Oct. 20, 2021

Vicky Dana Doe and the Victims of Shawn Grate Part 2

Vicky Dana Doe and the Victims of Shawn Grate Part 2

Rebekah Leicy

Candice Cunningham

Elizabeth Griffith

Stacey Stanley (Hicks)

Dana Lowrey

 

Sources:

Shawn Grate: The Twisted Confessions Of A Serial Killer - YouTube

Shawn Grate: 911 Call from Woman Held Captive - YouTube

02 Oct 2016, Page A1 - News-Journal at Newspapers.com first of 3 part series

02 Oct 2016, Page A1 - The Marion Star at Newspapers.com

Leicy's family doesn't think serial killer Grate murdered her (mansfieldnewsjournal.com)

Canton mother fears daughter was victim of suspected serial killer - News - The Repository - Canton, OH (cantonrep.com)

Families hope for justice in Shawn Grate trial (news5cleveland.com)

Alleged kidnapping, rape victim testifies in Grate case | News and Events in Ashland, Ohio | richlandsource.com

Sheriff: Grate can't remember Marion victim's name (mansfieldnewsjournal.com)

David Cobb: Dana Lowrey 'just stopped calling one day' | News | ktbs.com

The Jane Doe Shawn Grate Murdered Identified As Dana Nicole Lowrey | QNewsHub

Ohio victim of serial killer identified 12 years after body was found - News - The Columbus Dispatch - Columbus, OH

 

Let’s find out what he was doing since his divorce from Amber back in 2012. He’s in Mansfield, Ohio, which is just 40mi east of where he grew up in Marion. At this point Shawn was no longer living with Amber, obviously, so he would stay in cheap motels or convince people in town to let him crash on their couch. One example of this we see in Sandy and her husband. They are local business-owners and run an antique shop downtown. Sandy met Grate in 2012 and he, of course, endeared himself to her. So much so that she and her husband would give him work to do around the shop, and eventually have him come to their house to do some landscaping work. Sandy tells us that he was a hard worker, but he was homeless and he was not committed to finding actual gainful employment. Supposedly he did have his own apartment at some point, but he told Sandy that it didn't even have running water. So while she tried to mother him and get him motivated to get his shit together - he is 40yo by now for crying out loud - she and her husband also took him in here and there. They let him stay over their house, offer their bathroom to him to clean up, and gift him food, clothes, and other basic essentials. And while he was grateful to them, on the outside, this was never going to persuade him to improve his place in the world. Because he had a reason for not wanting to find work on the books.

We’ve all heard stories of couples splitting up, and the wife getting the kids, but the divorce is so volatile that the husband will do anything he can to avoid giving “that woman” any of his money? So he gets himself fired from his stable job, moves into a shit studio apartment, and then works for cash at the deli for the indefinite future? “Hey, I can’t pay child support if I can’t even afford to pay my own bills, right?” Yeah, that’s what’s going on in POS Grate’s head. Coming into 2013, he had racked up $5k in child support for Amber’s daughter and, wait for it, $34k for one of his earlier children from back when he was in his early 20s. And it’s not like the courts were ignoring this. They had actually locked him up for a week for the $34k arrears, but clearly that wasn’t going to encourage him to get on track. Later on, he would actually be charged with willfully avoiding employment, which I didn’t even know was a thing.

Going into 2013 and ‘14 he’s dinking around town, avoiding family court, working only enough to feed himself, and barely enough to give himself a roof over his head. There’s no relationships that we know of, like he had with Christina and Amber, nothing long term. He’s also picked up by the police for drug possession - finally, we were all wondering where drugs come into this story, right? - somehow paid a $100 fine and got 6mo probation. He also frequented Third Street in town, Mansfield’s Red Light District. One sex worker the Mansfield News Journal interviewed tells us that she didn’t think he was a drug user, but he was odd. The most he could ever offer for sexual favors was about $20, and he was pretty reserved during the act. More than we wanted to know, thanks. 

Come Jan-Feb 2015, 31yo Rebekah Leicy, a local in Mansfield goes missing. Her body was found a year in March 2016 in a wooded area in Mifflin, about 10mi from Mansfiled. Her father tells us she was a sex worker, had a drug addiction, and was living on the streets. Grate will confess to killing her, but her father, at least as of 2019, is not convinced. He thinks she had stolen drugs from her dealer, and she was killed in retaliation. We’re going to hear more about Rebekah’s murder in a little bit. 

