Tuesday, July 01, 2008

TOP STORY > >Friends shocked by death of couple

Leader staff writer

A suspected serial murderer was arrested Tuesday in Illinois for the beating-death of a Sherwood couple in Festus, Mo., and possibly killing six other victims.

The bloody bodies of Jill and Tom Estes were found Monday behind a dumpster at a gas station in Festus not far from the Comfort Inn where the couple had spent the night.

Jill Estes, 52, worked as a paraprofessional at Tolleson Elementary in Jacksonville, helping special-education students. She has been with the Pulaski County Special School District since 2001, working first at Oakbrooke Elementary in Sherwood and then at Tolleson.

Her husband Tom worked for a railroad company.

Diane Ashenberger, principal at Tolleson, said the staff gathered Tuesday at a teacher’s home to share and pray. “It’s what we needed,” she said, to deal with the tragic loss.

“We are a very close-knit family at Tolleson,” she said, “and there will be a large void in our school family,” she added.

Ashenberger said Jill Estes was known by students as Miss Jill and was very loving and caring.

“She was our animal lover. If someone found a lizard or spider Miss Jill was always the rescuer and took them to safety,” the principal said.

A convicted felon, Nicholas Sheley, 28, of Sterling, Ill., was arrested in a St. Louis-area bar.

He is also a suspect in the deaths of four people found in a Rock Falls, Ill., apartment Monday afternoon and the death of a 93-year-old Sterling, Ill., man found in the trunk of Sheley’s car Thursday.

Sheley has been charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery and vehicular hijacking in the recent death of a 65-year-old Galesburg, Ill., man. Police say Ronald Randall’s 2007 pickup truck was found in St. Louis, and evidence discovered inside points to Sheley’s involvement.

According to police reports, the Esteses checked into Comfort Inn in Festus, a small community about 35 miles southwest of St. Louis, on Friday and attended a graduation party in nearby Florissant on Sunday evening.

Hotel guests found the Esteses’ two small dogs, covered in blood, wandering in the hotel parking lot. The dogs were unharmed and the couple’s 2007 Corvette untouched, but the couple was nowhere in sight.

Police found two pairs of eyeglasses, a pair of earrings and a 10-foot-wide pool of blood that stretched for a mile and a half.

Jill Estes’ wallet was inside the Corvette, but Tom Estes’ wallet was gone. Nothing else was stolen.

They had struggled with their attacker, who killed them with a blunt instrument.

About 10:30 a.m. Monday, a woman walking her dog behind a Philip’s 66 station not far from the hotel saw a man’s bloody foot near a trash bin and told the gas station owner. He went to look and found two bloodied bodies matching the description of the Esteses.

Because the bodies were found without identification, family members had to identify them. After the discovery of the bodies, Festus Police Chief Tim Lewis said, “It looks like a random act.”

The homicides were turned over to the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis and both Missouri and Illinois law enforcement officials searched for Sheley.

Sherwood police were called Monday after the bodies were found to check on the Estes’ residence.