Every Breath You Take: A True Story of Obsession, Revenge, and Murder

( 146 )

Overview

AMERICA'S #1 TRUE-CRIME WRITER FULFILLS A MURDER VICTIM'S DESPERATE PLEA — WITH THIS SHATTERING NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
"If anything ever happens to me...
find Ann Rule and ask her to write my story."

In perhaps the first true-crime book written at the victim's request, Ann Rule untangles a web of lies and brutality that culminated in the murder of Sheila Blackthorne Bellush — a woman Rule never met, but ...

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Every Breath You Take: A True Story of Obsession, Revenge, and Murder

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Overview

AMERICA'S #1 TRUE-CRIME WRITER FULFILLS A MURDER VICTIM'S DESPERATE PLEA — WITH THIS SHATTERING NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
"If anything ever happens to me...
find Ann Rule and ask her to write my story."

In perhaps the first true-crime book written at the victim's request, Ann Rule untangles a web of lies and brutality that culminated in the murder of Sheila Blackthorne Bellush — a woman Rule never met, but whose shocking story she now chronicles with compassion, exacting detail, and unvarnished candor. Although happily ensconced in a loving second marriage, and a new family of quadruplets, Sheila never truly escaped the vicious enslavement of her ex-husband, multi-millionaire Allen Blackthorne, a handsome charmer — and a violent, controlling sociopath who subjected Sheila to unthinkable abuse in their marriage, and terrorized her for a decade after their divorce. When Sheila was slain in her home, in the presence of her four toddlers, authorities raced to link the crime to Blackthorne, the man who vowed to monitor Sheila's every move in his obsessive quest for power and revenge.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Anne Rule, the reigning queen of true crime, scores yet again with this thrilling tale of murder and intrigue. When Sheila Blackthorne Bellush is murdered, her husband -- a man the victim had learned to mistrust and fear -- is instantly suspected. But first he must be caught, and that would prove to be difficult. As usual, Rule is adept at exposing the sadistic ruthlessness that lies behind the seemingly happy American home.
Maureen Corrigan
As only the most adept crime stories do, Every Breath You Take manages to absolve its readers from the guilt of reading about such gruesomeness by engaging us in higher-minded, rubber-gloved investigations into the fault lines lurking in the human psyche and the American landscape. Rule digs up details about Allen Blackthorne's disturbing childhood and early adult life that form a case study of the classic American con man crossed with the more exotic strains of the sociopath. It is an affecting, tense and smart true-crime story. Washington Post Book World
Publishers Weekly
The latest from respected true crime veteran Rule (And Never Let Her Go) walks readers through the tortured life and ugly murder of Sheila Bellush, a woman relentlessly pursued by her sexually obsessed ex-husband, Allen Van Houte. The crime scene is horrific: Bellush lies dead in the kitchen while her toddler quadruplets are left to walk naked through her blood. Bellush had long warned close friends that she feared her ex-husband's reprisals and went so far as to request "if I'm not here... find Ann Rule and have her write my story." Rule, in classic form, meticulously re-creates the prosaic lives of her characters, charting one woman's pleasantly humdrum existence undermined by a man bent on making a fortune though defaulting on bank loans and pedestrian cons, such as swindling family members. After he lured Bellush into his world of sexual play, she left him, and he hired a man to kill her. The subsequent fallout included a complex and lengthy inquiry by investigators. There are no surprises here for the reader, though some may enjoy Rule's examination of Van Houte's manipulative and predatory nature. Essentially, this account is too long for its limited subject matter. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
As in her previous true-crime accounts, Rule presents the facts of a murder case with all the intrigue, suspense and characterization of an accomplished novelist. Listeners learn how young Sheila Bellush met and married charismatic Allen Blackthorne, only to find that his charming exterior hid a ruthless, abusive swindler. After years of beatings and the birth of two daughters, Sheila left him and later remarried and had quadruplets. Alan also remarried and was hugely successful in business, but seemed obsessed with the need to punish Sheila for leaving him. When she was found brutally murdered, her toddlers crying and huddled around her body, investigators quickly found the culprits but were they sent by Sheila's ex-husband, or did they act on their own? Veteran narrator Brown strikes just the right note in her reading. Her voice is varied and expressive, not one-note, and pleasant to listen to. But apart from a touch of sympathy, she is not emotional and does not project herself into this nonfiction account. Instead, she steps back and lets the story tell itself, altering her voice slightly to indicate a quote and deepening it a bit if it's a man talking, but not offering character voices. Based on the Free Press hardcover (Forecasts, Sept. 17, 2001). (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
CRIME Rule, a former police officer, investigates another cold-blooded murder. This one has an unusual origin: the doomed woman, suspecting her eventual demise, tells a relative to contact Rule in case she dies suddenly. Every Breath You Take points to the perpetrator, so it is the narrative skill that hooks us. From a much longer book, this abridgment's brisk pace is well calculated for audio, with Blair Brown's straightforward narration. The tale involves wife and child abuse, kinky sex (no details provided), and fortunes made and squandered on the wrong things. Will the evil man who specializes in colossal deception in the end slip through the legal net? Strong as fiction, these hard facts have been researched. Definitely recommended for popular true-crime collections. Gordon Blackwell, Eastchester, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Bestselling true-crime specialist Rule (Bitter Harvest) certainly has her fans, but here her leering, hyperventilating style is merely distasteful. The story at its center is tragic. Sheila Bellush met handsome, slippery Allen Blackthorne, fell in love, and married him when she was much too young. Allen turned out to be trouble. He beat her, he cross-dressed, he ripped off her parents and everyone around him. Eventually, Sheila got away, but years later Allen tracked her down and had her murdered; he was caught, convicted, and went to jail. In between, Allen became a millionaire, Sheila had quadruplets, they both remarried, and everyone moved to San Antonio. Rule doesn't omit a single tawdry detail; between the two of them, Allen and Sheila have so many dissipated relatives and face so many assorted disasters that it's impossible to keep them all straight. Any sense of reality gets lost in this bloated, exaggerated, highly condescending retelling, which reads less like nonfiction than the script for a made-for-TV movie. Rule's claim that Sheila's sister sought her out and told her Sheila had wanted her to write about the case seems, to put it mildly, self-aggrandizing. Exploitative and sad.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743439749
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 11/26/2002
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 704
  • Sales rank: 212,051
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.60 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Ann  Rule

