tv 2020 ABC April 17, 2015 10:01pm-11:01pm PDT
tonight on "20/20" -- >> reporter: a young mother has gone missing, and her husband has gone on camera, their infant daughter in his arms, pleading for her return. >> and we have a daughter together. i mean, we have a life together. we need you, we love you. please just come home. >> her husband believes she may be struggling with postpartum depression. >> reporter: her car turns up at the airport, and this woman believes she knows what happened. >> i turned around to my husband and i said, "she ran. i know she ran." >> reporter: the mystery of shelby wilkie's disappearance has everybody on edge, and ironically, it all began with a party. >> five, four, three, two, one.
>> reporter: new year's eve, a time for new beginnings and new hope. >> happy new year! >> reporter: in the first moments of 2012, while these revelers throng times square, 38-year-old shelbie wilkie is having a much quieter evening in a much quieter place 700 miles south in asheville, north carolna. >> all of new year's and into the evening was wonderful. we were together and we were happy. and it just was a great time. >> reporter: at the stroke of midnight, shelby is at home with her husband, michael. that's them sharing a tender moment in this home video. they'd connected on an online dating site. he was tall, dark and handsome. she was excited about this guy. everyone thought he was a catch, right? >> oh yeah, and i think she called him "prince charming" at one time. she goes, "it's like a prince charming. look at all he does for me.
and he's great." >> reporter: a portrait of stability, wilkie's held down the same job for 16 years in manufacturing. he owns a home, a regular guy who loves the atlanta falcons and fantasy football. >> yeah, she goes, "he's got to be a great guy." >> reporter: they live in this two-bedroom ranch in a cul-de-sac on moody street, where christmas had come early. baby sydney is born, the daughter shelby had always wanted. >> carried her everywhere, wanted to be with her, regretted really having to go to work. she missed her so much. and she just was in love with sydney. >> she wanted to be married. she wanted a family, that was her whole goal in life. >> reporter: shelby has met that goal and surpassed it. while building a family, she is also building a career. >> asheville's mix 96.5. >> reporter: as a business manager at 96.5 asheville radio group. >> good morning, it's tammy and dex. >> reporter: what was she like as a business manager? >> she was very professional. and she could be stern. she didn't take slack from anybody.
she was a very strong person. >> reporter: shelby's parents, jan and bill sprowls, say she's been that way since she was in diapers. >> you knew she was in the room. >> reporter: a force of nature. >> yes, absolutely. >> reporter: shelby liked to be in charge. here she is leading the singing at her own birthday party. ♪ happy birthday to you ♪ >> reporter: your parents describe your sister as the cruise director. >> yeah, she kept things organized, kept things on task. shelby had everything set up, and all we had to do was show up, basically. >> reporter: new year's day is a sunday, and the oregon ducks are playing the wisconsin badgers in the rose bowl while jan sprowls texts shelby, checking in on her daughter and the new baby. >> i texted her and said, "are you okay?" and a text came back, "yes." >> reporter: it is the last time they will ever hear from her. >> and that would come to have a
very ominous meaning. tonight, you'll watch as a search unfolds, and the question, what would cause her to flee? >> and even set up an elaborate getaway plan. let's get back to matt gutman. >> reporter: it is now 10:30 on sunday night, and shelby's mother has still heard nothing from her daughter but a deafening silence. >> sunday into monday, i was just calling and calling. i got into a panic. why she wouldn't pick up, it's not like her. i hear from her all the time. >> reporter: the swelling anxiety turns the minutes into hours. >> i couldn't get through to her cell phone anymore because it had been turned off. i had a very, very bad instinct that something had happened to shelby. >> one of my co-workers walks into an office and she says, "shelby's missing." and i go, "stop kidding around. she's not missing." she goes, "no, really, her mom's been trying to get ahold of her and she says she can't reach her."
