The Messed Up Truth About Serial Killer Mom Shelly Knotek

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Small-town mom Michelle (Shelly) Knotek, known around town as a helpful friend, shocked millions when the truth about her home life came out. From humiliating her step-daughters to eventually beating friends and hiding bodies, so says the New York Post, Knotek's story is a grotesque road filled with manipulation, degradation, and violence.

Kathy Loreno, Shane Watson, Ron Woodsworth, and her husband David Knotek and children Nikki, Sami, and Tori Knotek: These are the names of just a few of the lives Shelly Knotek changed forever (from The Sun). From a tragic childhood to her later equally tragic adulthood, Shelly Kotek's life lays out like one of the stars — with blimps of important moments lain out to configure its own gruesome constellation. The men and women mentioned were unfortunate enough to cross this path. Here's the messed up truth about serial killer mom Shelly Knotek.

A Tragic Origin Story

Some may wonder how a mother of three and an active member of society could, according to Gregg Olsen's "If You Tell," turn out to be a manipulating, eratic, and sadistic killer. Taking a look at her history, clues pop up here and there as to the state of her psyche and may help to explain, though certainly not excuse Shelly Knotek's behavior.

Knotek had a childhood filled with trauma. She and her brothers were raised by her father, Les Watson, and stepmother, Laura Stallings, after being abandoned by their biological mother, Sharon Watson, who was an alcoholic with mental problems. On the surface, they were the average, small-town family. According to Olsen, Knotek's father was the tall, broad, and handsome type who owned his own businesses and charmed the heels off everyone in town. Stallings, in the beginning, was the template for the beauty and social ideals of the 1950s, and the two lived a classic boy-meets-girl story. 

Shelly Knotek's mean streaks started early. She was just 6 years old when she and her brothers moved in with her father, and Stallins told Olsen she was told every day by her new step-daughter that she hated her. When Shelly was 13, her mother Sharon Watson was murdered. According to Stallings, Shelly had little to no reaction, moving on as if her real mother never existed.

As Shelly Knotek grew up, she screamed, threw things, bullied her brothers and her step-mother, and enacted small acts of violence. "Everything was a big drama with her," said Stallings. "I knew from the way she acted that nothing was good enough."

How Shelly Knotek Grew her Family

Shelly Knotek married David Knotek in 1987 and brought to her new marriage her daughters from a previous relationship, 9-year-old Sami and 12-year-old Nikki, according to MEA Worldwide. The girls would go on to take David's last name, and, two years later, in 1989, baby Tori Knotek was born, completing the now infamous Knotek family. David treated his stepdaughters like his own from the beginning, working hard to ensure the girls had everything they wanted. Little did they know their stepfather would not be the issue in this new marriage. 

The Knoteks lived in the small town of Raymond, Washington, and the middle-class family had a reputation for being helpful in town. Shelly Knotek was a stay-at-home mother, and David Knotek worked in construction, according to The Sun. According to Meaww, the devoted stepfather worked hard to upkeep a nice lifestyle for the family and lavished the girls with love. Before being caught in the midst of unbelievable and heartbreaking crimes, the seemingly normal family often took in friends and family in need and, from the outside looking in, provided food and shelter to those without any other place to go.

Torture and Manipulation

It wasn't long before Shelly Knotek's violent behavior returned to plague the Knotek family. According to her daughters (via The Sun), Shelly is a master manipulator who takes joy in the harm and embarrassment of others. Third husband David Knotek would later confirm this, recalling how his wife would have fits of anger, slapping him around knowing he would remain submissive. She would also often abuse her children in myriad ways and then subsequently give love and affection to keep them obedient. This harm-then-charm mode of operations is a typical characteristic of a manipulator's interactions with others, says Dr. George Simon.

On his research on the topic, Simon says manipulators will often appear harmless to those outside, even able to charm others into believing them infallible. He says they'll often cause physical harm or emotional distress to others only to follow that up with love, affection, and sometimes tears to reel back in the victims of this cycle of abuse. This is exactly the kind of behavior reported by David and his daughters. Daughter Sami Knotek told The Sun, "She's the biggest manipulator of anyone I've ever met. I don't think that she could ever outgrow that. I don't think that she could ever change."

