Here, Sheila, 55, tells the story in her own words.
C￼ruising up and down the street, my best friend Angie and I laughed heartily. ‘What are you fellas doing tonight?’ she winked, while I dissolved into giggles.
It was our weekly ritual, driving through the main street to meet cute boys!
Angela Samota and I had met on our first day of university in 1982 when we were roommates, and now we were more like sisters. Gorgeous, smart and friendly, she’s what I described as a ‘triple threat’.
Then one weekend in 1984, I went home while Angie stayed on campus. On the Saturday morning, my friend Barbara called. ‘Sheila… Angie…’ she gasped between sobs. ‘Something happened.’ ‘Is she alright? Did she have a car accident?’ I panicked. But my questions only made her cry harder.
After a long pause, I whispered something awful. ‘Is she dead?’ Barbara let out a howl and I knew then that my beautiful bestie was gone.
Angie was just 20.As I screamed in despair, my mum rushed into the room and held me.
I learnt that Angie had gone to a club the night before with two other friends, Anita Kadala and Russell Buchanan. Around 1am, she’d swung by her boyfriend’s to say goodnight, then headed home. He’d received an odd phone call from Angie not long after. ‘Talk to me,’ she said, before the line disconnected.
Going round to check on her, he discovered her body, covered in blood. Angie had been brutally raped and stabbed 18 times.
I was so scared after her murder, I slept on my mum’s bedroom floor. With no arrests made, her killer was still on the loose. Everywhere I went, I’d scour the room wondering if he was there. Although there was one suspect – Russell, who’d been with Angie that night. Detectives believed he’d attacked Angie after she refused his advances. I believed it too.
An officer working on the case convinced me to have dinner with Russell to see if his story matched up.
Sitting in the restaurant, I was quivering with nerves. I’m having dinner with a murderer, I thought.
As I casually brought up what he was doing the night Angie died, his face twisted with sadness. ‘It wasn’t me,’ he pleaded.
Russell’s story and alibi added up, so police couldn’t charge him. They then told me he ‘fled’ to London to attend graduate school. He’s guilty as sin! I thought.
Back then, the technology wasn’t available to test DNA so the case quickly went cold.
In time, I married Charles and we had two sons, Charlie and Christopher. But Angie was never far from my thoughts. Before I knew it, 20 years had passed.
Then one day in 2004, I was in my bedroom when I saw her. Angela? When she smiled at me, a chill ran down my spine. I knew I had to do something.Immediately, I called the police.
‘My friend was murdered in 1984 and I want to know what is being done to solve it,’ I said with conviction. ‘I’m afraid the files for this case were destroyed by floods,’ the officer replied.
For the next few years, I regularly phoned the police station and pestered them. Without an officer on the case, I felt powerless. 'Some cases just aren’t meant to be solved,’ one detective said. Well, this one’s going to be! I thought, determined. I decided I needed to become my own detective.
Being dyslexic, I had my 13-year-old son read to me as I studied to become a private investigator. Passing the exam, I walked into the police station again, this time with my PI credentials.
Taking me seriously, in 2008 – after four years and 750 phone calls – they assigned Detective Linda Crum to the case. Finally, she tested the DNA in the semen, blood and fingernail samples found at the crime scene.
About a year later, Linda called me. ‘We’ve got him,’ she said. My heart was in my throat as I listened to the name of Angie’s killer. Donald Bess. ‘Who?’ I asked, stunned. I’d spent two decades believing it was Russell. Bess was a serial rapist who was out on parole when he attacked Angie.
Police believe he knocked on her door, begging to use the bathroom. Because Angie was kind she let him in, but realising her mistake she’d called her boyfriend.
In June 2010, Donald Andrew Bess, 62, appeared at the Dallas County District Court and pleaded not guilty to murder.
Facing him, I could almost taste the evil in the air. The jury found Bess guilty. He received the death penalty and is on death row.
After the trial, I met with Russell, who is now a successful architect. I felt awful for believing an innocent man was a killer. ‘I want to ask for your forgiveness,’ I told him. ‘For what?’ he asked. ‘If you didn’t persist, I’d have this dark cloud hanging over my head forever. Thank you.’
Ten years on, I still work as a private investigator and I’ve solved missing person, rape and murder cases. It is so rewarding, knowing I can help other families who are feeling what I did for Angie.
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