well, that's bizarre. >> reporter: monday evening, still no word from shelby. so shelby's father and brother head over to the house on moody street to see what's up. >> i asked michael, if he knew where shelby was, because we haven't heard from her all day. which is strange. >> reporter: but the day started normally, says michael, who told them she drove to work that morning in her 2012 ford escape. >> so he picked up his cell phone and called her work, saying, "yeah, i'm right here with bill. he's in the driveway looking for you." >> hey, honey, it's me. i'm standing in the yard with bill, and people trying to get ahold of you and you're not returning any calls and stuff. just call somebody back and let them know something, okay? i love you, honey. >> reporter: actually he'd left a series of messages himself on office voicemail. >> hey, honey, it's me. i love you, babe. >> reporter: he also called his
buddy mark mcminn. >> he just said that she'd run off and left. that she just went to work and didn't come back home. >> reporter: after two more hours of radio silence, bill makes a call of his own. >> henderson county 911. >> yes, ma'am, my daughter's been missing since noon yesterday. >> reporter: shelby's car is gone, as is the tiffany bracelet her mother recently gave her. she never left home without it. >> and we all were all out looking. i mean, just -- we just didn't know what else to do. >> henderson county authorities are searching for a woman who left home early yesterday morning and hasn't been seen since. >> reporter: of course, the vanishing of shelby wilkie causes the cops to consider foul play. that's where detective sonya matthews enters the picture. >> this was a true missing persons case, and my gut just said, "no, this is really serious." >> reporter: you don't have to have seen the hit movie "gone girl" to know that when a
wife goes missing, the cops' first questions are for the husband. >> we understand there are concerns about your wife. >> i don't know where my wife is. >> reporter: the patrol officer came here to check things out, didn't see anything. >> right. >> reporter: michael wilkie invites officers into the house. >> and then we asked him, "do you mind if we look around?" and he was fine with it, he said, "absolutely, no problem." >> reporter: he answers all their questions. >> little sydney was sitting on the coffee table in her car seat, and he invited us to sit down and talk to him right here in the front room. i remember he took little sydney out and was holding her. >> reporter: behavior in keeping with his reputation as a down-to-earth mountain man. >> he didn't drink, he didn't smoke, he didn't swear. a good old country boy that had been here his whole life. >> reporter: that's why the sprowls embraced their new son-in-law. >> i love it. >> reporter: here's the clan in happier times, opening presents on christmas day. >> perfect, i love it.
>> reporter: family, husband, job, baby. if shelby wilkie has it all right here in asheville then where has she gone? michael now goes on tv, desperate for answers. just like in "gone girl," he's the ben affleck pleading for his rosamund pike to come home. >> i love my wife so much. >> we have a daughter together. we have a life together. we need you, we love you. please just come home. >> reporter: michael suggests the new mom had emotional problems after giving birth. >> her husband believes she may be struggling with postpartum depression. >> reporter: as detective matthews works the case, she learns that the mystery's first clues are to be found in moments not captured on home video. >> i'm probably a mess. here. >> reporter: when they come to light, they reveal a young mother who had made a secret new year's resolution. and another woman, convinced she knows why this girl had gone. >> i turned around to my husband
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once again, matt gutman. >> reporter: asheville, north carolina, where rolling emerald pastures give way to the foothills of the blue ridge mountains. it's consistently voted one of the best and happiest places to live in america. but for shelby wilkie's family it has become a wasteland of worry. >> they want answers regarding where she was headed. >> we were all out with fliers and it was a picture of shelby and sydney and, you know, can you help me find my mommy? >> it was really hard on everybody. i mean, we all started getting really worried. >> reporter: police join them. choppers hunt the skies. scuba divers comb the riverbeds. >> i remember tapping every resource we could, the state highway police and their helicopter, cadaver dog. search and rescue teams were employed. >> reporter: the results -- nothing.
