March 25, 2009 § 10 Comments
by Larkin Vonalt
A young woman is standing on the sidewalk in front of a printing business. It is the end of July in Ohio and it is hot, already more than 80 degrees that morning. She is holding a cold glass bottle, a chilled SoBe for her boyfriend. She is seven months pregnant.
The boyfriend arrives, and if he isn’t thrilled to see her, he is very pleased to be met with the ice cold drink. It will turn out to be the highlight of an otherwise wretched day. His paycheck bounced. He’s living with a new girlfriend, who is 22 and demanding. He wants to marry her, he thinks, but he still has some unfinished business.
Heather, 7 months pregnant, has been evicted from the apartment they once shared, and is basically living on the street. He is concerned about her, about his child whom she carries. She’s on a waiting list for Section 8 housing, but until then, she’s sleeping rough. He is hoping to convince the new girlfriend, confusingly also named Heather, to let the pregnant girl come live with them.
We know this because Anthony Shuri, the boyfriend, has written about it in his online blog on OKCupid, a website not so much for dating but for hooking up. In his profile, the 31-year-old refers to himself as Nibbles the Owl, and he says he’s really good at “oral sex, driving, smoking pot and making as ass of himself to impress women.” There is a photograph of a pudgy man of mixed race (“Yes, the fat one is me”) standing next to two women: one skinny as a boy, (“Rachel giver of advice,” he writes) and the other, in shorts and a t-shirt, her hair tucked behind her ears, is “Heather (Momma).” Her name is Heather Skelly and she is 23 years old.
By the end of August, Heather has moved in with Anthony and his girlfriend. Online, the girlfriend rages:
Get you and your pregnant ex girlfriend out of my apartment. The shit is your fault. You CHEATED on me and expect me to be ok with you having her live with me.. You just stare at me when I try to tell you how I am feeling.. You never say ANYTHING to make me believe that you want things to be better. I have been faithful to you since day 1 and I always turned my head when you spent the weekend in batavia.. and then you said you were still in love with her.. but you wanted to see what would happen with me.. Then You got HER pregnant. Just one month after I found out you had been sleeping with her and I thought it had stopped. Jump ahead about 6 mo and you get evicted.. because of her.. and we get a place together.. after a month of being with you, to myself, what I had wanted for so long I come home from work one day and find her shit in the middle of my living room floor, and its still there. All I want, have ever wanted, was to me with you. Why else would I put myself thru all this.. I just want us to be happy together, I keep waiting.
A day or so before Anthony had posted a coy, online apology that his girlfriend initially thought was addressed to her. But upon re-reading it, she realizes it is not about her at all. She thinks (perhaps correctly) that it is a message for yet a third woman, Brooke, a woman consumed with knitting and at some point, anyway, consumed with Anthony. She had used him for a model for a knitted hat she designed and wrote, in reference to that: Beware the obsessive man, though. As I was knitting the navy and white hat (see left), he said, “Ooh! What’s that?”I said, “You don’t need another hat.” He said, “Yes, I do! I only have two! What could I say? It’s his.
The photographs on knitty show Anthony in a blue jacket and a knit cap, reading. It makes you think of someone reading in a prison yard. There’s no doubt that the women in Anthony Shuri’s life would describe him as resembling Adam Duritz, the frontman for Counting Crows. If one can judge from Brooke’s online knitting blog (which puzzles Anthony) she seems to have her life a bit more together. Perhaps the knitting gives her focus, she quotes “knitting calms the drunken monkey of the mind.” Still, though, imagine the incessant click click click of knitting needles as the soundtrack to this story.
Imagine too, Heather Skelly. Hugely pregnant, sleeping in a cramped apartment with the boyfriend who left her and his new girlfriend; all of her worldly goods piled in the middle of the living room floor. She has nowhere else to go. Her suburban life came crashing down when she was a teenager. Her mother died suddenly of a heart attack when Heather was 15, her father two years later from cancer. Heather was left in the care of her older brother, Guy. But now Guy has drifted away too, living in his car, on the streets. Anthony is being self-righteous; he has to be there for his son, he has to put the child’s well being first. As if she is nothing but a vessel. She is grateful to not be on the streets, but it is a small enough gift.
