Unfinished Murder: The Pursuit of a Serial Rapist

Unfinished Murder: The Pursuit of a Serial Rapist

by James Neff

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Edgar Award Finalist: The hunt for Ronnie Shelton, Cleveland’s West Side Rapist, and the victims who united for justice—“Groundbreaking” (Ann Rule).
From 1983 to 1988, serial rapist Ronnie Shelton preyed on the women of Cleveland. Dubbed the West Side Rapist, twenty-seven-year-old Shelton would spy on his victims, stalk them, and brutally assault them in their homes. Arrested at least fifteen times for other crimes, Shelton slipped through the cracks of an overburdened police department so often it seemed he would never be caught.
Based on more than 150 interviews with the survivors, the police, psychiatrists, and Shelton himself, this “groundbreaking study of the infinite perils of serial rape” is the extensively researched story of Shelton’s crimes and the five-year pursuit that ended in his capture (Ann Rule). Investigative journalist James Neff also documents the long-term devastation caused by rape and celebrates the courage of the women who helped to put a sexual predator behind bars. It resulted in a sentence of 3,195 years—the longest in Ohio state history.
A finalist for the Edgar Award, Unfinished Murder is “not only a riveting nonfiction thriller but an important account about the true nature of sex crimes in America” from the prizewinning true crime journalist who is also the author of The Wrong Man: The Final Verdict on the Dr. Sam Sheppard Murder Case and Mobbed Up: Jackie Presser’s High-Wire Life in the Teamsters, the Mafia, and the FBI, which was the basis for the HBO movie, Teamster Boss (Nicholas Pileggi).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504007344
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 356
Sales rank: 592,573
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

James Neff is a prizewinning investigative journalist and editor. He is the author of five books, including The Wrong Man: The Final Verdict on the Dr. Sam Sheppard Murder Case and Unfinished Murder: The Capture of a Serial Rapist, both of which were Edgar Award finalists; Mobbed Up: Jackie Presser’s High-Wire Life in the Teamsters, the Mafia, and the FBI, which was adapted into the HBO movie Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story; and Vendetta: Bobby Kennedy Versus Jimmy Hoffa. Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Neff was a reporter and columnist at the Plain Dealer; a writer and editor at the Seattle Times, where he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and is currently deputy managing editor for investigations at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
James Neff is a prizewinning investigative journalist and editor. He is the author of five books, including The Wrong Man: The Final Verdict on the Dr. Sam Sheppard Murder Case and Unfinished Murder: The Capture of a Serial Rapist, both of which were Edgar Award finalists; Mobbed Up: Jackie Presser’s High-Wire Life in the Teamsters, the Mafia, and the FBI, which was adapted into the HBO movie Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story; and Vendetta: Bobby Kennedy Versus Jimmy Hoffa. Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Neff was a reporter and columnist at the Plain Dealer; a writer and editor at the Seattle Times, where he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and is currently deputy managing editor for investigations at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Read an Excerpt

Unfinished Murder

The Pursuit of a Serial Rapist

By James Neff


Copyright © 1995 James Neff
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-0734-4


Cleveland, Ohio April 13, 1983

He turned back the covers and sat for a moment on the edge of a well-pounded mattress.

The young woman beside him stirred under the rumpled sheets. "What're you doing?" she asked sleepily.

It was four in the morning. From the corner of his eye he watched her stretch, her toned muscles loose and relaxed from a night of lovemaking. He had gone out of his way to satisfy her and could tell from her responses that her previous lovers had not been very skilled in bed.

He lighted a cigarette and pulled black jeans over his slim hips.

"Come back here," she said. "I need you." She was blond, nineteen, with the look of a soap opera nymphet.

"Gotta get some air. I'll be back." He knew she was annoyed at being turned down, but fuck it. He believed in playing hard to get. In his experience it made the girls want him all the more.

Besides, he had things to do before daybreak.

In the predawn dark he drove his car down West 117th Street, Cleveland's most heavily traveled thoroughfare. He welcomed the sprinkling of traffic; it made him less conspicuous.

He told himself he was driving aimlessly, but in fact he was drawn to a block on Marne Avenue, a narrow residential street of identical bungalows.

He parked one street away and sat for a minute. He retrieved a handgun from under the front seat, tucked it in his waist, and pulled on a yellow baseball cap. He left the car and slipped down a driveway into the backyards of a group of one-story frame houses. Lightheaded, staying close to shadows cast by trees against streetlights, he crept toward one of the houses.