>> they say they need some leads to find her. >> reporter: local news stations, including our affilate wlos, elicit tips from the public. there are sightings of a brunette woman at the wheel of a black ford escape, a similar vehicle parked in front of this pawn shop, a woman matching shelby's description in the checkout line at wal-mart. >> we took all of them serious and we investigated all of them. >> reporter: 4:00 p.m., wednesday, january 4th, two days after shelby is reported missing the black escape is found in the parking lot of the j&s cafeteria, across the road from the asheville regional airport. 90 miles away, in this woman's head an alarm bell starts blaring. shelby is on the run. >> the second day they said that she might have flown out of the airport. so, i think, "oh, well, she got -- well, she really got away." >> reporter: amanda casey was michael wilkie's wife before shelby. that marriage had produced a beautiful daughter and plenty of happy memories. you guys got dressed up. he's a confederate officer. you were a southern belle, which looks like fun. >> it was. >> did you guys have laughs
while you were doing this? >> sure. >> so, he had a good sense of humor. >> definitely. very charismatic. >> reporter: but like the confederacy, amanda's marriage eventually became a lost cause. >> 'cause he was so good at masking. it was like jekyll and hyde, two personalities, and you didn't know which one you would get. >> how nice was the dr. jekyll? >> very nice. >> and mr. hyde? >> terrible. not somebody you'd want to meet. >> you guys had a pretty big argument when you were pregnant with the daughter you had with him. >> the argument escalated and he was physically abusive. >> what does that mean, "physically abusive"? >> he grabbed me around my throat and threw me around our bedroom. and my shoulder went through and made that hole in the sheetrock in the bedroom. >> reporter: she never filed charges and say the psychological abuse left a far bigger dent. one night, she decided to flee even though it meant leaving her 3-year-old daughter behind.
the only way that you thought you could actually get away was if you didn't take your daughter. that must have been a gut wrenching decision. >> i had determined that i would let the court system take care of that, and get her back that way. >> reporter: years later, amanda learned that michael was with shelby. did you wonder if she knew what you knew about this dark side? >> iad hoped. i always try to think positive. and i had hoped that things had changed. >> reporter: well, the wife had changed, but the husband unfortunately, well, he was pretty much the same. though michael had presented himself as a gentle dog-lover on his dating profile, his more unattractive personality traits were revealed in this restraining order, filed by shelby just two weeks into their marriage. shelby said michael attempted to restrain me from leaving for work, tried to forcibly remove my wedding ring from my finger, broke my fingernail, door of car and scratched my arm. >> so, she was beginning to see
after marriage, things that she had not seen before. >> reporter: still, shelby immediately dropped the charges and kept the abuse a secret. why did she go back? >> shelby was a very loving, believing, trusting person. he had an ability to cry and to beg and to, i love you, this was a mistake. >> and so he could turn his emotions on a dime. >> yes, just a master at manipulation. >> reporter: months into the marriage, the mood on moody street was growing grimmer by the day. the wilkie home was becoming shelby's two-bedroom hell. they fought about what everybody fights about, money. >> he wanted to split the check with her when they went out to dinner as a married couple. >> yes. >> she had to pay half of his house payment, half of the utility bills. >> reporter: shelby hid the worst from her parents, but there were some things no amount of cover-up could hide.
>> and i said, "where did you get the bruises on your neck?" and she said, "michael and i got in a fight and he grabbed me and he leaned me over a table. i think i passed out." "why didn't you call somebody?" she goes, "well, you know, i'm -- i'm okay. he didn't mean to." >> reporter: in truth, shelby was far from okay. and six months into the marriage, she called the cops again. the warrant says shelby had bruises and cuts on her face and hands. michael grabbed her and threw her down when she reached for an alarm keypad. this time, michael was charged with assault. he avoided jail time by agreeing to attend anger management classes at mainstay, a domestic violence prevention agency. eight months later, they welcomed a new life, their daughter sydney. and shelby hoped, a new start. but just 11 days after the birth, another call to police. this time the tables have turned. it's michael complaining about shelby. >> 911.