Ann Rule is the author of thirty New York Times bestsellers, all of them still in print. Her first bestseller was The Stranger Beside Me, about her personal relationship to infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. A former Seattle police officer, she knows the crime scene firsthand. For more than two decades, she has been a powerful advocate for victims of violent crime. She lives near Seattle. Visit her at AuthorAnnRule.com.

Biography

Ann Rule has always had an insatiable interest in why people do the things they do. From devouring true crime books when she was a girl to pursuing a career in law enforcement as a Seattle policewoman, to achieving blockbuster success as a true crime author, Rule has dedicated her life to uncovering the dark motivations inside the minds of the criminals who live among us.

The majority of Rule's books have hit the New York Times bestseller list, including six Crime Files series volumes: A Rage to Kill, In the Name of Love, the #1 bestseller A Fever in the Heart, You Belong to Me, A Rose for Her Grave, and The End of the Dream.

...And Never Let Her Go is her chilling account of the nationally renowned case of wife killer Thomas Capano; Bitter Harvest covers the case of Debora Green, a physician and mother driven to murder; the #1 bestseller If You Really Loved Me tells the true story of a millionaire's murderous alter ego; Everything She Ever Wanted is the story of a sociopathic Georgia socialite and her fatal attractions; Small Sacrifices is Rule's heartbreaking account of a woman who slaughtered her three young children. Perhaps her best-known and most compelling work, The Stranger Beside Me, is the fascinating tale of Rule's growing terror as she realized her friend and coworker, Ted Bundy, was a serial killer. Finally, the #1 New York Times bestseller Dead by Sunset tells the story of a charismatic killer and the women who loved him.

Generous and civic-minded when it comes to sharing her expertise and insights, Rule has testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee and often speaks to law enforcement agencies, including the FBI Academy. She also served on the U.S. Justice Department task force that set up VI-CAP -- the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program now in use at the FBI to trace and apprehend serial killers.

Good To Know

Rule's early jobs included being a caseworker for the Washington State Department of Public Assistance and a police officer.

Rule's interest in criminology seems to run in the family: Her grandfather and an uncle were sheriffs, another uncle was a medical examiner, and her cousin was a district attorney.

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    1. Hometown:
      Seattle, Washington
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 22, 1935
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lowell, Michigan
    1. Education:
      Creative Writing Program, University of Washington

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Friday, November 7, 1997, was an ordinary day in Sarasota, Florida — or so it seemed. It was a weekday, and the morning began with the sun burning golden in an azure sky, but as one enthusiastic resident remarked, "The sun is always shining, and every day is beautiful in Sarasota. It took me a while to realize that I didn't have to take advantage of the days the sun shone the way I used to do in Connecticut; I could stay inside and read because there would always be another perfect day...and another...and another."

But later on this November day, clouds moved in over Sarasota. They were a peculiar leaden gray-purple shading to black, full of unpredictable electrical impulses that made one's hair stand on end. It was going to rain, but it wouldn't be a soft rain; it would surely be rain that thudded against the earth with a vengeance, forcing trees and bushes to the ground with the sheer weight of water, pounding the grass flat.

The entrance to the Gulf Gate subdivision was flanked by sweeping buff-colored brick walls bearing its name, but that was the limit of Gulf Gate's ostentation. In November the jacaranda trees planted there four decades ago were a froth of peach-colored blossoms, so lovely that they could not be real. Many of the summer flowers were faded, save some bougainvillea, and residents planted petunias and impatiens to carry them through the winter until the late summer sun's molten heat fried them.

Once a family neighborhood where children played, Gulf Gate was home now to many older couples and widows, who kept their shades drawn and hired yardmen to mow their lawns and prune their glossy-leafed trees into round orbs that looked like green plastic. Gulf Gate was close enough to Bee Ridge Road and I-75 for easy shopping and access to downtown Sarasota, but it was quiet, the streets hushed and almost free of traffic in the middle of a weekday. More often than not, there was no one walking a dog, or even peering out at the street from behind jalousie windows, those windows whose very name originates in the French word for jealousy — "to see without being seen." But few of the residents watched from their cool rooms, because there was nothing to see outside.