And then we come to the summer of 2016.  At this point, Grate had gotten himself hooked up with a local construction outfit for cash pay, but he’d lost interest in doing good work altogether. His boss, Jim Christman, did the best he could to get Great on his feet. He offered him a room for cheap, added him to his crew, and even went so far as to buy Grate equipment to help him start a sign-making business. A table saw, power tools… that shit’s not cheap. And this is not new for this POS. How many times have we seen him befriend someone, they try to convince that earning his own is 1. The right way to live your life and 2, actually feels pretty good, it’s huge confidence booter. But instead, he’d just rather continue seducing them into giving him money, giving him a roof over his head… and now paying for shop equipment that he really has no interest in using… because do we really think this guy is going to finally get legit… if he can just score a table saw? No. 

Wally Toward, the manager of a local studio complex who hired Christman to fix up some rooms, tells us that Grate wasn’t worth the money Christman paid him or the gifts he gave him. One day, Grate was supposed to paint a room… a single room. Christman checked on his progress 2.5hrs later, and only one wall was done. So Wally gave him $10 for the wall, and sent him on his way, figuring he’d just do it himself. After that, he told Christman, “Listen, I like you, I like your guys, but I don’t want you bringing Shawn here anymore.” because not only was he a crappy worker, but this is the landlord that told us in Part 1 that Grate would hang around the complex and trying to pick up women and get them to let him live with them. And Wally’s protective of his tenants. A lot of them are financially insecure, going through rough times and they don’t need Grate bringing them down any further. 

Enter Candice Cummingham. Candice was 29yo and living with Grate at the apartment he rented from Christman in Mansfield. She was the middle of three kids and mom says she was a bright, happy child. Come high school, though, she started hanging out with a group of friends who preferred drugs over grades, and she followed their lead. Candice had two kids by the time she was 21, and shortly after, CPS stepped in and took the kids away. Candice was devastated of course, but after learning that drugs can numb your pain, her addiction grew. Grate will say they were together for about 7 months, and we see she was professing her love for him on Facebook back in March of the year she was killed. She was talking about how they were going to get a new start once he got out of jail - likely for his child support issues. 

Neighbors would say from the looks of it, they didn’t have the best relationship. But it could have been Grate’s fault, or it could have been hers. Depending on who you talk to, Candice either settled him down, or egged him on. Probably a little bit of both. 

So finally in June, Jim Christman has enough of their shenanigans and evicts Candice and Grate. So now they are both homeless. But they find an empty house about 3 miles away to squat in. And Candice calls mom. She tells her that she is in love and they are going to move to North Carolina and get married. Dianna was happy for her and wanted to give her her space, so when Candice said, “I’ll let you know when we get down there and settle in.” Mom said, “OK. Good luck, love you!” And then Candice never checked in with mom again. So as far as Mom knew, Candice and Shawn were now down in NC, but when she called back the number that Candice had last called her form, the number was disconnected. So all they could do was wait. 

When asked about getting the knock on the door from detectives on September 15th, mom Dianna Gardener tells us, “You sit at home and you watch all this stuff, and you see that about (serial killer Anthony) Sowell in Cleveland and that other one with the bodies in the backyard, and you think, ‘Boy, I’m so thankful that is never going to happen to me. But when it does happen to you. You do not know the nightmare that a mother has to go through with that initial knock on the door.”

According to local police reports, on June 20th, 2016, an officer spotted Grate walking on Route 30, about 2mi from the house he was squatting in. The officer knows nothing about this house, but he does recognize Grate and stop his patrol car to question him. Seems there was a recent arrest warrant -yes, child support - out for Grate and the officer suspected this man walking along the side of the road was him. Grate answers some questions, but when the officer gets into his car to run the SSN Grate gives him, he bolts. Police try to find him, even employing some Good Boy K-9 officers, but they never find him.  Two miles away on this same day, the squat house mysteriously went up in flames. Police recognized it as intentionally started, but they didn’t know anyone was living there, and they didn’t know how proceed with the arson investigation. Later on, Grate would bring police back to the house and point out where he left Candice’s body.

