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“They were leaving the state because they were afraid of these people. And she said, ‘If you don’t hear from us in a couple of months, then we’re dead.’ ”

Valerie Castillo

In the fall of 1987, Shane Stewart and Sally McNelly met through mutual friends and began dating. Shane was tall and confident. Sally loved to be the center of attention, and moved easily between groups of friends. Later that year, the two began spending more time with a group of teenagers who met up to practice occult rituals. Some friends say the group’s chants and candles were just games, but by the summer of 1988, something had changed. Sally told one friend that she and Shane were leaving San Angelo together, to get away from the group. That was just before the two of them disappeared.

Shane and Sally is produced and cowritten by Patrick Michels, and produced and engineered by Brian Standefer. Assistant producer is Aisling Ayers. Story editing by Rafe Bartholomew. Executive producer is Megan Creydt. Fact-checking by Doyin Oyeniyi. Studio musician is Jon Sanchez. Artwork is by Emily Kimbro and Victoria Millner.

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Rob D’Amico (voice-over): It’s June of 2017. John Gilbreath, who’s 52 years old at this time, is driving home to San Angelo from Austin. Gilbreath is the one who reached out to Marshall and Pat after Shane and Sally were killed, offering to help them solve the case.

His girlfriend is next to him in the passenger seat, and they’re nearly home, on the outskirts of San Angelo, when they’re pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy.

The deputy walks up to the car and says he saw Gilbreath change lanes without signaling. But now, standing by the window, he says he also smells marijuana. Gilbreath says yes, he does have a couple of joints with him, and the deputy decides to search the car.

In the pocket of a door, in a cigarette case, the deputy finds the joints. Then he pops the trunk. In there, he finds nearly another half-pound of marijuana. He also finds a Kevlar vest. And a .38-caliber pistol.

Gilbreath has a previous drug-related felony on his record—which means he isn’t allowed to have that gun. Now he’s facing prison time.

And his girlfriend is also facing possible charges because of the drugs in the car. So, back at the sheriff’s office in San Angelo, she starts talking. She says Gilbreath has more at home: scales, ledgers, and other evidence that he’s been selling drugs.

Nick Hanna, the Texas Ranger who was investigating Shane and Sally’s deaths, had considered Gilbreath a person of interest both because he was part of their social world and because of how he’d behaved after the murders: that he’d offered to help their parents investigate, and that he even showed up at the funeral home asking for an autopsy report.

But Nick needed a way in to get a closer look.

Nick Hanna: When we identified him as a person of interest, we began watching his activities closely. And we received some information that he was transporting narcotics from Austin to the San Angelo area.

On June 12, while Gilbreath was locked up in county jail, Nick went with sheriff deputies to Gilbreath’s home. It was a tiny blue house, in a middle-class neighborhood on the west side of town, near O. C. Fisher Lake. Inside, they did find more evidence that Gilbreath had been selling drugs. But that wasn’t all.

Nick Hanna: We saw some writings that were consistent with some of the crime scene at Shane and Sally’s location where their bodies were recovered. There was a fingernail and there was a lock of hair. And so as an investigator, I was pretty excited about that.

A fingernail. A lock of hair. Some cassette tapes, labeled “SS,” and handwritten notes that make reference to the murders—though inspectors won’t tell us what exactly they said. And then another item, described as, quote, “possible biological material possibly believed to be blood,” though we don’t know exactly what this was, whether it was a vial of blood or a few drops on a piece of fabric. Nick told us that sometimes, killers like to keep mementos like this of their victims.

Nick says the plan was to keep things quiet at first. They already had samples of Shane and Sally’s DNA, so they sent this new material to the lab to see if there was a match.

But meanwhile, a reporter with the local paper, the San Angelo Standard-Times, learned about Gilbreath’s arrest and the sensational evidence at his home. As soon as they reported it, the news spread fast. 

Fox West Texas reporter Adam Schumes: In a cold case from the 1980s that also led to some shocking discoveries. Thanks for joining us, I’m Adam Schumes . . .

The Daily Mail, the New York Daily News, and Fox News all covered the story of fresh hope in an old cold case. Stories said this new evidence linked Gilbreath to the murders. 

Almost every story ran Gilbreath’s mugshot too, with silver hair and a gray goatee, a gaunt face, and piercing eyes.

So for a few days in 2017, the mystery of Shane and Sally’s murder was international news, and John Gilbreath was its face.

