Is a satanic cult to blame for the murder of two Texas teens?
Independence Day, 1988, was a reunion of sorts for Shane Stewart and Sally McNelly. Each had recently returned to their hometown of San Angelo, Texas. It was their first time together in months. It was also the last time they would ever be seen alive.
The next morning, a ranger discovered Shane’s car abandoned near a local lake. Fast food wrappers covered the front seat. The keys were on the dashboard. Shane and Sally were nowhere to be found. Louis A. Hargraves was a Lieutenant for the Tom Green County Sheriff’s Department at the time of the murders:
That November, two skeletons were found near a lake, 17 miles from where Shane’s car had been abandoned. Shane’s father, Marshall Stewart, was driving when he heard the call on his police scanner:
The forces of nature had washed away all forensic clues. But detectives were able to determine that both victims had been killed by a gunshot blast.
The discovery of Shane and Sally’s bodies were the culmination of a four month search which introduced their parents to a strange and frightening subculture. Marshall Stewart and Pat Wade, Sally’s mother, discovered that their children were engaged in activities which many believed were linked to a satanic cult. In Sally’s case, it appeared to be part of a desperate search for acceptance in the wake of a painful and troubled childhood.
Marshall Stewart recalled the instant connection between Shane and Sally:
“When Shane and Sally met it was just like two people clicked on. There was a bond there that was almost inseparable. It was like the two kids were made for each other.”
Pat Wade remembered how much her daughter loved people:
Soon enough, Sally began to attend ritualistic parties on a regular basis. One evening, she invited her friend Helen J. Williams to join her. Helen recalled what happened at the party:
When Sally began dating Shane Stewart, she introduced him to her “new friends”. Marshall Stewart saw immediate changes in his son’s behavior:
In March of 1988, Sheriff’s Deputy Larry Counts received a call from Sally:
By that time, Shane and Sally were living together. They met Deputy Counts in their apartment to hand over the gun. Deputy Counts recalled their meeting:
Six weeks later, Shane and Sally moved out of their apartment and left town, separately. But by early summer, both had returned to San Angelo.
In June, just two weeks prior to her disappearance, Sally made a desperate phone call to Helen. She told Helen someone was trying to kill her. Helen tried to counsel her friend:
Police reconstructed the events which preceded their disappearance. At 9 PM, Shane and Sally watched the annual fireworks display at Lake Nasworthy. Four hours later, a fisherman spotted them at O.C. Fisher Lake, six miles away. Randall Littlefield was an eyewitness:
It was the last time anyone saw Shane Stewart and Sally McNelly alive.
Were Shane Stewart and Sally McNelly murdered by their “friends” as a direct result of their cult activities? Police are convinced that witnesses to the crime are afraid to come forward.
UPDATE: In June of 2017, officers pulled over John Cyrus Gilbreath on suspicion of possession of marijuana. A female passenger in the car with Gilbreath told police that Gilbreath was a drug distributor, prompting police to search Gilbreath’s home.
During the search, investigators found writings, audio tapes, and biological evidence that they believe are connected to Shane and Sally’s murders.
Gilbreath has not been charged in connection with the murders, but has been named as a person of interest.