Time to kill
The killer clown
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.