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“This is the devil’s playground down here, and you have to be very careful.”

—Steve Schafer’s aunt

In this episode, we take a closer look at two of the people investigators have suspected: Steve Schafer and John Gilbreath. Witnesses told authorities that Schafer was the leader of a local satanic group whose members included Shane and Sally, though Schafer says he was never part of the group.

Gilbreath is the man who, in 2017, was found to have suspicious evidence in his home, including a lock of hair, a fingernail, and notes about Shane and Sally’s murder scene. While authorities have since found that the DNA from this evidence doesn’t match Shane or Sally, Sheriff Nick Hanna says Gilbreath’s behavior after the murders—repeatedly claiming to know the manner of the killings—still arouses suspicion.

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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Karen Jacobs (voice-over): A note to our listeners that this episode includes discussion of suicide.

When sheriff’s investigators heard that Sally McNelly’s driver’s license had been found in a hallway at the San Angelo Police Department, you can imagine, they were shocked.

It was March of 1989, eight months after Sally disappeared, and four months after her remains were found. All that time, her purse had been missing.

So how did her license end up in that hallway? The sheriff’s office was the one investigating Shane and Sally’s murders, so what was this evidence doing at the city police department?

Here’s Randy Swick, the officer who remembers finding her license:

Randy Swick: Back hallway, which basically ran the full length of the building. This hallway led into an outer office outside of communications. This is where everybody carried their evidence and put it up.

Rob D’Amico: Okay.

Randy Swick: I was walking into communications, and I saw her driver’s license laying in the hallway, and I picked it up and it was Sally McNelly’s.

You might remember that Larry Counts was convinced that Randy had something to do with the murders. For the record, Randy says Larry is completely wrong about him. And you will hear more about that later.

Sally’s license was, potentially, a huge break in the case. Whoever had her license before Randy found it could have been the one who killed her, or at least could’ve known who did. Figuring out exactly where the license had been would be key.

Investigators eventually connected the license to some stolen toolboxes that had been recovered, and were being stored in a room off that same hallway. 

Here’s Nick Hanna, the sheriff in San Angelo:

Nick Hanna: We can only deduce that the driver’s license came from those toolboxes. We don’t know that, and the fact that they were just carrying them in, and maybe they slipped through a crack . . . We don’t know how that happened. We can’t prove that that driver’s license wasn’t laying there two or three days before the toolboxes even got there.

It turned out the toolboxes had been stolen by a sixteen-year-old named Dustie Large. Dustie wasn’t a suspect in Shane and Sally’s murders, so investigators wanted to know who he stole the toolboxes from. They found a friend of Dustie’s, who told them Dustie had talked about stealing the toolboxes out of a truck, and finding a license in one of them.

Rob D’Amico (voice-over): We have the address where that truck was parked, and I actually messaged the guy who lived there. I asked about the stolen toolboxes, and he told me about one friend who used to park in his driveway when he’d come over to drink beer. And this seems to be where investigators make the connection between Sally’s license and their short list of suspects. Because that friend’s name was Steve Schafer.

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 four: “The Devil and the Lost Boy.

Rob D’Amico (voice-over): I’ve spent the last year making trips to San Angelo, staying for a few days to interview sources, and knocking on doors.

One day last August, our team was waiting in a car across the street from John Gilbreath’s home. I’d heard that he usually got off work around the same time each day, and I wanted to see if he’d talk with us.

That’s when my phone rang.

Rob D’Amico: In a perfect world if he—

[phone ringing]

Rob D’Amico: A San Angelo number. Hello?

Steve Schafer’s neighbor: Rob, I was calling you back.

It was one of Steve Schafer’s neighbors, someone investigators had interviewed a few years earlier. She’d rather not use her name, but was willing to be recorded.

Steve Schafer’s neighbor: My kids used to sit out on the porch and watch the devil walk down and talk to that guy.

Rob D’Amico: When you say the devil, do you mean little Steve?

Steve Schafer’s neighbor: Yeah.

Rob D’Amico: Okay, got it.

Steve Schafer’s neighbor: That’s what we called him because he cut up animals and stuff in his backyard and threw ’em on a big pit. Two or three or four o’clock in the morning you could just hear ’em squealing and then they just quit. Oh, my kids have horror stories about that place over there. 

By the time investigators spoke with her, they’d already heard that Schafer was a ringleader in an occult group with Shane and Sally. When Schafer’s neighbor told them this story, it would’ve fit. I’d read her statement in their notes, and I wanted to hear more. She invited us over to her house the next day.

Her daughter met us at the door.

[knocking on door]

Rob D’Amico: Hi.

