"Madness, as you know, is a lot like gravity. All it takes is a little push."
It was the 26th of May 1990. A Saturday. Forty year old Marlene Warren was at home with her son, Joseph Ahrens, in Takeoff Place, Wellington, Florida, United States. They lived in an exclusive area and their home was part of the Aero Club community, a community where every house had access to a private runway. Marlene worked hard to enable them to live there and her life had not been easy. She was a successful businesswoman and owned multiple rental properties in West Palm Beach, a used car rental business, an airplane and a racehorse. She also worked as a cargo ship inspector.
But despite her success in business, Marlene had suffered great losses in her personal life.
When Marlene was a teenager, she married her first husband and had two sons, John and Joseph Ahrens. That marriage ended when Marlene was just twenty years old and she later married her second husband, Michael Mike Warren. Mike ran their car rental business, A Bargain Motors, and for a time things were good. But Marlene's happy life ended when one of her sons, John Ahrens Jr., was killed in a car accident in the fall of 1988. Marlene tried to continue with her day to day life as best as she could for the sake of her other son Joseph. But her relationship with Mike was never the same after that.
That day, the 26th of May, Marlene was having breakfast at home with Joseph who was twenty two years old at the time. Three of his friends, Jean Pratt, Wendel Pratt and Mindy Perez, joined them for breakfast. At 10.45am, they saw a white Chrysler LeBaron pull into the driveway and there was a knock at the front door. Marlene answered and she was heard saying "How nice" but almost immediately after that, Joseph and his friends heard a loud bang and looked out the window. They saw someone dressed as a clown calmly walk away from the house towards the white car, get in and drive off. They ran to the front door and Joseph found his mother slumped on the ground. There was blood everywhere. She had been shot.
One of Marlene's neighbors, Bill Kramer, was out walking his dog at the time and he heard what he thought was the sound of a nail gun, the kind used in construction. He saw people running out of the house and heard one shout:
"They’ve shot Joey’s mother."
Bill's wife told them all to stay there and she called 911. When police and the medical emergency professionals arrived at the house, they found Marlene on the ground just inside the front door. She had been shot in the face and was taken to hospital. Two days later she died as a result of that gunshot wound to the head.
Police began a homicide investigation. They spoke to Marlene's husband Mike. They initially suspected that he might be involved in her death as they discovered they were having marital problems and it looked like a divorce may be inevitable. But when police asked Mike where he was at the time of the shooting, he told them that he was on the way to a Miami racetrack with friends. He was miles away at the time.
Marlene and Mike Warren
Police discovered more about the morning that Marlene was shot and about the shooter. Due to eye witness accounts, they discovered that the person who shot Marlene was dressed up in a clown outfit with a wig and lace up shoes and white makeup covering their entire face. Joesph and his friends described the clown as being tall. The clown got out of the car and walked to the front door carrying two balloons and flowers and unbeknown to Marlene, they also had a gun. One of the balloons had the words "You're the Greatest" on it and the other one had Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. As soon as Marlene opened the door, the clown handed the flowers and balloons to her and when Marlene took them, the clown shot her in the face. The clown then simply walked towards the car without saying a single word.
Police received an anonymous tip. A caller told them to look into Marlene's husband Mike and a woman named Sheila Keen. Police discovered that Sheila worked for Mike as a repossession agent at the car rental business and there were rumors she was having an affair with Mike. Several witnesses and employees provided statements about the affair. Marlene’s parents told police that Marlene previously told them they were having marital problems and she suspected that Mike was having an affair.
Rumors circulated. Did Mike want to avoid a divorce with Marlene so that he wouldn't lose out on the properties or the business? There was one problem with that line of inquiry though. Mike had an alibi. But did Sheila have one too?
