Joseph Shelton

A law enforcement officer with even a small amount of experience can likely recall an instance in which a bit of luck helped them close a case. For instance, when the criminal’s friend calls them by their real name, rather than the fake one you were given. Or when the person who flees before police arrive drops their wallet with their ID when they run. We call these beneficial bits of happenstance “flukes.” A fluke can be as simple as a slip of the tongue, or as major as an eye witness coming forward when all other leads are exhausted. As much as long interrogations, stakeouts, canvasing, and crime scene processing are relied on to resolve a case, it’s always a pleasant surprise to wrap up an investigation thanks to a fluke.

Dec. 6, 2014. California native, Kathy Blair, rested in her home in Austin, Texas. Ms. Blair had moved there after accepting a position as a choir director. By all accounts she was beloved and respected in her community. Unfortunately, that meant nothing to her killer. In the early morning hours, Kathy’s 27-year-old son, Joseph, returned home after a night out with friends. He had been staying with her at the time. Upon arriving at the home, Joseph discovered his mother, bloody and lifeless. Kathy Blair was dead, and her bedroom ransacked, in an apparent burglary gone wrong. A shocked Joseph called 911 and officers from the Austin Police Department responded immediately. Detectives were called to the scene and began trying to unravel what exactly happened. A medical examination of Kathy’s body found she had been slashed and stabbed in the neck, as well as strangled. Evidence at the scene was limited, however there were a few things of note. Kathy’s jewelry box had been dumped on the floor and the drawers had been pulled out. There was blood on the drawers, and blood on the bedroom’s light switch. This indicated the bloody murder came first, and the rummaging for valuables second. The killer had made such a mess stabbing Kathy Blair, they stepped in a pool of her blood and left a bloody shoe print at the scene. Other than that, however, detectives did not have much to go by. A witness informed officers he saw a car park near Kathy’s street while he was taking a late night walk. Despite the vehicle’s description, this still didn’t bring the case much closer to a resolution.

It’s no secret Texans have a liking for their guns, and where there are firearms, there are firearm accessories. It just so happens, the night of Kathy Blair’s murder, a man in her neighborhood was testing out his new rifle scope. Normally, that wouldn’t do any good in the darkness of the late night/early morning, but this wasn’t a traditional scope. This was a thermal scope, with a recording function. While the man tested the capabilities of the scope by filming the deer walking through his neighborhood, he saw a car pull up down the street. Once he zoomed in on the car he noticed someone had gotten out of the vehicle. Video captured from the scope showed a tall, slender person with a Nosferatu-esque gait, walking in the direction of Kathy Blair’s home at 1:16 a.m. After hearing about the murder, this video was turned over to the Austin Police Department.

Dec. 15, 2014. A home nurse for elderly couple Billie and Sydney Shelton discovers the couple dead in their bedroom. It was determined they had been beaten and strangled, and Mrs. Shelton had been stabbed in the eye. Detectives found a ransacked jewelry box, and the rings the Sheltons wore had been taken as well. Noting the similarities between the Blair and Shelton murders, there was cause to believe a serial killer was on the loose in Austin.

While working the Blair case, detectives learned from a friend of Kathy, her landlord had hired an odd man to work on her house earlier in the year. After speaking to the landlord, detectives found the handy man was convicted jewel thief and parolee, Timothy Parlin. Parlin also happened to have a brother who was a deacon at the church the Sheltons attended, and his wife had done in-home massages for them. Parlin was questioned about the murders, but denied any involvement. A search warrant of Parlin’s residence was conducted and detectives found a receipt showing he had sold a pendant at a pawn shop on the day Kathy Blair’s body was found. Security footage from the pawn shop showed Parlin and his vehicle, which matched the one described by the witness and the one seen in the thermal scope footage. The next step was to seize and search the vehicle. Upon doing so, detectives located blood on the passenger seat, which of course matched that of Kathy Blair. The motive and connection between the victims and Parlin was now apparent, however, one issue remained: Parlin’s build was a stark contrast to the tall, thin person captured seen walking towards the Blair residence. That combined with the evidence found on the passenger seat, rather than the driver seat, made it clear that Parlin did not act alone. Luckily for the detectives, Parlin didn’t want to take all the blame for himself.

During interrogation, Parlin gave the name Shawn Gant-Benalcazar. Gant-Benalcazar was found to be a former high school physics and chemistry teacher in his early 30s living in Galveston, Texas, without any criminal history. Not the most likely suspect, but worth interviewing anyway, even if just to further implicate Parlin. The only apparent link between Parlin and Gant-Benalcazar was Parlin’s nephew dating Gant-Benalcazar’s sister. What the detectives learned in their interview, however, paid off in a big way.

Gant-Benalcazar agreed to meet with detectives and cooperate with their investigation. Over the course of several hours, Gant-Benalcazar denied involvement with the murders, but admitted he was living in Austin with Tim Parlin at the time. While he gave inconsistent statements and tried to shroud the truth, detectives caught on to some important factors: Gant-Benalcazar was wearing the same type of shoes which left the print at the Blair murder scene, and he was tall and thin with a distinctive gait. Distinctive in the same manner as the person in the thermal scope footage. Detectives continued to grill Shawn, who appeared to know more than he was letting on, and he finally began to give up details, little by little. Gant-Benalcazar claimed he and Parlin were in the car together and Parlin stopped in a neighborhood and left the vehicle. He returned with a blood-soaked bag and gave it to Gant-Benalcazar, who looked into the bag and saw it was full of jewelry. Shawn then admitted he went into the house and helped search for valuables, but didn’t know about the murder. Next, he admitted he was told by Parlin to kill Kathy Blair, but didn’t. Then, that he knew about the murder, but didn’t say anything because he wanted to avoid trouble. Finally, the closest to true statement he would give: Kathy Blair woke up while he and Parlin were inside the house, and during a struggle with her over a knife he had brought with him, Shawn Gant-Benalcazar stabbed her in the neck. Shawn played this down as a burglary gone wrong, not premeditated murder. His story of course didn’t explain the other stabbing and slashing wounds, or the strangulation of Kathy Blair. While he gave this partial confession and throughout the rest of the interview, Gant-Benalcazar was aloof, nonchalantly recounting the details while leaned back in his seat, seemingly uninterested and uncaring.

After detectives further investigated Parlin, he made statements which implicated him as a party to the Blair and Shelton murders. He claimed Gant-Benalcazar intentionally killed Kathy Blair because Parlin was treated unfairly when he was hired to work on her home. He then detailed where Shawn disposed of items from both scenes and where they parked their vehicle before entering the homes. The combined confessions of Timothy Parlin and Shawn Gant-Benalcazar were enough to convict both men of capital murder of Kathy Blair, and earn them each a life sentence without parole. Unfortunately, due to a lack of physical evidence, Gant Benalcazar was not tried for the Shelton murders. In Timothy Parlin’s trial, he was tried for the Shelton murders as well, and was found guilty on those counts.

In the end, both men did themselves (and each other) in, and are facing the consequences of their actions. Relentless detective work and careful interrogation broke down the lies and unearthed the truth. The thermal footage of the murderer approaching the scene of the crime certainly didn’t hurt either. So the next time your significant other gives you grief about buying a new firearm accessory, tell them you’re trying to help solve murders. It just might be a fluke.  

Source : https://www.officer.com/investigations/article/21245606/how-to-catch-a-criminal-through-the-looking-glass

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