29yo Elizabeth Griffith went missing from the Ashland Walmart on August 16 2016. Elizabeth had become estranged by her family when she was 18 and she was taken in by her pastor and his wife. Now, Elizabeth did have mental health issues, one source says she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Becky and Brian Chavez tells us Elizabeth became like a daughter to them, and even started calling them Mom and Dad. She did chores around the house and was a wonderful person. Becky says, “"She just really loved people, and her laugh, oh my Gosh when she laughed, it was so funny. You would start laughing just because she was laughing." The Chavez’s believe Elizabeth met Grate at a church function. She was a regular at a weekly support group, and Grate showed up there as well. This is how he met Amber, remember? This really just illustrates how this POS operates. He’s showing up at church, but he’s also sweet talking low-income housing tenants. He frequents sex workers, but he’s also into his friends playing matchmaker. Seems he has no particular taste - whoever and however he can seduce a woman, he’ll do it. Grate would eventually confess to killing her, and her body was found in the squat house he was living in. 

The next month, on September 8, local Mansfield resident 43yo Stacey Stanley went missing. She had pulled into a gas station in town with a flat tire, and soon after wasn’t seen again. Stacey did have close family ties, and after they realized she might be in trouble, they reported her missing and started knocking on neighborhood doors. Stacey would be Grate final known murder victim; her body was also found in the squat house.

A few days after Stacey went missing, on September 11, Shawn swings by Jane Doe’s house. They know each other from the same church he had met Elizabeth at, and had pursued Jane when he saw her walking to the local Salvation Army outreach center. She liked him well enough, and they began having lunch at the center here and there. Jane testified that she never let men into her apartment, she didn’t believe in it because of her faith, but on that Sunday, he came by to offer her some clothes his mother and sister were getting rid of. He had told her int he past that he was interested in dating her, but she had rejected. But still, Jane thinks of this as a kind gesture from a friend, and decides to go with him down the road to his house to accept the gift.

When they get there, he invites her to read to him from the Bible, and she agrees. But soon enough, his attitude changes, he takes the book from her, and he tells her, “you’re going anywhere.” Jane tried to resist, but he’s strong and he’s fast, and he holds her down and ties her up. Over the next two day, Jane will be restrained, drugged, and raped repeatedly. She testifies that he had tied her to the bed in the bedroom with clothing laying around the house, and photos from the crime scene that day show this too. Grate was paranoid and on edge the whole time he held Jane Doe captive. He had a taser in there with them, that he had somehow disguised to look like a cellphone, and he would threaten with it constantly. He wouldn’t let her eat and she barely slept because of the horrors she was being put through. Whenever she tried to stop his sexual assaults, he would choke her into submission. 

Finally, in the early morning hours of the 13th, Grate had tired himself out enough to fall asleep next to Jane on the bed. It was at this point that she felt she might have a chance to get out. Ever so quietly and slowly, she was able to get her hands and feet untied, get off the bed without waking him, and find his cell phone and call police.

Responding officer Curt Dorsey tells us he’ll never get over meeting Jane Doe at the doorway that morning. "The best way to describe her is complete and utter shock. She couldn't move. She just stared straight ahead. A face I'll never forget.”

Once police entered the house, took Grate into custody, and got him down to the station, captain David Lay and Detective Kim Mager conducted their initial interview. He tells them, things got out of control last night, I don’t know… This girl, we’re supposed to get married. And then she says she doesn’t want to marry me, and then she does… I don’t know. We started fighting, because she was leading me on, you know? And then gets physical.” and Lay and Mager asked him, okay, was there any sexual activity between you too?” And he tells them, “yeah. But she may not have wanted to have sex afterwards…. After I hit her.” You think? But whatever, dick. Because this is a bullshit story. But it doesn't’ take too long for them to get some actual answers they can believe and he does admit to kidnapping and sexually assaulting Jane. And then he tells them about the others. Stacey. Elizabeth. Candice. Rebekah. And Vicky Doe. 

Elizabeth and Stacey’s bodies were found in the house Grate kept Jane Doe captive. They had both been tied up with various articles of clothing, and autopsies revealed both had been strangled. During his interviews, police video tape his description and actual reenactment of their murders and how he was able to overpower them. And the way he talks about it - as if he was just explaining how to make a grilled cheese sandwich - it’s so disgusting. He is a cold, callous, evil son of a bitch. 

During his talks with the Mansfield PD, Grate also says that his first murder victim was a woman in 2006. Some reports say 2005, others say 2006, but based on the facts surrounding him and her, including the fact that her ex says he stopped hearing from her in 2006, we are confident that that is the correct year. Grate didn’t know much about her, her name could have been Diane, Diana, … maybe Dana. But she pissed him off. He told police that she had been in magazine sales, and she had sold a subscription to his mother. But then the magazines never got delivered. So he found out where she was, and lured to his house. Remember from Part 1, this was his father’s house, and he was dating Christina Hilgreth at the time. Once there, we don’t know all that happened, but he stabbed her to death, and brought her down to the basement for a few days before dumping her in the woods off the side of a road on the outskirts of Marion, where he lived at the time.

