(Seated: Shelby County Sheriff Gene Cavenaugh, with chief deputy Mark Hervey )
Photo Courtesy of The Harlan Newspapers
As I set out to produce this story as an original True-Crime Feature for WildBlue Press, there was no shortage of angles. Questions about self-defense, justification and mandatory sentencing laws. The crime was bizarre given the length of time that Scott Shanahan’s body was left in his bedroom.
A body in the bed. A controversial killing. Domestic violence at the forefront.
And yet none of those aspects was my primary motivation for writing DIXIE’s LAST STAND: Was it Murder or Self-Defense? Rather, there was something about WildBlue Press author Steve Jackson’s recent best-seller BOGEYMAN that drew me back to this case of more than a decade ago involving Dixie Shanahan and a tiny little town called Defiance, Iowa.
In BOGEYMAN, Garland, Texas, police detective Gary Sweet’s sheer grit and determination ultimately led to additional murder charges being brought against child serial killer David Elliot Penton. As a result, BOGEYMAN is a book that largely pays a wonderful tribute to the hard-working men and women who wear the badge. Anybody who works in law enforcement would be proud to read BOGEYMAN.
And that’s kind of what led me to wind up writing my latest book, DIXIE’s LAST STAND.
For all the sensational news media hype that the Dixie Shanahan case got, one key angle seemed to get overlooked by the public and it never got its due in the press: the tenacity and relentlessness of a small, rural Iowa sheriff’s office to unravel this mystery.
Shelby County is in western Iowa off Interstate 80 between Des Moines and Omaha. The entire county has a total population of barely 13,000 people. Most of the communities scattered within the sheriff’s coverage are towns of less than 1,000 people. The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office has less than 10 full-time sworn deputies, including the sheriff and the chief deputy. Consequently, the Shelby County Jail can only accommodate up to 14 prisoners: 12 males and 2 females. The sheriff’s office often goes anywhere five to 10 years — or longer — between active homicide investigations.
But back in 2003, within a few short months, this little law enforcement agency aggressively dug into the case. And not only was the mystery of Scott Shanahan resolved in quick order, but a swift arrest was made. The case culminated with a successful prosecution.
In BOGEYMAN, one of author Steve Jackson’s key heroes of the book is detective Gary Sweet. In DIXIE’S LAST STAND, you will get to follow the investigative push by long-time Shelby County Sheriff Gene Cavenaugh.
Cavenaugh, though now retired from the sheriff’s office, deserves the proper recognition for getting to the bottom of things in the case that is featured in DIXIE’S LAST STAND.