Two weeks later, Anthony’s girlfriend has news for him, presented with a plastic stick on her outstretched hand. She too is in the family way, with a due date in May. On September 13, he writes: Two lines …not one, not none, but TWO lines… uh… whoops. Time to panic.
The next day, he rails about wanting to be a good father: Why is it automatically assumed that I won’t be a good father simply because we aren’t married? This is one of the dreams I’ve had all my life, for fuck’s sake! Some boys want to be firefighters, some boys want to be astronauts, and some boys want to be racecar drivers.. but you know what I want? Huh? I want to be a good father. If that makes me a bad person, then fuck you.
He has his chance soon enough, for five days later, Heather gives birth to Dominic Alexander. He has arrived a few weeks early, weighing in at just over five pounds. It must be a relief to be in the hospital, where at least no one is screaming. Heather’s experience of the birth is described off-handedly by Anthony as “a twelve hour Morphine nap followed by fourteen minutes (his emphasis) of intense pushing.” The very next day he is vilifying her in order to prop himself up, but a day later finds comfort in something his boss says to him, that this is his chance to be a hero. “I don’t have to impress anyone else in the world,” Anthony writes, “because this boy is going to worship me for the rest of my life.”
When the baby is ten days old, Heather tells Anthony about a program she’s found that will shorten her waiting time on the public housing list. It should have made his day. She and the baby would be safe; they would be out of the newly pregnant girlfriend’s apartment. Heather would be on her way to putting her life together for herself and her son. But Anthony’s chief response is concern: will the program allow him to see the baby?
The boy is not even a month old before Anthony is weighing what’s in it for Anthony.
Seriously, aside from all the feel-good crap, what’s the point in my “taking responsibility” here? Pros: someone to get child support from, “male role model”(which seems rather pointless at the proposed 2 or 3 days a week), unconditional love (which is, admittedly, a really big one )and…? Cons: G/F hates the idea, “momma”‘s friends won’t talk to me, I have no legal rights in his care or upbringing, child support is money I can’t afford to spend (right now), Children’s Services wants me to take time off work (that I need to PAY child support) to take parenting classes (for my 2 days a week??), mom wants to switch from breastfeeding (which is by FAR superior to formula), simply so she won’t have to feed him as much (and I can’t say “Don’t do that, it’s bad for him”, because I have no rights)… I just keep running this list through my head over and over, and yet, other than guilt, and Dominic’s need for a “role model”, what’s the point? Tell me that, if you can.
For the next month Heather and her son don’t make enough of an impact on Anthony’s life for him to comment, even though they are still living there with him and his girlfriend. He is caught up instead with having heard from the “girl he lost his virginity to” and her claims (unfounded, says he) that he is the father of a child she gave up to the foster care system. He refers to the woman, Kelly, as “pure evil.” Then, on November 6, a two-line entry: “Dominic and his mother have moved to a shelter in Xenia. God this sucks . . . I miss him already.”
Heather and Dominic find refuge through the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greene County, part of national network formed to provide assistance to homeless families. As part of the program, the network runs a “Day Center” where clients can make phone calls, and receive training in job and life skills, like budgeting, nutrition and parenting. Local churches on rotation provide overnight shelter. It’s only temporary, two months, and Heather is still living out of a suitcase, but it is surely a blessed relief after the apartment.
Very quickly, Heather finds a job. She meets Nina Ivy through the Interfaith Hospitality Network, and is hired to work at Custom Care Cleaning in Xenia, a housecleaning company providing services to the elderly. Nina Ivy describes Heather as a “real hard worker,” “very determined,” and “very sweet.” Heather must feel the best she’s felt in a long time, she’s finally starting to get her feet under her.
Two days before Thanksgiving, Anthony Shuri posts his second-to-last entry on his blog.