That was a question that police had to find the answer to and they had to work out exactly who was wearing the clown costume that day. There was evidence left behind at Marlene's house. The clown who shot Marlene left the balloons and flowers at Marlene's house and due to that police could track down where they were purchased in a timely manner. Within a matter of days, they found the exact supermarket that they had been purchased from. It was a Publix Supermarket and two employees told police that they recalled a woman purchasing the flowers and balloons two hours before Marlene was shot. The Publix supermarket was one mile from Sheila's apartment. They described the woman who purchased them as a white female with long brown hair tied in a ponytail. They also referred to her as having male mannerisms.
Police also tracked down where the clown costume was purchased from and spoke to two employees at the Spotlight Costume shop. They told police that two days before Marlene was shot, a tall thin white woman with long brown hair purchased the clown costume. They told police that the woman said that she needed white makeup to cover the entire face. She opted not to purchase the clown shoes. At a later date, they identified Sheila from photo lineups as being the woman who purchased the costume and wig, although one employee was a little unsure at the time.
Police got a further break in the case when they found the white Chrysler LeBaron that was used in the shooting four days after Marlene was shot. It was parked in a parking lot, the Winn Dixie Parking lot on Okeechobee Blvd in West Palm Beach, eight miles from Marlene's house. A search of the car uncovered orange yellow fibers on the floor of the car that resembled hair from a clown wig. Several strands of brown human hair were found too.
That same day, police obtained a search warrant for Sheila's apartment. They found orange yellow fibers on clothing inside her home that seemed to match the ones found in the car. They also found black lace up shoes that fit the description of the shoes the clown was wearing and orange yellow acrylic fibers were found on the sole of the shoes.
Police believed the orange yellow acrylic hair fibers were the same as those that were found in the car. They also found similar fibers on the balloon ribbon that was left at Marlene's house.
Despite the belief that Sheila was involved, police did not arrest her or charge her with murder and the case went cold. It was reopened in 2013 and tests were carried out in the hope that a DNA match would be found. As part of the investigation, witnesses were contacted again and questioned. DNA analysis was conducted on the evidence that was collected in 1990 and as the DNA was more advanced than it was in 1990, they hoped that they would find something new that would provide them with strong evidence so that they could charge Sheila with murder.
Part of the police file included statements from people who alleged that Sheila and Mike were having an affair at the time of Marlene's murder. One of the employees, Claude Poitres, at A Bargain Motors told police about an incident that happened forty five days before Marlene was murdered. A couple named Mr and Mrs Restivo mistakenly called A Bargain Motors and asked them about dropping back their rental car which was a white Chrysler LeBaron. They thought they called Payless Car Rentals, the company who they rented the car from. According to Claude, Mike told them to leave the keys in the visor and the car would be picked up.
Claude told police that he drove Michael and Sheila to Payless Car Rentals and he observed them getting into the white car and drive away. He was told not to say anything about the car. Police believed that that was the car that was later used in relation to Marlene's murder. Due to that, they felt they would be able to show a Jury that Sheila had access to the car. When they asked her if she was ever in such a car, she said that she was not.
The fresh investigation in relation to the DNA evidence focused on two different types of samples: acrylic fibers and human hair. Microscopic analysis of the acrylic hair fibers found in the car, on the soles of the shoes found in Sheila's apartment and on the ribbon of the balloon indicated they were all identical in composition. But it was the microscopic analysis that was carried out on the human hair found in the car that led police to believe they finally had enough to make an arrest. The testing concluded the hair was identical to Sheila's hair.
Twenty seven years after Marlene's murder, police made an arrest. In 2017, in Virginia, Sheila Keen Warren was arrested about a mile from her home and charged with first degree murder. She shared her home with her husband Mike Warren. Despite the fact they both denied having an affair at the time of Marlene's murder, they opened a restaurant together in 1993 named The Purple Cow and married in 2002.
Sheila is currently awaiting Trial and has not yet entered a plea but her Attorney stated that she vehemently denies murdering Marlene. Her Defense Attorneys and the Prosecution appeared in Court on foot of a Motion brought by the Defense. Sheila's Attorneys Richard Lubin, Amy Morse and Greg Rosenfeld, filed a Motion for an Order to postpone Sheila's Trial. Her Trial was scheduled to start on the 8th of September 2021 but they told the Court that they needed more time to prepare their case. They argued that as the murder happened so long ago, it has been difficult to gather all the evidence and take depositions with the Prosecution's witnesses. The coronavirus pandemic didn't help and that brought further delays and problems with gathering all the relevant evidence.
