FESTUS — The man suspected of bludgeoning eight people to death last month now faces charges in Missouri as well as Illinois.
Nicholas Sheley, 28, was already charged in two of the killings in Illinois. On Thursday, Jefferson County, Mo., prosecutor Forrest Wegge announced two more charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of Tom and Jill Estes.
Wegge said a decision on whether to pursue the death penalty hasn’t yet been made.
“That issue is certainly on the table, quite frankly it’s at the center of the table, and we’ll be making that decision at some point in the future,” he said.
The couple from Sherwood, Ark., were found dead on June 30 in Festus. They were in the St. Louis area to attend a relative’s graduation party and were staying at a Festus Comfort Inn.
Police Chief Tim Lewis said the couple was killed in the parking lot of the hotel around midnight on June 30, then their bodies were moved 1 1/2 miles away. They were found later that morning behind a service station, a trail of blood from the hotel to the station clearly evident. Lewis believes the bodies were put in the back of a pickup truck belonging to one of the Illinois victims, and the blood dripped from the truck.
The couple’s dogs were found in the hotel parking lot, unharmed but covered in blood. Police believe the couple was attacked as they got out of their Corvette. Both died of blunt force trauma to the head.
In fact, authorities believe all eight of Sheley’s victims were beaten to death. They have not disclosed a murder weapon or said if different weapons were used in the crime spree that began on June 26 when the body of 93-year-old Russell Reed was found stuffed in the trunk of his Buick in Sterling, Ill. Sheley, who had a long criminal record, is also from Sterling.
The bodies of the other victims were all found on June 30. The bodies of Tom and Jill Estes were discovered around 10:30 a.m. The body of John Randall, 65, of Galesburg, Ill., was found at 12:15 p.m. beside a trash bin behind a Galesburg grocery store.
And at 4 p.m., four people were found dead in a Rock Falls, Ill., apartment, about two miles from Sterling. The victims in that case were Kenneth Ulve, 25, Brock Branson, 29, Branson’s fiancee, Kilynna Blake, 20, and her 2-year-old son, Dayan Blake.
A massive manhunt ended when Sheley was captured about 6:40 p.m. on July 1 outside a bar in Granite City, Ill., near St. Louis.
Sheley has been charged in four of the deaths. Charges have not been filed in the Rock Falls killings, but police say evidence links him to each crime scene.
Lewis said investigators from both states met on Tuesday in Illinois to share notes. He learned so much from the joint meeting that he said the St. Louis Area Major Case Squad may be reactivated.
The chief doesn’t believe Sheley committed additional murders, but he said he can’t be sure.
“We’re hoping that eight is all we have,” Lewis said.
Wegge said it wasn’t clear when Sheley would be returned to Missouri to face charges.
“Obviously we’re going to need the dust to settle a little bit,” Wegge said. “Obviously there are a number of jurisdictions involved here.”
Lewis said homicides are extremely rare in Festus — in his 25-plus years here, he’s seen only five or six, and this was first classified as a random killing.