Updated: Mar 15
Today’s case is an unsolved murder that didn’t place too long ago but is still considered a cold case. I got a request a few weeks ago to cover this case and, despite how obviously sad it is, I’m really glad I looked into it. Let’s talk about Shellie Carson.
Mary Rachel Carson, better known as Shellie, was born on October 22, 1986. That same year, she was adopted by Charlotte and Bill Carson. Both Carsons were schoolteachers, and Bill was also a retired naval officer. At the same time they adopted Shellie, the Carsons also adopted another baby, Shellie’s brother Drew. The siblings were just 40 days apart. I’ve also seen mentions of two other children the couple had, but I don’t know anything else about them.
The Carson family lived in the Kings Grant neighborhood of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Shellie grew up with a lot of friends and a natural athleticism. She loved to swim with her dad at a local recreation center, took swimming and dance lessons and loved running. In middle school, she played field hockey, basketball and soccer.
Around age 14, Shellie started getting into trouble. She ran away several times, was often out late and used drugs at one point. She did see a therapist, but didn’t like to cooperate with them. I’m not sure how bad these things got or whether she’d started to get her life back on track by her late teens, though she did have a job working at a local Burger King.
In the early morning hours of August 14, 2005, 18-year-old Shellie was once again out late. She was captured on surveillance footage at a local 7-11 around 3:50 am, where she’d gone to buy cigarettes and visit a friend who worked there. After this, she got on her bike and was seemingly headed back home.
Around 4 am, a witness saw Shellie riding her bike in a traffic circle in her neighborhood. Around 4:06 am, another witness walking his dog said he saw her further down the road. These would be the last sightings of Shellie alive.
Around 6:08 am, another citizen driving through the neighborhood saw something horrific under a tree, in the same traffic circle Shellie had ridden her bike through just two hours earlier. The citizen called the police.
The police found a young woman lying on her back under a tree, her face bloody. Her shirt had been pulled up and her pants had been taken completely off; they would never ben found. The woman was barely alive and pronounced dead at the scene. A bicycle was found nearby.
Later that morning, a Sunday, Bill, Charlotte and Drew Carson were getting ready for church. Shellie wasn’t in her room; they were concerned, but thought she might be with her boyfriend. On the drive to church, they saw barriers put up around the traffic circle just half a mile from their home. When they got to church, they learned someone had just been killed. They returned to the scene, but police wouldn’t let them see the body because the woman had been beaten so badly she was unrecognizable.
The body was ultimately identified as Shellie Carson because of her shoes. She’d been beaten to death and left under a tree just half a mile from her home, seemingly with no attempt to even hide her body.
According to Detective Kevin Fanelli, there was “evidence of a sexual act attempting to be done” on Shellie. An autopsy would later reveal what 13newsnow referred to as “a case of overkill.” Shellie’s death was particularly brutal, and her cause of death was confirmed as blunt force trauma.
In the early days of the investigation, police told family they thought the case would be solved soon. They took DNA samples, tapped into national databases and interviewed more than 100 people. They ultimately narrowed their list down to between seven and nine persons of interest. But fifteen years later and Shellie’s killer has never been caught.
And the Carsons were hard at work themselves. They put up posters promising a reward for information that would lead to Shellie’s killer. The reward started out at $10,000 and later increased to $40,000. Bill Carson, especially, was highly involved in Shellie’s case. He even lobbied the city to form a cold case squad, which they did, and he regularly contacted police to ask for updates.
But the police and family members didn’t always see eye to eye. There were at least a couple of instances where officers got upset when family members put up fliers or shared information about the case. In 2015, a police spokesperson said they didn’t want too much information revealed out of fear it could “jeopardize the integrity of the case.”
So what happened to Shellie Carson? Who killed her so brutally and why?
When I first heard about this case, I read about a young girl who was out by herself at night and assumed it must have been a crime of opportunity or random act of violence. Detective Fanelli even stated that blunt force trauma is often indicative of someone who “acted on a whim.” But after reading further, most people seem to agree that Shellie was probably killed by someone she knew.
A reddit user who goes by mrsj74 claims they grew up in the Virginia Beach area, and that the Kings Grant neighborhood is quiet and without a lot of crime. That, and the fact that Shellie was beaten so viciously, suggests to mrsj that this was more personal than a crime of opportunity. Other speculation includes the idea that Shellie’s boyfriend may have been involved. I couldn’t find much about him, other than a report that they’d been in some sort of unspecified conflict just before she died (though they apparently did patch things up). Another reddit user suggested Shellie’s boyfriend might have been jealous of her friend who worked at the 7-11, thinking their friendship was actually something more.
I’ve also seen speculation that Shellie was going to meet someone at a nearby park, or that her murder could have been in the heat of the moment; maybe she got into an argument with someone who didn’t mean to kill her, but things went too far.
Bill Carson believed someone in their neighborhood may have been responsible. Detective Fanelli holds out hope that someone could come forward, someone who knows something but never shared their knowledge publically, maybe out of fear. Said Fanelli:
“After years pass, relationships change, you might have people who were close at the time and were willing to cover or keep secrets for each other - and now that’s no longer the case, now they’re enemies, now they’ve matured, guilt gets to them.”
Today, there’s a bench near the traffic circle in memory of Shellie. Sadly, though, her parents will never know what happened. Charlotte Carson died in 2012 and Bill Carson in 2017.
After Shellie’s murder, a Justice for Shellie website was set up. One source said it was started by Bill Carson and another man who goes by the alias ‘Clarke Kent.’ The website seems to imply it was started — or is at least currently run — by an organization called Students for Justice for Shellie. The blog is still run by Clarke Kent, but I’m not sure exactly who founded the site or who currently owns or operates it. You can visit it here.
Shellie was just a couple of years older than me, so I feel like I connected with this case a little bit more than I have some others. With so many recent advances in DNA technology, as well as the very real possibility that someone could come forward, I think there’s a good chance of this case being solved.
If you have any information about the murder of Shellie Carson, you can contact the Virginia Beach Police Department Cold Case Homicide Unit at (757) 385-4241. You can also contact them by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. (description) There is a $40,000 reward in exchange for information that leads to the arrest of Shellie’s killer.