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“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.”

—Terry Lowe

The investigation continues with a look at a third suspect, Jimmy Burnett, who appears to have written his own notes as he tried to solve the murders of Shane Stewart and Sally McNelly. But his ex-girlfriend Laura says he knew more than he let on. In this episode, we take our investigation halfway around the world to track down Burnett, who, according to the authorities, moved to the Philippines and then faked his own death.

Shane and Sally is produced and cowritten by Patrick Michels and produced and engineered by Brian Standefer. Additional reporting in this episode by Guill Ramos. 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): A note before we get started: this episode contains intense descriptions of domestic violence.

One day last year, I was talking with Marshall Stewart at his home, and he handed me a thick folder. Inside were notes and papers from his investigation in the first months after Shane disappeared, and some newspaper clippings, and those poems Shane wrote.

When I got home, I went through it all, and a set of stapled pages immediately got my attention.

They start with a letter written by Jimmy Burnett—one of the San Angelo “Lost Boys” and, according to Sheriff Nick Hanna, one of the four main suspects in Shane and Sally’s murders.

The letter is written in neat cursive and addressed to Jimmy’s first wife. It begins: “I have told you many times I love you, and I do.” Jimmy promises to be a better person for her, and for the baby they’re expecting. He says he’s going to stop “looking for fights, going to the lake, and pissing off” her and her friends.

It’s a photocopy of the letter, not the original. And I wondered how Marshall got his hands on such a personal note from one of the main suspects.

Marshall Stewart: I just can’t say how I got some of those letters after the kids were gone. I, for some reason, thought Jimmy knew that baby was coming before, during, or when the kids disappeared or something during that summer, but I don’t recall.

But after this letter, the rest of the pages look like Jimmy’s journal entries. And he writes about the murders. First, there’s a list of names. It says:

John Gilbreath. Not to be believed.

Steve Schafer. Not the murderer.

Spider. Just looking for money.

Further down, he names someone called Scum Bum. He had nothing to do with it either.

And then the name William James Weiss. Which, as I’ve learned this year, is actually Jimmy Burnett’s legal name. There’s a note after this name too, but in the photocopy, it’s too faint to make out.

There’s also a long, numbered list with more notes about the murders. Note number eight says: “This is a reminder that I want another polygraph test to prove to everybody that I had nothing to do with it.”

Some of the notes appear to be instructions to somebody—it doesn’t say who—for what to do if Jimmy is arrested.

“If I should go to jail,” he says, “please use my titles for bond.” He says to give his driver’s license to his baby, because it’s the only photo he has of himself. And he says to tell his wife and baby he loves them, and that, quote, “I did this to help them.” He doesn’t say what “this” is.

From these notes, it seems as though Jimmy Burnett—like John Gilbreath—already knew details about the murders. 

And then there are references to Gilbreath throughout the notes, as though they were working together. One note says, “John is very worried about this list I’m making.”

He says Gilbreath uses a code to talk about the investigation: DPS investigator David Jones is “the high man on the totem pole,” and Marshall Stewart’s code name is . . . “The Marshall.” One page lists phone numbers for Marshall and the investigators. And over these pages, a new narrative about the murders takes shape: that Shane and Sally were killed by between five and eight people, and that two of these murderers had also been killed, and buried near a small town north of San Angelo called Robert Lee. Gilbreath had a code for them, too: “the two dead dogs.”

These notes are all written from Jimmy Burnett’s perspective, but we don’t really know he wrote them. Marshall doesn’t even know where the papers came from.

Mixed in with the names of real people in San Angelo are other names I can’t find any record of. It’s possible these are aliases too. Jimmy says one of the potential killers is named Shandrill. Shandril happens to be a character in a series of Dungeons and Dragons–type fantasy novels who first appeared in 1988.

It starts to look almost like the two of them, Gilbreath and Jimmy, are treating the murder investigation like their own D&D campaign. Or maybe he’s just messing with investigators. Maybe Jimmy made it all up just to throw them off, or to look like he wasn’t involved in the murders.

I asked Sheriff Nick Hanna about this document, and he said yes, he’d seen it . . . and he didn’t trust it.

So I figured the only way to truly know what was behind all this was to talk to Jimmy Burnett himself. But there was a problem. He seemed to have vanished. Some people told me he was dead, and that there was proof. Other people thought he was still alive, but so far away, there was no way to reach him. 

We decided we needed to try anyway. But to get to him, we’d have to look eight thousand miles away, across the Pacific.

