AMERICA'S #1 TRUE-CRIME WRITER FULFILLS A MURDER VICTIM'S DESPERATE PLEA -- WITH THIS SHATTERING NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
"If anything ever happens to me...
find Ann Rule and ask her to write my story."
In perhaps the first true-crime book written at the victim's request, Ann Rule untangles a web of lies and brutality that culminated in the murder of Sheila Blackthorne Bellush -- a woman Rule never met, but whose shocking story she now chronicles with compassion, exacting detail, and unvarnished candor. Although happily ensconced in a loving second marriage, and a new family of quadruplets, Sheila never truly escaped the vicious enslavement of her ex-husband, multi-millionaire Allen Blackthorne, a handsome charmer -- and a violent, controlling sociopath who subjected Sheila to unthinkable abuse in their marriage, and terrorized her for a decade after their divorce. When Sheila was slain in her home, in the presence of her four toddlers, authorities raced to link the crime to Blackthorne, the man who vowed to monitor Sheila's every move in his obsessive quest for power and revenge.
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Ann Rule is a former Seattle policewoman and the author of more than two dozen New York Times bestsellers. She is a certified instructor for police training seminars and lectures frequently to law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and forensic science organizations, including the FBI. For more than two decades, she has been a powerful advocate for victims of violent crime. A graduate of the University of Washington, she holds a Ph.D. in Humane Letters from Willamette University. She lives near Seattle and can be contacted through her website AnnRules.com.
Blair Brown appeared on Broadway in Copenhagen (Tony Award) Cabaret, James Joyce's The Dead and Arcadia. Favorite film credits include Dogville, Continental Divide, and Altered States. On television, she starred in The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and has appeared in countless mini-series and TV movies.
Friday, November 7, 1997, was an ordinary day in Sarasota, Florida -- or so it seemed. It was a weekday, and the morning began with the sun burning golden in an azure sky, but as one enthusiastic resident remarked, "The sun is always shining, and every day is beautiful in Sarasota. It took me a while to realize that I didn't have to take advantage of the days the sun shone the way I used to do in Connecticut; I could stay inside and read because there would always be another perfect day...and another...and another."
But later on this November day, clouds moved in over Sarasota. They were a peculiar leaden gray-purple shading to black, full of unpredictable electrical impulses that made one's hair stand on end. It was going to rain, but it wouldn't be a soft rain; it would surely be rain that thudded against the earth with a vengeance, forcing trees and bushes to the ground with the sheer weight of water, pounding the grass flat.
The entrance to the Gulf Gate subdivision was flanked by sweeping buff-colored brick walls bearing its name, but that was the limit of Gulf Gate's ostentation. In November the jacaranda trees planted there four decades ago were a froth of peach-colored blossoms, so lovely that they could not be real. Many of the summer flowers were faded, save some bougainvillea, and residents planted petunias and impatiens to carry them through the winter until the late summer sun's molten heat fried them.
Once a family neighborhood where children played, Gulf Gate was home now to many older couples and widows, who kept their shades drawn and hired yardmen to mow their lawns and prune their glossy-leafed trees into round orbs that looked like green plastic. Gulf Gate was close enough to Bee Ridge Road and I-75 for easy shopping and access to downtown Sarasota, but it was quiet, the streets hushed and almost free of traffic in the middle of a weekday. More often than not, there was no one walking a dog, or even peering out at the street from behind jalousie windows, those windows whose very name originates in the French word for jealousy -- "to see without being seen." But few of the residents watched from their cool rooms, because there was nothing to see outside.
One woman who lived in Gulf Gate was watchful, almost unconsciously moving often to the front windows of her home to scan the street for a strange vehicle or for someone she didn't recognize approaching her house. She had good reason to be leery, although she and her husband had taken every precaution to keep their address secret.
Most of the homes in Gulf Gate were owner-occupied, not lavish but very comfortable L-shaped ramblers, painted in the soft pastels of the Florida gulf coast, peach and pink and even lavender -- sunrise and sunset colors. Many had Florida rooms and swimming pools to make up for Gulf Gate's distance from Sarasota Bay. Although the neighborhood was far away from the beach, the November air was usually drenched with the salty-clean smell caught in the wind as it raced east toward the Atlantic Ocean.