She Abused her Daughters

The Knotek girls have been very outspoken about the abuse they endured from their mother, including in their interview with The Sun. Although on the outside Shelly Knotek appeared to be a devoted and doting mother, buying the girls the best clothes and ensuring they became popular in school, behind the scenes, she was traversing realms far past general neglect. The girls shared that their mother would often force them to remove their own hair and laugh at their distress. Shelly would invent small and increasingly cruel reasons to punish the girls, including locking them away for a time in the dog kennel or chicken coop.

According to the girls' testimonies, Shelly Knotek would physically attack them often. At first, like the outbursts she had with her husband, she would physically harm the girls with her own hands. Sami Knotek endured so much physical abuse that she often went out of her way to wear long pants to hide the marks left there by her mother. As her violence escalated, Shelly Knotek once pushed daughter Nikki Knotek's head through a glass window, later tending to the wounds herself while still blaming the young girl for the incident.

Friends Going Missing

The charismatic Shelly Knotek was an expert at making friends, and her people-person personality mixed with her inclination to look her best meant she became good friends with long-term hairdresser Kathy Loreno. When Loreno had to abruptly leave her family, Knotek made herself available. According to the New York Post, the two agreed that Loreno would act as a live-in babysitter for the privilege to live and dine with the Knoteks until she was able to get her own place.

In his book "If You Tell," Gregg Olsen (via the New York Post) suggests Knotek is a psychopath, saying she shares similar traits with those diagnosed. He refers to the public image Knotek built herself so that she could secretly abuse those under her roof. This is the trap that Loreno fell into, according to Olsen. The Knotek daughters share stories of Loreno's time with them, describing once coming home from school to find Loreno standing alone outside the house completely naked.

Loreno would stay with the Knoteks for five years, enduring the torture enacted by Shelly Knotek and the complicit David Knotek. According to the New York Post, these tortures included at-home waterboarding and pouring bleach into her open wounds. She died locked in the Knotek's laundry room, and Shelly and David burned her body and tossed her ashes. Seattle PI reports that Loreno died at the age of 36, most likely due to the excessive abuse and injuries she'd endured. Later, the Knotek daughters would explain to Olsen that Shelly Knotek beat Loreno until she was no longer alive and told the family if they told anyone they would all be taken away (via New York Post). When asked why Loreno had disappeared, Shelly claimed she had run away with a man named Rocky, as per MEA Worldwide.

Nephew Shane Watson disappears

In 1988, nephew Shane Watson was forced to come and live with the Knoteks after his father went to prison and left his mother with no choice but to give up her son. The Knotek daughters lay out the abuse their cousin endured during this time in an interview with The Sun. Shelly Knotek would make Watson and her daughters Nikki and Sami stand outside in temperatures below freezing and throw ice cold water onto them as a form of punishment. Shelly Knotek called this ceremony "wallowing" and performed it multiple times during Watson's stay.

Other forms of abuse and degradation included putting Watson and Nikki Knotek into compromising positions, like dancing naked. This cruel and very unusual punishment would later drive Watson to document the horrors he saw and experienced while living with the Knoteks. Before Kathy Loreno was brutally killed, she'd lost over 100 pound of weight and more than a couple teeth. Watson shared with Nikki Knotek polaroid pictures he took of Loreno at her worst the days before she was murdered. The young woman told her mother what Watson had shown her, and not long after Shelly Knotek had husband David Knotek shoot young Watson in the head and cremate his body.

The Case of the Disappearing Dog

Shelly Knotek began caring for an older man by the name of James McClintock. According to Seatle PI, McClintock was a veteran who served at Pearl Harbor and lived alone on a large estate with his beloved dog, a black labrador named Sissy. Supposedly, the veteran was quite wealthy and was paying Knotek directly for her care. McClintock passed away in 2002 while under her care, and it was concluded at the time that he'd fallen and hit his head, explains The Seattle Times. Later, the disappearances of Shane Watson and Kathy Loreno led to suspicion around McClintock's death, as per Seattle pi.