Once there he crouched near a rear window, his mind ablaze. He had seen her before through this lighted window, tall, slim, with a strong chin and cheekbones, blond-streaked brown hair down to her shoulders. He had watched her long enough to know her patterns and those of her housemates. Now he imagined her in her bed, sleeping on her back, naked, her breasts spread across her chest. He decided to go in.

Until this moment, it had been a typical week night for Kathy Bond. She waitressed until ten at Casey's Family Restaurant on West 117th, made about $30 in tips—more than the other waitresses, as usual—and hurried home. Her roommate, Michelle, who was divorced and owned the tiny house, had to leave soon for her midnight shift at Tony's Diner. Kathy was going to watch Michelle's six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son.

Kathy wanted to get married and have children someday. Over the past six months she had become close to Michelle's kids and loved them as if they were her own. Tonight both were asleep when she arrived—Michael in the lower bunk in the children's bedroom, and Missy, as was usual lately, in Kathy's double bed.

After Michelle left for work, Kathy drank a beer in front of the TV, stripped to panties and a T-shirt, then moved Missy to one side of the double bed and climbed in. She fell asleep quickly and woke only when Missy began crying that her leg was asleep. Half-asleep, Kathy carried the child to her mother's bed, where a heating pad was plugged in. She tucked in the girl, kissed her softly, and turned on the pad. Missy had only recently started complaining about her leg, and Kathy wondered whether the heating pad really helped or if Missy was simply comforted by the attention.

Kathy had been back in her own bed for a few minutes when she heard the kitchen window rattle. She listened for a minute. Silence. Must be the wind, she decided as she drifted off.

He had pulled off the screen and jimmied the window as quietly as he could. He climbed inside and froze for a minute, listening in case anyone had heard him. All right, he thought, not a peep.

This was his favorite part. The buildup. He was inside and no one knew. He took his time, wanting to figure out her life, studying the furniture and decorations and dishes in the sink. He wanted to connect with this woman he had never met.

He tiptoed to the narrow hallway, his brain awash in pleasure. She would wake up, her eyes wide, terrified, and beg him not to hurt her. She would do what he said—they always did. And she could not hurt him or his feelings, not in any way.

He checked a bedroom and saw bunk beds with rumpled covers. Kids. Good, he thought. That would make things easier. He found a little girl in another bed in another room. Then he crept into the woman's bedroom and watched her sleep, her breathing quiet, her hair fanned on the pillow like flower petals.

Blood flooded his groin, tightening his crotch. He picked up the purse from the dresser and delicately rummaged for money. He found her tip money in a cigarette case, which also held an empty pack and her driver's license. He turned the laminated license to catch a sliver of light from the window: Kathleen Bond, twenty years old, five-foot-eight, 124 pounds. Great face, he observed.

He pulled out the gun and moved in. "Kathy," he said softly. "Kathy."

She opened her eyes and an icy terror constricted her chest. She heard herself scream.

A hand was clamped over her mouth and a gun thrust in her face. "Do what I say," a voice said softly, "and the kids won't get hurt. Don't look at me."

The house was silent. Kathy nodded that she understood. She felt as if she was about to vomit.

"Take off your clothes."

Trembling, her skin prickling, afraid she had only seconds left to live, she stripped. Suddenly she thought of the little girl, forgetting she had moved her. "Where's Missy? What've you done to her?" She started to look up.

The intruder drew the brim of his baseball cap down over his face. "Don't look at me," he ordered.

"The little girl was in my bed!"

"There's no kid. I don't know what you're talking about."

"Please, where is she?"

"There's one kid in one bedroom and another in another. Now shut up and they won't get hurt."

He pushed down his pants and immediately forced his way into her mouth. A few minutes later, he stretched out on the bed, the gun in his hand, and made her get on top. "Don't look at me!" he said as he bucked between her legs.

She felt him ejaculate. She wanted to kill him but was too afraid to move.

"Okay, you can get dressed. But stay in the bed and don't move. Now, where is your money?"

"In my cigarette case."

"I already got that."

"That's it. That's all I got."

She listened as he walked from room to room, then heard him stop at the refrigerator, open it, and pop the top of a can of beer. Oh my God, she thought, he's not leaving. He's going to stay until he kills us all.

He took a swig of the beer. He couldn't believe how calm he was. He was taking his time, dallying deliberately. He liked her.

A storm window rattled somewhere and, worried that she was making an escape, he ran back to the bedroom, the gun held clamped in both hands, arms out straight.

"I said don't move," he hissed.

She was still under the covers. "It wasn't me, it wasn't me, I didn't move, I didn't." He could hear panic in her voice.

