying $27,000 in Euros, British pounds and Kazakh currency, all of which was confiscated. A few days later, when he appeared before Judge Sheldon L. Watkins back in Jefferson County, the judge ordered the US currency be returned to Shahan and that he surrender his passport. On January 17, 2014, he was released on a $100,000 bond and placed under what amounted to house arrest at his mother’s residence in Homewood where he remained under surveillance via the electronically-monitored device he was required to wear.
In court, prosecutor Leigh Gwathney argued that Shahan “had no intention of ever returning to the Untied States. ... He had planned to become a citizen there and begin a new life with his boyfriend who he intended to marry. He had no home to return to and he had said his goodbyes to his family.” Shahan’s lawyers, John Lentine and Wendell Sheffield, two high-powered Birmingham defense attorneys, accused prosecutors of attempting to “manufacture a murder case.”
Shahan’s arrest renewed interest in Karen Shahan’s murder and the DA’s allegation that he was fleeing the US to marry a boyfriend set tongues a’wagging. News reporters eagerly sought interviews from those who had known the Shahans. Among those who agreed to speak was Reata Nix, one of Karen’s co-workers at Hobby Lobby. “I don't want to believe it, but I'm glad to see they’re working on the case,” Nix said. “To know that there’s a break and there’s something being done, that’s a comfort to her friends and the people that knew her.” Nix described Mrs. Shahan as “the sweetest human being that walked the face of the earth. If you could pick one person on the face of the earth to never make mad, to never be murdered, it would be her,” she insisted. “She was probably the meekest, the most humble, most beautiful person that you would ever meet.” When asked about the relationship between Karen and her husband, Nix replied, “She adored Richard, she loved him very much. She spoke highly of him, she spoke often of him. She spoke about his missions.”
The internet was also abuzz with the allegations that Richard Shahan was gay. The following comments, some of which attempt to turn the matter into a modern commentary on homosexuality, appeared in response to an AL.com article:
We are all simply humans, No one and I mean No one here on earth has been given any right to judge this man and or the circumstances, he will have his own judgement day that does not have to be on a Jefferson County docket, replace all the hate with a prayer for everyone involved and that also would include Mr, Shahan, the burden he has put on others and his self is more than any punishment a court impose on him. – Gettothepoint
All he had to do was tell her he had a boyfriend, and she probably would’ve been outta there. No reason to kill her. – CambronnesWord
I do not know this man but all I see from the HPD is they think he was leaving the country to marry his boyfriend. Last time I checked this is not a crime. They have yet to produce or talk about a single piece of physical evidence linking him to murder. I will refrain from convicting him of murder like so many have below. After all, that is a judge and jury’s decision, not any of ours. – bpin
Murder and homosexuality are not items of the same set, in spite of what the more hateful here imply. It’s foolish to imply such and stupid to believe it is true. – IAmAllSweetnessAndLight
If the accusations are correct, why did he have to kill his wife? He obviously was making a break from his past life. Just say adios and file for divorce! – OneMeanOldDog
Finally, in August 2014, a little more than a year after his wife’s murder, a grand jury indicted Richard Shahan for killing his wife by “stabbing her and cutting her throat with an unknown object.” However, the information wasn’t made public until October 22. People eagerly followed new developments, although there weren’t many until May 6, 2015, when the State filed its Response to Defendant’s Motion for More Definite Statement of Specific Facts Necessary to Prepare Defense, listing some of both Richard’s and Karen’s emails.
In November 2011, almost two years before Karen Shahan’s murder, Richard was actively soliciting both virtual and actual lovers. The emails begin with an exchange between Richard and a man in Scotland whom he had never met:
11/2/11 - Richard to Lover #1: "… You had me at full attention with pic #2 – I would just die to chew that uncut dick of yours. I have never been on an uncut dick but have always fantacized [sic] about it. Yes I could feeeel you in my mouth ….."