For the gun possession charge, Gilbreath went away to federal prison.

Then the results came back from the crime lab.

Nick Hanna: It turns out it was not our victims’ DNA.

Karen Jacobs: So it didn’t match either one of them?

Nick Hanna: It didn’t match either one. 

Investigators couldn’t say whose hair and fingernail Gilbreath had been keeping, but it wasn’t Shane or Sally’s. 

Nick Hanna: Now, there were some writings there that indicated knowledge of the crime scene. Well, one obstacle you have is that: What did the initial investigator share with these suspects back when he did the interviews?

So, maybe an investigator had accidentally told Gilbreath some sensitive details during an interview. After all, even in 1988, Gilbreath had been making calls, offering to help investigate. Maybe he was just taking notes on what he’d learned.

Suddenly Gilbreath’s arrest didn’t look like such a big break after all.

But the media blitz had already hung the suspicion squarely on Gilbreath. And, to this day, I can’t find any news reports that followed up to say this was all a dead end, that the DNA didn’t match. In fact, this past year, whenever I went back to San Angelo, I’d ask anyone I met about the Shane and Sally case. And so many times I heard, “Oh, I thought they just caught that guy.”

Gilbreath served a little over two years behind bars. He was released in June of 2019.

Of course, we wanted to hear his side of this. And we had questions about the evidence found at his home. What was on those cassette tapes? Nick and Terry wouldn’t tell us. And what was with the fingernail and the lock of hair?

I did some digging, and at one point, I was pretty sure I found Gilbreath’s number.

[Phone ringing]

Automated voice: Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system . . .

But no answer. No reply to texts or voicemails.

[Phone beep]

Rob D’Amico: Hi, this is Rob D’Amico. I’m a journalist here in Texas . . .

At one point, a guy answered the phone—I thought I had him—but as soon as I introduced myself, he hung up. Finally, we learned Gilbreath was living with his mother in San Angelo. So I went to see him.

[Doorbell rings, wind chimes sound]

[Door opens]

Rob D’Amico: Oh, hi. 

John Gilbreath’s mother: Hi.

Rob D’Amico: My name’s Rob D’Amico and I’m a journalist. I was looking for John Gilbreath.

John Gilbreath’s mother: What’re you looking for him for?

Rob D’Amico: I’m doing a podcast on the . . .

His mother told me he wasn’t there.

Rob D’Amico: Yeah, I understand—

John Gilbreath’s mother: If you leave your card or something… if I happen to see him…

I never heard anything. So I wrote him a letter. I told him we really wanted to give him a chance to explain his perspective. But no answer. When I went back to San Angelo, I tried knocking again.

Rob D’Amico: Hey, it’s Rob D’Amico, I was just checking in again to see if John was around.

John Gilbreath’s mother: He’s not around and he said he has no comment for you.

Rob D’Amico: Oh, okay, so he got my letter?

John Gilbreath’s mother: I don’t know.

Rob D’Amico: Oh, okay, yeah, he might’ve picked it up because I left one on the door, so. . . . Okay. All right, well thanks then, sorry to make you get up.

John Gilbreath, who’d asked to help Marshall investigate Shane’s death, who showed up at the doorstep of Sally’s parents, who became the most visible person of interest in the investigation, and who, it turns out, was a key figure in Shane and Sally’s world—he’s not talking. At least, not yet.

From Texas Monthly, this is “Shane and Sally.” I’m Rob D’Amico.

Karen Jacobs (voice-over): And I’m Karen Jacobs. This is episode two: “Lost Horizons.

[Voices in background on videotape]

Shane’s aunt on videotape: Yeah, I’ve got you, Shane . . .

[Music plays in background]

Rob D’Amico (voice-over): I was at Marshall Stewart’s house one day, when he handed me a box of VHS tapes. He didn’t remember everything that was on them, but from 1988 into the early nineties, as he investigated Shane and Sally’s deaths, he often brought his camcorder along. Now he wanted me to have the tapes. He figured the footage might help us out one day.

I got the tapes digitized and started to watch them, one by one. Mostly, they were footage of the graffiti at the lake, or of newspaper stories about the murders. But as soon as I saw this one, I could tell it was different.

[Music plays on videotape]

According to the label on the tape, this was May 21, 1988: just a few weeks before Shane died.