One woman who lived in Gulf Gate was watchful, almost unconsciously moving often to the front windows of her home to scan the street for a strange vehicle or for someone she didn't recognize approaching her house. She had good reason to be leery, although she and her husband had taken every precaution to keep their address secret.

Most of the homes in Gulf Gate were owner-occupied, not lavish but very comfortable L-shaped ramblers, painted in the soft pastels of the Florida gulf coast, peach and pink and even lavender — sunrise and sunset colors. Many had Florida rooms and swimming pools to make up for Gulf Gate's distance from Sarasota Bay. Although the neighborhood was far away from the beach, the November air was usually drenched with the salty-clean smell caught in the wind as it raced east toward the Atlantic Ocean.

Much like the rest of Gulf Gate, Markridge Road was a wide, tree-lined street with single-story houses set on small, perfectly groomed lots. The white rambler with the yellow door and matching shutters in the 3100 block had once been the cherished home of an elderly couple. By 1997 they were both dead, leaving their house and its furnishings to their son. Most of the time he lived in a northern state and rented out the Markridge house. He had changed nothing; the place was frozen in a time warp with furnishings that were modern three decades earlier. "All the furniture, even the knickknacks, dated back to the sixties," one former renter recalled. "But there was a warmth about that house. Everything was still there, even their old sheet music and books, just the way they left it. We enjoyed that when we lived there."

The couches and chairs reflected the tastes of another time, but they were comfortable. The appliances were decades old too. The refrigerator was avocado green and the stove bright yellow — but they worked. The phone bolted to the kitchen wall above the dishwasher had a rotary dial. It took a lot longer to make a call than a push-button phone, but until November 7 that was merely inconvenient and not disastrous.

The young couple who moved into 3120 Markridge Road in September 1997 had the look of dependable tenants, and they seemed to be pleased with the house even though they had six children and would have to squeeze to fit everyone in. They said they'd moved from Texas when the husband got a big promotion and they needed someplace to live in a hurry. Looking at their adorable bunch of toddlers, the landlord couldn't say no to them. He decided he could forgo occupying his parents' house for one winter.

The new renters had an excellent credit history, and they were attractive. Jamie Bellush was big and burly with the wide grin and the innate charm of a seasoned salesman. His wife, Sheila, was delicately pretty, very tiny and blond. Jamie did most of the talking, while Sheila seemed a little nervous. Well, the landlord figured, she had reason to be, with all those children to care for. The toddlers were winsome and totally captivating, and it was obvious that their parents adored them. The older girls' names didn't seem to fit them. The older sister, thirteen, was called Stevie, and she hovered over the babies as if she was a second mother to them. The other sister was a year younger, and her name was Daryl. Odd. Why would anyone give boys names to two very pretty girls?

Jamie Bellush explained that they were in the process of building a much larger home in Sarasota, so they could make do in cramped quarters until their house was finished in the spring.

No one in Sarasota knew that the couple had left a dream house 1200 miles behind them in San Antonio. It had been their ideal house in a wonderful neighborhood, so large that the Markridge rental would fit inside three times over. They had barely had a chance to live in it when they felt a desperate urgency to move. And move they had, under cover of darkness.

Only a handful of people in San Antonio knew where Jamie and Sheila and their six children were. They agreed it was best to tell no one except for their closest friends and relatives, including the couple who helped them move out of Texas in the dead of night. Sheila's family knew where they were in Sarasota and had their phone number, but not their street address. Maybe in time they could come out of hiding. It hurt Jamie and Sheila not to be in contact with so many people they loved, to contemplate holidays without those who were so important to them. Cutting off her life so abruptly was akin to cutting off her arm. Sheila only hoped that everyone understood that she had no choice.

Sarasota was a beautiful place to live, and thousands of people had chosen it because of that.

There was a magical blending of sea and land, merging so easily that it was difficult to see where Sarasota Bay ended and the sandy shoreline began. All the way south from Tampa, little lakes and rivers were mirrors reflecting the blue sky, and the soaring Sunshine Bridge rose like a giant roller-coaster over Tampa Bay. But it was dark when the Bellush convoy crossed it and they hadn't realized how high they were.

Had her circumstances been different Sheila would have loved the colorful history of Sarasota and the way the city embraced the arts. She still looked forward to exploring it with her girls and the babies when things were better. Although Ringling Brothers no longer wintered there, seventeen other circuses did and many circus folk lived there permanently. Ringling Brothers had thanked Sarasota with a wonderful art museum and a college.

There were sand castle contests, blues and jazz festivals, book fairs, local dramatic productions and Broadway plays on tour and the venerable Sarasota Opera House where the great Pavarotti once performed. Every season in Sarasota was packed with all manner of celebrations. Sheila loved to read and the new Sarasota library was huge and airy and filled with sculptures and soaring mobiles.

