It was the third week of October in 2003. My first week at the Omaha World-Herald newspaper in Nebraska when a news alert came over the Associated Press wire from neighboring Iowa. A woman in a small-town was put in jail, accused of killing her husband. (More about DIXIE’S LAST STAND: Was It Murder or Self-Defense?)
I grabbed my reporter’s notebook. I hopped into one of the newspaper’s many company cars with Rudy Smith, a long-time and legendary Omaha World-Herald photographer. Rudy had been at the paper for decades. That Wednesday morning, our destination was Defiance, Iowa, the scene of the crime, about an hour’s drive to the east.
During the drive, Rudy and I shared newspaper stories as we traveled along Interstate 80. Rudy rattled off the names of the powerful and mighty politicians and lawyers around Omaha. I mostly listened and asked a few questions. Once we reached our exit, we then drove several more miles. We passed an endless stretch of farms. Eventually, we reached the town of Defiance, a community of about 350.
There, we converged upon the house on Third Avenue. The home looked pretty normal. It was not dreary or spooky.
But the house had lots of dark secrets. Hidden secrets that finally burst open earlier that week with the discovery of Scott Shanahan’s body – what was left of it anyway. And Scott Shanahan wasn’t just dead. He had been dead for more than a year. Fourteen months to be precise. And all that while his wife, Dixie, continued to live inside the house. She was nurturing her baby and raising their other two children, ages 7 and 5. Once Scott’s body was found, law enforcement officials arrested Dixie and charged her with murder.
Initially, it seemed as though everybody in the little Iowa town was proud or supportive of Dixie Shanahan. People rooted for her to prevail.
That was [over] 11 years ago. Today, the case and the final disposition still sparks heated conversations in restaurants, bars and on social media. Now it’s time to bring the full case to you, the faithful and loyal readers of true-crime from all across North America. I want you to know the full story, the key facts, the circumstances and the key characters of this small-town tragic story. DIXIE’S LAST STAND: Was it Murder or Self-Defense? may leave you burning with lots of questions about our justice system, about domestic violence, fairness and sentencing laws.
[More than] eleven years ago, when I hopped into that Omaha World-Herald company car with photographer Rudy Smith, I kind of sensed that this shocking murder in a small Iowa town was unusual, bizarre and gruesome like no other. I was right.