In this video, Shane is charming. He’s wearing a short-sleeved, white button-down shirt and at one point, he rolls up a sleeve and flexes for the camera. It’s a little burst of teenage bravado in a room full of older relatives and little kids. But what I notice even more is his wide, goofy grin. He just seems really happy.

Shane Stewart on videotape: Hello Aunt Jess, how you doing?

Shane’s aunt on videotape: Hi Shane.

Last summer, Karen and I went back to Marshall’s house, and at his dining room table we sat down with him and Shane’s older brother, Sean. I opened this video again on my laptop and hit play.

[Music plays on videotape]

Marshall Stewart: That’s Shane and his mom.

Sean Stewart: Yeah. He got stuck out at a [laughs] in Slidell, Texas, during a family bluegrass. . . .

They decided this tape was a reunion with Shane’s mom’s side of the family, in a small town north of Fort Worth. Family members are circled up together playing guitars, fiddles, and banjos. Shane and his mom are in the back of the room, standing side by side and laughing, swaying to the music as they talk. Shane’s mom has short brown hair and a dark sweater, and she smiles as the camera comes in close. 

Shane’s hair is bleached blond, cut short in the front and longer in the back. The woman holding the camera, one of Shane’s aunts, asks him about his new haircut. 

Shane pulls out his driver’s license to show his old hair color.

Shane’s aunt on videotape: Was your hair really brown, or what was it?

Shane Stewart on videotape: Darker than hers.

Shane’s aunt on videotape: Really?

Shane Stewart on videotape: You wanna see my driver’s license? I can hold it up at the same time. Let me hold it up at the same time.

Marshall Stewart: Those are his uncles. That’s him and his mom. That’s what he looked like when he came home. . . .

Shane’s aunt on videotape: Twenty years from now you can come back and look at this.

Shane Stewart on videotape: Yep. Just me and mom at a party.

Shane’s aunt on videotape: Yep, you’ll have to come up and see it on my television.

Shane Stewart on videotape: Yeah, that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna bring my kids maybe. Say, “Looky here, that’s what I looked like with blond hair…”

Sitting around Marshall’s dining table, a few moments passed silently between us. Then I stopped the tape.

Those few seconds are all that Marshall has of Shane’s voice.

That visit might also have been the last time Shane’s mom, Caroline, saw her son. She’d left Marshall and moved to Dallas in 1985, while Shane stayed behind in San Angelo.

Caroline Stewart died in March 2023. I never got to speak with her, but late last year I did talk with her husband, J. J. Edwards. We talked about how the news hit her when Shane was killed.

J.J. Edwards: And she was in Dallas going to LVN school, trying to start her life over. But that thing with Shane just crashed her, she just barely overcame enough to be able to continue with life. 

You know, I struggled with her, trying to help her come up out of that depression. She did terrible at times and pretty well at times, and it was uphill battle all the way, but in the end, she—it was kind of at peace with herself.

And while Marshall had thrown himself into trying to investigate the case, J.J. told me that—as much as Caroline wanted to know the truth—even a call from investigators could make it impossible for her to leave the house.

J.J. Edwards: Yeah, bringing it up was one of those, it’s like a curse, you know? She just lived with that curse.

[Wind blowing, birds chirping]

Karen Jacobs (voice-over): Here’s another home movie.

Between flashes of black and white static, there’s an open field, a grassy hill dotted with gray headstones, with tall, manicured trees in the distance. In the foreground, a patch of fresh green grass, and a row of bright flower arrangements. The place where Shane and Sally are buried.

Pat Wade: Once the two were reunited, we did not want them separated. 

Here’s Sally’s mother, Pat.

Pat Wade: So we picked out pink and blue caskets, and had them buried together. And we buried them at a cemetery that’s very close to the drag or the main street there because the kids would have wanted to be out there where the action is. They wouldn’t have wanted a nice, quiet little place somewhere.

They only dated for a few months: the fall of 1987, then again for a while in ’88. But because their young lives ended there, and because of how they died, in many ways it’s their relationship that has come to define their lives.

[Birds chirping]

Marshall Stewart on videotape: Love you kids.

It’s hard to hear, but Marshall whispers, “Love you kids.” The picture zooms in on Shane’s headstone on the left, a rectangle of gray stone laid flat in the grass, then pans right, past the flowers, to Sally’s.

She was buried with her prom dress. 