He lowered the gun and continued his search, opening drawers and cupboards, looking for cash. So far all he had found were two Mickey Mouse piggy banks full of change. But a desk drawer in the other bedroom was locked and he couldn't snap it open. He came back and pointed his gun at the woman.

"Where's your friend's money? Don't lie."

"I don't know.

He decided to take her word for it. "I need a suitcase to carry things with," he told her.

"Up in the attic."

She heard him shuffling around upstairs but couldn't force herself to run. She was pinned there by the children. He had said he'd hurt them if she screamed. Imagine what he'd do to them if she ran.

Suddenly he was in the bedroom again, pointing the gun at her from a crouching position like a cop in a television drama. Kathy put up her hands. "I didn't move," she said, shaking.

He unzipped his pants. "Don't look at me," he commanded, and climbed on the bed and forced oral sex again, then a few minutes later pushed her legs apart and raped her.

"I need to get a drink of water," she said when it was over. What Kathy really wanted was an excuse to get out of bed. Anything would be better than the hopeless feeling of lying flat on her back.

"I'll get it for you," he said brightly. When he came back the baseball cap was low over his face. He handed her the glass. "Okay, go in the bathroom and put your hand on the window. I'm going outside and if I don't see your hand there I'm coming back in. And don't call the cops. I know every car in this neighborhood. If there's a strange car here, I'll be back, and the two kids will get it first. Then you."

Terrified, Kathy nodded, afraid to look at him. Before he left, he lighted a Marlboro cigarette, then as an afterthought tapped out a few more from his pack onto the counter for her. "Here," he said, his tone friendly. "I know you're out."

With his dark jeans and jacket, he knew he blended into the night, and he forced himself to walk slowly to his car. He was slick with a fine sheen of sweat, slightly shaky, drifting down from an intense, pulse-pounding high. He sauntered with exaggerated casualness.

He hoped no one had seen him. He had taken another big chance tonight. The police might even be on their way here now, sirens off, a husky V-8 roaring. That would be exciting. They'd screech up, doors slamming. Then they'd brace him, screaming, shoving their silly police-issue .38s in his face.

Moments later the thrill faded. He lighted another cigarette and rehearsed a cover story in case the police stopped him. Fat chance in Cleveland, he thought. All these times stalking, breaking in, and it hadn't happened yet. He got in his car, slid his handgun under the front seat, and drove off.

Kathy Bond

For a few minutes after being raped, Kathy Bond thought of keeping it all a horrible secret, as the rapist wanted—of carrying on her life as if nothing had happened. But the idea made her gag. She had to do something.

Sobbing, she called Michelle at Tony's Diner and choked out what had happened, assuring her the kids were okay. Michelle called the police, then raced home.

It didn't take long for two officers to get to Marne Avenue. Behind them came a police beat reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer; he had overheard the radioed assignment on the scanner in the newspaper's tiny office at police headquarters.

"This isn't going in the paper, is it?" Kathy said, her voice cracking with fear. "The guy who did this told me not to call the Kathy Bond cops. For sure he'll know if you do a write-up." The reporter mumbled and moved to another room.

After hearing Kathy's account, one of the cops carefully dusted for fingerprints on the beer can and water glass handled by the rapist.

Later, Kathy called an old friend, told him what happened, and asked for protection. He said he would drive right over. That evening she felt completely out of control. She couldn't sit still. When Michelle or the kids said something to her, she didn't hear or couldn't hold the thought. She struggled to keep from crying. By midnight she had drunk enough beer to dull her shattered nerves and fall asleep. Her friend sat up in the living room, watching TV with a shotgun resting on his thighs.

Kathy woke up crying a few times and came out to talk. "I can't stay in that bedroom. I think I'll have to move out."

Good idea, he said.

"I feel bad leaving Michelle and the kids. I'm abandoning her, and that guy might come back."

The next day, she saw a headline on page 10 of the newspaper: "West Side Woman Raped." That decided it. "Oh my God, he's going to come back and kill me," Kathy said. She packed and moved out a few hours later.

Until the rape, Kathy had been full of energy, quick to laugh, a fun companion for a night of club hopping as well as a devoted surrogate mother to Michelle's kids. She lived on coffee and cigarettes, and maybe a quick sandwich at work, sitting in the kitchen, chatting with the cooks.

But now that someone had raped her, she lived in fear in her own apartment, afraid to be alone at night. She couldn't sleep. Nor could she explain her fears—she thought they made her sound crazy—to the young man she was dating. She was not ready to have sex, and manufactured excuses when he made overtures. It was just too painful to explain.

