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Murder cold case: 'I've spent half my life trying to find answers'

By Sonny Long
Oct. 4, 2012 at 5:04 a.m.
Updated Oct. 5, 2012 at 5:05 a.m.

Pamela Shelly and Ronnie Joe Hendrick, from late 1990s or early 2000s. Hendrick has been charged with murder in Shelly's January 2001 death. Her death was originally ruled a suicide.

IN JAIL

Ronnie Joe Hendrick is in the DeWitt County Detention Center charged with murder, a first degree felony. Punishment, if convicted, can range from five to 99 years in prison with up to a $10,000 fine. His bond has been set at $500,000. He was already in the jail for a parole violation at the time of his indictment and arrest on the murder charge.

Even at 12 years old, Kayla Suggs never believed her mother committed suicide in 2001.

Suggs was in the living room of their home in rural DeWitt County when she heard her mother, Pamela Shelly, scream.

"I found her laying on the bathroom floor. Not one piece of me ever believed she'd do that," recalled Suggs, now 24, of Ashdown, Ark. "Since day one, I've tried to get someone to open their eyes. I've spent half my life trying to find answers."

The answer at the time - Jan. 6, 2001 - was that Shelly, 31, had taken her own life with a handgun.

An autopsy was performed and Shelly's death was ruled a suicide by the Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office.

In 2008, Deputy Carl Bowen, investigator with the DeWitt County Sheriff's Office, contacted Suggs to tell her that Shelly's death was being re-investigated.

"When he called, it was amazing," Suggs said. "We've fought together ever since."

That fight reached another round Wednesday when Ronnie Joe Hendrick, 41, of Yorktown, was indicted and arrested on a murder charge in Shelly's death.

Hendrick and Shelly, along with Suggs and her brother and Hendrick's son, lived together in 2001. Suggs now has three children of her own.

Suggs' reaction was emotional when Bowen called her with the news of Hendrick's indictment on Wednesday.

"I cried. I was so ecstatic," she said. "I bawled like a big baby."

Bowen, a patrol deputy in 2001 who responded to the crime scene, said the case never did sit right with him.

"I can't go into any particulars, but something just didn't seem right. Something didn't add up," Bowen said. "Until we had answers to all of the questions, I was just as prepared to say yes, it was a suicide. I wanted to get to the truth."

DeWitt County District Attorney Michael Sheppard, who presented the case to the grand jury, said new evidence uncovered during the investigation made the indictment and arrest possible.

"I really can't describe much about the additional evidence without jeopardizing some things," Sheppard cautioned. "Let me just say that the evidence strongly suggests that Pam did not commit suicide; rather, Ronnie killed her in a fit of jealous rage."

Bowen said he was assisted by numerous others in the four years since the case was re-opened.

"It's been a team effort," he said. "This is not something I could have done by myself."

Suggs is thankful for the efforts on her mother's behalf.

"I can't thank Detective Bowen enough," she said. "I am forever grateful."

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