Pat Wade: Yes. There really wasn’t much left after all that time out there in the weather and the animals. So we just folded it and put it in the casket. And she was beautiful with it on.

A man steps across the frame, holding a sparkler, and takes a place beside Sally’s grave. This is her stepdad, Bill Wade. Pat walks up next, followed by Marshall. They’re both carrying sparklers as well, shielding them from the wind, and one by one, they plant them in the ground. It’s Pat who speaks.

Pat Wade on videotape: Just like a sparkler, life begins, and either burns fast or slow.

She says: “Just like a sparkler, life begins, and either burns fast or slow.” Then Bill reaches out and wraps his arm around Pat. Marshall kneels, and then Bill and Pat do too.

Karen Jacobs: Let’s back up a little bit. Tell me what Sally was like. I don’t know her, I’d like to know her personally; tell me about her.

Pat Wade: Sally was absolutely full of life. She was a joy. I was very young when I had Sally, and we more or less grew up together. We loved to go skating; we would skate, and we’d run, and go to playgrounds. We did everything together. 

Here’s Bill Wade again.

Karen Jacobs: So, how old was Sally when you met her?

Bill Wade: Let’s see, ’84—she would have been fourteen.

Pat and Sally lived in the same apartment complex as Bill. That’s where Pat and Bill met and started dating. In 1984 they got married and moved their new family of three into a bigger home.

Bill Wade: So, it was just the two of them for so long. It was a little bit of a worry that Sally would feel pushed out or alienated, but she didn’t seem to.

As Sally got older, Pat says she did become a bit rebellious. Looking back now, she thinks that Sally was wanting more from her, more of her time, but Pat says she was too young, or too busy, to see what her daughter needed.

Today, she understands there were parts of her daughter’s life she never really got to know.

Pat Wade: She had friends that maybe lived in the neighborhood or from school that would come to visit. But then there was a friend set we didn’t find out about until later on. Maybe she would tell me she was going to see one friend, and she would be somewhere else. But it seems that she actually had two sets of friends.

But those secrets were nothing compared to the dark rumors that surfaced later. The ones that were publicized by Unsolved Mysteries, about Sally being part of some sinister, Satan-worshiping cult. Pat says that just doesn’t sound like the daughter she knew.

Pat Wade: You know, I think that was probably a made-up deal. Sally actually had her little Bible—I still have it, and she was so not into that sort of thing. I mean the kids were all listening to Ozzy Osbourne–type music and stuff like that. But nothing that was really dark, or like what we heard when all this happened.

For Pat and for Marshall, those dark rumors were hard to square with the San Angelo they knew. San Angelo is three hours from bigger cities like San Antonio, or even Lubbock. It’s one of the biggest cities in the country that doesn’t have an interstate running through it—it’s always felt a little isolated, even protected. Here’s how Marshall remembers the town back then.

Marshall Stewart: Back in those days, there was a hometown feel to it all. When you went into the grocery store, you almost always saw people that you knew. Everybody shopped at the same place. It wasn’t a large, dynamic town at that point in time. So, just a good town to raise kids and raise a family, and have a secure lifestyle.

In other words, maybe not the most thrilling place to grow up. There was “the Drag,” the big commercial strip along Sherwood Way, which you could drive down, turn around, and then drive back in the other direction. And then there was the sprawling Sunset Mall, which was just a few years old. That was one of Sally’s hangouts.

Sally’s friend: We were more into just going to the mall, hanging out, listening to—I liked Prince. I was in love with Prince at that time. Purple Rain, that was in ’84, though.

This is a friend of Sally’s, who asked us not to use her name out of fear for her safety.

Sally’s friend: That was just how we were, and we’d just do weird stuff with our hair. It was punk-rock time.

She remembers nights they went out to O. C. Fisher Lake, to race up and down the hills.

Sally’s friend: You would go out there with your lights off at nighttime—they would tell you to watch out for the goat man, which is fictional, but. . . . It was like a rollercoaster, but if you knew the roads you could do it with your lights off and it was fun. So, I mean, we were just having fun. We weren’t gonna go harm nobody, none of us was.

Karen Jacobs: Were there drugs or drinking, or—?

Sally’s friend: She liked to party, she did. I mean, I didn’t like alcohol. We smoked weed every now and then but that was it. We smoked cigarettes.

Karen Jacobs: So, what do you know about all the stories about the Satanic cult and all that?