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 five: “The Man on the Moon.”

The envelope Cheryl received in the mail was big, with no return address.

Cheryl, by the way, is a pseudonym because she’s afraid to use her real name.

She thinks this was the summer of 2010. Cheryl opened the envelope, took out the photos she found inside—and what she saw made her sick. They were photos of a dismembered body—arms and legs, with no head.

Two weeks earlier, she’d gotten a call from outside the U.S. It was about her ex-husband, Jimmy Burnett, who’d been living in the Philippines. A woman on the line told her Jimmy had been killed—and chopped up. Here, it seemed, was the proof.

At first, Cheryl didn’t know whether to believe the photos were of Jimmy. She knew Jimmy had a scar on one leg, from cutting himself on a saw, but she didn’t immediately see a scar in the photos. She came to believe this wasn’t him, but that he was alive, and was trying to track her down to hurt her.

After a couple of days, Cheryl threw away the photos. She hated having them around. She’d long since decided she was done with Jimmy, and she didn’t want this grisly reminder of him.

Years later, when Lieutenant Terry Lowe started investigating Shane and Sally’s murders and tracking down the suspects, this is the story Cheryl told him. She said she hadn’t seen Jimmy Burnett in years, and for some reason, he wanted people back home to think he was dead.

For Terry, this was a promising lead. He told us about it last year.

Terry Lowe: So I contacted the State Department. State Department contacted the FBI in the Philippines. Philippines went and knocked on this door. The lady that answered said, “Oh, he’s at work.” And they said, “Okay, we’ll come back at a later time.” So they came a week later or something, and she said, “Oh, he died.”

Terry didn’t buy that Jimmy Burnett had been alive one week, when these officials came by, and then dead the next week, when they came back. Especially after that scheme with the photos sent to Jimmy’s ex-wife.

Terry Lowe: I think now he’s declared himself dead twice that I know of.

Meaning, once in those photos to his ex-wife, and again at that visit to his home. But Terry didn’t have a warrant for Jimmy Burnett. And even if he got him face-to-face, he could only ask him to talk. All Terry really had were his lingering suspicions.

Terry Lowe: If I had to rate everybody from a one to ten on their suspectability, he’d be a ten. But to go over there, be an official law enforcement officer, I would have to be acting under somebody’s authority over there. Which, I don’t know if it would be the State Department or the FBI, but, uh—

Karen Jacobs: Would you be able to bring him back, or . . . ?

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.

Rob D’Amico (voice-over): Jimmy Burnett was born in San Francisco in 1970. His mother was from San Angelo, but moved west in the late sixties, and met a guy named Bill Barnhart, who went on to be a motorcycle stuntman who performed as “Wild Bill.” But shortly after Jimmy was born, Jimmy and his mother returned to San Angelo, and that’s where he was raised.

Karen Jacobs: And then, tell me about Jimmy. He hung out with John, and Schafer, and everybody?

Nick Hanna: Jimmy Burnett? Yes, they had a group, and they were just party buddies, I guess. And so they would hang out together, and have parties at each other’s houses, and play Mr. Tough Guy in front of each other, and they would evidently go beat people up, and engage in those kind of activities.

Jimmy Burnett was in the same social circle with Shane and Sally. At seventeen, he had an apartment, on the western edge of town, right between O. C. Fischer Lake and Twin Buttes. One source told investigators she’d been over there and saw a stash of weapons: “a rifle, handguns, and a sword.”

Investigators interviewed Jimmy in November 1988. A Texas Ranger wrote that Jimmy is, quote, “believed to be a high-ranking member of the local cult.” But Jimmy denied it. He said he was just the dungeon master in his D&D game.

If they were after satanists, though, Jimmy Burnett was prepared to lead investigators on that adventure. During the interview, he confirmed that Steve Schafer, John Gilbreath, and Sally were all members of the local cult. Then he gave them details they hadn’t heard from anyone else.

He said there was not one, but three satanist groups in the area. And even though he wasn’t a member, he said he’d been to some of their rituals. He said the cult members sacrificed black cats and drank the cats’ blood to atone for any good deeds they’d done.

He even handed investigators a name. According to Jimmy, the leader of the satanist branch in Midland was a guy named Rudy. And if the local cult had marked Sally for death, he said they would’ve called Rudy in Midland to do the job.

If investigators believed Jimmy up to this point, the Rangers’ report indicates that he lost them here. They wrote that calling in outsiders, quote, “does not hold with known satanic practice.”