Rebekah: Grate says they knew each from the streets, he knew she was a sex worker. One day, in early 2015, he ran into her and decided to invite her to his place. By the way, this is yet another vacant house in Mansfield… they really need to do something about these empty houses. Grate says they did some drugs, had some sex, and when he left the room, she stole $40 from him. He says he confronted her about it, she denied it, and made a move to leave. But he wanted his money back, so a fight ensued. Eventually he strangled her to death because he was getting tired of fighting with her, and she wouldn’t give him back his money. After she was killed, he found a golf bag somewhere in this vacant house, stuffed her body into it, and left it in the basement. A few days later, he borrowed a friend's car, retrieved her body, and dumped her in the woods. Rebekah’ s original autopsy found that she had died of a drug overdose, even though it was noted there seemed to be injuries around her neck. We’re going to give the coroner the benefit of a doubt here, though. Because she had been exposed to the elements for 15 months by the time she was found. But now Grate confessing to her murder, so police need to look into it. Even if her family doesn’t believe his story.

Candice: We already know that they were living together, so how they came to be in the same place isn’t surprising. But he tells us that he killed her, because, well, he had “had enough” of her. He just snapped. Candice is the first of three murders in 2016, all women strangled by a sleeper hold. This is when the attacker is behind the victim, wraps one arm around the victim’s neck and squeezes the victim up against him, cutting off airflow. Once Candice was dead, he carried her body away from the squat house they were in and over to the other side of a nearby creek. So he must have carried far enough away from the house that when police and fire came to investigate the fire, they wouldn’t automatically come across Candice’s body. 

Elizabeth: They knew each other from the religious support group, and they had hung out earlier in the day. But by nightfall, he had invited her over to his house. Grate says she had told him she had suicidal thoughts, and he decided to strangle her as a way to get her to want to live, to change her mind about wanting to die…. But when she did start fighting back and tell him to stop, he didn’t. But let’s remember here, that when Elizabeth’s body was discovered, she was still tied up, in multiple ways, with various bindings. When she was found, she was naked, and one of her bindings had her right leg tied up on one end and the rope, or clothing, whatever it was, ran up to the back of her head and around her neck. Sooo, how does this play into the, “, I was just trying to scare her and got carried away” story he’s trying to tell? A rape kit was taken from Elizabeth but a sexual assault was not conclusive. 

Stacey: When Detective Mager asked if there were any other bodies in the house, Grate freely told her there was; there was a girl in the basement. I can’t, folks, this is… I really don’t want to quote this evil son of a bitch, but I have no other words to show how flippant he really is when he talks about his crimes. He told Mager, “She just led me on to the point where there was no stopping it. It really irritated me. I don’t know, through everything else, I just snapped on her.” Grate admitted to raping and sodomizing Stacey, and her autopsy supported this. 

I want to dip in here and talk about the emotions riding high at the press conference after Jane Doe was rescued. Grate had been interrogated for hours by then, and had told police where Stacey and Elizabeth’s bodies could be found in the house. The presser lasted 5min and the Chief was abrupt and to the point, explained Jane Doe and police finding two bodies but they were not yet identified. Family members of Stacey Stanley’s, were present, and her uncle in particular takes offence to the so-called missing persons investigation that the PD says they conducted for his niece. Ron tells the room that since his niece went missing a few days ago, they asked police to get involved,  to conduct a search for her. Ron claims that he and family are the ones that combed the streets looking for Stacey, and “We got a hold of every cop, sheriff to help us, we had zero help from them. We got him rattled, he screwed up because we’re banging on his door last night where they were being held and he got rattled because of what the community did, what their family had done, with no help from the police. Luckily we rattled his cage enough that he would leave his cell phone close enough to where she could dial 911." When the room began to empty out shortly afterward, the chief offered Ron to go back to his office with him to discuss the case for his niece and what his officers had been doing the last few days to find her. This gets an immediate reaction from another relative, who yells at the chief at the end of the press conference, telling him “you would not even consider Stacey a missing person until this morning because she had a drug history.” Let’s be clear though, her family says she had been clean for a year when she went missing, and that night, she had broken down while on her way to Applebee’s to have dinner with family. The last time they heard from her was when they were at the restaurant.

