Illinois man ‘person of interest’ in string of murders

By Daniel Yovich

STERLING, Ill. – A string of eight killings stretching from northwestern Illinois into Missouri since last week may be linked to a 28-year-old convicted felon from Illinois, authorities said Tuesday as they announced a manhunt and $25,000 award for his arrest.

Seven of the dead were found Monday, including a child and three adults discovered in an apartment in northern Illinois and a couple found behind a gas station in a St. Louis suburb. Police were looking for stolen vehicles in at least two of the cases.

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The FBI and local authorities said Nicholas T. Sheley was last seen in Illinois near St. Louis and should be considered armed and dangerous. Public records show Sheley has multiple convictions for robbery, drugs and weapons charges and has spent three years in prison.

He has not been charged in any of the slayings, but has been named a person of interest in at least five killings in western Illinois. He may be connected to three others there and in Missouri, according to Illinois State Police Sgt. Thomas Burek.

The string of murders began with the beating death of 93-year-old Russell Reed, a Sterling man whose body was found stuffed in the trunk of a car Thursday. Sheley also is from Sterling, a town of 15,000 about 100 miles west of Chicago.

On Monday, the bodies of two men, a woman and a child were discovered in an apartment in nearby Rock Falls after a well-being check. Police wouldn’t say who made the request for the check, but they believe one of the victims is connected to Reed.

Burek said Sheley is an acquaintance of one of those found inside the apartment.

Also Monday, the body of an older man was found near a trash bin behind a grocery store in Galesburg, a community about 60 miles southwest of Rock Falls.

Police Sgt. James Martinson said investigators were working to determine if the body is that of a 65-year-old Galesburg man who was reported missing Monday. The man’s car was stolen and later found in Missouri, Martinson said. An autopsy was planned for Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the bodies of a man and woman also were found Monday behind a gas station in the St. Louis suburb of Festus, Mo., about 250 miles south of Galesburg. Investigators were looking for the couple’s pickup truck.

Police said the man and woman match a vague description of a missing Arkansas couple who had checked into a Comfort Inn in Festus on Friday and were last seen late Sunday. The couple’s dogs were found in the hotel parking lot, unharmed but covered with blood.

Festus is within 50 miles of both St. Louis and Collinsville, Ill., both cities where police say Sheley had been seen Monday.

On Tuesday morning, police in tactical gear searched a Collinsville apartment building for a person of interest the Festus killings, but “were unable to locate the guy,” Collinsville police Sgt. Rich Wittenauer said.

Sheley’s uncle, Joe Sheley, 47, of Sterling, told The Associated Press that Nicholas Sheley had recently struggled with drugs and that his rap sheet include arrests for home invasion.

“He’s been in trouble many times over the years, but something like this, yeah, it’s out of character,” Joe Sheley said. “He’s got a temper like anybody else. Just doesn’t want to be messed with. Won’t back down. But to go looking for a fight, looking for trouble, no.”

Sheley spent nearly three years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for aggravated robbery between 2000 and 2003 and another 17 months on parole, which ended in April 2005, said IDOC spokesman Derek Schnapp.

The uncle didn’t know of any connection between his nephew – a father of four by two wives – and the St. Louis area.

The most recent warrant facing Nicholas Sheley was issued last week for a June 14 home invasion at a 90-year-old woman’s home.

Sterling police said Sheley forced his way into the home, took an undisclosed amount of money and forced the woman to write out some checks. He became “somewhat physical” with the woman but she was not seriously injured, police said.

Associated Press writers Ashley M. Heher and Don Babwin in Chicago and Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this report.