Okay.. I tried. I tried not to be bitter about this, but I can’t help it. Dominic’s mom get cash assistance from the state of Ohio (thanks, taxpayers), foodstamps from the federal government (thanks again), free clothes from various churches, and on top of all that, she should start getting child support soon… but the funny thing is, if I complain about it, I’m a horrible father, and of course, as pointed out earlier, just the fact that I got her pregnant means that I, and I alone, have ruined her life, and made Dominic’s worthless… but that’s okay, because I’m being “responsible”. Did I mention that I haven’t worked this week because my paycheck from Friday still hasn’t cleared? No, I guess I didn’t. I work all week for a sack of shit who can’t even make sure there’s enough money in the account for me to cash my check, but if I complain, I’m being irresponsible. Well, you know what? Fuck you. Tell me why the hell she is a more worthwhile parent than I am, or shut the fuck up.
The last entry of “Nibbles the Owl” is in January 2007 and consists only of the lyrics of “Bliss,” by the band Hinder, the theme of which is “I don’t wanna know it’s over.”
In May, when his girlfriend gives birth to “Nathan,” Anthony is a father again. Anthony takes Dominic a few days a week. Heather must still find him charming, as sometime during the heat of July, she finds that she is pregnant again. DNA tests will show that he is the father. Anthony, still, is trying to make a go of it with the girl he lives with, Nathan’s mother. In October, he travels to Everett, Washington with the girlfriend, and both boys, Dominic, age 11 months and Nathan, five months, to visit his adoptive mother, Vivian. Vivian Shuri has photos made of the occasion, of her assembled family. In the pictures Anthony posts on his MySpace page, they look like a jolly, overfed family.
Did the girlfriend hear the echoes of Brooke, though, who had made this trip to Everett before her? Click click click. The only comment on the pictures is from “Kelly,” who muses that she wishes that her long lost daughter might have been included also. (Kelly continues to be a constant, lonely presence on the social networking page.)
On Friday, November 17, 2007 Nina Ivy calls the police. Her usually reliable employee, Heather Skelly, hasn’t shown up for work for four days. Ivy is concerned. When police arrive at the apartment on Superior Avenue in Fairborn, they find Heather naked on the bathroom floor. She has been strangled. She has been dead since Tuesday.
Dominic is found safe at the apartment of his father’s girlfriend. It takes the police four months to come for Anthony Shuri. First, they had been sent looking for a red herring, that “suspect” turns out to have been in the county jail at the time of Heather’s death. The autopsy reveals that Heather is four months pregnant, and we know what the DNA tests show. The autopsy also reveals semen in the vaginal vault; tests will show it is Anthony Shuri’s. On March 6, he is arrested without incident.
The red file jacket in the Greene County courthouse tells the story in one word, writ large in magic-marker: Murder.
At last there is news coverage of Heather’s death. Until reporters find the charge on the Greene County court docket, the end of a young woman’s life on the bathroom floor of a Fairborn apartment didn’t merit their attention. The only photograph they can come with for her is the one on her Driver’s License.
Fairborn Police believe they have a pretty good idea of what happened in the apartment. Detective Lee Cyr tells a reporter from the Dayton Daily News that they believe that Anthony Shuri killed Heather Skelly to stop her from telling his girlfriend that she was pregnant by him for the second time.
Shuri’s friends will say this isn’t true, that Anthony loves children, that Heather and the girlfriend are “acquaintances,” and probably it is true that Anthony didn’t care if his girlfriend knew or not. But did he want all that grief all over again? We know how well it went down the first time, because he told us. Click, click, click, click, can’t you hear those needles making fabric of the yarn?
In the four months Anthony has to dream up a story to tell the prosecutor he comes up with a doozy: Erotic Asphyxiation. Some like to call it asphyxiophilia. In either case, participants seek to enhance their sexual experience by being deprived of oxygen in the moments leading up to orgasm. (For a while there seem to be a rash of young men accidentally killing themselves masturbating in nooses. That’s auto-erotic asphyxiation, a term that was mistakenly used more than once in the reporting of Heather Skelly’s death.)
It’s a dangerous practice and people do die. Asphyxia is achieved by a number of methods, but most frequently the partner performing the asphyxia puts significant pressure on the carotid artery. This is an important detail, as the manner of most accidental deaths that occur in during erotic asphyxia are from ventricular fibrillation, caused by the interruption of the electrical impulse to the heart, which in turn was caused by the interruption of the blood supply via the carotid artery. Heather Skelly was strangled. Strangulation, during mutually agreeable erotic asphyxia is almost unheard of.