But everybody did seem to agree there was a cult. The problem was getting anyone to own up to being part of it. In fact, Jimmy said he was prepared for a war against the cult.

Jimmy Burnett was one of the original “Lost Boys” of San Angelo. He writes about them in those notes we mentioned at the top of this episode. He says there are fifty Lost Boys, who only come together at night. He says, “We are really lost. We’re in San Angelo, aren’t we?”

And if the cult members were to attack them, Jimmy wrote, the Lost Boys were capable of “extreme . . . firepower.”

Lee Parker—another Lost Boy—said no, really there were just a few of them. And they weren’t about to go to war with anyone.

Lee Parker: I don’t know if Jimmy took her to another level or not; I don’t know. But we were just trying to be do-gooders.

Sometimes, Lee said they’d ride around in Jimmy’s truck. He remembers one night, Halloween 1988 . . .

Lee Parker: I remember we were out riding around, me and Jimmy, and I can’t remember who else was in the truck, and it was a really foggy night, and we were driving down the road. Well, then, the next thing I know, I hear that Sally and Shane had been murdered.

He didn’t think much of it at the time—Shane and Sally had been missing for a while then, and folks had started to fear the worst. But a couple years later, the memory of that truck came back to Lee. It startled him. By then, he’d joined the Army and left San Angelo.

Lee Parker: Okay. Unsolved Mysteries had first aired this when I was at Fort Polk, Louisiana. And the truck that was in that video, it reminded me so much of the truck that Jimmy had. Because he had a Chevy S-10 four-wheel drive that was kind of jacked up. It had the bar, the light bar in the back, and if you look at the Unsolved Mysteries, that very first one that they did, it shows this truck. It looks a whole lot like his, a smaller truck with a light bar, and the lights on, and all this other stuff.

A small, four-wheel-drive truck with KC lights on top. That’s what Randall Littlefield saw drive up to Shane’s Camaro at O. C. Fisher Lake on the Fourth of July.

But Jimmy told investigators it couldn’t have been him. The morning of the Fourth, he said he’d just gotten back to town. He and some friends had gone to Dallas, to see Van Halen and Metallica play at the Cotton Bowl. He said he slept through the afternoon, then drove his motorcycle to Lake Nasworthy to watch the fireworks. He said some friends borrowed his truck that night—though if he told investigators which friends took his truck, it’s not in their report.

Then, around eleven, Jimmy said he went to a house party hosted by a guy named Fred Hindman, and stayed there all night. But investigators might have been suspicious of Jimmy’s alibi. Because John Gilbreath claimed Jimmy was with him at a different party—not Fred Hindman’s. And he said Jimmy left that party around 1 a.m. 

So where was Jimmy that night? Who were the friends who Jimmy said borrowed his truck? And where did Jimmy go after he left the party? More questions that investigators might have been able to answer thirty years ago, but didn’t.

Fred Hindman’s name came up again in Jimmy’s interview with investigators. In the week before the Fourth, Jimmy said he spent just about every night partying at Hindman’s house. And so did Sally.

Jimmy says Sally would party over there til 5 p.m., go back home, then sneak out late at night and come back to Hindman’s place. And there was more: he said sometimes he’d take Sally four-wheeling around Twin Buttes. And at least twice, Sally spent the night at his apartment. He said Sally had a friend cover for her in case her mom asked where she was.

[phone ringing]

Erin: Hello?

Rob D’Amico: Oh, hey, Erin, it’s Rob.

Erin: Hi, Rob.

Rob D’Amico: Hi.

I talked to that friend, who just wants to use her first name, Erin. She didn’t know Sally all that well; she’d just see her around high school sometimes. She remembers meeting Jimmy at the mall.

Erin: And the reason that he impressed people so much was because—and, I think, probably the reason that I hung out with him—is ’cause he had wheels. He had a black truck, and it was actually a really nice—it was like, I want to say it was a Toyota four-by-four, or something like that. And he had a motorcycle. In San Angelo at that time, for teenagers to see somebody like that, they’re like, “Oh my God, this guy, he must be some rich guy for him to have these kind of toys at nineteen years old.” You know?

Jimmy was actually only seventeen in the summer of ’88. And he had that apartment, too, right by the mall.

Erin: This was like a month or two before Sally and Shane were killed, but I did go over and meet Sally’s mom face-to-face, and told her that she was going to spend the night with me. And it was an idea of Jimmy’s to do it. And him and Sally both were like, “Come on, Erin, come on, come on.”