Woman at door: Hi, can I help you?

Rob D’Amico: Hi, yeah, I’m Rob D’Amico, I was looking for . . .

We sat down at the dining table. We were surrounded by family photos and mementos from her dad’s old barber shop. 

She told us about one time she walked across the street to Schafer’s house.

Steve Schafer’s neighbor: I was in it around ‘90. That’s when, around that time he was in jail.

Schafer’s grandmother had called and asked her for a favor. She wondered if—while Schafer was in jail—she could come over to his place, and help her take care of his pet snakes.

She didn’t like snakes, but she agreed to help. They walked over together.

Rob D’Amico: Yeah. I didn’t know there was multiple snakes.

Steve Schafer’s neighbor: They’re in that bathroom right behind the kitchen. And there was something that kept ’em from getting out under the door, and I said, “I’m not going in there.” She said, “well, I just want you to look and see if they’re bullsnakes or rattlesnakes.” They were humongous. They were probably that big in diameter and probably eight, ten foot long.

She says she wasn’t ready for any of what she saw in the house. The walls were painted black. Hanging from the walls, she says she saw knives, saws, and chains. But what stunned her was what she saw in the living room. It was the devil.

Steve Schafer’s neighbor: As you walk in the door, on the left-hand side is the wall that divides the bedrooms from the living room. And it was a huge mural about this long, as long as that portion of that wall. And the devil was approximately five to six foot tall. And he held a pitchfork and had four or five, six little devils behind him.

Today, Schafer’s former neighbor is eighty years old, with snow-white hair. She says she has some eye problems now, but she says she knows what she saw back then.

Steve Schafer’s neighbor: That’s a definite yes, I know. That’s not hearsay. And my eyesight was 20/20 then.

It’s the same story she told Nick Hanna in 2014, before he and Terry searched the house themselves. By then, Steve Schafer had been a suspect for a long time. 

Early on, a Texas Ranger wrote that Steve Schafer was, quote, “our best suspect.” And reading through the case file, you can see why he’d think so.

Teenagers told investigators that Schafer creeped them out, that he’d walk around with a sawed-off shotgun on a strap around his neck.

Jimmy Burnett, another of the suspects, told sheriff’s deputies that Schafer was the “high priest” of the local satanic cult. And John Gilbreath told investigators about a cult meeting at O.C. Fischer Lake where Schafer led chants around a fire. 

And Gilbreath admitted that he’d been watching Schafer’s house, that in the months after Shane and Sally were killed, he’d been messing with Schafer to try and “stir him up.” Once, he said, he took a Led Zeppelin poster, and he wrote on it, “thou shalt not kill,” and threw the poster on Schafer’s yard.

Investigators collected a lot of rumors about Schafer in those first few months. But he also had a way of putting himself back in their sights. 

Between 1988 and 2021—just in Tom Green County—Schafer was jailed more than twenty times. Some of these were for minor charges, some were for drug possession, and then there were also theft, and assault—including against his wife.

When investigators interviewed Schafer about Shane and Sally, he denied being involved in the murders.

But investigators have come back to Schafer again and again, hoping for more. And when Nick Hanna listed the suspects, Steve Schafer was still the first name he mentioned.

Karen Jacobs (voice-over): When I began looking into this case in 2018, my team and I found Steve Schafer living in a small town northeast of San Angelo.

[sound of car door, wind]

His home was a white trailer with a small front porch. On the railing was a wooden decorative cat, and over the front window was a big Confederate flag. A producer on our team, Dawn Johnson, walked up to his front door and knocked.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: Hello?

Steve Schafer: Hello.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: Is your name Steve Schafer?

Steve Schafer: Yeah.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: Hi, my name’s Dawn. 

Schafer wore a black durag, a black Harley Davidson cut-off T-shirt, and jeans. He had a light brown mustache and a few days’ worth of stubble.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: I’m actually a filmmaker and I’m doing a documentary about the Shane and Sally case.

Steve Schafer: Yeah. I’m glad they finally caught that dude. But they didn’t charge him with murder though, know what I’m saying? It’s kind of weird.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: Who was it? Who did they—?

Steve Schafer: John Gilbreath.

Schafer tells her, “I’m glad they finally caught that dude,” but “they didn’t charge him with murder, though.” This was December of 2018, about a year and a half after the news of John Gilbreath’s arrest.

Dawn asked if he’d do an interview on camera, but Schafer said no. He didn’t want the attention. He said the police were still hassling him about the murders, and he had nothing to do with them. He also said Shane had been his best friend.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: So why do you think John killed them?