Marina Jack's in downtown Sarasota just off Route 41 — also known as the Tamiami Trail — was the kind of restaurant Sheila would enjoy, with its circling staircase and magnificent water views. Someday, perhaps. For now, she and her younger children were entranced with simpler things like the tiny, tiny dust-colored lizards that darted from leaf to leaf and scuttled under bushes so quickly that they almost seemed to be figments of their imaginations. The cost of living was higher than in San Antonio; the rent on their house was a rather shocking $2300 a month. But Jamie and Sheila had chosen Sarasota because it might be a safe place to hide and, eventually, to start over.

One day they hoped to be able to be in contact with the people they loved, but for the moment they couldn't do that. They could give their address to very few people, and even that was a commercial mailing service, a "suite" that was really a locked mailbox in a mall. They might as well have been in a witness relocation program. Although both Sheila and Jamie came from loving, extended families, they were essentially alone.

James Joseph Bellush was an ex-marine, still saddled with his childhood nickname in his mid-thirties, although he no longer looked like a "Jamie." He looked more like a football linebacker. Jamie was a detail man — a pharmaceutical salesman for Pfizer, and he was very good at it, an asset to the company. The very nature of his career meant that he often had to travel away from home to call on physicians in their offices along the west coast of Florida. It wasn't hard to sell Pfizer products, especially with the emergence of Viagra, but he still had to make his rounds. Jamie had been with Pfizer for a long time, and when he asked for a transfer out of San Antonio, the company accommodated him and gave him the Florida territory, a promotion. They even arranged to buy his house in Boerne, Texas, for the man who would replace him.

Sheila Bellush was thirty-five. She had worked in attorneys' offices since she was eighteen and had held an extremely responsible position in the law offices of Soules and Wallace in San Antonio for years. But now she was a full-time mom; there was no question at all of her going to work outside the home. She had more than enough to do. If she was discouraged at the prospect of fitting everyone into the Markridge house and being alone with their children while Jamie was on the road, she didn't complain. She did what she had to do, hoping always that their lives would become safer and calmer as time passed.

Sheila had no friends in Sarasota when they arrived in September, but she was working on that. She had always had friends, and it saddened her to have to leave so many behind without an explanation, although she suspected most of them knew why she had fled. Deeply religious, Sheila and Jamie were attending services at the Sarasota Baptist Church. It was a huge church with an active outreach program, and they were made welcome there. It was a start. They were rebuilding their lives, and she knew she could make new friends.

And so November 7 was an ordinary day, but only in the context of Sheila Bellush's life. In truth there were no ordinary days for Sheila; she had lived with fear so long that it seeped like acid into any fleeting serenity she might attain, corroding her thoughts, sending jets of adrenaline through her veins. No matter how the sun shone or how balmy the winds wafting off the bay, Sheila never really felt safe unless she was inside the house with the doors and windows tightly locked against the world. Those who didn't know her well wondered if she might be just a little paranoid. Those who knew her story understood, but they were far away and didn't know how to find her. It was safer that way — safer for them and safer for Sheila, Jamie, and their six children.

Just two months earlier Jamie and Sheila had lived in Boerne, Texas, a countrylike suburb northwest of San Antonio, where they owned their wonderful new home. Now it seemed as though they had never lived there at all. Maybe it had been too perfect to last.

But Sheila still had Jamie, and he loved her and protected her and their babies. He had begun the paperwork to adopt Stevie Leigh and Daryl Leigh, Sheila's teenage daughters by her former husband, Allen. They had their difficulties trying to get naturally rebellious teenagers and a longtime bachelor on the same wavelength, but Sheila believed things would work out.

On November 7, 1997, Jamie was on the road south of Sarasota, planning to visit several doctors' offices for Pfizer. It was important that he familiarize himself with his new territory and potential clients in west Florida. But it was Friday, and he had promised to be home long before it was dark. They would have the weekend together. Sheila had no doubt that they would spend the rest of their lives together.

She was half right.

Stevie Bellush, thirteen, was petite and small-boned like her mother, although she had her father's facial features and his dark hair. It was not difficult to say where she got her superior intelligence, because both Sheila and Allen, her father, were very smart. Stevie and Daryl, who was blond like Sheila, had always excelled in school and in sports. But they had been through a lot for anyone as young as they were; their childhoods hadn't been easy.

Now Stevie was in a wonderful mood as she hurried home from junior high school shortly before 4:00 P.M. that Friday. "I heard that a boy I liked was going to ask me out," she remembered. "And I wanted to tell my mom."

The front door was unlocked, and that was strange; her mother was adamant that they all lock the doors when they left, and even when they came back in after taking the garbage out. She didn't have a lot of rules, but that was one she insisted on. So it was unusual for the front door to be unlocked.

Afterward Stevie would remember that she couldn't make sense out of the first thing she saw when she walked into the front room. All of the babies were standing in the hallway crying as if their hearts would break. Her mother never let them cry; she always picked them up and soothed them. For some reason they had no clothes on — nothing but the little life vests they wore when they were in the swimming pool in the Florida room. Their faces were swollen from sobbing. Stevie thought they must have been crying for a long time.

What made the least sense to Stevie were the funny patterns of dark red specks on the babies' skin, some in their hair and on their feet. Some of them had swaths of the same color, as if someone had dipped a brush in red paint and then daubed at their flesh.

