The Murder of Skylar Neese

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EARLY LIFE:

Skylar Neese was born on February 10, 1996. The only child of parents Dave and Mary Neese, she was known for being an energetic and shy girl who stole the hearts of everyone she came into contact with.

Skylar was very intelligent and from an early age showed an interest in reading and math. While attending University High School in Morningtown, West Virginia, she was a straight-A student with a 4.0 GPA.

While attending school, Skylar met her two best friends, Sheila Eddy and Rachel Shoaf. The trio had dubbed themselves “The Three Musketeers” and she was fiercely loyal to them and anyone else she considered a friend. While not at school or working her job at the local Wendy’s, the 16-year-old could be found talking on the phone with Sheila and Rachel for hours at a time.

DISAPPEARANCE:

On the night of July 5, 2012, Skylar returned home after working the night shift. Upon her return, she kissed both her parents goodnight and headed off to bed.

On the morning of July 6, both Skylar’s parents left for work. Dave worked at the local Wal-Mart and Mary at a medical office. Given Skylar’s door was closed, both assumed she was still asleep upon their departures.

That afternoon, Dave returned home to find his daughter’s bedroom door still closed. He knocked on it, telling Skylar it was time to wake up. When he received no response, he entered the room, only to find her bed hadn’t been slept in and her window screen was missing.

Alarmed, Dave phone Mary, who theorized Skylar was probably out with friends. To confirm, he called his daughter’s friends – including Sheila – but no one had seen or heard from her.

Skylar was set to work the 4:00pm shift at Wendy’s, so Dave and Mary made a plan to call the restaurant around 4:10pm to see if their daughter made it in. However, Wendy’s called them first, asking if Skylar was planning on coming in for her shift. Given she had never missed work, this concerned her parents.

Around this time, Sheila called Mary to tell her that Rachel, Skylar and herself had snuck out the previous night to drive around town, but that Skylar had been dropped off at the end of the street around midnight. She hadn’t wanted to be dropped off in front of the apartment building, in case her parents discovered her sneaking back in.

Mary became worried someone might have abducted her daughter from the drop-off point, and Dave called the police.

INVESTIGATION & DISCOVERY:

When police received the call from Skylar’s father, the first thing they did was pull surveillance footage from the apartment building, which showed Skylar willingly getting into a car around 12:30am on the morning of July 6. As such, they believed her to be a runaway and thus did not issue an AMBER Alert. This didn’t sit well with her parents, as Skylar didn’t have a history of running away.

After the police were called, Sheila came over to help comfort Dave and Mary, as well as aid in the search. She helped post flyers with Mary, as well as knocked on the doors of those in the neighbourhood. To those looking in, Sheila appeared to be concerned about her missing friend.

A few days after Skylar went missing, Dave made an appeal to both the public and his daughter via the local news. A community vigil was also held, which Rachel and Shelia attended.

Police investigated each tip and sighting that was called into them, with witnesses reporting having seen Skylar in Morningtown, New York and California. However, all were dead ends. To help give the investigation some direction, Skylar’s cellphone and ATM records were pulled. However, neither had been used since before her disappearance.

It was becoming clear that this case was more than a mere runaway.

A few weeks into the investigation, the police got word of two bank robberies that had occurred in the neighbouring town of Blacksville, West Virginia around the time of Skylar’s disappearance. A tip was called into state police, saying the stolen money was used to purchase drugs for a party where Skylar overdosed on heroin. Those in attendance didn’t know what to do with her body, so they hid it. Further investigation would conclude with was merely a rumour and that the robberies had no connection to Skylar’s case.

As the investigation dragged on, rumours began to spread both throughout the hallways of University High School and on social media. Along with the overdose rumours, some believed Skylar to have gone to another country, to have met someone online or that someone had followed her home after Rachel and Sheila dropped her off. It was also believed by many that the Sheila and Rachel weren’t being completely honest with police.

Aside from the odd social media post, Rachel and Sheila began to act as if nothing had happened. When their texts were examined by investigators, they showed no mention of their missing friend.

The FBI eventually became involved in the case and began interviewing students at the high school. When it was brought to their attention that Rachel and Sheila had been acting strange since the disappearance, they themselves were interviewed and asked to submit to polygraph tests. Sheila failed hers and Rachel backed out at the last minute. During their interviews, Sheila was noticeably calm, while Rachel was noted as being distracted.

Given how close the three girls had been, Dave and Mary believed police were wasting their time looking into the pair. However, investigators were convinced the girls knew more than they were saying. This was due to their story, which appeared rehearsed. They claimed to have picked Skylar up on the night of July 5, where they proceeded to drive around town and smoke some marijuana before dropping her off on her street.