Erin told Sally not to use her name too much, because she didn’t want to get in trouble.

Erin: ’Cause they were like—I could tell they got kind of giddy about it, about, “Oh, this is going to work. This is going to work.” And so I told her, I’m like, “I really don’t want you using my name just randomly out of the blue.” For one thing, they could be calling my dad when I’m not home, you know?

Erin also partied over at Fred Hindman’s place. He was a decade older than a lot of the kids over there. She says his trailer was just somewhere they could hang out, drink beer, and smoke weed.

Erin: And I remember Fred had a ferret. Fred had a keg refrigerator, and it would drip beer, and the ferret would drink beer. And everybody thought it was really funny.

Rob D’Amico: It is kind of funny.

Erin: I mean, it was. But nobody suspected. Why is this thirty-year-old guy, or however old he was, why is he hanging around a bunch of teenagers? Nobody thought about it really like that at the time. We just thought, “We can go to Fred’s house and party.”

This was early in the summer of ’88, while Shane was in Kansas City, working with his brother. And as far as Erin knew, Sally and Jimmy were a couple.

Erin: See, and that’s where—I didn’t even know anything about her and Shane being together. Like, when they went missing, that’s where I was like, “Wait, what happened to Jimmy?”

Even though Erin told Sally not to randomly use her name for cover, that’s just what Sally did on the night of July 4. She told her mom she was going to watch fireworks with Shane, then spend the night at Erin’s place. But the phone number she gave her mom belonged to Jimmy Burnett.

Karen Jacobs (voice-over): There’s one more witness we haven’t mentioned yet, who, more than anyone else, made investigators suspect Jimmy Burnett.

We’re not using her name either, at her request. She’s still afraid of Jimmy, and these memories bring back the trauma she experienced when they were together, and from her encounters with the investigators. We’ll call her Laura.

Laura was Jimmy Burnett’s girlfriend in July 1988. Investigators first interviewed her in December 1988. In 2013, they invited her in for a polygraph, to tell her story again.

We have the video from this interview. It’s an overhead view of a small office, with an officer at a wood-paneled desk with a laptop and another empty chair. Terry Lowe walks in with a piece of paper.

Terry Lowe: This is the bed of the pickup . . . maybe lay it around for a prop, or . . . 

Officer: Nah.

Another man walks in and starts talking about the case.

Second officer: I think she knows more than what she’s saying.

It’s under his breath, but he says, “I think she knows more than what she’s saying.”

Second officer: You remember what they believed back then?

Officer: Oh yeah.

Second officer: They were led on a goose chase back then. You see the people they freaking interviewed. 

Officer: Yeah.

Second officer: There’s a ton of people. They were going in all directions because of all the rumors.

The officer leaves and returns a few minutes later with Laura. 

Officer: This next form is a polygraph consent form. Do you know why you’re here today?

Laura: Yes. 

Officer: Why is that?

Laura: To see if I’m lying.

Officer: About what? 

Laura: About him committing murder. 

Officer: Okay. I want you to start at the very beginning of the situation, and I want you to go to the end. 

Laura says she went to school with Shane and Sally, and in the summer of 1988, she was living with Jimmy Burnett. Actually, she says, it was more like she was a prisoner there. 

Laura: I wasn’t allowed outside of the house, or apartment . . .

She couldn’t call her family, and they weren’t allowed to visit her. She says he beat her almost every day.

Laura: And there was people in and out constantly.

On the Fourth of July 1988, she said Jimmy took his motorcycle to go watch the fireworks. And while Jimmy had told investigators that some friends took his truck, Laura says his truck was still at the apartment. She remembers she stood on top of it, to try to get a look at the fireworks.

Laura: I wasn’t allowed to go. 

Later that night, she said she heard the truck leave.

Laura: The motorcycle was there, but the truck was gone. I did not see who picked it up. And then the next morning, he came in and said he had been hunting, and asked me to take the truck to the car wash and wash it.

She remembers washing blood out of the truck bed.

Laura: I was young and dumb, stupid. I honestly believed that he had been hunting. I didn’t know anything about that stuff.

Laura also remembered that four months later, right after Shane and Sally’s bodies were found, the phone rang, and John Gilbreath was on the line. Jimmy was out, so Laura took a message. 

Officer: It said that you remembered the message was a coded message and that all she could remember was the phrase “S. and S. barbecue.”