Shock and disbelief often block the mind from accepting what the eyes perceive. Even so, Stevie's dread was so great that there was a thunderous pounding in her ears. She patted the wailing toddlers absently and went looking for her mother, calling out for her as she moved through room after room.

Her own voice seemed to echo and bounce back from the walls. Stevie went out in the backyard and found no one there. She skirted the swimming pool in the Florida room and saw the babies' diapers inside their plastic pants on the table beside the pool, still shaped like their bodies. That wasn't strange; her half brothers and sister swam naked. If their diapers were still dry, her mom just put them back on after they swam. But she hadn't done that. All of their little bottoms were bare under their life jackets. Stevie couldn't figure out what was going on. She kept calling for her mother, and no one answered.

There was a funny smell in the house too — a hard, sweet iodiney-metallic odor, a smell Stevie could not recognize....

Copyright © 2001 by Ann Rule

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Friday, November 7, 1997, was an ordinary day in Sarasota, Florida—or so it seemed. It was a weekday, and the morning began with the sun burning golden in an azure sky, but as one enthusiastic resident remarked, "The sun is always shining, and every day is beautiful in Sarasota. It took me a while to realize that I didn't have to take advantage of the days the sun shone the way I used to do in Connecticut; I could stay inside and read because there would always be another perfect day...and another...and another."

But later on this November day, clouds moved in over Sarasota. They were a peculiar leaden gray-purple shading to black, full of unpredictable electrical impulses that made one's hair stand on end. It was going to rain, but it wouldn't be a soft rain; it would surely be rain that thudded against the earth with a vengeance, forcing trees and bushes to the ground with the sheer weight of water, pounding the grass flat.

The entrance to the Gulf Gate subdivision was flanked by sweeping buff-colored brick walls bearing its name, but that was the limit of Gulf Gate's ostentation. In November the jacaranda trees planted there four decades ago were a froth of peach-colored blossoms, so lovely that they could not be real. Many of the summer flowers were faded, save some bougainvillea, and residents planted petunias and impatiens to carry them through the winter until the late summer sun's molten heat fried them.

Once a family neighborhood where children played, Gulf Gate was home now to many older couples and widows, who kept their shades drawn and hired yardmen to mow their lawns and prune their glossy-leafed trees into round orbs that looked like green plastic. Gulf Gate was close enough to Bee Ridge Road and I-75 for easy shopping and access to downtown Sarasota, but it was quiet, the streets hushed and almost free of traffic in the middle of a weekday. More often than not, there was no one walking a dog, or even peering out at the street from behind jalousie windows, those windows whose very name originates in the French word for jealousy—"to see without being seen." But few of the residents watched from their cool rooms, because there was nothing to see outside.

One woman who lived in Gulf Gate was watchful, almost unconsciously moving often to the front windows of her home to scan the street for a strange vehicle or for someone she didn't recognize approaching her house. She had good reason to be leery, although she and her husband had taken every precaution to keep their address secret.

Most of the homes in Gulf Gate were owner-occupied, not lavish but very comfortable L-shaped ramblers, painted in the soft pastels of the Florida gulf coast, peach and pink and even lavender—sunrise and sunset colors. Many had Florida rooms and swimming pools to make up for Gulf Gate's distance from Sarasota Bay. Although the neighborhood was far away from the beach, the November air was usually drenched with the salty-clean smell caught in the wind as it raced east toward the Atlantic Ocean.


Much like the rest of Gulf Gate, Markridge Road was a wide, tree-lined street with single-story houses set on small, perfectly groomed lots. The white rambler with the yellow door and matching shutters in the 3100 block had once been the cherished home of an elderly couple. By 1997 they were both dead, leaving their house and its furnishings to their son. Most of the time he lived in a northern state and rented out the Markridge house. He had changed nothing; the place was frozen in a time warp with furnishings that were modern three decades earlier. "All the furniture, even the knickknacks, dated back to the sixties," one former renter recalled. "But there was a warmth about that house. Everything was still there, even their old sheet music and books, just the way they left it. We enjoyed that when we lived there."

The couches and chairs reflected the tastes of another time, but they were comfortable. The appliances were decades old too. The refrigerator was avocado green and the stove bright yellow—but they worked. The phone bolted to the kitchen wall above the dishwasher had a rotary dial. It took a lot longer to make a call than a push-button phone, but until November 7 that was merely inconvenient and not disastrous.


The young couple who moved into 3120 Markridge Road in September 1997 had the look of dependable tenants, and they seemed to be pleased with the house even though they had six children and would have to squeeze to fit everyone in. They said they'd moved from Texas when the husband got a big promotion and they needed someplace to live in a hurry. Looking at their adorable bunch of toddlers, the landlord couldn't say no to them. He decided he could forgo occupying his parents' house for one winter.

The new renters had an excellent credit history, and they were attractive. Jamie Bellush was big and burly with the wide grin and the innate charm of a seasoned salesman. His wife, Sheila, was delicately pretty, very tiny and blond. Jamie did most of the talking, while Sheila seemed a little nervous. Well, the landlord figured, she had reason to be, with all those children to care for. The toddlers were winsome and totally captivating, and it was obvious that their parents adored them. The older girls' names didn't seem to fit them. The older sister, thirteen, was called Stevie, and she hovered over the babies as if she was a second mother to them. The other sister was a year younger, and her name was Daryl. Odd. Why would anyone give boys names to two very pretty girls?