Steve Schafer: They fought over Sally for years. I broke them apart I don’t know how many times. At first it was okay because they just fist-fought, and then it got to where they wanted to stab each other. You know what I’m saying? And John liked Sally, and that’s where the confrontation was every time. You know what I’m saying?

Dawn Cooper Johnson: But if he liked Sally so much, why would he shoot her?

Steve Schafer: I guess . . . I don’t know. John was never very smart.

Schafer immediately blamed John Gilbreath, and said that’s all he knew. So Dawn tried to get him talking about the rest of the group, and how Steve fit in.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: So this cult, were you ever . . . go to any of those things or involved in any of that?

Steve Schafer: No. I kind of lucked out on that deal. When we were younger, they had little get-togethers down in a place called Little Africa, this little wooded area, and we were kind of the riffraff. We got high and smoked weed and drank beer. But we’d sneak down there and surprise them and beat them up.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: So you would beat up people in the cult?

Steve Schafer: Yeah, when we were younger, yeah. They’d wear these dark brown robes and do a little circle up, and we just thought it was crap, so we’d hop out and scare the hell out of them. From what I hear, that’s what marked me, ’cause I paid for their sins, so . . .

Remember, in the records we have, Steve Schafer is the guy people said was the leader of the occult group. One guy called him the “high priest.” Now, Schafer was suggesting he’d been set up by the real cult members, as revenge for all the times he beat them up.

Dawn also asked Schafer if he knew anything about the gun that Sally turned in to detectives. Because remember, Terry Lowe, the sheriff’s investigator, told us that Schafer is the one who gave Sally the gun.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: Well, I don’t know if you saw that Unsolved Mysteries thing, but they said that they had turned in a gun to the police.

Steve Schafer: Yeah, I heard they were talking to some detective and they wanted to know who the detective was. I never knew any of that, but something’s weird there because that’s all I was asked, is if I knew the detective, and I said I didn’t know.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: Right. But Shane and Sally had turned in a gun when they were still alive, and then they were working with—

Steve Schafer: Yeah, I don’t know if the detective was around back then or not.

Instead of addressing the gun, Schafer goes right into accusations against cops in San Angelo. He calls them crooked. He says one put a gun to his head, pistol-whipped him, and told him to leave town.

Steve Schafer: San Angelo’s always been like that. Ever since I was little, San Angelo’s always been a bad town.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: I know there were all these rumors about a satanic cult.

Steve Schafer: Yeah, that’s what runs Angelo. Everybody knows that. Ninety-nine percent of the cult own San Angelo. Nothing goes on without getting their say.

Schafer says everyone knows the satanic cult runs San Angelo. And it doesn’t sound like he’s talking about kids in robes. Steve said that Shane got caught up in some of this . . .

Steve Schafer: See, Shane came to me before he disappeared and he was white as a ghost. And Sally kept elbowing him. I can remember it. And she kept elbowing him, telling him to shut up. And he kept telling me, “I need a gun. I need money. I need a gun, I need money.” And I told him, “I can’t do nothing right now. Come back in the morning and I’ll help you out.” So I was at my grandma’s and I never saw him again.

I think that’s why. He saw something he shouldn’t have seen, and when he talked to that one detective and told that one detective what he saw, that’s what got him.

Karen Jacobs (voice-over): In the reports we’ve seen, there were all kinds of reasons to believe that Steve Schafer knew what happened to Shane and Sally. And maybe he really does. But on the porch that day, he sounded just as lost as everyone else.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: Hey Steve? 

And he’s carried a reminder of Shane and Sally all these years.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: Yeah, sorry, I forgot one thing as I was driving away. I heard that you have a tattoo.

Steve Schafer: Of their names? Yeah.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: Oh, I see.

Steve Schafer: I have both of them.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: When did you get those?

Steve Schafer: Oh s—, about three years after everything happened.

On the front of each arm, just above his inside elbow, there’s a small, faded black cross. On his right arm, in tall script lettering, is “Shane.” Beneath the cross on his left arm is “Sally.”

Steve Schafer: Yeah I was gonna get sleeves all the way up, and when all that s— happened, I stopped right there.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: Okay, that’s it. All right, thank you. 

Steve Schafer: Good luck.

Dawn Cooper Johnson: Take care.

A couple of months after that, I got a package in the mail. Actually, it was addressed to “Reporter, Sally / Shane.”   

Steve Schafer had kept in touch with Dawn. He’d texted her warnings about the dangerous people in San Angelo who wanted to make sure nobody solved the murders. And he decided to send me a journal he’d been keeping over the past two decades, in case it might help us.

