GRANITE CITY, Ill. – An ex-convict suspected in a grisly killing spree that left eight people in two states dead within a matter of days was well known to his hometown police department, but the chief said Wednesday he never expected Nicholas T. Sheley would take a violent turn.
"Nothing would have made us suspect that something like this would happen," Sterling Police Chief Ron Potthoff said. "But...he was becoming more and more noticeable to the officers."
Potthoff said Sheley, 28, had been arrested since he was a juvenile. The crimes progressed from marijuana possession to domestic battery, resisting a peace officer and even aggravated battery — but nothing Potthoff thought would indicate a violent crime spree.
So as authorities piece together their case against Sheley, who was arrested without incident Tuesday night outside a Granite City bar, one focus is on determining whether drugs, money or some other motive could have driven the violent rampage.
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"In this day and age drugs are always involved," Sterling Police Chief Ron Potthoff said. "At this point we've got no way of knowing if he was high."
The FBI on Tuesday launched a manhunt for Sheley, who they warned should be considered armed and dangerous. Among those authorities believe Sheley killed were a 93-year-old man, a toddler and a couple whose blood-soaked dogs were found roaming a motel parking lot.
Sheley has only been charged in the death of two of the eight and other law enforcement agencies have otherwise declined to speculate on a motive for the spree that spanned northwestern Illinois and the St. Louis area.
Authorities believed his capture was only a matter of time because of the intense publicity surrounding the case, said Tim Lewis, police chief in the St. Louis suburb of Festus, Mo.
Police knew from a number of witness reports that Sheley was in the area, Lewis said.
"He was desperate and he gave up without a fight," he said.
On Wednesday morning, Sheley was led out of the Granite City police department in an orange jumpsuit, leg shackles and handcuffs.
He didn't speak before being driven by Granite City police to the Madison County Jail in nearby Edwardsville and may have an afternoon court appearance, most likely via video-conference, to determine bond issues. A dispatcher with Granite City police said it wasn't known if Sheley has a lawyer.
Sheley was arrested around 6:40 p.m. Tuesday while smoking a cigarette outside of Bindy's, a bar in Granite City about 10 miles north of St. Louis, witnesses said.
Sheley ordered a glass of water and went to the bathroom before an employee and customer recognized him, bartender Katie Ronk said. The customer, Gary Range, said he left the bar and notified a police officer parked in the lot outside.
"I told (the police officer) the description and the officer said, `That's him.' He got on the radio and eventually there were police all over the place," Range said.
Sheley faces charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery and vehicular hijacking in the death of Ronald Randall, whose body was found Monday behind a grocery store in Galesburg, in northwestern Illinois, police said. An autopsy showed the 65-year-old died from blunt force trauma to the head, likely on Saturday.
Sheley also is charged with murder in the death of 93-year-old Russell Reed in Sterling, according to the Whiteside County State's Attorney.
Investigators said Randall, Reed and the other six victims all appeared to have died in the same manner and that evidence linked to Sheley was recovered at each scene. The FBI and Illinois State Police declined to elaborate.
Authorities said the killings began with the beating death of Reed, 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 nearby Rock Falls. Investigators believe they likely died late Saturday or early Sunday.
Sheley was acquainted with the male victims, Brock Branson, 29, and Kenneth Ulve Jr., 25, who were both from Rock Falls said Illinois State Police Region Two Commander Mark Maton. The Whiteside County coroner identified the remaining victims as 20-year-old Kilynna Blake, 20, and Dayan Blake, 2, both of Cedar City, Utah.
More than 250 miles away, the bodies of Tom and Jill Estes of Sherwood, Ark., were found Monday behind a gas station in Festus, said Lt. Bill Baker of the St. Louis Area Major Case Squad.
The couple had checked into a Comfort Inn in Festus on Friday and were last seen late Sunday. Their dogs were found in the hotel parking lot, unharmed but covered with blood.
Public records show Sheley has multiple convictions for robbery, drugs and weapons charges and has spent three years in prison.
Meanwhile Wednesday, two of Sheley's family members also were being held in Whiteside County on charges connected to Reed's killing.
Eric Smith, Sheley's cousin, was being held on $100,000 bond on an obstruction of justice charge. Sheley's brother Josh Sheley was being held on a $750,000 bond and was charged with concealing a homicidal death and obstructing justice, according to the state's attorney.
Both were scheduled for July 11 court appearances.