>> i was wondering if you could send someone here. my wife is drinking and she's acting crazy. i just want you to get her out of here. >> are you trying to say i've been drinking? >> you have been drinking. there's an empty bottle of champagne in the garbage. please, please hurry. >> reporter: is this just a fight? or some psychological issue? >> it was around the first of the year. >> reporter: shelby prepares to disappear when michael is at work. then, she makes a phone call to
michael's ex, amanda. >> she says, i want to ask you some things about michael, okay? and i said, i can't talk to you right now. i have an appointment, but i said, please call me back. i slept with my cell phone. >> reporter: that next call never comes. the next time amanda hears shelby's name it is on the tv news. and her ex-husband's teary plea for shelby to come on home. >> and i just sit there and just sit there and looked -- >> did you think that, maybe she got away? >> yeah. >> maybe she finally did it? >> reporter: amanda is convinced that history has repeated itself. michael wilkie's abuse has driven another wife to flee at any cost, even if it means leaving a child behind. >> and i turned around to my husband and i said, "she ran. i know she ran." >> reporter: but shelby hasn't
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"20/20" continues, with matt gutman. >> reporter: in the wilkie house on moody street, the dishes are unwashed, the laundry unfolded, and little baby sydney is without her mother. was this a post partum or perhaps she ran to escape a miserable marriage? the discovery of her car at the local airport had some people suspecting as much. but shelby's parents had been suspecting something much worse. >> i felt something was really wrong. and i went to bill and i said something's not right. something is really not right. >> reporter: that gnawing fear had begun back on sunday, new year's day. 24 hours before they reported her missing. and it was all because of those
final text messages. >> i texted her and said, are you okay? and a text came back, yes. and i, the blood drained from my body for some reason. i had the worst feeling i can ever imagine. >> reporter: why? >> because it was just yes. she would never say just yes. >> reporter: what would she write? >> she would either say i'll call you in a minute, love you. she would tell me more. >> reporter: the sprowls knew shelby'sarriage to michael wilkie was on the rocks. they had even helped shelby set up that secret "safe house." so when her phone went dark, they started to panic. if you felt something was so wrong, why not just go over there? >> up until this point, we didn't -- you know, there
wasn't, "danger, danger!" i don't think normal people think, "well, maybe he's, you know, really hurt her bad and she can't communicate." >> reporter: when bill finally did swing by the house monday, michael had assured him that shelby had left for work safe and sound monday morning. he'd even left messages for her there. >> haven't heard from you, hopefully you're not working too hard. >> reporter: and he'd cooperated fully with detective sonya matthews when she came out to the house on tuesday. so, it was just about noon when you drove down this street for the first time? >> yes. >> reporter: did you see anything suspicious? >> no. >> reporter: so you walked up here, he opened the door. >> reporter: michael's attitude is that of a bereft husband. the guy who wept on tv, baby
sydney in arms. but the detectives couldn't help but notice what the camera also did. those scratch marks on michael's face. >> we see what appears to be scratch marks around his eyes and on his cheek and it's just -- >> reporter: indicative of a struggle, maybe. >> quite possibly. it's just -- just too suspicious. >> reporter: so the cops comb the house, looking for anything incriminating. they look in drains for blood or cleaning fluid, in closets, in storage containers. >> we looked everywhere that a human body could be. we didn't see anything suspicious. >> reporter: but now the detective is starting to think that michael's relationship with the truth is as troubled as his relationship with his wife. for starters, his story about shelby going to work on monday, january 2nd? >> it did not hold water when we looked into it, because that was a holiday. it was a scheduled holiday for shelby's place of employment. there would have been no reason for shelby to go into the office. >> reporter: as for the theory
that shelby may have fled to escape her crumbling marriage? well, immediately after leaving house on moody street, matthews checks shelby's bank and phone records. >> there had been absolutely no activity on her cell phone since sunday evening. and there had been no other activity on her bank account. that tells us she really didn't plan on doing anything, because she hadn't prepared for it or had the means to travel anywhere. >> reporter: and while it's true, shelby's ford escape is found wednesday near the airport, police also find this. >> after we observed what we thought was shelby's car turn into the parking lot within approximately a minute's time we see this figure continue to walk purposefully. >> reporter: that figure is impossible to identify, but it's not shelby. >> we see them approach the side of the taxi and get into the last taxi in the row. that taxi leaves and exits the airport. >> reporter: michael voluntarily accepts a request to come in for a polygraph. he fails miserably. >> i could not give michael a grade on his polygraph, but i would say that based on the fact that he showed clear signs of deception when he took the
