Topix.com is a sewer, and I’m tired of swimming alone;
grab your hip-waders and your health insurance ID card—by the time this blog post is over you may want to schedule a tetanus shot.
True crime threads on Topix are a double-edged sword: on one hand, I enjoy reading local gossip and rumors even though the information is impossible to verify;
on the other hand, the spelling and grammar abuse on display can be horrifying—some threads contain crimes against the English language far more gruesome than the murders discussed therein.
The Pataskala, Ohio forum dedicated to the murders of Jamie Lee Kelley and Abby Marie Worrell is my personal favorite. The girls—both sixteen-years old—crept out of the Worrell home in the wee hours of the morning on September 25th, 1994
to meet Abby’s ex-boyfriend Bobby Sheets, age fifteen.
Bobby’s friends Robert Daniel, age sixteen,
and next-door neighbor Sonya Hawkins, age nineteen,
were also in attendance;
after a quick jaunt to a nearby graveyard the group gathered in a field behind the Sheets’ home to drink beer and socialize.
As is often the case with any crime involving multiple perpetrators
there are many conflicting versions of the events
that followed—even the murders’ motive is in dispute.
Apparently there had been some bad blood
between Abby and the Sheets family at one time;
the previous summer Bobby had contacted the local sheriff’s office
alleging harassment but no charges
were filed—according to the police report the pair
“were advised to leave each other alone.”
Rumors of a gang initiation, a sugared gas tank and a (probably apocryphal) abortion have been bandied about but a concrete motive has never been definitively ascertained.
That a shooting occurred is the sole verifiable fact:
Jamie was shot once in the head and Abby once in the head and three times in the chest.
Only one gun was utilized in the crime
but the identity of the shooter or shooters is open to question.
Bobby Sheets has steadfastly claimed Daniel alone pulled the trigger,
and although her story has vacillated
Sonya Hawkins would ultimately testify under oath
that Daniel shot both victims.
Robert Daniel has always admitted he shot Jaimie Kelley—he claims he thought the gun was loaded with blanks—but like Sonya Hawkins he’s provided conflicting accounts regarding the shooting of Abby Worrell:
Daniel initially confessed he’d shot both girls but would later claim Bobby Sheets was the triggerman in Abby’s murder.
After the shooting the trio transported the girls’ bodies to an abandoned barn
approximately a mile and half from the Sheets residence;
upon arrival Daniel noticed Abby Worrell was not yet deceased
and proceeded to crush her skull with an implement variously described as a rock, a brick, and a concrete block.
In some iterations of the statements Sheets and Daniel would later give to law enforcement
Sonya Hawkins assisted in the attack at the barn,
but she has always denied active participation in the murders.
(Agreed-upon details, like genius IQs, are largely absent from this story.)
It was an ugly crime, to be sure,
but it’s the events that occurred in the murders’ aftermath
that have always fascinated me—after dumping the girls’ bodies at the abandoned barn the trio returned to chez Sheets and Bobby’s mother Elsie, age fifty-four, washed their bloody clothes and whipped up a fresh-baked pizza.
Elsie Sheet’s foreknowledge of the murders is in dispute but her attempts to cover-up the crime are not—on October 2nd,
approximately a week after the 4:30am post-murder pizza party
Mrs. Sheets purchased five dollars’ worth of gasoline and took Bobby and Sonya to torch the barn,
hoping to incinerate the girls’ bodies.
A newspaper carrier spotted the blaze shortly thereafter
and alerted authorities—the girls’ charred remains were discovered and soon identified.
(rough translation: a face in need of punching).
An obvious suspect due to his soured relationship with Abby Worrell,
Sheets was interrogated by detectives
two days after the girls were reported missing—despite his weaselly countenance he somehow failed to arouse much law enforcement suspicion.
The break in the case occurred on October 9th, approximately a week after the girls’ bodies were discovered.
Sonya Hawkins’ mother and stepfather contacted authorities
and reported several guns had been stolen from their trailer—they also reported their suspicion
that Sonya was responsible for the theft. When interrogated about the stolen weapons Sonya not only confessed to the larceny but also revealed one of the stolen firearms, a .45 caliber Western-style revolver,
had been used to murder Abby and Jamie.
Stories about the disposal of the murder weapon vary, and the gun has never been recovered.
Sonya Hawkins, Robert Daniel, and Elsie and Bobby Sheets were arrested on October 10th;
during interrogation all proffered one or more versions of the crime portraying themselves in the best light possible.
Bobby Sheets told investigators Daniel shot both victims for no known reason
and he was helpless to stop the carnage.
Elsie Sheets claimed she had no advance knowledge of the crime
and was simply destroying evidence in a misguided attempt to protect her child.
