Chilling Details About Serial Killer Shawn Grate

Authorities in Ohio entered a vacant home in September 2016 to investigate a captive woman's 911 plea for help; they had no idea what horrors they were about to face. After entering the house, they arrested a homeless man named Shawn Grate, whom the caller identified as her kidnapper and captor (via CBS News). 

In what was already an intriguing case, police would soon discover that their caller could have quite possibly become the latest victim of a serial killer. Soon after Grate's arrest, it would be revealed that he was behind the deaths of five missing Ohio women.

Grate did not begin his lengthy criminal career as a killer. A broken childhood, violent outbursts as a teenager, and petty crimes as a young adult helped to pave his way to a violent life that was sometimes intermixed with bouts of vagrancy (per The Mansfield News-Journal). Though many news junkies might recall the name Shawn Grate from the various trial footage and news reports from 2016 on, some might be shocked to learn these chilling details about one of Ohio's most notorious serial killers.

Grate's childhood was tumultuous

Shawn Grate was born in a small Ohio community on August 8, 1976, the youngest child of Theresa McFarland and Terry Grate (via Mansfield News Journal). Just days before his sixth birthday, his parents divorced and he went to live with his mother (per Ohio Supreme Court). 

In statements to the court made by Grate's elder sister Barbara Charter, it was revealed that the mother they shared had some serious issues. After becoming a mother at the age of 14, McFarland was married to the father of her baby, Edward Meadows. Charter stated that her mother was an alcoholic, but also a victim of serious abuse by Meadows, who was seven years her senior. The couple soon divorced, with McFarland marrying Terry Grate soon after. Charter commented that McFarland was emotionally distant and "not connected" to her children. Her marriage to Terry Grate was described as "off and on," with McFarland disappearing on Fridays to "party" and often not coming back around until Sunday night rolled around. 

Charter described her younger brother Shawn as a child who struggled with learning disabilities. He was an avid baseball player, but that came to an end at the age of 14 when it was discovered that he had a tumor in his throwing arm. After the surgery, he never played again. The clinical psychologist who examined Grate, Dr. John Fabian, revealed to the court that Grate had a "tumultuous [and] chaotic" life at home, and had early fantasies about killing his mother.

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.

Grate exhibited signs of violence toward women as early as age 18

When investigators began to unravel Shawn Grate's past, it was apparent that he had a long and violent history toward women. The Mansfield News Journal reports that he was arrested at the age of 18 for choking his then-girlfriend.

When he was 23, Grate was reported to have assaulted another young woman. This time, the victim was a 17-year-old girlfriend of Grates, who was also pregnant at the time. He broke into her home and choked her. Months later, he broke into her home again and held the girl and her sister captive with a butcher knife. Though the women escaped physically unharmed, they told police that Grate had warned them that "if anyone comes to the door, there will not be anyone here to answer it, so you better hope that no one knocks at the door."

When studying Grate's case, Tristin Kilgallon, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Ohio Northern University, noted that Grate's extensive criminal history was non-violent unless his subjects were women. He also points out that throughout his adult life, Grate's violence escalated. He went from choking one woman, to choking and brandishing a knife with another. Then, in 2003, Grate was reported to have sexually assaulted the mother of one of his three children. He was only charged with domestic assault, however. In 2010 he was also accused of severely physically assaulting another woman, whom he was in a long-term relationship with.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Grate had served time in prison prior to him being arrested for murder

Though he had committed multiple acts of violence against women since he was 18, Shawn Grate only earned a felony charge for one of those offenses. He was often jailed for them, but only for short periods of time (per The Mansfield News Journal). Grate did have felonies on his record, however. When he was 20, he and a juvenile offender were both arrested for felony burglary in 1996. After only serving seven months of a four-year sentence, Grate was released in late 1997. The 1999 incident where he threatened his pregnant girlfriend with a knife led to a felony charge, and it was this charge that led to the revocation of his parole from the burglary charge, sending him to prison to serve out the remainder of his four-year sentence. 