Much like the rest of Gulf Gate, Markridge Road was a wide, tree-lined street with single-story houses set on small, perfectly groomed lots. The white rambler with the yellow door and matching shutters in the 3100 block had once been the cherished home of an elderly couple. By 1997 they were both dead, leaving their house and its furnishings to their son. Most of the time he lived in a northern state and rented out the Markridge house. He had changed nothing; the place was frozen in a time warp with furnishings that were modern three decades earlier. "All the furniture, even the knickknacks, dated back to the sixties," one former renter recalled. "But there was a warmth about that house. Everything was still there, even their old sheet music and books, just the way they left it. We enjoyed that when we lived there."
The couches and chairs reflected the tastes of another time, but they were comfortable. The appliances were decades old too. The refrigerator was avocado green and the stove bright yellow -- but they worked. The phone bolted to the kitchen wall above the dishwasher had a rotary dial. It took a lot longer to make a call than a push-button phone, but until November 7 that was merely inconvenient and not disastrous.
The young couple who moved into 3120 Markridge Road in September 1997 had the look of dependable tenants, and they seemed to be pleased with the house even though they had six children and would have to squeeze to fit everyone in. They said they'd moved from Texas when the husband got a big promotion and they needed someplace to live in a hurry. Looking at their adorable bunch of toddlers, the landlord couldn't say no to them. He decided he could forgo occupying his parents' house for one winter.
The new renters had an excellent credit history, and they were attractive. Jamie Bellush was big and burly with the wide grin and the innate charm of a seasoned salesman. His wife, Sheila, was delicately pretty, very tiny and blond. Jamie did most of the talking, while Sheila seemed a little nervous. Well, the landlord figured, she had reason to be, with all those children to care for. The toddlers were winsome and totally captivating, and it was obvious that their parents adored them. The older girls' names didn't seem to fit them. The older sister, thirteen, was called Stevie, and she hovered over the babies as if she was a second mother to them. The other sister was a year younger, and her name was Daryl. Odd. Why would anyone give boys names to two very pretty girls?
Jamie Bellush explained that they were in the process of building a much larger home in Sarasota, so they could make do in cramped quarters until their house was finished in the spring.
No one in Sarasota knew that the couple had left a dream house 1200 miles behind them in San Antonio. It had been their ideal house in a wonderful neighborhood, so large that the Markridge rental would fit inside three times over. They had barely had a chance to live in it when they felt a desperate urgency to move. And move they had, under cover of darkness.
Only a handful of people in San Antonio knew where Jamie and Sheila and their six children were. They agreed it was best to tell no one except for their closest friends and relatives, including the couple who helped them move out of Texas in the dead of night. Sheila's family knew where they were in Sarasota and had their phone number, but not their street address. Maybe in time they could come out of hiding. It hurt Jamie and Sheila not to be in contact with so many people they loved, to contemplate holidays without those who were so important to them. Cutting off her life so abruptly was akin to cutting off her arm. Sheila only hoped that everyone understood that she had no choice.
Sarasota was a beautiful place to live, and thousands of people had chosen it because of that.
There was a magical blending of sea and land, merging so easily that it was difficult to see where Sarasota Bay ended and the sandy shoreline began. All the way south from Tampa, little lakes and rivers were mirrors reflecting the blue sky, and the soaring Sunshine Bridge rose like a giant roller-coaster over Tampa Bay. But it was dark when the Bellush convoy crossed it and they hadn't realized how high they were.
Had her circumstances been different Sheila would have loved the colorful history of Sarasota and the way the city embraced the arts. She still looked forward to exploring it with her girls and the babies when things were better. Although Ringling Brothers no longer wintered there, seventeen other circuses did and many circus folk lived there permanently. Ringling Brothers had thanked Sarasota with a wonderful art museum and a college.
There were sand castle contests, blues and jazz festivals, book fairs, local dramatic productions and Broadway plays on tour and the venerable Sarasota Opera House where the great Pavarotti once performed. Every season in Sarasota was packed with all manner of celebrations. Sheila loved to read and the new Sarasota library was huge and airy and filled with sculptures and soaring mobiles.
Marina Jack's in downtown Sarasota just off Route 41 -- also known as the Tamiami Trail -- was the kind of restaurant Sheila would enjoy, with its circling staircase and magnificent water views. Someday, perhaps. For now, she and her younger children were entranced with simpler things like the tiny, tiny dust-colored lizards that darted from leaf to leaf and scuttled under bushes so quickly that they almost seemed to be figments of their imaginations. The cost of living was higher than in San Antonio; the rent on their house was a rather shocking $2300 a month. But Jamie and Sheila had chosen Sarasota because it might be a safe place to hide and, eventually, to start over.
One day they hoped to be able to be in c...
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