There are pages filled with conspiracy theories. But there are also more personal memories. Schafer writes, “I was very wild–and Shane was the opposite. . . . I smoked pot and drank. Shane didn’t, but we got along great. I introduced him to a girl named Sally. I didn’t mean for them to fall in love but they did. Sally was into devil worship and Shane and I grew apart.”

And there’s also an alibi. He writes: “My friend went missing on July Fourth. That night I was at my grandma’s house. My truck was broken down outside, so I didn’t go anywhere that night.”

Rob D’Amico (voice-over): As we kept looking into the case this year, we had so many more questions for Schafer. What exactly does he say happened to Shane and Sally? Did he give the gun to Sally, and could he tell us why? And what about Sally’s driver’s license? What does he think about the theory that her license ended up at the police department after getting stolen from his truck?

In the years since he spoke with Dawn, Schafer had moved. And he wasn’t answering calls at his old number. I got a tip that he was living with family in Fort Worth. So I tried an address there.

[wind blowing]

Automated Ring doorbell voice: We can’t answer the door right now, but if you’d like to leave a message, you can do it now.

Rob D’Amico: Hi, it’s Rob D’Amico, I’m a reporter with Texas Monthly. I tried to contact Steve several times and if you could give me a call . . .

But they never called me back. Then I finally reached a cousin of his, who helped me get in touch with Schafer’s oldest daughter. But his daughter said there wasn’t anything more Schafer wanted to tell us. 

We’d have to see what more we could learn without his help.

Last May, I managed to reach a guy named Levi Ball. Levi’s name comes up a few times in the case file. People said he was part of the satanic cult, and one said the group used to hang out at Levi’s house.

But Levi told me that wasn’t true.

Levi Ball: No, no. None of the friends I hung out at that point in time were like that. They weren’t satanists or nothing like that. 

Rob D’Amico: Yeah. And then there’s, you know . . . for instance, Marshall Stewart, Shane’s dad, showed me some pictures that he found in Shane’s stuff of this guy, I don’t know who he is, dressed in a black cape and, like, with a sheep’s horn dagger, and he’s cut himself on each chest and there’s blood running down, and he’s flashing the Satan sign. And—

Levi Ball: Yeah, I never knew anybody like that.

And remember the house where Schafer lived, the rock house, where investigators brought a priest to interpret any satanic symbols they might run into?

Rob D’Amico: I mean, one weird thing was that they did eventually go into Schafer’s house, and they said that everything inside was painted black, everything except for a red doorknob and that—

Levi Ball: No, he painted everything battleship gray.

Rob D’Amico: Battleship gray. Huh. They said there was mirrors and, like, S&M-type retention chains and stuff like that.

Levi Ball: I don’t know about all that.

Remember, Schafer’s neighbor was sure of what she saw in 1990. And Nick and Terry had such creepy memories of the house when they saw it in 2014.

But Levi was very specific about the color of the walls. He said the house was nothing like the way it was described in the case files. There are two sides here, and both are so certain about what they saw. Maybe they were all right, and Schafer just redecorated from time to time.

There’s another wrinkle about the accounts of Schafer’s house. He moved out of the house a decade before Nick and Terry came by. Another family had been living there in between. So how much of what they saw had anything to do with Schafer?

So, was Schafer really the high priest of a satanic cult, or was it all just rumors that spun out of control? We needed someone who could get us closer to the real Steve Schafer.

Then last August, we caught a break: one of Schafer’s aunts, who asked not to be named, agreed to meet while we were in San Angelo.

Steve Schafer’s aunt: Hi, guys.

Karen Jacobs: Hello.

Steve Schafer’s aunt: How are y’all? Welcome . . . here, this way, that way. That thing doesn’t stay shut. [laughs]

She led us through her house, and past her pet birds, to the kitchen table where we talked.

Steve Schafer’s aunt: Would you like some coffee? I got Texas Pecan . . .  

Rob D’Amico: Doesn’t matter, whatever you’ve got made.

Karen Jacobs: I’ll take Texas Pecan. I love it. 

She gave us a window into Schafer’s life that we hadn’t been able to get from anyone else.

Rob D’Amico: But what was he like as a kid?

Steve Schafer’s aunt: He was a good kid. 

She told us Schafer was deeply hurt by a series of tragedies when he was young.

Steve Schafer’s aunt: He had a good childhood before my grandfather passed away. That was tough. That was his best friend. And then to lose his mother, my sister . . . I mean, he’s been through a lot.