This stint in prison was the longest that the violent criminal would serve behind bars until his 2016 arrest for murder and kidnapping. One might speculate that had Grate have been held more accountable for the multiple assaults and threats against the young women he dated, then the lives of at least one murder victim could have been spared.

Be that as it may, Grate was freed from prison in 2003, and he would remain a free man until that chilling 911 call his last victim of violence made in September 2016.

Many from Grate's past paint a violent and creepy picture of the killer

Even when Shawn Grate is separated from his previous criminal record, those who knew him over the years leading up to his final arrest paint a picture of a mentally disturbed man. Investigation Discovery reports that Grate married Amber Bowman soon after the couple had begun dating in 2011. The now ex-spouse of Grate described him as a loving man who soon became controlling and violent. Though they shared a child, Bowman filed for divorce in 2012. Soon after, she was granted a restraining order against her ex-husband. He messaged Bowman that he "was preparing for the grand finale," and he also said, "If I can't see my daughter then no one will."

According to The Mansfield News Journal, past associates of Grate alleged that he was lazy and manipulative. He would take advantage of those he could get close to, often finding people who were soft-hearted and would fall for Grate's ruses. One Ohio landlord claimed that he witnessed Grate attempting to talk several of his female tenants into letting him move in with them. Wally Toward told the news outlet that he felt Grate  "exploited kind people." A female friend of Grate's from the 1990s noted that his behavior became more erratic as he entered his 20s. She claims a friend of hers dated Grate but soon broke it off due to his mental issues.

Grate's mother compared him to the Devil in an interview

Despite her flaws as a mother, Theresa McFarland didn't hold back when she gave a 2016 interview to a British tabloid. The Mansfield News Journal reports that MacFarland's interview with The U.K. Daily Mail has been the only time the killer's mother has sat down with any media outlet. But what she revealed about her son was chilling, to say the least.

She noted that her son was "good looking," but also noted that the Devil had that same quality. McFarland also commented that her son "could charm the pants off anybody." She pointed out that though her son didn't have the horns and the tail of the Devil that it didn't exclude him from being in league with him.

McFarland, who lived in a rural area outside Ashland, Ohio, went on to say more, even comparing her son to other notorious serial murderers. She stated, "None of it makes sense and there may be more. When people go on rages like that ... you look at people like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer and you look at all the malfunctions of the brain and it doesn't make sense but it happens. The Devil reigns" (per The U.K. Daily Mail). 

One woman's bravery led to Grate's capture

Though it would be revealed in court that Shawn Grate was a cold-blooded killer, he was roaming as a free man in 2016 when a 911 operator answered a shocking phone call. Cleveland 19 News reports that a woman phoned the emergency number and told the dispatcher that she had been kidnapped by Shawn Grate. Throughout the nearly 20-minute phone call, the victim revealed that her captor had tied her up in a vacant home that he had broken into. She had managed to wriggle partly free, enough to make her daring phone call from Grate's phone. Adding to the risk was the fact that Grate was in the room with the victim throughout the call, asleep on the floor.

The victim had known Grate for over a month. On the day she was kidnapped by him, she met him at her apartment and the two went for a walk back to the house he was occupying. According to Law and Crime, Grate and his victim were reading Bible verses when Grate abruptly told her that she could never leave. After a struggle, Grate overpowered her and sexually assaulted her.

In her call to 911, she was able to lead police to the house she was held captive by Grate. In one terrifying moment during the call, Grate wakes up momentarily before falling back asleep. Police entered the home and arrested Grate without further harm to the victim. 

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Grate was initially charged with the murder of two women and the assault of another

The woman who narrowly escaped the murderous clutches of Shawn Grate would probably have sealed his fate with her testimony against him in court. But when police arrived at the house Grate was occupying, they were met with something even more unexpected.

In the house were the decomposing remains of two women, whom Grate had murdered earlier. One woman was identified as 29-year-old Elizabeth Griffith of Ashland, Ohio. The woman had been reported missing a month earlier (per ABC 6 News). The second body was revealed to be Stacey Stanley (per ABC 6 News). The 43-year-old mother had been reported missing a week before her body was found in the house. She was last seen changing a flat tire in the area. Though her vehicle was shortly found on another roadway in Ashland, there was no trace of the victim until investigators located her body.