The Seattle Times reports that McClintock left his estate as well as $8,800 to Knotek in the event of his passing, but he stipulated within the document that Knotek would only be given ownership of said estate once Sissy had passed away. Soon after, Sissy would disappear, Knotek claiming she had passed away, only to allegedly turn up again in an animal shelter near town, as per The Seattle Times.

The Man Who Jumped off the Roof

Likely to uphold her image in town as the helpful mother of three, Shelly Knotek began taking care of an older veteran named Ronald Woodworth. According to The Seattle Times, Woodworth had a successful life as a Californian Vietnam War veteran with an expertise in Egyptology and an education from the University of California at Berkeley. By the time Knotek met the veteran, he was thought to be mentally ill, and, in 1999, he lost his home, landing him at the Knotek's doorstep.

According to All That's Interesting, shortly after he moved in, Knotek began telling Woodworth he was lazy and good for nothing, reports The Sun. She isolated him from friends and family, beat him, drugged him, and even made him drink his urine. In 2003, Woodworth passed away due to fatal injuries after having been forced to jump off a building and having bleach and boiling water poured into his wounds. Later, Sami Knotek would admit she thought Kathy Loreno's death was an accident, but she would say the mode of torture her mother used on Woodworth was the same as Loreno's, making Woodworth's death a purposeful act (via MEA Worldwide).

Shelly Knotek's Court Case Explained

Finally, after having endured enough of their mother's torture, daughters Sami, Nikki, and Tori Knotek came forward about the missing people, and Shelly Knotek and David Knotek were arrested not long after the death of Ronald Woodworth. According to Seattle PI, Shelly initially pleaded not guilty with David taking a plea deal to reduce his chargtes. However court files for State v. Knotek indicate that Shelly ultimately entered an Alford plea, which essentially means she maintained her innocence while recognizing a jury would likely find her guilty, notes The Seattle Times. In turn, as Cornell Law School eplains, as per terms of this plea, she would accept all consequences of a guilty verdict. As the court documents show, Shelly Knotek later repealed her statement, claiming to have been ill-informed of the ramifications of such a plea.

The case shocked millions and attracted the attention of curious citizens. After all, seeing a believably loving mother of three and a long-time caregiver on trial for the murder of multiple people is not an everyday experience. According to Seattle PI, Shelly and David presented falsified evidence of notes, letters, and more that were supposedly between their missing guests and the people they ran off with. Shelly Knotek was found guilty in the deaths of Kathy Loreno and Rod Woodworth and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Her husband David was found guilty of the murder of Shane Watson, served 13 years, and has since been released from prison, as per All That's Interesting.

June 2022 Release Date

To say the arrest of Shelly and David Knotek was the talk of the town would be an understatement. According to the Seattle Times, gossip flies fast in Raymond, Washington, and it wasn't long until everyone in town knew of the horrors Shelly Knotek had enacted. Rhys Davis said the Knotek's story is the biggest news the town ever received, so it is safe to assume news began to buzz again recently when talk of Shelly Knotek's impending release reached the same small-town ears. The Knotek's crimes changed their children's lives forever, but they also changed the dynamic of their small town, removing the soft safety net and sense of security and replacing it with a subtle suspicion that follows its residents. 

Shelly Knotek was set to be released early in June 2022, according to All That's Interesting, but the Washington Department of Corrections shows she is still booked as of August 2022. Her daughters Sami, Nikki, and Tori Knotek have been very outspoken about their reluctance to see their mother released from prison.

The Daughters Now

After news of their mother's early release from prison, Sami, Nikki, and Tori Knotek spoke out against the master manipulator in any interview they could get, even signing on with Gregg Olsen to write the book on their mother in hopes his writings would both warn and educate the public. Speaking on the book, Olsen told The Sun that he was appalled by the girls' stories and wanted to tell the world to be careful. He says you truly never know what is happening behind a closed door.

Today, all three of the Knotek daughters are alive and well. Although they deal day to day with the stressors and triggers of their childhood trauma (via The New York Post), they have each found a way to cope with the horrific details of their past and find a sense of normalcy in life. According to Olsen in "If You Tell," the women have made a comfortable life for themselves, Nikki living in a million-dollar home and all three working toward their life's purposes.