When Schafer was thirteen, his great-grandfather drowned in a boating accident on the Concho River. Schafer had been fishing with his great-grandfather when they spotted a baby goat downriver struggling to swim. Schafer went to go help the goat, and when he returned, his great-grandfather was gone. 

Schafer’s aunt says Schafer blamed himself, but there was nothing he could’ve done. Her grandfather had gotten caught in the fishing line, pulled into the water, and drowned.

Then, when Schafer was fifteen, his mother went into the hospital for a minor surgery, and suffered a spinal injury while she was there. She went into a coma, and died a month later.

But as rumors spread about Schafer and the cult, and Shane and Sally, some sources told investigators they believed Schafer was the one who’d killed his great-grandfather and his mother. 

These tragedies turned into whispers of the evil he had—supposedly—always been capable of.

Steve Schafer’s aunt: That Steve had pulled the plug on his mama, that he was in there alone when she died, that’s a lie. An out and out lie. I was there, my mother was there, my dad was there, my sister was there.

According to Schafer’s aunt, the sinister descriptions of his old house—the black walls full of knives and chains and devils—are just more of the same.

Steve Schafer’s aunt: I’m telling you, every day I lived right down the street. I was over in that house and there was nothing. My mama would’ve gotten the switch and she would’ve whipped him and stood there until he painted over everything. Uh-uh. That was a lie.

Devil or no devil, Schafer has said he couldn’t have been there when Shane and Sally were killed because he was with his grandmother that night. 

And his aunt was the first person we heard who could back up his alibi.

Steve Schafer’s aunt: I know with all my heart. Because of July Fourth, and I told you, we were out at the lake. I had to call my mama when I got home and it was late, twelve-thirty, one o’clock. He was there. He was grounded.

I hear him talking. He come into the kitchen and he’s talking to my mom. My mother was sitting at the table. And my daddy got up before five o’clock, around five o’clock every morning. Steven was there when my daddy got up. So there’s no way, there was no time. And I know for a fact because I was on the phone with her when we had gotten back.

She believes Schafer. And she believes what he told us back on his porch—that there were powerful, dangerous forces at work in San Angelo, and that they played a role in Shane and Sally’s deaths.

Steve Schafer’s aunt: They were sweet kids, but they also had gotten off into drugs and they also—she had gotten into the occult.

Rob D’Amico: How did you get the sense Sally was involved in the occult?

Steve Schafer’s aunt: Well, things that Steven had said. And you got to understand, I worked at Juvenile Justice Center, okay, so I had to deal with a lot of kids that were into the occult back then. When you’re getting involved and learning the things about the occult, you have to stand very firm because God’s real and so is the devil. And this is the devil’s playground down here, and you have to be very careful.

Karen Jacobs (voice-over): Jerri thought it was all going to be over when John Gilbreath got arrested, after the authorities found that lock of hair and that fingernail, and those notes about the murders. She figured that finally Gilbreath would be convicted of killing Shane and Sally. And that she could stop thinking about what he’d shown her at the lake.

Jerri: Because this was over and done. We were just waiting for DNA to come back and everything was going to be fine. And they captured him, and done.

Of course, it didn’t turn out that way. Until Rob called, she hadn’t heard that Gilbreath was out of prison, and that the DNA on the evidence at his house didn’t match Shane and Sally.

Jerri: Yeah. Cried a lot one day whenever I got a voicemail from Rob.

Rob D’Amico: Did you really?

Karen Jacobs: Just opened up a lot there.

Jerri: Yeah.

We’re not using her last name because she’s still afraid that someone associated with the murders may try to harm her. She was even concerned about us. She researched who we were, and asked to meet in a public place.

We got breakfast at a diner on Sherwood Way—the Drag, where the Lost Boys used to patrol, around the corner from the cemetery. After we’d met, she felt comfortable heading to where we were staying in San Angelo to go on tape.

Jerri explained to us that, back in 1988, she and Gilbreath were actually in a relationship. He was seventeen, and Jerri was just thirteen.

Jerri first appears in the Rangers’ case notes in April of 1989. She’d just seen the news about Shane and Sally’s murders.

Jerri: And I went to my mom and I’m like, “Hey, I think I might know something about this.” So that’s how we ended up at the Rangers.

Karen Jacobs: So your mom called the Rangers, and then you went to their office, and then what happened?

Jerri: We went to the lake, to O.C. Lake, and I took them to the picnic table that John took us to, and he was telling what happened. He said that Shane’s car was found over there and that they walked them down to here.

According to the Rangers’ notes, Gilbreath and another guy had taken Jerri and another teenage girl out to the lake. This was in January, a couple months after Shane and Sally’s remains were found. While they were there, Gilbreath told her details about the crime, but didn’t say who committed the murders.