polygraph, we knew that he was hiding something from us. >> reporter: and yet, when a cadaver dog sniffs through shelby's car and michael's truck, nothing. there is still no sign of the missing mom, dead or alive. >> and at that time, we did not find anything significant. >> reporter: by wednesday afternoon, the team is back at the wilkie home with a search warrant and, again, mirroring the movie "gone girl," they've brought luminol, the chemical solution which can detect the presence of blood even after its been cleaned up. when you turned out the lights, you sprayed everything with luminol, what did you see here? >> and about right in here, there was actually the silhouette of a human body as if someone had slumped. you could see the head, the shoulders, you could see the
hips and the knees. and then right here in this >> reporter: did that affect you, seeing that silhouette of a body slumped against the wall here? >> it was shocking. i think what affected me even more than seeing it was the reaction of seasoned detectives that were in the room. they were shocked as well. >> reporter: and by thursday, cops still haven't found shelby, but they sure have more questions for michael wilkie. >> he had done something with her. and our goal at that point was to try to figure out exactly what he did. >> reporter: when we come back -- >> i don't know. i honestly don't know. >> reporter: michael wilkie in the box. turning on the waterworks once again. >> i didn't kill her. >> reporter: and -- is another suspect about to emerge? >> he came over there and he told me if i told anybody about that he would kill me. >> reporter: stay with us.
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"20/20" continues. once again, matt gutman. >> reporter: three days of investigation, and shelby wilkie is still missing. detectives sure suspect michael wilkie murdered her. but there's no body and they aren't ready to arrest him. so, now comes the moment of truth. >> first of all thanks for coming in and chatting with me. >> reporter: in the afternoon
thursday, january 5th michael wilkie volunteers to come into the henderson county sherriff's office and submit to what will be six hours of questioning from sergeant andrew anderson. he's a master interrogator. >> he wanted to be there. it seemed like he was ready to talk. >> reporter: up to now wilkie has been so cooperative maybe he is really innocent? or is he just convinced he can talk his way out of the quicksand? nancy grace has studied the case. >> michael wilkie is painting himself into a corner with his own words, okay? >> are you a baseball fan? >> i'm a braves fan. >> good, man, i'm a freak. >> i've been a baseball fan and a braves fan my whole life. i was creating a bond, i wanted him to be comfortable enough to be able to tell me the truth what happened to his wife. obviously we need to find your wife. >> i know that. >> there's no doubt, we need to
find her. >> reporter: detective sonya matthews is watching from down the hall as anderson reveals to wilkie the cops have pretty much eliminated the runaway theory. >> her cell phone ended on january 1st. >> what do you mean ended? >> there's no activity. there's been no activity with her three bank accounts. found her car, haven't found her. doesn't look good. >> reporter: but he says he's not the only suspect. >> you're not the only one we're looking at okay? >> reporter: and michael immediately offers up someone else. >> i'm not trying to be mean or anything but do you know about her mom's problem? >> no, tell me about her mom. >> he thinks if he can just keep talking, he can outwit everybody. he starts pointing the finger at her own parents. >> reporter: claiming she had some legal trouble, and bill demanded he keep his mouth shut. >> he come over there and he told me if i ever sit there and
tell anybody about it that he would kill me. >> so, her dad threatened you? >> yeah. >> reporter: the parents admit there was a minor real estate problem a long time ago but say it was absurd to suggest they threatened michael. >> he's trying to pass the blame to someone else and i let him do that. >> reporter: but, anderson returns the focus to wilkie zeroing in now on that key question everyone wants answered. how did he get those scratches on his face? >> this is the hallway the master bedroom is back in this area and there's like a half bath? >> reporter: they go through new year's day hour by hour drawing where shelby and michael were in the house and slowly, andersen gets wilkie to abandon the theory that shelby ran off. >> well, it actually started in the kitchen. >> reporter: wilkie describes an argument in that kitchen that moves to the bathroom and then to the bedroom. >> he admits to a physical altercation. he admitted to that. >> reporter: first wilkie reveals shelby hit him. >> what did she do? tell me what she did? >> she clawed.