She felt herself growing apart from her family. When one of her younger brother's friends insensitively kidded her that she'd probably enjoyed sex with the rapist, she punched him in the face, then burst into tears. She was surprised at how easily her rage flashed into violence. She never had been like that before, and had hated that quality in her first husband, who she'd left two years earlier at eighteen, after seven months of marriage, when he had hit her for a second time. She had told herself long ago that she would never stay with a wife beater. Watching her mom put up with being a punching bag had been torment enough.

Along with the rage came moments of panic. Not long after Kathy moved to a new apartment, her boss mentioned that a Cleveland detective named Miller had called the restaurant, wanting to know where she had moved, explaining that he had to talk to her about the case.

Kathy screamed at her boss, convinced that the caller was really the rapist trying to find her to kill her for calling the cops, as he had promised. That night she stayed with a friend, and the next day she moved out of her new apartment. She would have to find another one.

Back at work, Kathy was like a raw nerve ending. Before the rape, she had been Casey's best waitress, a natural with customers. She had built up a loyal crew of regulars: a handful of older couples, truck drivers, workers from the nearby discount stores and factories, and several Cleveland cops from the First District station house.

But now everything seemed to spook her. One evening, she noticed a shadowy figure pass by the restaurant's front window, and instinctively she dropped to the floor, trying to make herself as tiny a target as possible for what she was sure was a gunman.

Moments later, she stood up, sweating, shaky, embarrassed. "I can't believe I did this," she said. By then the figure passing the window had walked in and asked for a table; he was just a hungry older man.

Over the next week, whenever someone outside passed the restaurant windows in a certain way, Kathy dove to the floor in fear. Unaware of why she was doing it, other waitresses also dropped to the floor, thinking they too were in danger. Then Kathy would apologize and reveal she had been raped, explaining, "He said he'd come back and kill me."

Her erratic behavior began to hurt business and her manager insisted that she get help at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, a nonprofit social services agency.

There she met with a counselor, an older woman, who explained that her behavior and her feeling of rage were normal responses for women who had been raped. There was, in fact, no "normal response" to the trauma of being raped, but she was not crazy if she had flashbacks, couldn't sleep, got depressed, suffered panic attacks, or felt guilt, shame, and self-loathing. Some rape victims mutilate themselves, Kathy was told. Others go on crash diets or binge on drugs or food. Whatever the response to being raped, the counselor explained, it was okay to feel that way. Kathy learned that anywhere from one in ten to one in four women end up being victims of sexual violence, and that a lot of women who have survived rape are out there to talk about it.

The counselor, worried that Kathy did not have a healthy release for her anger, brought out foam rubber paddles and told her to bash whatever she wanted to in the office. At home, she suggested pillow fights to get out anger.

A pillow fight? Kathy wondered what the hell good a pillow fight was when what she really wanted was to tear off the guy's face.

The Rapist

He parked his motorcycle on a hill perched above the Flats, Cleveland's industrial zone flanking the Cuyahoga River as it snaked south from downtown. Here the black sky covered him like a quilt. In the distance, forges and foundries cast an orange glow, softened by a haze of steam and smoke that was barely discernible at night. The exhale of steel mills.

In the dark the hum of tow motors and the low-gear rumble of semitrailers tumbled up the brush-covered slopes, the constant, purposeful sound of men at work, a reassuring lullaby. Some nights, if the wind was right, he could taste chalky soot on his teeth.


Excerpted from Unfinished Murder by James Neff. Copyright © 1995 James Neff. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

  • Cover Page
  • Dedication
  • Note
  • Part One: The Ice Forms
    • Cleveland, Ohio: April 13, 1983
    • September 1983
  • Part Two: Skater’s Waltz
    • April 1984
    • May–June 1984
    • July 1984
    • September–October 1984
    • Spring 1985
    • August–September 1985
    • October–December 1985
    • January–February 1986
  • Part Three: A Crack in the Ice
    • February–March 1986
    • April–May 1986
    • June 1986
    • August 1986
    • November 1986
    • February–March 1987
    • April 1987
    • July 1987
    • November 1987
    • February–March 1988
    • Summer 1988
    • August 1988
    • September–October 1988
    • November 1988
    • December 1988
  • Part Four: The Ice Breaks
    • December 1988
    • January 1989
    • February 1989
    • March–April 1989
    • June 1989
    • July–August 1989
  • Part Five: “Unfinished Murder” Revenged
    • September 1989
  • Author’s Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the Author
  • Copyright Page

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