Jerri: His demeanor changed when we went out to the lake and he was more solemn, more sorrowful.

Jerri says they spent about ten minutes there, but the other girl was getting nervous.

Jerri: She was very shy, very soft-spoken, and she was telling me, “I don’t have a good feeling about this.” And so I said, “Okay, let’s go.”

That night, Jerri said she went back to John’s place, a converted garage bedroom in his mother’s house. He showed her a shotgun he had, and gave it to her to hold.

Jerri: The door opened. Like, here’s the bedroom. The door opened this way, and they were right here in this corner behind the door, just propped up on the wall. Just plain view.

Karen Jacobs: And did he say, “These are the guns we used?”

Jerri: I don’t recall him saying that. When we were at the lake and were talking about the shotgun, he didn’t specifically say, “This is the gun.” But yeah . . .

Karen Jacobs: It’s implied?

Jerri: Or he implied it and I didn’t catch it. I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that.

Jerri and her mom met with officers from the sheriff’s office, the city police, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Texas Rangers. These officers went to the lake with Jerri to hear her story. And they were already looking into Gilbreath. But even after all this, the investigation apparently didn’t lead to a search of his home.

The authorities might not have taken her story seriously. 

The Rangers’ report mentions that she’d been in drug rehab—Jerri told us her parents did send her to rehab, but she’d only ever smoked pot. The report also said she was “vague” when she pointed out the spot where Shane and Sally were shot.

It could also be they didn’t follow up on her lead because there were problems with the story Gilbreath told her. Gilbreath claimed Shane and Sally were shot at O.C. Fisher, then moved the bodies to Twin Buttes. And that didn’t jibe with what the authorities believed.

They might have figured Gilbreath was just repackaging details he’d heard secondhand. Larry Counts told us as much. He said he didn’t consider Gilbreath a serious suspect. And in fact, Gilbreath had been telling a lot of people a lot of different stories.

Rob D’Amico (voice-over): A friend and neighbor of Gilbreath’s named James Caldwell told investigator David Jones that Gilbreath claimed he was there when Shane and Sally were killed. One time, Caldwell said they were in Gilbreath’s bedroom when the theme song from The Lost Boys came on. And Gilbreath said that when investigators pushed play on the tape deck in Shane’s abandoned car, this was the song that came on. Caldwell said that when the song finished playing, Gilbreath rewound the tape and played it two more times.

Another source said Gilbreath was talking about the crime a couple weeks after the remains were found. Gilbreath told him that Shane and Sally’s hands and feet had been tied, that they were kneeling when they were shot in the back of their heads, and that their hands had been cut off after they died. At least some of this doesn’t fit the evidence at the scene.

Investigators didn’t write much about what they thought about John Gilbreath, so over the past year, I’ve asked around—to learn what he was like back then. One of Shane and Sally’s friends told us Gilbreath struck her as an odd loner, maybe even dangerous. Here’s Michael Heath, who you heard in episode two:

Michael Heath: Being that his mom knew me from the church we went to, she invited me over, wanted me to hang out with her son, hoping I would be a good influence on him. He just always had this attitude like he was untouchable. Like he could do whatever he wanted, nothing was going to matter.

It also sounds like Gilbreath liked to use the specter of the occult to mess with people. When investigators questioned Gilbreath’s mom, she told them a Baptist youth minister once contacted her because Gilbreath was talking about satanism with other teenagers, and that he once came to church with a guy claiming to be a “high priest.”

But then I talked with another of Gilbreath’s ex-girlfriends. Her name is C.C. Brindley, and she and Gilbreath dated for more than a year, right up to the time Shane and Sally disappeared.

C.C. Brindley: I met John because of a guitar contest in the mall in San Angelo that he saw me play in. And that’s actually how I got the name C.C., is because I ended with a guitar riff from “Talk Dirty to Me,” Poison, C.C. DeVille, the guitarist. That’s how I’ve been C.C. ever since eighth grade.

C.C. says there was one day, she was hanging out in Gilbreath’s bedroom while he was away, and she found some occult books. She knew he had friends who were more into the occult, but she wasn’t, and he didn’t bring it up.

C.C. has been questioned repeatedly about what Gilbreath was like, and whether he could have killed Shane and Sally. She says he didn’t seem like a violent person. Just another one of the misfits, like her.

C.C. Brindley: And I’ve met with FBI, I’ve met with Texas Rangers, I’ve met with the sheriff’s department in San Angelo. And it’s been something that has haunted me for so long.