>> that's how you got the scratches and the one on the side? >> reporter: but, there's more. anderson extracting the truth like syrup from a north carolina maple. for the first time, wilkie admits he hit shelby. >> i mean, i pushed her back and i'm just kind of like "just stop" you know. and then she's like, "oh, i think my nose is bleeding." >> when people start admitting things such as, well, she had a bloody nose they feel like they're not incriminating themselves but you know the truth. >> reporter: the closer to the truth the more emotional wilkie gets. >> let it go. let it go. >> reporter: he weeps and yelps. but still denies killing shelby. he has no idea where she is. >> the weight of the world is on your shoulders. >> i didn't kill her. >> how did she die? >> i didn't kill her. >> how ed what happened in there? tell me. >> reporter: but, he is about to
learn just how much evidence the detectives have already. for example. remember that luminol? the chemical that shows blood spatter even after its been cleaned up? >> i'm telling you what's been found there last night on this wall there is basically an outline of a human body that had been on their knees up against the wall and human blood. no bloody nose causes that. can you not tell that we know exactly what happened? >> i didn't take and kill her. >> you didn't take and kill her. >> no, i didn't. >> reporter: where did all that blood come from then? >> there's a hail mary. he says she committed suicide. >> and then she took a razor, like the old and she cut >> a straight razor? >> this is all strictly a show. >> reporter: why didn't he call 911? why didn't he try to help shelby?
his story isn't adding up. so, you guys came out here with a flashlight and one of the officers noticed this big black patch right in there. >> right. >> reporter: the cops discovered he set a large bonfire in the yard. >> right about where that birdfeeder's at is where they saw this perfect rectangle that had been burned in the yard. >> reporter: but they still don't know where wilkie disposed of the ashes from that fire. basically over there you notice something that makes you stop and think for a second? >> correct. >> reporter: but, now 5:00 p.m. that afternoon just a few miles from where wilkie is answering questions at the sheriff's office the investigation now heads to his parents home where detective scott galloway is walking up a winding gravel drive in the blue ridge foothills searching for the remains of wilkie's bonfire.
he's texting detective anderson every step of the way. particularly what he sees as he turns the corner. >> when we come on down the driveway here, we see what looks to us like fresh tire tracks cutting down the field going towards the wood line at the very back of the field. >> reporter: the lone tire tracks in lead the detectives to a 55 gallon barrel in the woods. inside the barrel? >> some of them were dumped out. >> reporter: ashes, some small fragments of bone. >> yes. >> reporter: ashes and bone fragments. suspicious to say the least but the fire has burned off all dna traces. there's no way to identify whose bones these were. back in the interrogation room detective anderson reveals what's been found. but instead of a confession the mountain man spins his tallest tale. he says he granted his beloved wife her final wish. it's hard to hear but even harder to believe. he says he cremated her body after the "suicide" then cleaned up to preserve her memory. >> how is she in the burning
barrel? >> the barrel is just whatever was things didn't take and burn. >> okay, that is wrong on so many levels, i hardly know where to start. >> reporter: his oscar worthy performance is rewarded with twin bracelets. >> charging you with one of murder. >> reporter: at 9 p.m. thursday night, michael wilkie is arrested and cuffed. but this case is no lay-up. >> there was no body. no murder weapon. we really don't know how the homicide occurred. >> reporter: what would a jury make of all this at trial? is that why michael wilkie is smiling, even giving the thumbs up after the verdict? up after the verdict? stay with us. t] i started my c ran a race most wouldn't dream of starting. chose to take down a monster. and realized when it's dark enough...