There is one other inconsistency. Generally when someone dies during intercourse, the partner calls 911. Perhaps they try to revive their partner. They don’t drag the naked body of their partner to the bathroom, put on their pants and go home. In Seattle, Anthony Shuri’s mother, Vivian confirms that erotic asphyxiation is a practice that her adopted son engages in. While one readily expects that a mother might say any number of things to protect her son, who would think that the son would discuss such unusual sexual habits with his mother, especially when he was struggling just to find a way to tell his Mom that his girlfriend was pregnant.
He went away and left her body cooling on the floor.
Anthony Shuri was charged with murder, reckless homicide, involuntary manslaughter and illegal termination of a pregnancy. His attorney told reporters that he felt the prosecutors had a weak case, given that they had added the reduced charges and that it had taken them four months to bring any charges at all. Additionally he felt that the fact that Shuri was having intercourse with Skelly when he murdered her clouded the issue. “Apparently we have a sexual component to it, which instantly gives a defense to it, opposed to normal murders which are usually more black and white.”
The defense attorney also admitted that he’d never even heard of erotic asphyxiation, let alone been involved in a case that centered on it. Nonetheless he is convinced of his client’s innocence, telling the Greene County News that the Fairborn police were mistaken in their theories. “Clearly, he did not have any anger toward her about the child, otherwise he wouldn’t have been having sex with her.”
Anthony Shuri left her on the bathroom floor. Walked away. Told no one.
Who knows why Greene County prosecutor Stephen K. Haller offered the deal he did. Repeated phone calls and an in-person visit to his office in Xenia failed to gain an audience with the man. The deal was if Anthony Shuri pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless homicide, which would result in reduced prison time, the other charges would go away.
Could Haller have won a guilty verdict from the jury? You bet.
Was there motive? By the boatload.
Evidence? Enough to make Horatio Caine smile.
Are there holes in Anthony Shuri’s story? Holes big enough to drive a truck through.
Half an hour on the Internet would have given Stephen Haller enough information about erotic asphyxiation to show that Anthony Shuri was lying. He just couldn’t be bothered. Perhaps the good people of Greene County will remember this when he stands for reelection, but it’s doubtful.
Heather Skelly’s friends turned out to see Anthony Shuri plead guilty to two counts of reckless homicide. Nina Ivy was there. Gale French was there. She told the Dayton Daily News that the relationship between Heather and Anthony was “never good,” and described Anthony as “overbearing, demanding and abusive” towards Heather. She came to court on May 15, 2008 hoping to see justice for her friend. She went away disappointed.
Reading the trial notes in the red-jacketed folder in the Greene County courthouse reveals Common Pleas Court Judge Stephen Wolaver seemed frustrated at the few options presented to him by the prosecutor’s deal. He invited Anthony Shuri to make a comment, but for once Anthony Shuri had nothing to say. Judge Wolaver sentenced him to the absolute maximum sentence the charge of reckless homicide allows: five years for the death of a 20-week fetus, five years for the death of Heather Skelly.
He left her on the floor.
Heather’s son, Dominic, just 18 months old at the time of his father’s sentencing for the death of his mother, is living in Seattle with his grandmother, Vivian Shuri. He will be just shy of 12 when his father is released. Somehow it seems unlikely that he will worship Anthony in the way that Anthony thought he would.
Anthony’s girlfriend is still in Kettering with her son, waiting for her man. Through MySpaceshe is in regular contact with Kelly, the woman who claims to have borne Anthony Shuri’s first child. Somewhere in Ohio, Brooke is knitting. click click click click.
One of Heather Skelly’s neighbors, Mark Neyman, paid for Heather’s cremation and claimed her ashes. He is trying to find Heather’s brother. “She was a sweet girl,” he told the Greene County News. “I can’t think of a bad thing to say about her. She was never in a bad mood; she would do anything for anybody. Unfortunately, she would do anything for Anthony, too.”