Circuit Judge Scott Suskauer granted the Motion and the Defense were given more time to prepare their case.
Her Attorneys also requested that while she is awaiting Trial that she should be released on house arrest. They told the Court that she is an innocent woman, one is not a danger to the community and poses no flight risk:
"There is no reliable physical or testimonial evidence that she committed this crime, yet Ms. Keen-Warren has been incarcerated without a bond since October 4, 2017. Any continued restrictions on her liberty are both punitive and a violation of the presumption of innocence.In this case, the proof is not evident, and the presumption is not great. Ms. Keen-Warren is therefore entitled to a bond.
After a 27-year-investigation that turned up no credible evidence linking Sheila Keen-Warren to the murder of Marlene Warren, the State determined that it had sufficient evidence to prosecute her on flimsy circumstantial evidence stacked on flimsy circumstantial evidence."
The Defense argued in Court that the evidence that the Prosecution has against Sheila is merely circumstantial. They pointed to the fact that there were four people who witnessed the shooting: Marlene's son and his three friends. They argued that three of the witnesses "unequivocally" told police after the shooting that the clown was a tall man ranging from 6 feet to 6 feet 2 inches tall. The fourth witness could not tell the gender of the clown. The Defense argued that a man murdered Marlene, not their client.
Sheila Keen Warren
They also referred to the testimony that the Prosecution outlined would be given by the Publix employees and the employees from the costume store and questioned whether the descriptions they gave to police regarding the woman who purchased the balloons and flowers and the later identification they made of Sheila from photo lineups was sufficient evidence to keep their client in prison while awaiting Trial. They argued that it wasn't. The Defense claimed that the employees were only interviewed for a second time a year after the murder and they allege that the employees admitted they had discussed the case and read newspaper articles about it. The Defense alleged that they:
"suddenly expressed more confidence in their identifications."
The assistant state attorney Reid Scott disagreed that the evidence was weak. He laid out the evidence that the Prosecution have which includes the testimony from the two Publix employees who recalled a woman "purchasing the exact flower and balloon ensemble found at the scene less than two hours before the murder" and that that Publix was just one mile from where Sheila lived.
Reid also told the Court that they would hear testimony from the two employees at the costume shop who will say that a woman purchased a clown costume there two days before the shooting. The woman told the employees that she "needed enough white makeup to cover the entire face and that the costume would be for a female."
Reid also told the Court about how the fibers that were found in the car, on Sheila's boots and on the ribbon of the balloon were all the same composition and believed to be from the same clown wig.
The Prosecution also addressed the Defense argument that witnesses described the clown as a man. The Prosecution said that the witnesses described the killer as having "man like features" and that at the time of the murder, Sheila was a "taller, thin, white female with long brown hair and was described to have masculine features" so they may have easily been describing her.
The Judge denied the Defense request for Sheila to be released on bond while awaiting Trial. He acknowledged that the State's evidence is almost entirely circumstantial but went on to say that circumstantial evidence is sufficient if it can exclude a defendant's reasonable hypothesis of innocence. He referred to the weight of evidence against her and pointed out that she had access to financial resources that would allow her to flee the Jurisdiction if she so wished. The Court heard Sheila didn't have a clean record and had a previous conviction for a crime of dishonesty. Due to that, she was ordered to remain in prison until her Trial is heard.
Sheila is scheduled to go on Trial for first degree murder on the 21st of March 2022. She initially faced the possibility of the death penalty if a Jury found her guilty but Prosecutors told a Judge they would not be seeking the death penalty.
Mike Warren was never charged with any offense in relation to Marlene's murder. He was charged in a separate case after Marlene's death and was convicted of racketeering and odometer tampering in that matter. He served three and a half years in prison and was released in 1997.
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