To help determine the validity of their story, police began to collect physical evidence. They managed to obtain surveillance footage from a convenience store that showed Sheila’s car heading west to Blacksville, instead of east like the girls had claimed. As well, Rachel’s cellphone pinged off a cell tower in the town.

Upon learning of these inconsistencies, Skylar’s parents began to pressure the pair to tell the truth and began acknowledging that Sheila, in particular, had started to become a bad influence on their daughter.

In November 2012, Rachel changed her story, admitting the three of them had driven to Blacksville and that Skylar had asked them to let her out of the car while there. The next day, Sheila’s version of events changed to match this story. However, things started to change in the girls, with Rachel becoming visibly more distressed.

In December 2012, Rachel and Sheila stopped attending school and Rachel began to act out at home. On December 28, her mother called 911 to report her daughter for acting violently toward her and she was taken to a mental health facility, where she was held for a few days.

Upon being discharged from the facility, Rachel agreed to meet with state police at her lawyer’s office, where she admitted to her and Sheila’s murder of Skylar. She claimed the pair had planned it months in advance, and had opted to stab her as they didn’t know how to use guns. On July 5, they packed the trunk of Sheila’s car with a shovel, clean clothes, kitchen knives and cleaning supplies.

That night, they picked Skylar up, drove about an hour away and found a spot to smoke marijuana. When Skylar went back to the car to grab a lighter, the pair attacked their friend, who tried to run away, only to be tackled to the ground by Rachel. They had tried to slit her throat, as they’d read online that that would kill her faster. After she was dead, they tried to bury her body, but found the ground was too hard. So they dragged her to the side of the road and covered her with leaves and branches before changing their clothes and driving away.

From this story, police were able to surmise the car Skylar was seen getting into on the apartment surveillance footage was Sheila’s.

When asked why they’d killed Skylar, Rachel simply stated it was because the pair didn’t like her. As for why they chose July 5, Rachel had wanted the murder done before she went off to church camp.

Even though they had received a confession, police were not able to arrest Rachel at the time given all they had was circumstantial. They also kept it quiet, given the ongoing nature of the investigation.

Not long after confessing, Rachel led authorities to Skylar’s body, which was just across the Pennsylvania border. Remains were found at the location and DNA testing confirmed them to be Skylar’s. Her family was informed.

Given the discovery of a body, police decided to use Rachel in getting Sheila to confess. They put a wire on her, but she was unable to elicit a confession from her friend. However, given the evidence they had, they were able to secure search warrants for Sheila’s house, where they seized knives, and her car, where blood was found in the trunk. In mid-April 2013, it was ID’d as Skylar’s.

ARRESTS & SENTENCING:

On May 1, 2013, Rachel Stoaf pleaded guilty to second degree murder, after a deal was reached with police for her cooperation. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with the possibility of parole in 10 years. At her sentencing, she addressed the court and Skylar’s family.

The same day, Sheila Eddy was arrested while eating at a local Cracker Barrel restaurant with her mother. She was charged with Skylar’s murder. In September 2013, she pleaded not guilty to all charges against her, a move that greatly upset Skylar’s family, as they had been hoping to avoid a trial.

In the lead up to Sheila’s trial, the question on everyone’s mind was the motive. Why had the two girls killed their best friend? In the month’s leading up to Skylar’s death, fellow classmates claim the trio’s friendship had begun to deteriorate, with Rachel and Sheila starting to omit Skylar from the group. The three would also frequently subtweet each other.

There had also been rumours, confirmed through Skylar’s private journal, that Rachel and Sheila had developed a relationship with one another and they were afraid Skylar would reveal it to those at school.

No motive has ever been confirmed by police.

In January 2014, a week before her trial was set to start, Sheila pleaded guilty to first degree murder. The charges of kidnapping and conspiracy were dropped. She was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole in 15 years. She did not address the court.

Both girls are both currently serving out their sentences at the correctional center in Mason County.

AFTERMATH:

Since Skylar’s murder, the students at University High School have acknowledged they’ve developed trust issues regarding those in their lives.

In 2013, Skylar’s Law was passed in West Virgina to ensure AMBER Alerts are issued for all missing children, even if police consider them a runaway. In 2017, Senators Joe Manchin and John Cornyn introduced a similar law to congress, which would establish a National Missing Advisory Communications Network to immediately notify the public of a missing child if there was risk of serious injury or death.

In the wake of Skylar’s death, her parents created Skylar’s Promise, which aims to help others and keep her memory alive through sharing her story. They visit schools and prisons, where they talk about how all actions have consequences and preach positivity.

Image Credit: CBS News

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