Laura: Yes.

Remember the notes, where Jimmy mentioned John Gilbreath used a code when he talked about the murders? It sounded like this was another coded message.

Then, two weeks after Shane and Sally’s bodies were found, Laura says Jimmy drove her to Twin Buttes Reservoir. And out there, alone in the wilderness beyond the city, Jimmy told her this was where he had killed Shane and Sally. She said Jimmy told her how he’d driven Shane’s Camaro back to O. C. Fisher Lake, while an accomplice followed in Jimmy’s truck, so they could leave the Camaro there.

Laura stayed with Jimmy into early 1989. That’s when she finally told Jimmy she was going to leave. 

Laura: We had been arguing, and I had threatened to leave before, but he usually beat me up.

That’s when he took her out to his truck. 

Laura: We walked out to the truck together.

He opened his glove box and showed her three photos of a body, outside in the dark, surrounded by sticks and rocks.

Laura: He showed ’em to me, said, “This is what’s going to happen to you if you ever leave me.”

Then he lit them on fire and watched them burn.

Laura: And, of course, I was petrified. So I waited a couple of days. And then the first chance I got when he was not there, I got a friend to pick me up.

She hid out with her friend, but he found her there. He told her to get in his truck. As Laura says this, the polygraph examiner pushes back on pieces of her story.

Officer: You said he kidnapped you, but you said he talked you into the truck. 

Laura: He was threatening friends, family, me, if I didn’t go talk to him. And I didn’t want my friends or family to get hurt, so I went with him. So I guess he didn’t kidnap me, but to me, I felt like I was being kidnapped. I didn’t have a choice.

Officer: Okay.

She said Jimmy drove her to a dry creek bed that runs through town, called the Red Arroyo. Laura got out. She told Jimmy she was leaving. And as she started walking away, she heard the sound of a shotgun cocking. She dropped to her knees.

Laura: I remember hearing it. I will never forget that sound.

Officer: Okay. So you are laying on the ground. On your knees. He comes up with a shotgun and does what?

She says Jimmy walked up behind her with the gun. But he didn’t pull the trigger.

Officer: What’d you say? 

Laura: I know I screamed and said, “Don’t kill me.” I remember, and I screamed, just, like, bloody murder, I guess you’d say. 

Officer: So how did that situation end?

Laura: Um, he took me back to where he picked me up.

She says Jimmy drove her back to her friend’s house. And she didn’t see Jimmy again. Not until after she’d gone to the sheriff. Jimmy had warned her never to tell anyone about what happened in the arroyo, but she decided to go to the authorities. At the sheriff’s office, she explained what she’d been through, and what Jimmy had told her about Shane and Sally.

And she said that David Jones, the state police investigator, came up with a plan. He asked her to call Jimmy and ask him to come to her mom’s house to talk. Investigators wired the house to record them, so they could get Jimmy on tape talking about the murders. But when Jimmy arrived, he wouldn’t come inside.

Laura: He said, “We can go somewhere and talk. I’m not talking to you in the house.”

Laura thinks someone in law enforcement tipped him off. After about an hour of this, the examiner leaves Laura alone in the room. 

Officer: Why don’t you go back through your head, just and try to line everything out. Be back in just a second.

And she sits there, crying. He walks back in, and asks her if something new came up.

Officer: Did you think of anything?

And she says no, she just got frustrated that there are so many details she can’t remember.

Officer: Okay. Well, I understand it was twenty-five years ago, but, the thing is . . .

The examiner seizes on that point.

Officer: How many murder cases have you been around in your entire life, in forty-two years? Those things tend to burn a spot into your memory.

Maybe it’s all part of the polygraph, trying to test her.

Officer: Now, I’m thinking that if I’m in a situation where somebody’s got a gun behind me, and I think that that’s going to be the end of my world, I’m going to remember what that guy said. Okay? But you don’t remember what he says . . .

He starts trying to poke holes in her story, too. He says, actually, Shane and Sally were killed where their bodies were found, so there would’ve been no reason to put their bodies in Jimmy’s truck.

Officer: If the bodies had been in the back of that truck, it wouldn’t have been spots. It would’ve been huge amounts of blood. So I’m afraid that you’re trying too hard, and you’re taking different pieces of that time period in your life and trying to make ’em fit, trying to link ’em in. And I want you to understand, you can’t do that. Okay? You dang sure can’t pass the polygraph test based on things that you’re not sure that you’re trying to make ’em fit. Okay? ’Cause a lot of stuff that you tell me doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Laura: So you think I’m lying.

