Ex-convict is sought in killing of 8 people in Missouri, Illinois

Tuesday, July 1, 2008 | 6:02 p.m. CDT; updated 2:57 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

STERLING, Ill. — The FBI has launched a manhunt for an ex-con suspected of killing eight people in two states, including a 93-year-old man, a child, and a couple whose blood-soaked dogs were found roaming a motel parking lot.

Twenty-eight-year-old Nicholas T. Sheley, who authorities said was last seen in St. Louis, was named as a suspect in all eight killings Tuesday afternoon. Federal and local officials announced a $25,000 reward for his arrest and said he should be considered armed and dangerous.

Time of events

SATURDAY, JUNE 14: A man forces his way into a 90-year-old woman’s home in Whiteside County in northern Illinois, takes money and forces the woman to write checks. A warrant is eventually issued for Nicholas T. Sheley’s arrest on home invasion charges. THURSDAY, JUNE 26: The body of 93-year-old Russell Reed is found stuffed in the trunk of his 2003 Buick Century in Sterling, Ill. An autopsy shows he died of blunt force trauma. Police later identify Sheley, also from Sterling, as a person of interest in the death. FRIDAY, JUNE 27: The Illinois State Police’s Statewide Terrorism & Intelligence Center puts out a “Wanted on Warrant” advisory to police agencies, saying Sheley is being sought on a warrant for home invasion. An Arkansas couple, Tom and Jill Estes, check in to a Comfort Inn in the St. Louis suburb of Festus. SATURDAY, JUNE 28: Galesburg, Ill., resident Ronald A. Randall, 65, is last seen by family members. Evening: An autopsy later reveals Randall died from blunt force trauma between 6 and 8 p.m. Four people later found dead in a Rock Falls, Ill., apartment, about 2 miles from Sterling, are last seen on this date. Late night: Investigators believe they died from blunt force trauma late Saturday evening or early Sunday morning. SUNDAY, JUNE 29: 10:30 p.m. Tom and Jill Estes are seen leaving a graduation party. Midnight: A hotel guest finds the couple’s two small dogs wandering in the hotel parking lot, unhurt but covered in blood. The couple are missing. MONDAY, JUNE 30: 8:30 a.m.: Family members report Randall missing. His abandoned car is found an hour later in a St. Louis industrial area. 10:30 a.m.: The Estes’ bodies are found behind a gas station in Festus, about a mile and a half from the hotel. Police say they have obvious injuries. 12:15 p.m.: Randall’s body is found beside a trash bin behind a Galesburg Hy-Vee Food Store. 4 p.m.: The bodies of four people are discovered in a Rock Falls apartment building after a neighbor calls 911. They include two men, a woman and a child. The two men are identified as Brock Branson and Kenneth Ulvey. Late night: Sheley is believed to be in Collinsville, Ill., across the border from St. Louis. 11:30 p.m.: Sheley is seen in downtown St. Louis near Busch Stadium. TUESDAY, JULY 1: Authorities announce a $25,000 reward in their search for Sheley, saying he should be considered armed and dangerous. Police search a Collinsville apartment building for a person of interest in the Festus killings. No one is found. Autopsies are conducted on Randall, Ulvey, Branson and the two other Rock Falls victims. Sheley is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery, aggravated vehicular hijacking, and theft in Randall’s death. Investigators call him a suspect in the other Illinois murders.

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Police in Galesburg, in northwestern Illinois, said they had a warrant for Sheley’s arrest on charges including first-degree murder, aggravated battery and vehicular hijacking in the death of Ronald Randall, whose body was found Monday behind a Galesburg, Ill., grocery store. An autopsy shows the 65-year-old died from blunt force trauma to the head.

Officials said the other victims all appeared to have died in the same manner.

Public records show Sheley has multiple convictions for robbery, drugs and weapons charges and has spent three years in prison.

The killings began with the beating death of 93-year-old Russell Reed, a Sterling man whose body was found stuffed in the trunk of a car Thursday. Sheley also is from Sterling, a town of 15,000 about 100 miles west of Chicago.

On Monday, police discovered the bodies of two men, a woman and a child in an apartment in Rock Falls, a town near Sterling. Police said someone asked them to check on the victims, and that they believe one of them was connected to Reed.

State Police Sgt. Thomas Burek said Sheley was an acquaintance of one of the people found inside the apartment.

The Galesburg grocery store where Randall’s body was discovered is about 60 miles southwest of Rock Falls.

Also Monday, the bodies of a man and woman were found behind a gas station in the St. Louis suburb of Festus, about 250 miles south of Galesburg. Investigators were looking for the couple’s pickup truck.

Bill Baker with the St. Louis Area Major Case Squad identified the couple as Tom and Jill Estes of Sherwood, Ark., who had checked into a Comfort Inn in Festus on Friday and were last seen late Sunday. The couple’s dogs were found in the hotel parking lot, unharmed but covered with blood.

Festus is within 50 miles of both St. Louis and Collinsville, Ill., both cities where police say Sheley was seen Monday.

On Tuesday morning, police in tactical gear searched a Collinsville apartment building for a person of interest in the Festus killings, but "were unable to locate the guy," Collinsville police Sgt. Rich Wittenauer said.

Sheley’s uncle, Joe Sheley, 47, of Sterling, told The Associated Press that Nicholas Sheley had recently struggled with drugs and that his rap sheet include arrests for home invasion.

"He’s been in trouble many times over the years, but something like this, yeah, it’s out of character," Joe Sheley said. "He’s got a temper like anybody else. Just doesn’t want to be messed with. Won’t back down. But to go looking for a fight, looking for trouble, no."

Sheley spent nearly three years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for aggravated robbery between 2000 and 2003 and another 17 months on parole, which ended in April 2005, said IDOC spokesman Derek Schnapp.

The uncle didn’t know of any connection between his nephew — a father of four by two wives — and the St. Louis area.

The most recent previous warrant facing Nicholas Sheley was issued last week for a June 14 home invasion at a 90-year-old woman’s home.

Sterling police said Sheley forced his way into the home, took an undisclosed amount of money and forced the woman to write out some checks. He became "somewhat physical" with the woman but she was not seriously injured, police said.

In Rock Falls, a community of 9,600 residents about 10 miles from Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home, neighbors were nervous Tuesday.

Bobbie Claxton played with her three children several blocks from the apartment complex where the four bodies were found and said she had cautioned them about avoiding strangers.

"It really kind of woke me up," Claxton said. "We’re a small, close-knit community. I never even lock my house sometimes when I run an errand."

Associated Press writers Ashley M. Heher and Don Babwin in Chicago and Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this report.

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