11/2/11 - Richard to Lover #1: "… And then your sex talk – you only turned me on higher! I want to suck and be sucked and far too many people – men – want only one or the other. It is much hotter for me to remain fresh and genuine and involved in it all (even though I am fairly domineering). I love the idea of totally having my way with you until you beg – for more, to stop, to do it again, to try it another way, etc. yes the sex will be rough because I cannot get enough of you fast enough to even begin to satiate my desire – I have years of closeted repressed sexual energy passion and desire. Oh take me baby …"
11/18/11 - Richard to Lover #1: "… No, don’t want you to think I’m writing out of obligation – this is my sanctuary, my retreat, my escape from the world to get to talk to you, think about you, and dream about you. I just know I can’t stand listening to a whiny butt and I don’t want to come off sounding that way to you …"
11/29/2011 - Richard to Lover #1: "… I received your letter today and your aftershave has to be the absolute best scent I have ever smelled! I am just giddy with love for you and now that I have a smell to add to my mental and visual sensations I am just totally enraptured with you!!! I love you so much. Thank you Thank you thank you! And then I find myself thinking about and picturing myself packing up and leaving my life and moving to Scotland and the two of us living together for the rest of our lives. (I actually was standing in my closet the other night thinking, now which clothes would I pack up to move to Scotland). Or I find myself picturing you living with me in the house here and us living our lives day to day in Birmingham. Or another, we spend 6 months in Scotland at your place, and 6 months here at my place. I dream, desire, and pray for it to become real every day. And to answer your question, 'yes!' If (and WHEN) I fly into Glasgow and walk into the terminal I will kiss and hug you and not care who is there! (I don’t want to embarrass you nor make you uncomfortable in public, but I cannot wait for our lips to finally touch for the first time … I think I can get away for a little while on Thursday afternoon, if you want to and have a little time to skype."
12/18/11 - Richard to Lover #1: "… If I could have a 'do-over' – if I could have met you 30 years ago and spent an entire lifetime in your arms, in your bed, in your heart, then I would be the happiest man on the entire earth. Oh that I could have lived that truly happy life. Oh that I might have the opportunity to live the last half of my life that happy. The last 3½ months have been remarkable. You honestly have renewed my hope in one day having even 24 hours with the person I love and that loves me …"
The following email is from Richard to a man in Nashville:
1/26/12 - Richard to Lover #2: "…You have really peaked my interest… SO, I’m very glad to hear from you and to learn about a guy who sounds really normal! Thanks. I’m glad you liked the pic – I wasn’t sure about it, I must have spent an hour trying to get one to turn out. It’s hard taking a picture of yourself. Ok a little about me. I live in Birmingham but get up to N’ville failry [sic] often. My youngest son is in college there at Lipscomb, so I try to get up to see him as much as I can (by myself) … You asked if I was scared? Hell yes, why would I be hiding like this?!?! But scared about you, no. You sound VERY intriguing. I would love to meet you and eat/talk and see where things might progress to later that evening. I am a gentle guy and like to be treated with respect and honesty and vice versa – I will gave [sic] that too. But, that doesn’t mean I’m quiet in bed (haven’t you always heard it’s the quiet ones you have to look out for) … I should be headed up your way again the first part of February. Haven’t scheduled a time just yet. If I did try to work in a 'date' (man, that sounds weird to even say), what night of the week would be best for you? ...."
It turned out Karen Shahan was aware of her husband’s perversions as evidenced by these emails (sent approximately 17 months before her murder) recovered from her computer:
2/21/2012 - Karen to Confidant: "I told him that he cannot keep both lives. That he will have to lose one of them. I said that if he was having any interactions that were not right before God that he should go to God and be completely honest with him because he knows anyway. I told him that God will reveal it to me. I told him that any texting or gmailing that does not bring glory to God has to go (which should give him a clue that I do know because I said gmail and that is not a form of communication that is common for us) …"
3/19/2012 - Karen to Confidant: "… I told him that I did not want to rub salt in a wound, but I knew that he had talked to that man Andrew about the baby coming and I did not want any of those men to be involved with our family. He took it well and said that all involvements were over, that they were all gone out of his life …"
But Richard Shahan obviously wasn’t a man of his word because he continued soliciting men online:
11/6/2012 - Richard to Lover #2: "I’m in a legal marriage contract. There is not an acceptable way for me to dissolve that and continue with the things that are important to me (my job and children) … There is only one way I could become legally 'single' and I have to wait until God grants me that gift. It will come; the woman I live with is slowly killing herself – she is diabetic and refuses to take care of herself physically. Her mother died early with the same disease and did the same thing to her body. So I pray and wait. It will happen in God’s timing. I pray you don’t find me cold and unfeeling (a heartless bitch). I do care about her …"
1/26/13 - Richard inquiring about marriage in foreign country: "Hello, my name is Richard Shahan. I am a US citizen currently living in the US … We would like to be married after I arrive there – especially since your country allows such … We realize this entire procedure will cost and are trying to gain an understanding of all the fees and expenses associated with such an undertaking …"
5/1/2013 - Richard to Lover #2: "… I’ll just call you when I’m heading up that way, and if you have time and feel like seeing me I’ll stop by, otherwise I’ll head on into the city. I’m anxious to hear about your dream when we get a chance."
