Major Break in 1988 Murders of Texas Teenage Couple Jun 29, 2017 2:21:56 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Jun 29, 2017 2:21:56 GMT -5
Major Break in 1988 Murders of Texas Teenage Couple
A recent arrest has led to a major beak in a 29-year-old Texas cold case. San Angelo residents Sally McNelly, 18, and Shane Stewart, 17, were reported missing in July 1988 and found shot to death five months later. The break in the case came June 11 when 47-year-old John Gilbreath was arrested after deputies found marijuana and a gun in his car, Fox San Angelo reports.
According to the station, deputies went to Gilbreath’s home in San Angelo and executed a search warrant for evidence related to drug-trafficking. During the search, evidence tied to Sally and Shane’s murders was seized, authorities said. The evidence included three audio tapes with “SS” written on them, handwritten notes and ledgers mentioning the teens and a lock of hair and fingernail, the station reported, citing a court affidavit. The San Angelo Standard-Times quoted the affidavit as saying Gilbreath was in possession of “biological substances including but not limited to hair; blood; fingernails and other biological substances that constitute potential evidence of a double homicide, which occurred in Tom Green County, Texas, on or about July 4, 1988.”
Gilbreath has not been charged with the murders. He was charged with criminal possession of marijuana and illegal possession of a gun by a felon and released on bail. Three days after has arrest, it was announced the FBI’s Behaviorial Analysis Unit is assisting in the cold case investigation.
Sally and her boyfriend were last seen July 4 at a fireworks show. Stewart’s abandoned Camaro was found several miles away the following day. On November 11th, 1988, hunters in the southeast portion of Twin Buttes Reservoir’s South Pool area stumbled upon the remains of Sally McNelly roughly four miles south of where she and Stewart were last seen. Three days later, on November 14, searchers found what was left of Shane Stewart’s body nearby. “Somebody looked these kids in the eyes and killed them, basically an execution,” Lt. Tom Lowe, a Tom Green County Sheriff’s Office investigator, told Fox San Angelo. That November, two skeletons were found near a lake 17 miles from where Shane’s car had been abandoned.
Unsolved Mysteries. The murder of the two teen lovers occurred during the “Satanic Panic” era when people all over the United States were imagining devil-worshipers were hiding behind every bush. On September 18, 1991, the crime was featured on the popular TV show Unsolved Mysteries with emphasis on the Satanic connection. According to the show, law enforcement initially considered the disappearance of the two young people an elopement, though this wasn’t at all logical because their only means of transportation was Stewart’s Camaro and it was found abandoned the day after the pair vanished.
During her interview, McNelly’s mother, Pat Wade, remembered how much her daughter loved people: “She would do anything for a friend. Sally tried hard to please people. She wanted people to like her. She wanted people to respond to her. And love her. I married and had Sally when I was very young. So Sally and I spent a lot of our time growing up together. We were like sisters when she was small. And as Sally became a teenager, she became more and more rebellious and I had less and less of a rôle in her life.”
When Sally started sneaking out at night, Mrs. Wade was naturally concerned and spoke with the parents of one of her daughter’s friends who informed her the girls might be involved in a Satanic cult. One night, Sally invited Helen Williams to go with her to visit her new friends. “Sally went into a trance,” Helen recalled. “And it really scared me. Half of me said Sally’s pulling a stunt, just ignore it. And half of me said well, maybe it’s, they’re kind of having fun … Sally really got to a point to where she thought nobody loves me. These people come along and they say okay we’ll give you that love, we’ll give you that companionship you need, you just come with us and do what we ask.” Helen became frightened and left alone.
Marshall Stewart also noticed a change in his son. “Shane started getting into fights,” his father said. “One day Shane was getting the better of this guy. His two friends jumped in and then he was thrown into the river. So I told him, I said you should’ve learned a lesson: one, not to fight and two, beware of where you are, what you’re doing because people can always gang up on you”
Eventually, in March 1998, the two youngsters themselves got scared and Sally called the sheriff. Deputy Larry Counts took the call. “She and her boyfriend, Shane, were members of this group and they were trying to get away from it,” Counts remembered. “She said there was a lot of drugs involved. There was a lot of group sex. She also expressed that she had a weapon that had been given to her by another member of the cult. And when he gave it to her, he told her and Shane that the gun had been used in a murder/robbery.” Counts arranged to meet with the teens at their apartment – they were living together by this point – where they turned over the gun. “Well, during this meeting when I first met them face to face, you’d really think they were making this stuff up. But they seemed sincere,” the deputy continued. “After they gave me this weapon and we did some checking on it, it turned out to be a stolen gun, then their story became a little bit more credible. They did express fears that they might be hurt ... she and her boyfriend might be in some danger because it’s a very secretive type group and they knew the ins; they knew the secrets.”
The couple moved out of their apartment around six weeks later and left town, but not together. However, by early summer, both were back in San Angelo. In mid-June, Sally called Helen Williams, terrified someone was going to killer her. “I said, nobody’s gonna come and shoot you,” Helen recalled. “I said what did you do? She said well, I really can’t tell you. She just tended to exaggerate things. So I really didn’t think much of it. And I really didn’t think to call Pat and say, ‘Pat, Sally’s in trouble, there’s something wrong.’ I mean, I didn’t think anything about it.”
Investigators determined that at 9 p.m., Shane and Sally were watching the fireworks display at Lake Nasworthy. Four hours later, Randall Littlefield spotted the pair six miles away at O. C. Fisher Lake. “I heard them talking about they didn’t want to be with them people no more,” Littlefield reported, “I listened a little bit more and they continued arguing and I got to thinking, well, it’s just a bunch of kids out there drinking, partying. And I turned my boat around and I left.” This was the last time anyone – other than their killer (or killers) – saw the teenagers alive.
Exhumation and Person of Interest. In 2014, Stewart’s body was exhumed for DNA testing and samples were sent to a lab in Lubbock. Also, Sgt. Terry Lowe of the sheriff’s office, announced that with the help of the U.S. Dept. of State, a person of interest had been tracked to a foreign country. “We’re still working hard to get this case solved,” he insisted.
Questions. Were Shane Stewart and Sally McNelly murdered by their “friends” in the strange cult? And was John Gilbrith – who would have been 18 in 1988 – one of those friends?
Sources: Fox News, June 24, 2017; Unsolved Mysteries; and Matt McDaniel, SanAngeloLive, July 2, 2014.