Jamie Bellush explained that they were in the process of building a much larger home in Sarasota, so they could make do in cramped quarters until their house was finished in the spring.

No one in Sarasota knew that the couple had left a dream house 1200 miles behind them in San Antonio. It had been their ideal house in a wonderful neighborhood, so large that the Markridge rental would fit inside three times over. They had barely had a chance to live in it when they felt a desperate urgency to move. And move they had, under cover of darkness.

Only a handful of people in San Antonio knew where Jamie and Sheila and their six children were. They agreed it was best to tell no one except for their closest friends and relatives, including the couple who helped them move out of Texas in the dead of night. Sheila's family knew where they were in Sarasota and had their phone number, but not their street address. Maybe in time they could come out of hiding. It hurt Jamie and Sheila not to be in contact with so many people they loved, to contemplate holidays without those who were so important to them. Cutting off her life so abruptly was akin to cutting off her arm. Sheila only hoped that everyone understood that she had no choice.

Sarasota was a beautiful place to live, and thousands of people had chosen it because of that.

There was a magical blending of sea and land, merging so easily that it was difficult to see where Sarasota Bay ended and the sandy shoreline began. All the way south from Tampa, little lakes and rivers were mirrors reflecting the blue sky, and the soaring Sunshine Bridge rose like a giant roller-coaster over Tampa Bay. But it was dark when the Bellush convoy crossed it and they hadn't realized how high they were.

Had her circumstances been different Sheila would have loved the colorful history of Sarasota and the way the city embraced the arts. She still looked forward to exploring it with her girls and the babies when things were better. Although Ringling Brothers no longer wintered there, seventeen other circuses did and many circus folk lived there permanently. Ringling Brothers had thanked Sarasota with a wonderful art museum and a college.

There were sand castle contests, blues and jazz festivals, book fairs, local dramatic productions and Broadway plays on tour and the venerable Sarasota Opera House where the great Pavarotti once performed. Every season in Sarasota was packed with all manner of celebrations. Sheila loved to read and the new Sarasota library was huge and airy and filled with sculptures and soaring mobiles.

Marina Jack's in downtown Sarasota just off Route 41—also known as the Tamiami Trail—was the kind of restaurant Sheila would enjoy, with its circling staircase and magnificent water views. Someday, perhaps. For now, she and her younger children were entranced with simpler things like the tiny, tiny dust-colored lizards that darted from leaf to leaf and scuttled under bushes so quickly that they almost seemed to be figments of their imaginations. The cost of living was higher than in San Antonio; the rent on their house was a rather shocking $2300 a month. But Jamie and Sheila had chosen Sarasota because it might be a safe place to hide and, eventually, to start over.

One day they hoped to be able to be in contact with the people they loved, but for the moment they couldn't do that. They could give their address to very few people, and even that was a commercial mailing service, a "suite" that was really a locked mailbox in a mall. They might as well have been in a witness relocation program. Although both Sheila and Jamie came from loving, extended families, they were essentially alone.

James Joseph Bellush was an ex-marine, still saddled with his childhood nickname in his mid-thirties, although he no longer looked like a "Jamie." He looked more like a football linebacker. Jamie was a detail man—a pharmaceutical salesman for Pfizer, and he was very good at it, an asset to the company. The very nature of his career meant that he often had to travel away from home to call on physicians in their offices along the west coast of Florida. It wasn't hard to sell Pfizer products, especially with the emergence of Viagra, but he still had to make his rounds. Jamie had been with Pfizer for a long time, and when he asked for a transfer out of San Antonio, the company accommodated him and gave him the Florida territory, a promotion. They even arranged to buy his house in Boerne, Texas, for the man who would replace him.

Sheila Bellush was thirty-five. She had worked in attorneys' offices since she was eighteen and had held an extremely responsible position in the law offices of Soules and Wallace in San Antonio for years. But now she was a full-time mom; there was no question at all of her going to work outside the home. She had more than enough to do. If she was discouraged at the prospect of fitting everyone into the Markridge house and being alone with their children while Jamie was on the road, she didn't complain. She did what she had to do, hoping always that their lives would become safer and calmer as time passed.

Sheila had no friends in Sarasota when they arrived in September, but she was working on that. She had always had friends, and it saddened her to have to leave so many behind without an explanation, although she suspected most of them knew why she had fled. Deeply religious, Sheila and Jamie were attending services at the Sarasota Baptist Church. It was a huge church with an active outreach program, and they were made welcome there. It was a start. They were rebuilding their lives, and she knew she could make new friends.


And so November 7 was an ordinary day, but only in the context of Sheila Bellush's life. In truth there were no ordinary days for Sheila; she had lived with fear so long that it seeped like acid into any fleeting serenity she might attain, corroding her thoughts, sending jets of adrenaline through her veins. No matter how the sun shone or how balmy the winds wafting off the bay, Sheila never really felt safe unless she was inside the house with the doors and windows tightly locked against the world. Those who didn't know her well wondered if she might be just a little paranoid. Those who knew her story understood, but they were far away and didn't know how to find her. It was safer that way—safer for them and safer for Sheila, Jamie, and their six children.

