Stop on the killing train:

Random mayhem touches Galesburg

 

by Mike Kroll

the Galesburg Zephyr

July 3, 2008

 

Like many others in Galesburg Ronald Randall apparently thought that Saturday afternoon was an excellent time to get his 2007 Chevy pickup truck washed. In retrospect it was a fatal mistake for the 65-year-old Randall to take his truck to Southard’s Car Wash on East Main Street that afternoon where Nicholas Sheley allegedly bludgeoned him to death before stealing Randall’s truck.

Police say that 28 year-old Sheley, an itinerant construction laborer, was already in flight from police when he arrived in Galesburg late Saturday afternoon in another pickup truck he presumably stole from Rock Island. That stolen truck, a 1989 Dodge with business markings, was found by Galesburg Police Sunday at Southard’s but at that point in time Randall hadn’t yet been reported missing and while a statewide arrest warrant already existed on Sheley, there was no evidence linking him or Randall to the stolen truck. According to Galesburg Police Captain Lindsey May the business owning the truck wasn’t even aware that it had been stolen before they were contacted by GPD.

Whiteside County police officials wanted Sheley for the home invasion and murder of a 93 year-old area farmer, Russell Reed killed Thursday, June 26 at his home. Among the items stolen from Reed were two handguns later sold or traded for drugs in Chicago. Sheley has an amphetamine habit according to police officials and it is suspected that robbery was his motive in the Reed incident.

On Saturday morning Sheley reportedly traveled to Rock Falls where he is alleged to have killed three adults and a two year-old child, leaving their bodies in an apartment there. Police believe Sheley was acquainted with the two men but not the  woman and they haven’t yet provided any motive for the killings. These Rock Falls victims were Kilynna Blake, 20 (who was reportedly pregnant when she was killed), Kenneth Ulve Jr., 25 and Brock Branson, 29. All of the Whiteside County victims were bludgeoned to death but no weapon has yet been identified publicly

The Rock Falls victims were not discovered until late Monday morning when local police were contacted by relatives to check up on them. It was early on Monday morning that Randall’s family reported him missing to Galesburg Police. When GPD investigated Randall’s home at 947 Frank Street they found no evidence of foul play and his truck was missing. Neighbors reported last seeing Randall when he drove off late Saturday afternoon. At that point in time there was no reason to connect the deaths in Whiteside county or the recovered stolen truck with Randall’s disappearance but reason for concern arose quickly thereafter.

Randall’s truck is equipped with GM’s On-Star satellite system that enabled police to locate the truck later Monday morning in an industrial area of St. Louis. The GPD contacted St. Louis police who discovered the empty truck near an Anheuser-Busch distribution facility. They also discovered blood stains on the passenger seat of the vehicle which was the first hard indication that Randall may have been a victim of foul play rather than simple vehicle theft. Captain May says that forensic analysis of the truck later determined that the blood was that of Randall and that other physical evidence could tie the truck to Sheley but he would not disclose the nature of that other evidence.

Missouri police officials discovered the bodies of an Arkansas couple who were bludgeoned to death in Festus, Mo., approximately 20 miles south of St. Louis. The bodies of Tom Estes and his wife Jill of Sherwood, Ark., were found behind a Phillip’s 66 gas station. The Couple was in Festus attend a graduation and had been staying at a Comfort Inn off Interstate 55 just over a mile from the gas station. No motive has been disclosed for the killings of the Estes but Sheley apparently drove Randall’s truck to St. Louis and abandoned it there after the killings in Festus. St. Louis officials believe he then stole another vehicle in St. Louis and headed back toward Illinois.

Galesburg police received a report of a body discovered behind a dumpster at the rear of the East Main Street Hy-Vee grocery store at 12:15 Monday afternoon. When this was investigated the body was identified as that of Randall and a Tuesday autopsy determined that he also died by bludgeoning, most probably early Saturday evening. An employee of the Hy-Vee gas station located across the Michigan Avenue from the grocery store reported to police that a man matching Sheley’s description driving a truck like Randall’s purchased gasoline there Saturday evening. Captain May says, “It is believed that Sheley was in Galesburg for a relatively narrow time window of roughly 5-8pm Saturday evening after which he apparently fled by I-74 in Randall’s truck.”

On Tuesday Knox County State’s Attorney John Pepmeyer filed charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery, aggravated vehicular hijacking, and theft against Sheley. These were the first murder charges filed against Sheley in any of the eight related murders and it remains to be determined if he will be charged with yet a ninth murder, that of Kilynna Blake’s unborn child.

After the five Whiteside County murders the rest appear to be random victims as Sheley was in flight explained Captain May. “He apparently attacked and killed to obtain vehicles and when he ran out of gas he sought out his next victim. This appears to be another case of victims being in the wrong place at the wrong time corresponding to the needs of a fleeing fugitive.”

Numerous reports place Sheley in or near Granite City on Monday and Tuesday and there was a heavy state, local and federal police presence searching for him there. At approximately 6pm Tuesday night, Sheley reportedly entered a Granite City bar called Bindy’s where he sat at the bar alone and ordered water. Coverage of the ongoing manhunt had been the mainstay of the St. Louis television market and a number of Bindy’s patrons apparently recognized Sheley as resembling the wanted killer. At least one patron telephoned police while another left the bar to flag down a police car and tell officers that “he” was in the bar.

As police began to converge on Bindy’s, Sheley spent about ten minutes standing at the bar before he bought cigarettes from the bartender and stepped outside to have a smoke. He was apprehended without incident by a plain clothes state trooper as he smoked in the parking lot. It was later observed by Bindy’s owner Bill Watson that Sheley apparently was unfamiliar with his establishment because, ironically enough, it has the reputation of being a cop bar.

The Associated Press is reporting that Madison County Judge Edward Ferguson has ordered Sheley held until he can be transported to Knox County to face first degree murder charges. Knox County was first to file charges but that doesn’t mean it will be the site of the inevitable spectacle of a trial.