Prosecutors charged Grate with a total of 23 counts, stemming from the murders of Griffith and Stanely as well as the kidnapping and sexual assault of the Jane Doe that led police to his capture. Cleveland 19 News reports that of those counts, two of them would be enough for the state of Ohio to seek the death penalty against the defendant. At the very least, if convicted on the majority of the charges, the state would be able to keep Grate behind bars for the remainder of his life.

Grate told the press of three other murder victims after his arrest

Prosecutors had the ammunition to put Shawn Grate away until the end of his days. With the history that investigators were able to piece together about the killer, it might have made some of them wonder if there were more victims that they weren't yet aware of. As it would turn out, Grate would make a jailhouse confession to three other murders. After his indictment, Grate received a letter from reporter Megan Hickey, asking for an interview. After exchanging letters, he eventually obliged (via News 5 Cleveland).

After his arrest, Grate had told Marion County Sheriff Tim Bailey of other murders. In an interview with Grate, Cassie Nist was able to get his confession, all the while getting important details from him about the crimes. He told Hickey that Dana Nicole Lowery had been selling magazine subscriptions in his neighborhood, including to his mother (via Cleveland 19 News). When the magazine didn't arrive, he went looking for Lowery. When he found her, he coaxed her into his car with the promise that he'd buy magazines from her. He stabbed her in the throat and dumped her body. Her remains weren't found until 2007, two years after her murder (per Cleveland 19 News). Grate's confession helped investigators identify the Jane Doe they discovered nearly a decade before his 2016 arrest (per NBC 4 News). 

Cleveland 19 News further reports that Grate also confessed to the murders of Candice Cunningham and Rebekah Leicy in that interview.

Grate revealed a shocking motive in two letters he wrote to a reporter

There are seemingly countless motives that drive a serial murderer to kill. But Shawn Grate's motive could be noted as unique among his killer contemporaries. In handwritten letters that were sent to reporter Megan Hickey, Grate revealed the bizarre reasons why he killed his victims. News 5 Cleveland reports that, while jailed, Grate claims he had a moment of clarity, writing to Megan Hickey that he finally had "a clear vision of WHY" he needed to kill his victims. He went on to pen that the women he murdered were on public assistance and that the government aid had taken the mind of each woman. "They were already dead, just their bodies were flopping wherever it can flop but their minds were already dead!" his letter read. "The state took their minds. Once they started receiving their monthly checks."

Oddly enough, Grate admitted in his letters to Hickey that he had once been the recipient of government checks and seemed a bit bitter about the amount that he was given. Noting that his monthly amount was less than $200, he complained that one of his victims at one time was getting nearly four times that amount.

To verify that the letters were really from him, Grate included a copy of his indictment and traced his left hand on one of the pages.

Grate was found guilty of two counts of murder and sentenced to death

The families of Shawn Grate's victims received some justice on May 7, 2018, when an Ohio jury found the killer guilty on eight counts. These included two counts of aggravated murder and one count of the kidnapping of Elizabeth Griffith, two counts of aggravated murder and two counts of kidnapping of Stacey Stanley, and one count of aggravated robbery of Stacey Stanley. Law and Crime reports that there were an additional 15 charges levied against Grate, but that he pled guilty to all of them during the trial. These included various counts of rape, robbery, and burglary. Less than a month later, CBS News reports that a judge handed down a sentence of death for the convicted killer. But his days in court as a defendant were far from over. 

Prosecutors charged Grate for the additional three murders he admitted to committing in his jailhouse interview. NBC 4 News reports that in March 2019, he pled guilty to the murders of Candice Cunningham and Rebekah Leicy. For those crimes, Grate was handed a life sentence without parole. In September 2019, Grate was in court again, this time facing multiple charges for the murder of Dana Nicole Lowery. He pled guilty to aggravated murder and earned himself another life sentence without parole, plus an additional 16 years (via NBC4 News).

Grate has tried unsuccessfully to appeal his death sentence (per Law and Crime). He is still awaiting execution.