Sally’s friend: Mmhmm [affirmative] . . . out at O. C. Fisher Lake.

Karen Jacobs: You knew it was going on, and Sally knew? And was she hanging out with that group?

Sally’s friend: After I left, yeah.

Karen Jacobs: Did she tell you about it?

Sally’s friend: We just would hear what they would do, but there was no evidence, no proof. And now you look at it, they could be just talking just to scare you, so I don’t know.

Rob D’Amico (voice-over): We reached out to other friends of Sally’s whose names turn up in the case records. Most of them said they didn’t want to be interviewed, or asked that we not record them.

Some of them said they were worried about what might happen to them if they spoke out. And a lot of them said it just hurts too much to open these doors.

From the conversations we did have, though, I got the sense that Sally was charismatic and outgoing, and moved easily between groups of friends. One guy told me how she’d stopped him outside school one day to give him a silk-screen print of a unicorn she’d made.

Diane: She was theatrical. You know what I mean? She was always the one that was pretty much the center of attention.

This is another friend of Sally’s, who asked that we not use her name because she’s moved away from San Angelo and wants to protect her privacy. We’ll call her Diane.

Diane: She learned how to entertain herself. And I think that doing things like that, dabbling in things like that, made life interesting for her.

Diane said one time, they drove out together to O. C. Fisher Lake, where a few people were circled around a Ouija board.

Diane: . . . And there was some really freaky stuff. I don’t know if it was the power of suggestion or what, but rocks were moving. Just some weird, weird things happening.

Karen Jacobs: Wow.

Diane: And so I just felt like, you know, this is creeping me out.

Neither of them stayed too long that night. But Diane said their friends kept on messing with occult rituals. And as much as it pushed Diane away, she says it seemed to pull Sally in.

Diane: I had borrowed Sally’s blue jean jacket once, and I had reached my hand in the pocket, and I found a note. And, you know, back then we folded them up really kind of cool in the eighties, you know what I mean?

Karen Jacobs: Yes.

Diane: And so being that age, what are you going to do? You’re going to read it. So I did. And it was talking about necromancers. And so I was like, oh, that’s weird. I didn’t know what a necromancer was. So I went to my mom and I asked her, and she said, “Go look it up.” And so I did. And when I did, I was like, oh. . . . Of course, when you’re young, you are curious, you’re like hmmm, but I knew that getting involved in something like that wasn’t a good idea.

Around this time, Sally got to know a tall, confident, brown-haired sixteen-year-old kid named Shane. He was a couple years behind Sally in school, and it’s easy to imagine why Sally’s fun and adventurous spirit would have been so captivating. Shane and Sally had a few friends in common, and they all hung out together. At some point in the fall of 1987, they started dating.

Much of their relationship—what they saw in each other, how they felt in one another’s company—we’re never really going to know. And while their relationship wasn’t exactly a secret at home, they didn’t spend a lot of time with one another’s parents. It’s not exactly the sort of thing that investigators wrote down in their reports. 

Here’s Pat:

Pat Wade: I didn’t know Shane very well. I met him on several occasions and he was very kind. And he was soft spoken, he [was] respectful, and Sally was crazy about him. I could just see her light up when he was around, and he with her.

Marshall Stewart: It just seemed like a small group of kids that were together at that point in time from ’87 through ’88. It was later that I found out that they’d become boyfriend and girlfriend and I go, “Oh, here we go.”

Shane was the younger of two kids—his brother Sean was three and a half years older. About the same time Sean left for college in Denton, their parents split up and their mom moved to Dallas.

So for two years, it was just Marshall and Shane in the house. But Shane still had other family close by. His cousin Allen Stewart was one of Shane’s best friends. I was able to reach him on the phone.

Allen Stewart: You know, it’s kind of crazy because nobody’s really talked to me about all of that, even though we were inseparable probably between junior high and then that early high school.

Allen says people used to think he and Shane were brothers, even though they didn’t look anything alike. That’s just how close they were. 

Allen Stewart: We hung out a bunch. I mean, we used to sneak out of our houses at night, troll the alleyways of the small, little tiny neighborhood that we lived in.

Rob D’Amico: Like all teenagers sneaking—

Allen Stewart: Yeah. Yeah. Those are the memories I have of Shane.

But what Allen especially remembers is how Shane began to change when he got closer to high school age.