So let’s talk about the legal proceedings… what is the DA going to do with this POS? Grate knows he had confessed at the police station, and there is a ridiculous amount of evidence against him for the kidnapping and rapes of Jane Doe, and the murders of Elizabeth and Stacey. But he’s going to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. The trial began in April of 2018 for the murders. He would plead guilty for 15 of 23 related charges, kidnapping, rape, gross manipulation of a corpse, etc. but he didn't want to plead for he murders. The trial lasted about a month, and Grate was convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection for killing Stacy and Elizabeth on 5/18/2018. Grate and his attorney’s would try to appeal his death sentence but multiple appeals to the court have been denied.

Kurtis Stanley, Stacey's son, said at the sentencing, “"You live with the punishment, but you don't live with the hurt. I don't know what to say to you. I can barely even look at you." 

Judy Griffith, Elizabeth’s mother, told Grate, "You are evil… God tells me to forgive you. Only because He said it, I will forgive you, but I don't feel it in my heart."

About a year later, prosecutors were getting ready to try this PSO for Candice and Rebekah’s deaths, but then right before the trial began, on Friday March 1, 2019, Grate officially pleaded guilty. At the same hearing he was sentenced to life in prison, to serve consecutively for both. But I guess that’s after his lethal injection is served.

In her victim impact statement, Candice’s mother Dianna told the court, “Candice was a loving and caring person. She should have had many more years to live a happy life. She should have had more opportunities to make more memories.”

Rebekah’s family, for their part, showed up at the hearing but left the courtroom before it was all over. In a statement released by the family, they said, “We are aware of the history between Shawn Grate and Rebekah; however, that does not mean he killed her. We do want to make it clear that we are not endorsing any of the crimes this man committed. However, it makes no sense that he would be responsible for Rebekah’s death.”

And finally, we get to Vicky Dana Doe. It was on September 11, 2019, three years to the day after he took Jane Doe captive, that he pleaded guilty to killing an unnamed woman over in his hometown of Marion. Grate would be sentenced to another life term for her murder. But who was she actually? This woman that everyone had known was a victim of Grate’s for the last three years, where did she come from, and what was her name? Over the past 12 years, they had gotten a DNA profile extracted from her remains, and they tried the CODIS database and other databases. They got some leads, and followed up on them, even exploring places throughout the USA, into Canada, and as far off as Mexico and Israel. All to no success. 

In 2018, police had a lab conduct a new type of testing, this is what they did in the Terry Rasmussen case. They did something sciency with isotopes found in Vicky’s bones, and determined that she spent most of her life in the southern US…. Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama. And they reached out to those states for missing females to try to solve that case that way. But it all still came to nothing.

Well, while his trials and sentences were taking place since 2016, the Marion County police department was enlisting the help of the DNA Doe Project. They took on the case in February 2019, and had a name for police to look into by June. Police had to travel 1000 southwest down to Louisiana, finding her two daughters and their dad, and asking for DNA samples to confirm if they were related to a Jane Doe they found years ago. And on June 4, 2019 Marion police announced that Vicky Dana Doe was actually Dana Lowery, of Minden, Louisiana. Dana and her long term boyfriend had had two daughters, ages 5 and 1 when she went missing. David Cobb tells us they had a falling out in early 2006, maybe sometime before that, and she moved out. She kept in touch though, and called multiple times a week to check in with him and talk to the girls. And she did tell him that she was selling magazines door to door. But then one day, she stopped calling. David says he wasn’t worried about her. In fact, he just chalked it up to Dana not wanting to be in her daughter’s lives anymore and abandoning them. Then one day in May, he gets a call from the local police department asking the talk. David says the girls are OK about it…. They are 14 and 17 now, and only the 17yo has any memories of Dana. But I’m going to venture to say they’re probably not “all right.” I wonder what dad told them about their mother all those years when they were growing up, and he really thought she had just run off to be kid-free. What memories did the older sister have to share with the younger one? Did they ever feel rejected or abandoned themselves? I don’t know. I mean, yeah, we all want to be “fine” after a revelation like this, but…. To find out that a parent you thought had abandoned you, had in fact been brutally murdered and left in the woods decomposing for over a year before she was found? That she would have called you if she didn’t get caught in Shawn Grates trap? That’s can’t be easy. We hope for nothing but the best for them. 

Closing tribute: Felicia Pittman, a friend of Candice Cunningham’s family: You will die with a needle in your arm with no more notoriety than a junkie who overdoses in an alley. You will die, you will burn, and you will be completely forgotten. You’ll get what you deserve in prison. Someone will give you what you gave. On that day, there will be closure.”