So I was with him so much, but I never saw firearms in his place. He just never came across as that kind of person that would. It is my opinion that the guy I was dating, unless he hid some life that I didn’t know about . . . he had an occult interest, but he was such, just a stoner pushover.

Even if some investigators never took Gilbreath seriously, Nick Hanna wouldn’t rule him out as one of the key suspects. Here’s what he told Karen back in 2018 . . .

Karen Jacobs: Maybe start with John Gilbreath. What do you know about him?

Nick Hanna: Well, John Gilbreath was a member of this satanic group and a close associate with Steven Schafer. And he has expressed immediate interest in the murders. In fact, I think the night the bodies were returned to the funeral home he was present and asking for a copy of the autopsy, which is an odd request.

So he’s kind of put himself really as much on our radar, his behaviors after the fact, as anything before. And so since he was such a close associate of the group it seems, it’s a natural segue that he would be involved.

To investigators, and people around town, Gilbreath seemed to know a lot about the crime. When he was finally cornered, Gilbreath said Deputy Larry Counts had let the information slip.

Terry Lowe told Karen about this:

Terry Lowe: I accused Gilbreath, I said, “You were either there when it happened, or somebody told you.” And he said—because he knew too much—and he said, “Counts told me.” So I asked Counts, I said, “Did you tell John Gilbreath things you shouldn’t have told him?” He said, “No.”

Nick Hanna: And how do we know? And when we did the search warrant on Gilbreath’s house, after the narcotics arrest and the body armor and the gun, you know, he had notes that were consistent with the scene. And so, is that because he was there or is that because somebody told him about it?

Right now, it doesn’t look like there’s any way to know for sure if he was guilty and trying to throw investigators on the wrong track, or if he was just a bystander trying to insert himself in the case.

But if you set aside Gilbreath’s behavior after the murders, there is still more that we can say about him, and Shane, and Sally.

Shortly after Shane’s remains were found, Jimmy Burnett told deputies that Gilbreath hated Shane, and that the two of them had fought before. And said Sally once told him that Gilbreath was going to kill her.

And remember James Caldwell, Gilbreath’s friend?

Caldwell was sixteen at the time of the murders. He lived right behind Gilbreath. They used to hang out together in Caldwell’s garage. And inside, investigators found a pair of Gilbreath’s sneakers with red spots that looked like blood. Caldwell explained that Gilbreath had helped him write “Helter Skelter” in red paint on the garage door. That would’ve been a reference to Charles Manson, whose followers wrote the same words in blood at the scene of a murder.

The Rangers’ reports mention just one interview with Caldwell, in April 1989, while he was in jail on burglary charges. The Ranger writes that Caldwell is, quote, “loyal to Gilbreath” and didn’t give them any information.

But in his office, Nick Hanna brought up something else we hadn’t heard about him.

Nick Hanna: Do you remember James Caldwell, who drew a map? This is interesting.

At some point, Caldwell drew a map that he said shows where Shane and Sally’s bodies were left. 

Nick Hanna: It’s really pretty accurate. Again, I don’t know if this was of his own doing or this was as a result of leaked information by investigators at the time.

This map is not very detailed, but it seems to show a rectangular field with a few locations marked, surrounded by a road.

We wondered if Gilbreath might have told Caldwell where the bodies were left, or whether Caldwell was there himself on the Fourth of July. Unfortunately, we can’t ask Caldwell about any of this.

James Caldwell died in 1994. And it was front-page news in the San Angelo paper. The headline read: “Apparent satanic ritual ends in suicide pact in Oklahoma.”

Nick Hanna: Caldwell and his girlfriend, they pull up to a boat ramp, they get out of their vehicle, they get naked, they lay adjacent to each other. They took a rifle and put the butt up against the front wheel of the car and they put their heads side by side and committed suicide. One bullet through both brains.

Caldwell was 22. His girlfriend was 17. Their bodies were found side by side, surrounded by a circle of candles. She had pentagram jewelry and a pentagram tattoo.

They both left suicide notes saying that they were sacrificing themselves for a future together.

Nick Hanna: But it’s kind of a ritual-type suicide, which is consistent with some of the things we’ve seen with the other members involved in this group.

When investigators interviewed Gilbreath in December 1988, he told them he liked Sally, and that he’d been friends with Shane. But he said, Shane “got to thinking he was God,” and they fought a couple of times, one time about Sally. Another time, he and Shane pulled knives on each other, and Steve Schafer had to break up the fight.

But Gilbreath said he couldn’t have killed Shane and Sally, because he spent all night at a party at a friend’s house, and was there till noon the next day.

