NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) A mother and police plea for clues in a 15-year-old North Myrtle Beach murder that left one young woman dead and no apparent suspects.
It was a warm summer night around 11:30 p.m. June 1, 1996, when 23-year-old Shawn Neal was supposed to meet someone in the Windy Hill Shore II Condominium complex at 3217 South Ocean Boulevard in North Myrtle Beach. But that would be the last anyone ever heard from the Leland, North Carolina mother.
Sandy Ames, Shawn's mother, recalls her daughter's personality and the years stolen.
"She would have been 39 this year, always bubbly, lots of friends," said Ames.
A mother never expects to hold the final pictures of her child, much less to receive a call from investigators to explain a fatal tragedy has happened, but Sandy received that call 15 years ago.
"I guess I went blank, went to the floor, and then her daughter was there, she was only 3, going on 4," Ames recalls of the night police discovered Shawn's body and phoned to give her the devastating news.
"My son, he wanted to kill anybody he possibly could at that point, but we didn't have anybody to blame, we didn't have anybody to look for," she explains.
"Think I knocked a couple times, didn't get an answer," said Lt. J. Phil Webster of North Myrtle Beach Public Safety. He was first on the scene the next day, after Neal's boyfriend reported her missing. "There was a woman's shoe turned over. I drew my service weapon, peaked in, that's when I saw Miss Neal."
"From what the crime scene tells us, she was rendered defenseless, manually strangled and positioned to where eventually she would die," said Special Agent Randall Truss, with SLED. He was also on the scene 15-years-ago, as a North Myrtle Beach Public Safety Officer. "We're not giving up. I'd rather still investigate something than nothing."
Neal's '96 Dodge Avenger, which was parked nearby in Roses' parking lot at 35th Avenue South, may possibly have been taken on a joy ride by a suspect, police say.
"Nobody had registered to use that unit for that week. So someone had to have knowledge that the place was gonna be vacant," claims Truss. He says they spoke to everyone in the complex, but no solid leads nor any motives developed.
"She wasn't raped. She wasn't robbed. I mean she had all her jewelry," said Ames.
Now newer processing techniques could help narrow down the investigation, Truss says.
"There are parts that are completely eliminated, so you obviously want to focus on what's workable and what's not," he defines.
Ames sat down with WMBF News Anchor Michael Maely to talk about her daughter and hopefully bring some answers to her untimely death.
"How hard is to not know for sure, who did this to your daughter?" asked Maely.
"It's hard not to know and it eats at you, but with my faith and my church and my work and friends, they keep me motivated," said Ames. But the pain of uncertainty can still be overwhelming. "Somebody will say, 'you're handling that so well', they don't know my day to day, they don't know what I fight with."
Sandy lost another unthinkable fight last month.
"My son had been hospitalized for manic depression and paranoid schizophrenia. People don't realize that stems from my daughter's death," she explains. "He didn't wanna be around people. He didn't trust people. My sister, we found out she had stage 4 lung cancer, and I told him I was going to have to help her for a while and the week that I was supposed to go with her to Duke, he took a gun and shot and killed himself," Ames says tearfully. "Because he didn't wanna be a burden. He didn't wanna be a burden anymore," said Ames. "They didn't just take one person's life; they messed up a whole family and beyond that."
"What would you say to her, if she could hear you," asked Maely of Ames' daughter.
"I miss her, and I'm sorry she didn't get to see her daughter grow up," said Ames.
With both of her children gone, Sandy says her fight for answers gains strength from her granddaughter, Kirsten, now many years older with many more questions.
"It eats at her; it eats at her bad, and it would be a weight off her shoulders more than anything. We got to see her on a stretcher and that's my last views," remembers Ames.
Ames makes a plea in search for answers to Shawn's death.
"Details, policemen need details. From anyone, who might know anything, put rest to what family I do have left," cries Ames.
Investigators say no one heard any struggle or arguments the night of Neal's death. But they say they believe someone had to see something that night. Ames believes there's a chance someone in Leland, North Carolina may have also seen something strange, where her daughter and her boyfriend Chris Trumbull had lived.
Sled is working with North Myrtle Beach Public Safety on this case. If you have any information, call North Myrtle Beach Police at 843-280-5542.