Sally McNelly & Shane Stewart

Sally McNelly and Shane Stewart

Sally McNelly and Shane Stewart

Independence Day, 1988, was a reunion of sorts for Shane Stewart and Sally McNelly.  Each had recently returned to their hometown of San Angelo, Texas.  It was their first time together in months.  It was also the last time they would ever be seen alive.

The next morning, a ranger discovered Shane’s car abandoned near a local lake.  Fast food wrappers covered the front seat.  The keys were on the dashboard.  Shane and Sally were nowhere to be found.  Louis A. Hargraves was a Lieutenant for the Tom Green County Sheriff’s Department at the time of the murders:

“There were no signs of a struggle and so consequently we looked at it…from a standpoint of two kids ran off and got married.”

That November, two skeletons were found near a lake, 17 miles from where Shane’s car had been abandoned.  Shane’s father, Marshall Stewart, was driving when he heard the call on his police scanner:

“I got out of the pick-up and walked over to the area.  Gut feeling is apparent.  It was… Shane, dressed exactly like he’d left the house that night.  And I knelt down beside him and told him that I had found him and we would take him home.”

The forces of nature had washed away all forensic clues.  But detectives were able to determine that both victims had been killed by a gunshot blast. 

The discovery of Shane and Sally’s bodies were the culmination of a four month search which introduced their parents to a strange and frightening subculture.  Marshall Stewart and Pat Wade, Sally’s mother, discovered that their children were engaged in activities which many believed were linked to a satanic cult. In Sally’s case, it appeared to be part of a desperate search for acceptance in the wake of a painful and troubled childhood.

Their bones were found 17 miles from his car

Their bones were found 17 miles from his car

Marshall Stewart recalled the instant connection between Shane and Sally:

“When Shane and Sally met it was just like two people clicked on.  There was a bond there that was almost inseparable.  It was like the two kids were made for each other.”

Pat Wade remembered how much her daughter loved people:

“She would do anything for a friend.  Sally tried hard to please people.  She wanted people to like her.  She wanted people to respond to her.  And love her. I married and had Sally when I was very young.  So Sally and I spent a lot of our time growing up together.  We were like sisters when she was small.  And as Sally became a teenager, she became more and more rebellious and I had less and less role in her life.”

Soon enough, Sally began to attend ritualistic parties on a regular basis.  One evening, she invited her friend Helen J. Williams to join her.  Helen recalled what happened at the party:

“Sally went into a trance.  And it really scared me.  Half of me said Sally’s pulling a stunt, just ignore it. And half of me said well, maybe it’s, they’re kind of having fun… Sally really got to a point to where she thought nobody loves me. These people come along and they say okay we’ll give you that love, we’ll give you that companionship you need, you just come with us and do what we ask.”

When Sally began dating Shane Stewart, she introduced him to her “new friends”.  Marshall Stewart saw immediate changes in his son’s behavior:

“Shane started getting into fights.  One day Shane was getting the better of this guy.  His two friends jumped in and then he was thrown into the river.  So I told him, I said you should’ve learned a lesson, one not to fight and two beware of where you are, what you’re doing because people can always gang up on you”

Is there a connection to ritualistic parties?

Is there a connection to ritualistic parties?

In March of 1988, Sheriff’s Deputy Larry Counts received a call from Sally:

“She and her boyfriend, Shane, were members of this group and they were trying to get away from it.  She said there was a lot of drugs involved.  There was a lot of group sex. She also expressed that she had a weapon that had been given to her by another member of the cult.  And when he gave it to her, he told her and Shane that the gun had been used in a murder/robbery.”

By that time, Shane and Sally were living together.  They met Deputy Counts in their apartment to hand over the gun.  Deputy Counts recalled their meeting:

“Well during this meeting when I first met them face to face, you’d really think they were making this stuff up. But they seemed sincere.  After they gave me this weapon and we did some checking on it, it turned out to be a stolen gun, then their story became a little bit more credible.  They did express fears that, that they might be hurt, she and her boyfriend might be in some danger because it’s a very secretive type group and they knew the ins, they knew the secrets.”

Six weeks later, Shane and Sally moved out of their apartment and left town, separately.  But by early summer, both had returned to San Angelo.

In June, just two weeks prior to her disappearance, Sally made a desperate phone call to Helen.  She told Helen someone was trying to kill her.  Helen tried to counsel her friend:

“I said, nobody’s gonna come and shoot you.  I said what did you do?  She said well I really can’t tell you.  She just tended to exaggerate things.  So I really didn’t think much of it.  And I really didn’t think to call Pat and say, Pat, Sally’s in trouble, there’s something wrong.  I mean, I didn’t think anything about it.”

Police reconstructed the events which preceded their disappearance.  At 9 PM, Shane and Sally watched the annual fireworks display at Lake Nasworthy.  Four hours later, a fisherman spotted them at O.C. Fisher Lake, six miles away.  Randall Littlefield was an eyewitness:

“I heard them talking about they didn’t want to be with them people no more.  I listened a little bit more and they continued arguing and I got to thinking, well it’s just a bunch of kids out there drinking, partying.  And I turned my boat around and I left.”

It was the last time anyone saw Shane Stewart and Sally McNally alive. 

Were Shane Stewart and Sally McNally murdered by their “friends” as a direct result of their cult activities?  Police are convinced that witnesses to the crime are afraid to come forward.