Officer: I think you’re adding some stuff to the situation, where you’re linking some things that don’t have anything to it.

It took a while, but we tracked down Laura last year. She agreed to talk to me about all this, but not on tape. What she said matched what she’d told investigators over the years. 

She clearly still felt the trauma from this time. She says she’s still afraid of Jimmy, and has nightmares about all of this.

Laura seemed like a very important witness, and we wondered how her story got lumped in with all of the confusing hearsay in the case file. Nothing in the file suggests that investigators searched Jimmy’s apartment, or his truck.

When I asked Nick Hanna about Laura’s story, he said he did find her convincing.

Nick Hanna: And I remember when she came in and gave the statement, and she had a visceral reaction when she recalled the shooting. Cried and screamed, and, frankly, it was pretty believable.

But he said, in court, prosecutors would have to argue that her statement was more credible than other ones.

Nick Hanna: We had other statements which contradicted her statement. And so, you can’t pick one statement out of the mirage that you like that suits your case. We have to get something to corroborate her statement, is what we would need. As simple as that.

Where would you find someone like that? Someone Jimmy Burnett had confided in, or bragged to, in the last 35 years. Maybe in the Philippines.

Rob D’Amico (voice-over): I talked to Jimmy Burnett’s ex-wives, his mother, and other relatives. I learned he left San Angelo by the early 2000s, lived in Florida for a while, then left to work in Iraq. They said he drove a truck for KBR, as a military contractor during the Iraq War. An ex-wife heard at some point, he was injured by a roadside bomb and went to the Philippines for treatment, and wound up staying.

His family said Jimmy didn’t keep in touch.

Lee Parker: That man has got a son living here in San Angelo damn Texas, that he doesn’t even know about.

That’s Lee Parker, who worked with Jimmy’s son. One time Jimmy’s son mentioned he was interested in finding his dad. But Lee told him not to bother.

Lee Parker: You know what? He used to work with me on the oil rig, and me and my brother both told him, “Just leave that one alone. Just live your life. Leave it the f— alone. You don’t want to find him.”

But we did want to find him.

Besides a mug shot, though, we only had one photo of Jimmy Burnett. He’s standing at the wheel of a boat, wearing dark sunglasses and a backwards baseball cap over his red hair. And through my endless searches of court records, phone records, and Facebook, I kept looking at that photo.

I found another ex-girlfriend of Jimmy’s in Texas, who remembered a strange detail—that Jimmy wore a necklace with a thumb drive looped through it, and he never took it off. Another friend of his, who’d been in the military, remembered one time he met Jimmy at Chili’s. He was telling Jimmy some old war stories, talking about the people he’d killed, and Jimmy told him that, yeah, he’d killed people too. But he left it there.

So I’d found provocative new details like this, but nothing solid. It felt like I’d run out of leads—in this country, at least.

When we told Nick Hanna and Terry Lowe that we were serious about tracking down Jimmy Burnett, the investigators shared something we hadn’t seen before: copies of Terry’s emails with State Department officials back in 2014. At least, some of the emails.

These officials are criminal investigative liaisons. One of them tells Terry, sure, they can have someone in the Philippines go look for Jimmy, but it might take a while, because that post in the Philippines is busy: each year, they bring ten to twenty fugitives back to the U.S.

In another message, the other official said they’d found Jimmy’s house, knocked on his door, and confirmed he was, as they put it, “alive and kicking.” The official says they pretended to be taking a census of Americans living in the Philippines. But the person at the door said Jimmy was at work.

It’s not clear whether anyone made a return trip to Jimmy’s house after that. On June 30, 2014, Terry emails them and says there’s nothing else he can think of to ask Jimmy, but he’d like to get his DNA somehow.

The official writes back and says while they were looking for records on Jimmy, they found some from a hospital in metro Manila called Makati Medical Center. These records said Jimmy actually just checked in, on June 15, and died there three days later.

The official says there would also be a death record from the hospital, but the hospital wouldn’t turn that over for privacy reasons. There would also be a death certificate filed with the government, but that would take a few months.

That could’ve been the end of the search. But all this happened ten years ago. And by the time we talked to Nick and Terry, they believed Jimmy Burnett could still be out there, “alive and kicking.”

Karen Jacobs: We did have a question. I know you said you checked with the State Department of any possible Burnett-in-the-Philippines death that they would list a death. When was the last time you checked?