5/1/2013 - Lover #2 to Richard: "I MUST protect you and I cannot let a very normal, commonplace secret destroy you."
5/3/2013 - Richard to Lover #2: "I love you – I honestly believe our souls are connected in some unique way. Right now, though, I do feel myself crawling back inside myself – but I also know I cannot survive in this state. Something will happen – not sure what to do right now. Do I let something totally snuff out my life, or do I take the bull by the horns and fight. I don't have the energy – so I give up …"
5/4/2013 - Lover #2 to Richard: "First things first – you simply must find another job. That will take care of your problems. The church does not have ill will toward you … and most of the members have no idea what is going on. Be a big boy and don’t speak ill of the church or its members."
5/5/2013 - Richard to Acquaintance: "I'm looking and have applied for a couple other jobs. nothing materializing yet. This scares the hell ouf [sic] of me! Now I’m paranoid – I’ve been looking over my shoulder all evening …"
5/31/2013 - Richard to Acquaintance: "… I’m feeling very lonely inside. This is a tough place for me to be – the battle with depression is a daily struggle. I’m working on job options but nothing has materialized yet. I keep applying and praying for insight. I can’t afford to walk away from this right now, there just is not any 'reserves' built up to get by – and financially this is better than a lot of other things I’m trying for … after a year and a half of being in Eagleville on a regular basis and now not being able to see Phil or you, I’m starting to crumble around the edges. I long for positive touch from another human being who cares about me."
John Lentine expressed contempt for the damaging emails and State’s allegations, declaring, “This case is going to be tried on fact, not on someone's sexual orientation, not based on someone's fidelity or infidelity in a marriage. That's what lawyers and people are supposed to do.”
But as disturbing as these emails were, there was more. During a subsequent police interview, Shahan not only admitted to several homosexual affairs, he also admitted returning to Homewood from Franklin, Tenn., on the night of his wife’s death. After claiming he spent his time in Franklin watching movies and sleeping, now he was saying that after the second movie ended, he purchased alcohol (Baptists aren’t supposed to drink) and drove back to Homewood to retrieve a breathing machine, alleging he had not seen Karen, or anyone else, while in Homewood, then immediately returned to Franklin. He had also adamantly insisted he changed clothes when he first arrived at the hotel, however, the surveillance camera showed otherwise. And he claimed to have purchased gas at a BP station when he returned with the breathing machine, yet there is no record of such a purchase on his credit card. (He could have paid in cash.) It would take approximately three hours to drive from 102 Hugh Circle to the Franklin hotel and the prosecutor contended that Shahan surreptitiously returned to Homewood for the sole purpose of killing his wife.
But what about the semen found on Karen’s body? Because the lady wasn’t sexually assaulted, the prosecution believed Shahan saved a condom from a sexual encounter with one of his male lovers and placed the semen on his wife’s body to confuse investigators.
The trial in State of Alabama v. Richard Lee Shahan was originally scheduled to begin April 18, 2016, but Judge Laura Petro continued the proceedings and the trial is now set to begin January 9, 2017. “There are a variety of outstanding issues in the case plus several trial conflicts with the lawyers that led to this date being set,” Lentine explained. In the meantime, Shahan remains free on $100,000 bond.
Sources: Circuit Court, 10th Judicial Circuit, Jefferson County, Alabama; Creditor’s Attorney Association of Alabama; Kent Faulk, Greg Garrison and Kelsey Stein, AL.com; Clare Huddleston, Melynda Schauer and Beth Shelburne, WBRC; Jon Paepcke, WVTM; The Alabama Baptist; Bob Allen, Baptist News Global; Carol Kuruvilla, The New York Daily News; Ken Lee, People Magazine; and Stephanie Slifer, CBS News.
Note: This article will be updated as the case proceeds.