According to The Columbus Dispatch even Robert Daniel—who admitted to shooting at least one of the victims in all versions of his confession—described himself as being in “the wrong place at the wrong time.”
aware of the vendetta against Abby Worrell yet still blindsided
when the night took a homicidal turn—she had assumed
the murder plan was simply adolescent bluster,
she told detectives.
Neither Bobby Sheets nor Robert Daniel
fingered her as the gunman and unlike her two male cohorts
Sonya was willing to testify as a prosecution witness—she was in a prime position to cut a deal,
and cut a deal she did:
in exchange for her cooperation
she was sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison with parole eligibility in 2017 at the age of forty-two.
Considering his scintillating “but I thought the gun was loaded with blanks” defense the following revelation will come as no surprise: Robert Daniel is intellectually disadvantaged.
He scored 84 on an IQ test—placing him in the dull/normal range—and a psychologist who treated him before the murders described his mental capacity as akin to that of an eleven-year old child.
Although Daniel had originally planned to launch an insanity defense
he eventually opted to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence
on murder and six additional charges relating to the disposal of the girls’ bodies;
he’ll be eligible for parole in 2031 at the age of fifty-three.
Bobbie Sheets was allowed to plead no contest to identical charges and is also eligible for parole at the age of fifty-three, in the year of our Lord 2032.
and proceeded to trial.
Although several fellow inmates testified
she’d made incriminating statements
during her pretrial incarceration
her attorney dismissed the remarks
as jailhouse braggadocio—Sonya Hawkins’ testimony
painting Elsie as an active coconspirator
with foreknowledge of the crime, however,
was not so easily explained away.
After nine hours of deliberation the jury convicted Elsie on charges of complicity to commit aggravated murder, complicity to commit gross abuse of a corpse, evidence tampering, obstructing justice and complicity to commit arson; she was sentenced to life in prison—her first possible parole date is 2033, at the age of ninety-three.
Shortly after her conviction a journalist from The Columbus Dispatch asked if she regretted covering up the murders:
“Hell no!” Elise replied. “I was protecting my son.”
And it’s that primal drive that’s always intrigued me.
Obviously, covering up a murder to protect your child is both illegal and immoral.
That said, if my (hypothetical) child was involved in a homicide
I’m not entirely certain I’d have the wherewithal to act responsibly.
I hope I’d eventually come to my senses and call the police,
but I suspect my first impulse would be to minimize my child’s involvement and rationalize covering up the crime:
“The victims are dead,
there’s no way to bring them back—why ruin another life, especially since my child wasn’t even the shooter?”
what shortcomings in my parenting skills had led us to this place?
Bobby Sheets’ father died in 1988
and as his sole surviving parent
Elsie must’ve felt wholly responsible for her son’s fate—to learn your child will be incarcerated for most of his life must be devastating.
Along with good grammar, sympathy for Elsie Sheets is in short supply on Topix.com.
Pataskala is a blue-collar community—the town’s most famous
native son is porn star John Holmes,
and considering the tenor of the Topix forum
I can understand
why Johnny Wadd was so desperate to escape and make it big in Hollywood (pun intended).
At one point during the thread a dispute arises concerning a long-ago trailer park brawl
unrelated to Abby and Jamie’s murders,
leading to a spirited series of accusations and recriminations:
Post after post about a fistfight in a place I hope I’ll never visit between two people I pray I’ll never meet
and I read every word—maybe it’s time to reassess the way I spend my time.
And maybe I should also reassess my sympathy for Elsie Sheets,
a woman her own lawyer described as “not the brightest bulb on the porch.”
A jury of her peers believed she had foreknowledge of the girls’ murders,
and she inarguably helped cover-up the crime;
the Worrell and Kelley families experienced a grievous loss, and Elsie’s actions exacerbated their pain.
The burning of the girls’ bodies—an act inarguably done with Elsie’s assistance—was especially detrimental:
“Because of the horror of the (arson) crimes, I was unable to touch or even see my daughter after her death,”
Abby Worrell’s mother Karen testified during her victim impact statement.
“This has prevented me from being able to reach any final closure.”
Whatever sorrow Elsie feels for her son’s wasted life
can’t compare to the Worrell and Kelley families’ grief at the loss of their daughters.
I suspect the sympathy I feel for Elsie Sheets is simply a general sympathy I’d feel for anyone
faced with the dilemma of turning a child in to law enforcement
or covering up a crime.
If my (hypothetical) child commits murder
I hope remember my pain is insignificant and contacting law enforcement is the only honorable option.
Elsie made the wrong choice,
but I can’t bring myself to judge her for it—not even on Topix.com.