Terry Lowe: I can’t remember. That was years ago.

Rob D’Amico: Well, we’re thinking about a private investigator and a freelancer out there, so we’ll let you know if we find . . .

Terry Lowe: They have them in the Philippines? I mean, are there Americans over there to do that?

Rob D’Amico: Yeah. It’s a big country with like three hundred islands or something.

Terry Lowe: Oh, yeah. Well, I doubt he’s going to be in a village.

Rob D’Amico: Yeah.

Actually I was a little off: there are more than 7,600 islands in the Philippine archipelago.

We did decide to see if we could track down records of Jimmy in the Philippines, and maybe even go looking for Jimmy himself. So we enlisted another reporter, in Manila—Guill Ramos.

Patrick Michels: Hello.

Guill Ramos: Hi.

Producer: Hi. Good morning, Good evening. How are you?

Guill Ramos: Hi. Good morning to you guys. I am fine.

Rob D’Amico: So, it would take me hours to tell you the whole story. But the key thing that we’re interested in with you is a guy who’s kind of considered the primary suspect, at least by law enforcement—a guy named Jimmy Burnett.

Guill came up with a list of agencies that might have information and started making requests. And Sheriff Hanna shared one more record with us: an application for a Philippine driver’s license that Jimmy filled out in 2013, a year before State Department officials knocked on Jimmy’s door. In it, Jimmy used his legal name, William James Weiss.

That document had an address in a city called Imus in the Cavite province, about fifteen miles south of Manila. Guill hired a driver and went to see what she could find.

[Driver and Guill speaking in Filipino]

[Car door opening]

Guill said her first stop was to find some motorcycle-taxi drivers who’d know the area.

Guill Ramos: So I asked them if they’re familiar with the address, and then they gave me directions to one of the villages. The area is composed of several villages.

The village Guill was looking for was one of a handful of gated subdivisions with similar names. 

[People talking in street]

So, she picked one. She talked her way past the guard post, then stopped at a convenience store and went up to the woman inside.

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

The shopkeeper did recognize it, because it was right here.

The shopkeeper said she owned the building. It was a two-story house, off-white, with a light blue gate. In the front yard, some clothes were hanging on a line. A child’s bike was leaning against the wall.

The shopkeeper, whose name was Eva, said Jimmy had lived here with his wife, but they’d moved away. Eva said she bought the place in 2014.

Guill Ramos: So, an old woman is approaching the store. And then Eva told me that you should talk to her. That’s when I met the old woman. She doesn’t want to be identified, but she’s a teacher.

[Guill and neighbor speaking in Filipino]

Guill Ramos: She mentioned she lived in the house in front of Jimmy. So whenever Jimmy was drunk, and he’s being rowdy and, like, hurting himself . . . I asked how, in what manner, he hurts himself, but she can’t put it into details. 

This woman said Jimmy and his wife had moved to the island of Leyte, about four hundred miles southeast of Manila.

Here was a whole new place to look for Jimmy. But also, a new potential witness: his wife. If Jimmy had said anything to anyone else about what really happened on the Fourth of July 1988, maybe he’d told her.

But Guill says the neighbor added something else: she said she’d heard that Jimmy died not long after he and his wife moved away.

Thanks to Guill, we’d managed to find someone who knew Jimmy in his life abroad, and got a promising lead on where he’d moved next. But this latest news just seemed to confirm what Terry Lowe had heard ten years ago.

We’d spent months looking for Jimmy Burnett. Like Terry told us, he might as well be on the moon. But now, in January of this year, things happened fast.

Around when Guill went to Jimmy’s old neighborhood, I finally heard back from one of his family members here in the States. And they told me they’d gotten a call from a State Department official a couple months ago, who confirmed Jimmy was dead. The official had promised to send a death certificate, but it hadn’t arrived.

Then, around eight one night, we got an email from Guill. The subject line was: “death certificate.” Attached to the email were two photos of an official-looking document, held in somebody’s hand. There was a blue stamp on each page, from the Philippine Statistics Authority.

The form confirmed that Jimmy Burnett died at the Makati Medical Center on June 18th, 2014. The cause of death was “multiorgan failure,” with “alcoholic liver cirrhosis.” He was 43 years old.

For me, the finality of this certificate felt a little bizarre. Tracking down Jimmy Burnett had become a bit of an obsession, after all those stories about how he’d disappeared and faked his death. 

