Unthinkable Rage: The Victims of Nicholas Sheley
Russell Reed was a ninety-three-year-old farmer living in Sterling, Illinois. He drove his Buick to the local restaurant almost every morning to enjoy breakfast and coffee. He failed to show up at the local eatery on June 24th and 25th of 2008. On June 26th, 2008, his badly beaten body was found in the back of his Buick. The elderly farmer had no enemies, and his two sons could think of no reason anyone would want to hurt him. Unfortunately, this was only the start to a terrifying killing spree that would shock Illinois and Missouri residents.
Russell Royer Reed was born September 11th, 1914, in Alberta, Canada. He was a loving husband to his wife Evelyn before she passed away in 1995. He was an excellent father to his two sons. Prior to his death, Russell had farmed the same land for seventy years and lived in a century’s old farmhouse in Sterling, Illinois. He didn’t typically lock the doors, did not have enemies, and was not involved in any illegal activity. When he was murdered in 2008, his family was stunned and devastated.
Nicholas Troy Sheley was born July 31st, 1979, to James and Debra Sheley. Nicholas had a history of drug and alcohol abuse as well as criminal history. He had been previously arrested and sent to prison for charges including drug possession, domestic battery, robbery, and weapons charges. In 1999, he was sentenced to 90days in jail for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and resisting a peace officer. In 2000, he was sentenced to six years in prison for aggravated robbery. In 2003, charges were filed against him for aggravated battery with great bodily harm, but those charges were later dismissed. In 2006, charges against Nicholas Sheley for aggravated battery, home invasion, and armed robbery were again dismissed. In 2007, charges of home invasion, discharging a firearm, and felony weapon possession were also dismissed.
Nicholas married his first wife in the 1990’s and fathered two children before the two divorced in 2001. Prior to the divorce, his wife filed for a protective order in 1997 and then again in 2000. Per the records on Judici from the 2000 protective order, the “court has NEVER seen more extensive injuries on face of a victim” (Judici, 2000). While in prison, Nicholas started dating Holly Gaul. In 2003, he filed for a restraining order from Holly, but it was dismissed due to lack of evidence. The two had two children together while dating in addition to his two children and her two children from previous relationships. Holly and Nicholas married on May 10th, 2008.
On June 3rd, 2008, Nicholas was arrested for driving on a revoked license and driving under the influence. While awaiting the court proceedings on this case, Nicholas committed a robbery of an elderly woman. He was suspected of the that crime, but there was not enough evidence to charge him just yet. Nick and Holly lost their home and moved with their children to a trailer on Holly’s mother’s property. His mother-in-law gave clear rules that the couple was not to consume alcohol or drugs on the property. For a while, that seemed to be okay, and Nick and Holly were doing okay. Then Nick and Holly took out a loan on their car. They used some of the $1,000 loan to buy drugs and alcohol.
That day, June 23rd, 2008, Nick relapsed on his drug and alcohol addiction and so started a killing spree. Nick beat ninety-three-year-old Russell Reed while robbing the ninety-three-year-old for more money to purchase drugs and alcohol. He left the body in the trunk of Mr. Reed’s vehicle, which was found on June 26th. On June 28th, before he was identified as a suspect in the Reed murder, Nicholas Sheley robbed sixty-five-year-old Ronald Randall at a car wash in Galesburg, Illinois. He murdered Randall and hid his body behind a grocery store, stealing the man’s truck.
Ronald Randall, known to family and friends as Ronnie, was born April 17th, 1943. He was a United States Army veteran. He had retired in 2004 after more than thirty years at Maytag. He loved paintball and the Dallas Cowboys. He was a father and grandfather at the time of his death. His body was found June 30th, two days after Nick Sheley beat him to death and stole his vehicle.
On the evening of June 28th, 2008, Nick Sheley used Randall’s stolen truck to drive to Rock Falls, Illinois. An ex-boyfriend of his new wife lived there with his current girlfriend, her child, and a roommate. When Nick arrived at the home of Holly’s ex-lover, Brock Branson, we found that the man wasn’t home. His twenty-five-year-old roommate was home, however. Nick took a hammer and beat Kenneth Ulve to death.
Kenneth Ulve was born April 13th, 1983. He was a roofer for Terry Ratliff Construction. He was survived by his son Kaden as well as parents and siblings. “He was just a nice kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time” his uncle Rick Ulve would later say (Holland & McDermott, 2008). He had made plans to move from the apartment in just a few days. When his roommates arrived home, Nick Sheley continued his killing spree.
Brock Branson was born October 16th, 1978. He enjoyed fishing, boating, listening to music, and traveling into the mountains. He had been working as a trucker for five years. While on the road, he made a stop in Utah and met a cashier named Kilynna Blake, known as “Kye”. He fell in love and moved to be with her and her young son from a previous relationship. Kye was born May 23rd, 1988, in Cedar City, Utah. She became pregnant at eighteen and gave birth to her son Dayan on April 19th, 2006. She worked hard as a single mother to provide for her son. Then she met and fell in love with Brock. Eventually, the couple moved back to Illinois to be closer to Brock’s daughter, who was ten at the time.
When Brock, Kye, and two-year-old Dayan returned to their apartment, they were attacked by Nick Sheley. He beat all three of them to death with the same hammer he had killed their roommate with. He showed no mercy to the toddler or his parents. All four of their bodies were found June 30th, 2008. The crime shocked the Midwestern communities. While Nick Sheley was the prime suspect, he was nowhere to be found. He was on the run.