This friend was named Vince, and as far as I could tell, no other investigators had talked to him. I was able to find him, but he told me he just didn’t remember that night.

Gilbreath also said he was there with his girlfriend, C.C. Brindley. And I asked C.C. what she remembered. 

C.C. Brindley: And so the only thing I honestly remember from that night is whenever he and I were together, and we were together that night, most of the time I drove, even though I didn’t even have a license, I don’t think at that time, but I was driving his mom’s Buick Regal since I was fourteen years old. And I loved going in it, and I loved going out and going mudding.

C.C. says later on, the authorities made a big deal about the mud they found on Gilbreath’s mom’s Buick after the Fourth of July. The suggestion was that he might have driven it out to Twin Buttes that night.

C.C. Brindley: It had nothing to do with the murders. It had to do with I was joyriding in it, and I got mud all over it, and I didn’t want to get John in trouble. Because John was such a mommy’s boy that he didn’t do—I mean, his mom walked on water, and matter of fact I never knew him to ever spend the night away from his mother.

Having been out to Twin Buttes a couple of times, I even wonder if a Buick sedan could make the trip. You’d probably need something with higher clearance and four-wheel drive, especially after rain.

There was really just one person who could clear all of this up, about the satanic cult, and what he really knew about what happened at the lake. If he’d talk to us.

Rob D’Amico: Yeah, that’s it. Okay. Just park wherever. [singing] I’m driving in my car.

Karen Jacobs: This is going to be it.

Just outside John Gilbreath’s door, one of his neighbors was out watering her plants.

Rob D’Amico: Hello.

Tammy Littlefield: Hi.

[doorbell ringing]

Tammy Littlefield: You doing okay? 

Rob D’Amico: Yeah, we’re just coming to hopefully see if John’s home.

Tammy Littlefield: John is not home.

Rob D’Amico: Oh, he’s not.

Gilbreath’s mom came to the door, and told us the same thing. She shut the door. But the neighbor waved us over.

Tammy Littlefield: What are y’all doing?

Rob D’Amico: We’re doing a podcast and hope to get an interview with him. Do you know he’s usually around? ’Cause I hate bothering her, but you know is he usually . . .

Tammy Littlefield: Is this a story about Shane and Sally?

Rob D’Amico: Yeah.

Tammy Littlefield: Actually, my dad was a witness.

Rob D’Amico: Who was your dad?

Tammy Littlefield: Randall Littlefield. He was the one that saw at least the fight.

Randall Littlefield. The fisherman at the lake. Here was his daughter, out watering the flowers next door. Today, she says she and Gilbreath are friends. And it’s weird, but the reenactment from Unsolved Mysteries—where Randall Littlefield is out in his fishing boat—it has a special significance to her.

Tammy Littlefield: That’s the only . . . he only says one or two lines . . . and that’s the only way I could see him, through videos. ’Cause he died. He died in ’93.

It would’ve never been on Unsolved Mysteries until my dad talked to the park rangers.

She credits her dad with bringing the publicity that has kept this case alive for so long. Even though her family has paid a price.

Tammy Littlefield: Because my dad, when he was on Unsolved Mysteries, people threw eggs at our house. They found out it was him. That was, you know, we—

Rob D’Amico: That’s ridiculous.

We still haven’t gotten to talk with John Gilbreath. And Steve Schafer still hasn’t gotten back in touch. But as we’ve looked into them, we’ve found so many more people in San Angelo who’ve been affected by these murders . . . in surprising ways.  Like Tammy, whose family was harassed after her father stepped forward as a witness. And now she’s friends with one of the suspects.

Tammy said she hopes this case gets solved. But you can understand why some people in town want to leave the whole thing in the past, to quit asking these questions.

But of course there are others—like Marshall Stewart, Pat Wade, and Bill Wade—who can’t leave it, who need to know.

Karen Jacobs (voice-over): Sheriff Nick Hanna named four main suspects in Shane and Sally’s murders. Steve Schafer and John Gilbreath were the first.

Next was a guy named Jimmy Burnett. And we’ve tried to reach him, but there’s a hitch. No one could find him.

Terry Lowe: Well, I mean, if I could get enough to get a warrant on him, I could extradite him. That’s one of those things, you know? He might as well be on the moon.

For the past decade, investigators only have known that he was living in the Philippines.

[people talking in street, motorcycle passing]

And that Jimmy Burnett has even faked his own death. So, we decided to see if we could find him.

Guill Ramos: And then I asked her that if she knew like, he used to live in 2014 and I’m looking for this address. And then she told me this is the address.

 Next time, on Shane and Sally.