Allen Stewart: At that time, I remember a teacher telling me, your sophomore year, you’re going to choose two directions, and it’s either going to be those who are getting it and are going to move forward and then do positive things, or those who just don’t quite get it, and you’re just going to keep going down a path.

Allen is actually an assistant principal at a high school today, and he says he’s given this same speech to kids himself.

Allen Stewart: I was determined to be not that one going down that other path, but I saw my cousin Shane. I was like, “holy crap. He’s, like, wearing all black. He bleached his hair blond. You know, something happened.” I think we went on a family trip for two weeks, and when I came back, it was like he was a different person.

What had happened? Well, for one thing . . .

Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys: You’ll never grow old, Michael, and you’ll never die. Be one of us!

The Lost Boys happened. That movie—where a gang of teenage vampires terrorizes a quiet seaside town—came out in the summer of 1987.

Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys: How far are you willing to go, Michael?

It played in San Angelo alongside RoboCop, in a strip mall movie theater on the southwest side of town. And up on that screen, the baddest of the bad-boy vampires is played by Kiefer Sutherland, in black leather pants, a black trench coat, and that signature, bleach-blond mullet wig, spiked high at the top and falling down to his shoulders.

Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys: Now you know what we are. Now you know what you are. Ha ha ha!

Rob D’Amico: When you were talking about not even knowing who Shane was with the hair change and the clothes change, did he— did you ask him, like, why did you do that?

Sean Stewart: That—no, it was embarrassing [laughs].

This is Shane’s brother Sean again, back at Marshall’s house.

Sean Stewart: Yeah, it was like the Kiefer Sutherland . . . like, he had that look, and the clothes and everything else.

Marshall Stewart: ‘Cause when I come in one day from work and he said, “Well, what do you think?” And I said, “Well, I really don’t like it.” 

Sean Stewart: Ugh. 

Marshall Stewart: “But you did it [laugh].” He was blond-headed and there wasn’t going back dark. 

Sean Stewart: Right. 

Marshall Stewart: You know, and I figured it’s a girlfriend influence, you know, and then away they went.

According to a friend of Shane and Sally’s, the two loved the music from The Lost Boys. Later on, investigators found the soundtrack in the tape deck of Shane’s abandoned Camaro.

Shane wasn’t the only one in town who was affected by the movie. Around this time, a group of teenage guys who knew Shane and Sally—about ten of them—started their own “Lost Boys” crew in San Angelo. Later on, investigators questioned members of this group about the murders.

But they weren’t going around biting people or playing at being vampires.

Lee Parker: Okay, the Lost Boys thing, what that was, that was an innocent thing.

I tracked down one of the founding members of the San Angelo Lost Boys. His name is Lee Parker. Lee told me that the group was started by an older guy who’d felt like San Angelo was getting a little rough and wanted to organize a group of kids to help out.

Lee Parker: And I know it sounds weird, a grown-ass man hanging out with teenagers and so on and so forth. But basically what the thing about the Lost Boys was it was to try to clean some s— up around San Angelo.

You know, if you see something wrong happening, correct the wrong, but do it without violence. If there’s trash somewhere, go pick it up, so on and so forth. It was just basically just trying to, we were trying to be do-gooders.

One of the kids came up with the “Lost Boys” name and it stuck.

Lee Parker: And I kind of thought it was pretty cool.

Rob D’Amico: I was going to say, I loved that movie when it came out. And then a couple weeks ago, I just watched it again. And I’m like, “Oh man, this is kind of stupid.” But I loved it back then.

Lee Parker: Well, yeah, the older we get, some of those movies are kind of stupid, but the thing about it was the camaraderie.

The Lost Boys would be at the Drag to try and keep the peace, maybe, or at least to check out the action. 

Lee Parker: We had jackets made, went down and had ’em silk-screened, saying “Lost Boys” with the names on it and all that stuff.

Lee says the club didn’t last too long. But the Lost Boys did reconvene, in uniform, at Shane and Sally’s burial, just a couple blocks from the Drag.

I talked to a friend of Sally’s named Mike Heath. Back then, he went by Mike Byerly, which was his stepdad’s last name. Mike told me the Lost Boys made quite an entrance.

Michael Heath: They showed up and a whole bunch of them jumped out of a pickup truck, some of them riding in the back. And every single one of them had a Lost Boys T-shirt on.

