Time to kill

The killer clown

Real People - - CONTENTS -

Open­ing the front door, Mar­lene War­ren couldn’t be­lieve her eyes. On her doorstep was a de­liv­ery of flow­ers and bal­loons, and here was the fun­ni­est part – the per­son de­liv­er­ing them was dressed as a clown.

It was 26 May 1990, and Mar­lene, 40, had been fin­ish­ing break­fast when the clown’s white Chrysler pulled into the drive­way of her big house in Welling­ton, Florida.

This was a smart area back then, where fa­mous stars such as Madonna, Bruce Spring­steen and Tommy Lee Jones once had hol­i­day homes.

So, you ex­pected to spot the odd celeb or two. But a clown on your doorstep? That was sur­real.

He looked like he’d flapped straight out of a cir­cus tent in his gi­ant elon­gated shoes. He had a curly or­ange wig and white face paint with a big red nose and spot­ted suit – the works.

Tak­ing the two foil bal­loons and car­na­tions from him, a sur­prised Mar­lene was over­heard by her son, Joseph, 20, to say, ‘Oh, how pretty!’

Then the clown pulled out a re­volver and shot her in the face.

When the po­lice ar­rived, Mar­lene was ly­ing on the floor, still clutch­ing the strings of the bal­loons.

She was barely alive and later died in hospi­tal.

The mur­der shook the res­i­dents of Welling­ton.

It was like a hor­ror film. Was there a crazy, killer clown on the loose?

The out­fit was, of course, the per­fect dis­guise for a mur­der. It hides your body, face and hair, mean­ing there was no chance of an ID pa­rade.

Po­lice did, how­ever, find the white Chrysler that the clown had used. It was aban­doned in a su­per­mar­ket car park.

It turned out to be a rental car that had been re­ported stolen a month ear­lier.

The cou­ple who’d rented it had re­turned it to the wrong com­pany af­ter fall­ing for a ruse by car dealer Michael War­ren – Mar­lene’s hus­band.

Po­lice sus­pected, as did much of the neigh­bour­hood, that he was hav­ing an af­fair with 27-year-old Sheila Keen, who worked for him… but the pair de­nied it.

Sheila’s neigh­bours even as­sumed that Michael was her hus­band be­cause he was at her house so of­ten.

Had Michael and Sheila con­spired to get rid of Mar­lene?

Sheila in­sisted she was work­ing out of town at the time of the shoot­ing.

But there were some in­ter­est­ing co­in­ci­dences.

Sheila lived very near the su­per­mar­ket where, po­lice dis­cov­ered, the flow­ers and bal­loons had been bought just be­fore the killing.

And, in the past, she had rented a clown cos­tume to en­ter­tain at a kids’ party.

All that was cir­cum­stan­tial, though. Where was the firm ev­i­dence?

Foren­sic of­fi­cers had ex­tracted brown hair and or­ange fi­bres that ap­peared to be from a wig found in the white car, but DNA test­ing was in its in­fancy back then.

There was no weapon, no gun residue, no fin­ger­prints…

Although po­lice were sure that Sheila and Michael were some­how in­volved in the killing, with­out hard ev­i­dence, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion came to a stand­still.

In­stead, they took a dif­fer­ent tack. In 1993, they raided Michael’s car deal­er­ship and dis­cov­ered he’d been fraud­u­lently tam­per­ing with car milome­ters and car­ry­ing out other il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity. He was sen­tenced to nine years in jail.

When he was re­leased, he and Sheila dis­ap­peared and the killer clown case went cold, Arc­tic cold. For al­most 30 years, noth­ing hap­pened.

Then, in May 2017, on the 27th an­niver­sary of Mar­lene’s death, a Florida news­pa­per re­porter called Bar­bara Mar­shall went back through old cut­tings and wrote a big ar­ti­cle about the cold case.

A re­searcher on the pa­per found that Sheila and Michael had got mar­ried in Las Ve­gas and were now liv­ing in Vir­ginia, run­ning a fast food restau­rant. Strangely, Sheila had changed her name to Deb­bie. It looked like she didn’t want to be found.

Fi­nally, the cold case warmed up. And the clincher was DNA. Tech­niques had ad­vanced greatly since 1990, and one sin­gle hair fi­bre from the clown’s get­away car, nearly 30 years old, changed ev­ery­thing.

Pros­e­cu­tors an­nounced a match – Sheila.

It placed her at the scene of the crime and she was charged with Mar­lene’s mur­der.

Now, she awaits trial, and pros­e­cu­tors must prove she is the killer clown. If they suc­ceed, they want the death penalty.

Three decades on, Mar­lene, who did not de­serve to die, de­serves jus­tice.

If found guilty of Mar­lene’s mur­der, Sheila could face the death penalty Mar­lene was shot on her doorstep in 1990 Po­lice ini­tially sus­pected Michael could have been in­volved in Mar­lene’s death Michael was jailed for nine years, but not for mur­der The Killer Clown episode of Sex, Lies and Mur­der is on Wed­nes­day 7 No­vem­ber at 9pm.

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