Just two months earlier Jamie and Sheila had lived in Boerne, Texas, a countrylike suburb northwest of San Antonio, where they owned their wonderful new home. Now it seemed as though they had never lived there at all. Maybe it had been too perfect to last.

But Sheila still had Jamie, and he loved her and protected her and their babies. He had begun the paperwork to adopt Stevie Leigh and Daryl Leigh, Sheila's teenage daughters by her former husband, Allen. They had their difficulties trying to get naturally rebellious teenagers and a longtime bachelor on the same wavelength, but Sheila believed things would work out.

On November 7, 1997, Jamie was on the road south of Sarasota, planning to visit several doctors' offices for Pfizer. It was important that he familiarize himself with his new territory and potential clients in west Florida. But it was Friday, and he had promised to be home long before it was dark. They would have the weekend together. Sheila had no doubt that they would spend the rest of their lives together.

She was half right.


Stevie Bellush, thirteen, was petite and small-boned like her mother, although she had her father's facial features and his dark hair. It was not difficult to say where she got her superior intelligence, because both Sheila and Allen, her father, were very smart. Stevie and Daryl, who was blond like Sheila, had always excelled in school and in sports. But they had been through a lot for anyone as young as they were; their childhoods hadn't been easy.

Now Stevie was in a wonderful mood as she hurried home from junior high school shortly before 4:00 P.M. that Friday. "I heard that a boy I liked was going to ask me out," she remembered. "And I wanted to tell my mom."

The front door was unlocked, and that was strange; her mother was adamant that they all lock the doors when they left, and even when they came back in after taking the garbage out. She didn't have a lot of rules, but that was one she insisted on. So it was unusual for the front door to be unlocked.

Afterward Stevie would remember that she couldn't make sense out of the first thing she saw when she walked into the front room. All of the babies were standing in the hallway crying as if their hearts would break. Her mother never let them cry; she always picked them up and soothed them. For some reason they had no clothes on—nothing but the little life vests they wore when they were in the swimming pool in the Florida room. Their faces were swollen from sobbing. Stevie thought they must have been crying for a long time.

What made the least sense to Stevie were the funny patterns of dark red specks on the babies' skin, some in their hair and on their feet. Some of them had swaths of the same color, as if someone had dipped a brush in red paint and then daubed at their flesh.

Shock and disbelief often block the mind from accepting what the eyes perceive. Even so, Stevie's dread was so great that there was a thunderous pounding in her ears. She patted the wailing toddlers absently and went looking for her mother, calling out for her as she moved through room after room.

Her own voice seemed to echo and bounce back from the walls. Stevie went out in the backyard and found no one there. She skirted the swimming pool in the Florida room and saw the babies' diapers inside their plastic pants on the table beside the pool, still shaped like their bodies. That wasn't strange; her half brothers and sister swam naked. If their diapers were still dry, her mom just put them back on after they swam. But she hadn't done that. All of their little bottoms were bare under their life jackets. Stevie couldn't figure out what was going on. She kept calling for her mother, and no one answered.

There was a funny smell in the house too—a hard, sweet iodiney-metallic odor, a smell Stevie could not recognize....

Copyright © 2001 by Ann Rule

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 150 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2001

    A Cop's Appreciation

    Sheila Blackthorne Bellush knew two things for sure. She knew that her ex-husband would murder her and she understood that Ann Rule was someone who would honor her with the truth in her description of Sheila's life with Allen Blackthorne and her death at his hand. I have been in law enforcement for thirty years and have investigated many crimes related to domestic violence, including homicides and suicides. Ann Rule has maintained her standard for thorough research of her subjects and the investigation and prosecution of the criminal case. Ms. Rule understands the complexities of the behaviors and relationships in cases of domestic violence. She holds true to honesty in her description of Allen Blackthorne as a master manipulator who seeks to control Sheila for years after their divorce. Ms. Rule has provided us with a glimpse into the heart of evil when Allen realizes that he can no longer control Sheila. He is successful in taking from her the one thing she has always known he would--her life. Thanks to Ann Rule for holding fast to Sheila Bullush's request to tell her story.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2010

    Too Close to Home

    I feel I was lead to read this book because of my impending divorce. My soon to be ex-husband's persona is much like that of Allen Blackthorne's. Reading this book has opened my eyes to a harsh reality that makes me cringe...

    I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about true crime.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2003

    A very long book.

    The story itself was very sad and tragic. This is the first book I read by Ann Rule. The book was at least 200 pages too long.. She was way too descriptive about everything and everyone. I lost interest in some parts of the book. I agonized over finishing the book because I didnt see an end to it. Also, the picture she paints of the victim, makes her seem like a saint. And no one is a saint. So I thought she was a bit too generous in the description of the victim. I would only recommend the book if you have a lot of time on your hands. Otherwise, pass.

