CRIME HUNTER: Double murder on the Fourth of July

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Sally Ann McNelly would never attend her high school prom.

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Instead, her parents would “very carefully” place her prom dress in the 18-year-old’s coffin because “there wasn’t anything to put it on” — just bones.

On July 4, 1988, Sally and her boyfriend Shane Paul Stewart, 17, planned on watching the big fireworks display at Lake Nasworthy in San Angelo, Texas. The couple had been off and on but had recently gotten back together.

After giving his dad a hug, Shane told him he would be home by 11 p.m. The couple would never return.

When Sally Ann and Shane were reported missing the next day, a search soon discovered his prized copper-coloured Chevrolet Camaro abandoned in the parking lot with the windows down and the keys still in the ignition. There was no sign of foul play.

Witnesses last saw the pair in the Camaro around midnight but nothing seemed particularly amiss. Inside the car were food wrappers and a note from Sally to her parents, allegedly claiming she was unhappy at home.

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Despite large-scale searches for Sally and Shane, nothing turned up until November when hunters discovered her skeletal remains in a pasture near the Twin Buttes Reservoir in the San Angelo area. His bones were discovered nearby. The location was around 20 miles from where they had last been seen.

Both teenagers died from gunshot wounds. They had both been shot in the head with a shotgun.

Sally Ann McNelly, 18, and her boyfriend Shane Paul Stewart, 17, were murdered in San Angelo, Texas. HANDOUT/ TEXAS RANGERS
Sally Ann McNelly, 18, and her boyfriend Shane Paul Stewart, 17, were murdered in San Angelo, Texas. HANDOUT/ TEXAS RANGERS

Why would someone want to murder two kids in cold blood? Rumours were rampant, including that the pair were dabbling in the occult and were members of a Satanic cult.

Sally’s friends claimed they had witnessed her attending parties where occult practices and black magic were being performed. It was the height of the Satanic panic and garnered a tidal wave of media attention, including a spot on Unsolved Mysteries.

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The Standard-Times reported that Sally had been a member for a while and that Shane was trying to help her break free.

And according to news reports, in March 1988, Sally and Shane turned a gun over to local cops. They said a cult member had given it to them claiming it was used in a murder. Police discovered that the gun was stolen.

Detectives have long pooh-poohed the idea the murders were connected to the occult.

The case quickly went cold and as the years passed the families of Sally and Shane became sick with worry they would never see justice.

In 2013, Shane’s dad Marshall Stewart sadly lamented on the 25th anniversary: “No answers came.”

John Cyrus Gilbreath: A person of interest in the double murder. HANDOUT/ TEXAS RANGERS
John Cyrus Gilbreath: A person of interest in the double murder. HANDOUT/ TEXAS RANGERS

Until June 2017.

A San Angelo man named John Cyrus Gilbreath, 47, was picked up in a routine traffic stop after his girlfriend told officers he was in the marijuana trade. A warrant was obtained to search his home.

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Gilbreath had been on detectives’ radar for a long time.

Inside the home, Texas Rangers and the Tom Green County Sheriff’s Office discovered personal writings “specific to the offence of murder” that included Shane and Sally’s names, along with three audio tapes with “SS” written on them, a search warrant affidavit obtained by the San Angelo Standard-Times stated.

Cops also obtained a lock of hair, a fingernail and biological material believed to be blood, KIDY-TV reported.

Gilbreath remains in a federal prison on other charges but is considered a “person of interest” in the double homicide.

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Investigators have long suspected more than one person was involved in the double slaying.

Shane’s dad Marshall kept the Camaro for years until it “became too much.”

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As for the killers?

“I just wish that they would get right with themselves, and get right with God,” Marshall said in a YouTube video.

Roberta Ferguson: Missing. HANDOUT/ RCMP
Roberta Ferguson: Missing. HANDOUT/ RCMP

MISSING — ROBERTA FERGUSON

DATE: AUG. 24, 1988

411: On Aug. 24, 1988, Roberta Ferguson, 19, was camping with a group of friends at the SunnySide Campground in Cultus Lake, B.C. She left the area on foot around 8 p.m. and was believed to be heading back to Surrey. According to the RCMP,  a witness observed a female matching Roberta’s description speaking to a male inside a red sports car at the intersection of Vedder Mountain Rd. and Cultus Lake Rd. He is described as average height, with blond or light brown hair and a prominent jaw.

Roberta is an Indigenous female, 5-foot-5, 115 pounds, with black eyes and mid-length black hair worn to one side. She has octagon-shaped glasses and was last seen wearing a navy blue tank top over a black top, black stretchy pants rolled up to her knees, dirty white running shoes and carrying an army green knapsack. Foul play is suspected in her disappearance.

Contact: Anyone with information regarding Roberta’s disappearance is asked to call the Chilliwack RCMP Serious Crime Section at 604-792-4611 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222 TIPS (8477).

bhunter@postmedia.com

@HunterTOSun

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