But the certificate also had a new lead: a full name for Jimmy’s last wife. The next day, Guill wrote back again: she’d found her through some relatives on Facebook. She’d found photos of Jimmy at a theme park with his wife’s family.

And it looked like she had remarried in 2018, to another American man . . . and was living with him now in the States.

I couldn’t find her number. But I did find one for her husband, and I gave him a call.

Man: Hello?

Rob D’Amico: Hello?

Man: Yes.

Rob D’Amico: Hi, it’s Rob D’Amico.

Man: How you doing?

Rob D’Amico: Good.

I told him why I was calling. I started at the beginning, with Shane and Sally, and that we’d been searching for any information that could help solve the case.

Rob D’Amico: And I apologize. I’m sorry if you didn’t know any of this . . .

He was game to talk with me, and he put me on speakerphone. 

Man: She’s here listening.

Rob D’Amico: Oh, okay.

Woman: Yeah. Hi, sir.

Rob D’Amico: Hi.

They said they didn’t want to use their names—they’d moved on with their life together, and this call from me was a surprise. We’ll call her Joyce.

Joyce said she met Jimmy in 2009, through a friend of a friend. Jimmy told her he was divorced from his wife in the Philippines, but she learned later that he was just separated.

Joyce: When we met, sir, that’s the time that . . . I really don’t understand why he couldn’t . . . he just told me that he doesn’t want to go back to America. Which is good for me, because at that time, I really don’t want to come here in America, because I have a house. And for me, it’s too far away. And he told me that, oh, I am the perfect girl for him because everyone there in the Philippines, they wanted to go to the America.

She said he never explained why he couldn’t go home.

Joyce: He was quiet when he wasn’t drinking. But most of the time, since I met him, and he has been promising to me that he will stop drinking to save our relationship. But until he died, he just kept drinking. He died from his drinking. 

Man: He was in Manila when he died, huh? 

Joyce: Yeah, we went to Manila because of a divorce hearing, and then he couldn’t go back to the province because he died.

Joyce and her husband said they still had some of Jimmy’s belongings, in a home they owned in the Philippines. And Joyce’s husband asked a question that surprised me.

Man: So there is DNA available . . .

Rob D’Amico: They have the victim’s DNA, and they have a DNA from the crime scene that, unfortunately, is a mixed sample. It’s the victim, Shane, and then two unknown people.

Man: We know where he’s buried, and, if necessary, he could be exhumed—I’m sure that if you went through the Philippine local government to check DNA.

Rob D’Amico: You know, that’s a very—I’m glad you brought that up.

A DNA sample from Jimmy Burnett . . . that was the last thing Terry Lowe asked for back in 2014, too. We know investigators got DNA from the crime scene, and it’s been hard to analyze. But we don’t know if they already have DNA from Jimmy. Nick and Terry wouldn’t tell us that.

Karen Jacobs (voice-over): In the end, we learned a lot more about Jimmy Burnett, and the ways he’d hurt people close to him. And we’d confirmed that Jimmy had died just when Terry started looking for him.

But this was all just one more step on the path to learning who killed Shane and Sally, with a long way still ahead. 

Nick didn’t seem convinced that Jimmy was really dead. When Rob emailed him Jimmy’s death certificate, Nick wrote back with a question: “Has anyone seen his grave?”

In San Angelo, some people told us they didn’t want to talk because they were afraid of Jimmy Burnett. Now that we had proof that he was dead, we thought, maybe now they’d change their minds. But that didn’t happen.

Even if Jimmy Burnett killed Shane and Sally, he wouldn’t have been the only one there. In Jimmy’s own notes, he wrote that between five and eight people were there when Shane and Sally died. Terry Lowe told us he believes the same thing, that multiple people were involved.

There’s one suspect left from the four that Nick Hanna mentioned: Heath Davis. We found him, still living in San Angelo. And he agreed to tell us his side of the story.

Heath Davis: I ain’t done nothing. They’ve taken my DNA five or six times. I don’t believe that I get a fair deal when it comes to the law.

But we also found someone who knows Heath and his friends all too well, who says the pain they caused extends well beyond the mystery of what happened to Shane and Sally.

Kristen Bill: But I don’t want to die. I don’t want to have to face these people again, in that capacity. So I almost backed out of this. I really did. But I can’t do that. Not for myself. I’m not going to do that. And these other girls deserve it too. They deserve justice. These guys all need to go to jail, every one of ’em.

That’s next time, on Shane and Sally.