    3 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2001

    Beyond Diabolical Describes Rule's Latest Villain

    I have read all of Ms.Rule's books and this is one of her very best! The shockingly evil nature of Allen Blackthorne, the ex husband of Sheila Bellush, is exposed and developed in captivating detail as he haunts, taunts and harasses his ex-wife relentlessly across a seven year period ,leading to the prophetic, tragic and violent ending of her young life..In the eeriest twist to this tale, Sheila had asked her sister to find Ann Rule to write her story, Sheila knowing full well that she could not escape the demon that Allen Blackthorne had become.This vision by Sheila of her eventual fate, makes this story that much more compelling..the superb forensic and detective work is spellbinding as a team of lawmen, including members of the legendary Texas Rangers, tightens the net around Allen Blackthorne to bring him to justice..The trial is a 'sweaty palms' read, as I found myself worrying that somehow Allen Blackthorne would connive and feint his way through the legal system like he did as a charlatan in every other facet of his bizarre life...The research done for this great book provides a rich fabric of detail which is gripping.. Every Breath You Take is another Rule gem that you simply can't put down..a great read!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 15, 2011

    Page Turner

    Although I watched this story on 48 Hours, the book is more detailed and gives a lot more information. Ann Rule is an excellent writer and very detailed in her books. If you love true crime, you will definately enjoy this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2012

    Ann Rule's e-books

    I'm hoping someone can answer my question. Does Ms. Rule's e-books contain the pictures like her paperbacks do. You see for me, having pics of the victims & detectives allows me to be more "vested" in the story. It truly helps me to get to see what she may be discussing within the book.
    I LOVE Ms. Rule's books, but for me, having the pictures elevates them to real "true crime" novels, instead of just stories, and since I have a limited amount of credit, I would like to know, so that if the e-books do not have the pics, I will purchase a paperback book and save my credit for other books.
    Thanking you in advance for any help you can give. :) M

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2005

    never judge a book by its cover

    Looking at the cover i would of never picked it up off the shelf. That book was one of the best most realist books i have ever read in my whole entire life. I read it in two days. It was sad but worth reading. I am definatley gonna start reading more nonfiction.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2003

    One of the Greatest Ann Rule Books Ever!!!!!

    Ann Rule is the best true crime author ever! I couldn't put this book down. I think that this poor lady had a horrible husband and I am happy she got away, the only sad thing is I feel for her newest husband and all of her children. And I am very relieved that that sick man got caught and it would be a bad , bad thing if he was still free in this world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2003

    Couldn't put it down

    I love all of Ann Rule's books. I used to work as a secretary at the city police department so I love true crime. Allen Blackthorn is a scary man. Reading about him made me realize I know someone like him and after reading this book, I have cut all ties. Doesn't matter who he hurts as long as he gets what he wants.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2002

    A Sad Story and a Hard to Believe Bunch of Characters

    Everything in this story is hard to believe. Yet it is unfortunately a true story. Puzzling though. How could these one-time killers/plotters, four of them, managed to matter of factly conspire to kill that poor woman. How could the affable Joey Del Toro become a murderer? This book is overfilled with details but lacks specifics when describing the characters. They are all filled with contradictions. For example Sheila's new husband appears to be a child beater and a caring father at the same time. The good parts of the books are the tracing of the killer and the trial. The rest is a bit too long and too detailed. What is absolutelay useless are the one page life story of the detectives assigned to the case. Who cares about their reason for joining the force, etc.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2013

    Not one of Ms. Rules better books

    I don't like to not finish a book but with this one I could not continue to its end. I gave up on page 150 of this 500 page book and the last 20 of those I skimmed hoping to find more interesting writing. This book doesn't even seem like it was written by Ann Rule because the writing is amateurish and doesn't flow. The descriptions of Allen and his extreme behaviors were stunted and shallow. She breezed over his psychopathic behaviors without telling the reader much about him or the acts. The stories of the abuse suffered by Sheila at his hands isn't told any better either. By the 150th page I think I knew more about almost anything and anybody else other than Allen and Sheila and their relationship. The long history of family going back generations didn't add anything worthwhile and should have been left out.

    Sheila and her family have my deepest sympathy. It is a tragic story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    One of Ms Rules better books...

    One of Ms Rules better books...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2013

    Highly recommend

    Another very interesting tale from Ann Rule. However she spends too much time with the historical aspects describing the parents and grandparents, etc. of both the victim and the murderer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013

    If you love ann rule, you will absolutely love this book

    Excellant crime book. Ann Rule is at her best. Characters come alive. Could not put it down. Miust read if you are iinto true crime stories .

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013

    Great

    Another well written book by Ann Rule.. i could not put book down til finished.. this book really got to me, the way Shelia was treated n murdered.. i felt all emotions. All involved on what was done to Shelia got what they deserved, i feel punishment could have n wished it was worse especially for the ex-husband .. my heart goes to the children.. Bn

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2012

    Best of her books yet

    I recommend this book to everyone. Gives me goose bumps every time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012

    Flare

    Freedom chasers.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012

    Starr

    She picked up the kit and carried her to result two

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2012

    Silver

    She nodded and asked,"You warm enough?"

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 25, 2012

    It's a slow read

    The book is taking me a while to get through. It goes into to much of the history of the characters. I skipped pages that I didn't feel was necessary in the book. I'm sure it will get better towards the end, if I ever get there.

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