One guy in this truck was, by now, a familiar face to Shane and Sally’s parents. Mike says he clocked this as a weird moment. Even though, after 35 years, it took him a minute to remember the guy’s name.

Michael Heath: And as soon as they pulled up, I was like, “What is he doing here?” You know, I tried to tolerate him, I didn’t like him much. He’s a real nice, polished kind of guy, very friendly and polite, but the real him is somebody else.

Rob D’Amico: Yeah, so who is it you’re talking about here?

Michael Heath: Um, I’m sorry, I’m trying. . . . John Gilbreath. 

Here was John Gilbreath—again, right in the middle of things.

Michael Heath: I always felt like he didn’t get along with Sally, so I didn’t understand why he would even be there.

It was Gilbreath, not the Lost Boys, exactly, who got Mike’s attention. In fact, Gilbreath was one of a few people in Shane and Sally’s orbit who, Mike says, made him uneasy.

There are some overlapping social circles here. So I want to take a second to get this straight, based on everything we’ve learned from our interviews and from investigators’ notes.

So, the “Lost Boys” were a group of guys who hung out on the Drag and were meant to help out around town. “Do-gooders,” is what Lee Parker said.

But then there was another group of kids that met at the lake, or at someone’s house, for paranormal games or rituals. This group was more Sally’s thing at first, and it’s the group that Marshall became so concerned with. The one he calls a “cult.” Maybe they really were sacrificing animals and worshipping the devil, or maybe they were just just fooling around. We’ve heard conflicting accounts, and we’ll unpack that more in later episodes.

But it’s this group—not so much the Lost Boys, or Shane’s new haircut and black clothes—that really got their friends worried.

Mike Heath remembers one conversation with Shane and Sally at a birthday party at his apartment. This was in February of 1988.

Michael Heath: I remember specifically at my birthday, they were telling me how they go to these meetings and rituals and everything, and they would just tell me about it and laugh about it because they couldn’t believe how stupid it all was. They just showed up to do that to entertain themselves, just to laugh at them behind their back. And I recall telling them, “You guys better be careful. You’re going to piss off the wrong people.” And they just laughed it off.

At that party, Mike took a photo of the two of them. In the picture, Sally’s leaning in close to Shane. He’s got a dark denim jacket and that orange-blond hair, and a slight, goofy kind of grin. Sally’s in a pink top, smiling broadly, with one hand flashing the heavy metal devil horns.

It’s actually become kind of famous today: it’s probably the only shot of Shane and Sally together. If you look up their names online, this is the picture you’ll see.

Karen Jacobs (voice-over): From Marshall’s perspective, whatever Shane was up to was keeping him out later and later at night. And then one day, in the spring of 1988, he didn’t come back at all.

Marshall Stewart: I came in from home from work one day and clothes were gone, and he didn’t come in that night. So I looked around and found out that they had an apartment over on the east side of town. 

Shane and Sally had moved in together. Marshall drove over there and told Shane he needed to come back home.

Marshall Stewart: As a rebellious young kid, he was like, “Hey, I’m out of there. You don’t like her, so you don’t like me. And so we’re just going to take it and go with it on our own.”

Karen Jacobs: That’s hard when you’re a parent, to—

Marshall Stewart: Yeah, you want them to do what they’re taught to do. You want them to understand why you’re asking them to do what you want them to do. And, you know, other than put them in handcuffs and chain them to the wall or something, it’s not going to work that way. They think they’re grown up and they can handle it, and they just don’t realize what can happen or what the world’s really all about.

This apartment wasn’t much. People described it to me as a “terrible” little one-bedroom. But for a while, at least, it was their home.

Sally had already dropped out of high school, after her junior year, and was working on her GED. And that spring, Marshall says Shane started skipping class because of a problem with a teacher. Shane was thinking about finishing high school in Dallas instead, where his mom lived.

So to pay the rent, Shane worked at the Pizza Hut, and Sally worked at Taco Villa. They were stepping into grown-up life together. But they were also still just kids. One time, Marshall remembers, their neighbors called the cops, horrified, because Shane and Sally were chasing each other around the building with water pistols. The neighbors thought the guns were real.

But they didn’t live there for long. By April, they’d both moved out. Investigators’ notes say they’d broken up. Sally went to Lubbock and got a sales job with a chemical company. Shane went to Kansas City with his brother Sean for a temporary construction job at a golf course.

