Why It Took So Long To Solve Pamela Shelley's Murder

On January 6, 2001, 911 dispatchers near Cuero, Texas, received a tragic call from Ronnie Hendrick. He said his girlfriend, 32-year-old Pamela Shelley, had shot herself.

When police arrived on the scene, they discovered blood all over the bathroom and a pistol sitting on the counter, according to Oxygen. Shelley was already in an ambulance, with Hendrick accompanying her, but later that night, officials were able to get him in for an interview. He claimed that he heard a gunshot from outside, and when he came into the bathroom, he found Shelley bleeding. According to Hendrick, Shelley had been depressed because of an upcoming move. And the autopsy findings fell in line with Hendrick's testimony, as the coroner declared the wound appeared self-inflicted. The police declared Shelley's death a suicide.

But the truth was less simple. Investigators thought the suicide came at a strange time for Shelley, who was preparing to move to Arkansas with her two kids. In fact, they had almost finished packing. Then, further inconsistencies came to light.

Sheriff Carl Bowen's investigation

Sheriff Carl Bowen, who had responded to the initial 911 call, was determined to solve the case, according to Forensic Colleges. Convinced that Shelley's death was actually a murder, he called Hendrick in to do a polygraph. Hendrick agreed but missed three appointments to take the test, according to Oxygen. Then he disappeared.

For a while, the case stalled. But Bowen remained dedicated to seeking justice for Shelley. In 2008, seven years after Shelley died, he convinced the department to reopen her case. Further investigation into Hendrick revealed a troubling past of abuse towards women. When Hendrick was arrested for a separate domestic abuse charge, they managed to interview him again, and found that his story was inconsistent — and he failed a polygraph. But it wasn't until 2012 that advances in DNA allowed them to finally test the gun which had killed Shelley, and to discover that it had been wiped down, meaning the death wasn't a suicide. Later interviews Bowen conducted with Shelley's friends revealed Hendrick had once threatened to kill Shelley, saying she wasn't going back to Arkansas unless it was in a pine box. This evidence was enough for police to charge Hendrick in 2012 for murder. He pleaded guilty and got 22 years behind bars.

In the end, the department's initial ruling of suicide in the case delayed solving the case for a few years, but justice was eventually served.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.