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and then burning her body. >> reporter: the arrest of michael wilkie for the gruesome murder of his wife shelby, a new mother, was a stunner to his friends. >> it was a shock. it was a total surprise to me. >> reporter: and anguish for her family. >> it kind of confirmed our worst fears, and uh, we were all devastated. >> reporter: but if the arrest came quickly, the trial did not. three years passed before michael wilkie's day in court arrived in january. greg newman prosecuted the case. have you ever seen a case like this? >> i have not. >> reporter: as fate would have it, newman had played an previous role in this story. remember, back when she was hatching her plan to ditch michael and escape to that "safe house," he was the divorce lawyer she'd gone to see about drawing up papers. she came to you just a few days before she was killed.
>> this was a lady that clearly needed help. >> reporter: despite an avalanche of circumstantial evidence -- he needed concrete then something changed everything. >> we were called in shortly before the trial, by greg newman, and he pulled out a charred bracelet. and it was what i gave shelby. that beloved tiffany bracelet shelby never took it off. >> it was the only shred of proof really connecting shelby to the remains. >> yes. >> how significant was linking the bracelet to the murder?
>> think very significant because in this day and age. juries expect and want to see some type of forensic proof. >> reporter: now armed with that proof, newman lays out the story of what really happened to shelby wilkie. january 1st -- shelby's new years resolution to leave michael, taking baby sydney, leaves to a physical altercation and those scratches on wilkie's face. the luminol test indicates what happened next -- michael wilkie savagely beat and killed his wife -- while baby sydney was in the next room. as her family tries to reach her later that day, it is michael texting those terse replies on her phone. that night he drags his dead wife through the house out to the backyard where he incinerates her body in that suspicious bonfire.
>> clearly to burn a body where there's little to nothing left, it would have to be a fire of impressive size. >> reporter: to cover up the crime he scrubs the house spotless and later drives a barrel of charred remains to the back of his parent's property. but he still has to explain shelby's disappearance so he concocts the runaway theory by driving shelby's car to the airport late sunday night -- that's him in the security cam footage. >> you see a figure right here. >> reporter: to mask his role in shelby's vanishing, wilkie then leaves those concerned voice mails at her office on monday. >> people are trying to get ahold of you. just call somebody back. >> reporter: the performance capped off by those crocodile tears shed for the tv cameras that wednesday. baby sydney front and center, wilkie pushes the runaway theory on the public. >> if she doesn't feel like taking and reaching out to somebody, then nobody can help her if there's something going
on. >> when you look at the clip of wilkie begging for his wife's safe return, and you see his hands on her little baby, sydney, to think those murderous hands holding that little baby? it made my skin crawl. >> reporter: as for the defense's case? wilkie's lawyer stuck to the improbable story that wilkie had tried to sell during his interrogation after the cops had literally reduced the runaway theory to ashes. shelby committed suicide. the jury's judgement was swift and sure. they returned with a verdict in just 32 finding him guilty of murder.
and in a highly unusual move wilkie gives the thumbs up sign as goes off to spend the rest of his life in prison. >> we felt that we had achieved justice for shelby and that we brought some measure of closure for this really wonderful family. >> there was a feeling of joy and happiness that he was going to spend the rest of his life prison. >> reporter: the family has focused on the welfare of little sydney. >> i have been dreaming of holding you for a long time and now my dreams have come true. you are the most beautiful little girl i've ever seen and you are my precious angel. >> reporter: sydney, now 3 years old, has officially been adopted by shelby's brother bill and his wife stacie. they have no plans to take her to prison for a visit with her father.
>> he doesn't deserve to ever see her beautiful face. >> to have her has been the easiest, greatest thing in the world. >> shelby referred to her as her angel. and we all feel she really is a little angel. because she's kept our family together and given us a reason to smile. and one telling note, shelby's murder on new year's day was quite literally the first of 1,500 domes homicides around the country.
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(whisper) oh my gosh! excuse me! red robin. yummm. next friday night on abc, bruce jenner, the interview, the journey, the decisions, the future. the diane sawyer exclusive. and that's our program for tonight. but as you just saw, an incredible two-hour special, diane sawyer with the long-awaited bruce jenner interview. thanks for watching, and have a good evening and a great weekend.