While he was away, Shane wrote about Sally in his journal. Some of the pages are preserved on Marshall’s home movies. They’re dark, brooding lines about the pain Shane feels without Sally, thoughts of death and eternity. One page is filled with a poem, a sort of word pyramid. It starts with one word, “I,” and each line adds another word. “I love.” “I love you.” The thirteenth line says, “I love you so much that it hurts me now that you’re gone.”

As soon as the construction job ended, Shane came back to San Angelo. Sally had come back too, and the two of them reconnected. It sounds like things were different this time. During those last few summer days, Shane and Sally shared their dreams with one another, and they realized they were ready for something new. Something beyond San Angelo. Sally was planning on joining the Navy. Maybe they’d go wherever that took her.

Rob D’Amico (voice-over): And they did tell some of their friends what they were planning. I tracked down one friend of theirs named Valerie Castillo, who told me about this.

Valerie Castillo: Yeah, I was really close to both of them actually. I used to hang out with Shane and a bunch of the others, and then I started hanging out with Sally when they started dating.

Valerie remembers that by the summer of 1988, things had gotten tense between the occult group and Shane and Sally. Maybe it was because they were starting their own life outside the group, outgrowing their old friends. Valerie had another theory.

Valerie Castillo: Sally, I think, may have been related in some way or had dated one of the guys that was in this group, and she got really entangled with it. And when she started dating Shane, there was a lot of contention.

Valerie says, not long before Shane and Sally died, she ran into them and it seemed that contention had become straight-up danger.

Valerie Castillo: I said, “Hey, what are y’all doing?” Blah, blah, blah. And they said that they were leaving the state because they were afraid of these people. And she said, “If you don’t hear from us in a couple of months, then we’re dead.”

Rob D’Amico: Okay.

Valerie Castillo: She said, “They are going to kill us if we don’t leave.”

Marshall only learned about all this much later.

Marshall Stewart: Shane and Sally tried to get away from the group. They knew that wasn’t what they wanted to be part of as they, I guess, started their life together. And so they were pulling back, and it caused a lot of friction because the group didn’t want outsiders, if you want to call them that, people leaving the group and becoming outsiders and then talking about what was going on inside the group.

Today, Marshall believes their deaths have something to do with these friends they were trying to leave behind.

And remember those words the fisherman heard that night at the lake:

Pat Wade on phone call: Could you make out what she was saying?

Randall Littlefield on phone call: She did say that, no, she would not do it again. That she was leaving ’em, that she would not have nothing to do with ’em.

Karen Jacobs: If you can just tell us your name and where you work and why you’re involved with this case.

Larry Counts: Larry Counts. I was a deputy sheriff for the Tom Green County Sheriff’s Office when Shane and Sally disappeared.

Karen Jacobs (voice-over): Larry was one of the first people to investigate Shane and Sally’s murders. And actually, he’d just met them a few months before they were killed. It was early 1988, when the two were living together.

Larry Counts: I was in the office, and we got a call, and I talked to Sally. And at that time, they claimed to have had a gun that was given to them that they said was used in a homicide.

So Sally gets this gun from someone. We don’t know how much Sally knew about the gun. But we do know she wanted to get rid of it. Maybe she thought it would be better to let the authorities handle it, instead of just dumping it somewhere. 

Larry Counts: And I met with Shane and Sally at their apartment. They gave me the gun. I later turned that over to the San Angelo police because it was supposedly used in a murder here in San Angelo.

Along with the gun, he gave the city police Shane and Sally’s names.

Larry Counts: And then until they disappeared, I didn’t have any contact with them after that.

But that wasn’t the end of the story for Larry. As we were packing up after the interview, he revealed that for him, this gun—and his decision to hand it over to the San Angelo police—have become key pieces of the puzzle.

Karen Jacobs: Do you, today, think you know who did it?

Larry Counts: I do. I think I know who did it. But there was never anything that could place it.

Larry is convinced that someone at the San Angelo Police Department is responsible for their deaths. It’s an extraordinary claim—one that he’s never publicly made before. And he almost didn’t mention it at all.

Karen Jacobs: I mean, we’ve definitely heard questions about the police department, but that’s all.

Larry Counts: Well, see. . . . And you always think, well, if we’d have kept the gun, and hadn’t given it to the police department, would they still be alive? Because the police knew where the gun came from, the pistol that they gave to me.

That’s next time, on “Shane and Sally.