On June 29th, Tom and Jill Estes were attending a graduation party in Festus, Missouri. The couple, who lived in Arkansas, were attacked outside their hotel room and brutally murdered by Nicholas Sheley. He placed both their dead bodies in the truck of Ronald Randall, which he was still driving around, and hid them behind a gas station. The motive appeared to be robbery for drug money. Their bodies were also found June 30th. Police were desperate to find Nick Sheley and stop the killing.
Thomas Estes was born December 28th in Saint Louis, Missouri. He married Jill Weber Estes on May 26th, 1973. Jill was born March 13th, 1954, in Saint Louis. Originally from Missouri, the couple moved to Arkansas where Tom worked for the Union Pacific Railroad and Jill worked with special-needs elementary students. “They were a happy little couple who enjoyed each other’s company” said a former co-worker of Jill (Holland & McDermott, 2008). They were animal lovers, parents to a son and daughter, and grandparents at the time of their death.
On July 1st, Nick Sheley was spotted outside the Saint Louis Cardinals game. He asked to use a phone, deleting the call history after making a call. The calls were traced however to a suspected drug house in the area. Later that day, patrons at a bar in Granite City recognized Sheley, as his photo was plastered all over the news, and called authorities. Nick Sheley was taken into custody outside the bar. His weeklong murder spree came to an end but left eight people dead.
As the prosecution prepared their case, they found DNA at the crime scenes belonging to Sheley. They found surveillance of him wearing the victims clothing. They found DNA from the victims in the stolen truck. They also found Holly Sheley’s DNA in the truck. When confronted, she agreed to talk in exchange for immunity, which was granted. She said that after Nick stole the truck, he picked her up. She said she noticed blood in the truck. They drove out by a canal where they had sex. She would later testify that “I felt like my butt was getting a little cold or a little wet. When we came underneath a streetlamp, I had blood all over my hands” (Donnelley, 2014). She said she freaked out but agreed to have sex with her husband to “keep the peace”. She didn’t come forward until a year later when her DNA was found.
Nicholas Sheley was found guilty of Ronald Randall’s murder by a Knox County jury in 2011. He was convicted in Whiteside County in October of 2011 for the murder of Russel Reed along with burglary and home invasion charges. He was found guilty of the murders of murdering Brock Branson, Kilynna Blake, Dayan Blake, and Kenneth Ulve in 2014. He was sentenced to life in prison for Ronnie Randall’s death plus thirty years for stealing his truck. He was given a lift sentence for each of the other 5 Illinois victims. He is not eligible for parole.
Nicholas Sheley was another problem, though. Missouri still has the death penalty, and he would face that for the murders of Tom and Jill Estes. The pre-trial preparations, complicated by his other cases in two Illinois counties, took a very long time. In 2017, Nicholas Sheley pled guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in Jefferson County, Missouri. In exchange for his plea, the prosecutor took the death penalty off the table. He was sentenced to life without parole in Missouri. He is currently servicing his time in Illinois.
At his Missouri sentencing, Nick Sheley got on his knees and apologized for his crimes. He said he hoped “God would use him to help other prisoners” (Byers, 2017). He said he regretted his actions and quoted the movie Shawshank Redemption. His words did not impress the victims’ families. “You know what it’s like to be in the presence of pure evil. You can feel it as soon as he walks in the room” Patrick Steed, the Esteses’ son-in-law said (Byers, 2017). He told interviewers that he believed his wife was having an affair with her ex, Brock Branson. His family claims his drug and alcohol addiction turned him into a different person, and he is a good man deep down.
In another development, Sheley’s parents were arrested in relation to child sexual abuse charges in 2019. That case is still pending. Sheley’s brother is also in prison on drug-related charges. His wife, Holly, tried to claim some reward money shortly after being arrested for her own DUI in 2009. Nick and Holly’s marriage ended in divorce in 2013. Nick is housed at the Lawrence County Correctional Center and is ineligible for release. He will spend the rest of his miserable life behind bars.
Individuals in Custody (illinois.gov)
Wife of Accused Killer Seeks Reward | Courthouse News Service
Jill Weber Estes (1954-2008) - Find a Grave Memorial
Thomas Estes Sr. (1953-2008) - Find a Grave Memorial
Brock A Branson (1978-2008) - Find a Grave Memorial
Kilynna Lee “Kye” Blake (1988-2008) - Find a Grave Memorial
Dayan Kurtis Blake (2006-2008) - Find a Grave Memorial
Kenneth Richard Joe “Cookie Cutter” Ulve (1983-2008) - Find a Grave Memorial
Ronald Albert “Ronnie” Randall (1943-2008) - Find a Grave Memorial
Whiteside County, IL | Case Search (judici.com)
Nicholas Troy Sheley - Wikipedia
Parents of convicted killer Nicholas Sheley arrested on child sexual assault charges | wqad.com
Killer of 8 drops to knees to apologize for bi-state murder spree, but families of victims scoff | Law and order | stltoday.com
Jealous husband Nicholas Sheley found guilty of murdering 4 with hammer | Daily Mail Online
People v. Sheley :: 2012 :: Illinois Appellate Court, Third District Decisions :: Illinois Case Law :: Illinois Law :: US Law :: Justia
Holland, E. & McDermott, K. (2008) Suspect wanted to stop running. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 04 Jul 2008
Associated Press (2008) Family, friends of killing spree suspect baffled. The Belleville-News Democrat. 10 Jul 2008
Watt, A. (2008) More charges for Sheley. The Dispatch. 02 Aug 2008