brother, Shawn Joseph Allison, 29, was found dead of a gun shot
wound to the face in his cabin in LaPine, Oregon,
on November 20, 2000.
Shawn’s body was found by “Tad” (Leighton Keith Shirley II), a friend of Jessica McEwen, a woman Shawn had been seeing, whose mother allegedly sent Tad to “check on Shawn.” That was odd in itself, since Jessica came and went to the cabin whenever she wished.
Tad phoned the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Department at 11:36 a.m. Yet Shawn’s neighbors saw Tad at the cabin at 9 a.m., sitting on the porch steps, making phone calls. When one neighbor asked what was going on, Tad said, “Don’t go inside. Shawn’s shot himself.” Why would he wait two and a half hours to call law enforcement after finding a dead body? And, if Tad wasn’t phoning law enforcement, who was he calling?
We do know that at 10 A.M., he called my brother’s friends, Buster and Niki Tate. Niki is sure of the time because Regis and Kelly were on TV. Buster called my mother’s boyfriend, and he and Mom arrived at the cabin minutes after the Sheriff’s Department got there. They were met by Deputy Gary Decker, who asked them who they were. When Mom said, "I'm Shawn's mother," Deputy Decker said, "They weren’t supposed to tell you!" It is an Oregon statute that the next of kin must be notified. Who was Decker referring to when he said “they”?
My mother watched in a state of shock as a mortician took away her son’s body. (We’ve since learned that it was illegal for Deputy Decker to permit that; under Oregon law, only the coroner, after an autopsy, has the authority to release the body for burial.) Stunned and still trusting the police, Mom agreed to have Shawn’s body cremated. Decker asked Mom if Shawn had ever threatened suicide. She replied, “Yes. He threatened a lot of things back when he was told he was dying of cancer.” Without allowing her to explain that the cancer scare had been eight years ago, Decker declared Shawn’s death a suicide.
Although the police took pictures, they conducted no investigation. No autopsy was performed. No fingerprints were taken. There were no ballistics tests. The cartridge and the bullet both “disappeared.” Captain Wight pointed out a spot in the middle of the room and told my mom, “He stood there when he shot himself.” Yet you can see from police photos that Shawn’s body was found across the room on a couch where he “bled out,” and the gun was under his feet. How did Shawn get to that couch unless somebody placed him there? And how could he shoot himself if his feet were on top of the gun?
On Nov. 25, following Shawn’s memorial service, we were approached by a number of people with information that indicated that Shawn’s death might not be a suicide. Two men, who were Veteran’s Advocates, (Shawn had once been a marine), and knew Shawn very well, told me, “There is no way your brother would have killed himself.” Another friend told us that on Nov. 17, (three days before his death), Shawn had expressed terror that people were “out to get him.” Others told us that Shawn had been telling people, “I'm going to turn in every drug dealer in LaPine!" (LaPine is the “drug hub” of Oregon, and certain friends of Jessica were alleged drug dealers) For her part, Jessica was telling people that Shawn was being investigated for the murder of a man whose body (minus his hands, which was the sign of a Mob hit) had been found weeks earlier under a bridge and that he was in trouble for "a woman dead in a field." We asked the Sheriff about those two bodies and if Shawn was being investigated and were told, “Absolutely not.” They had never even heard of the woman in the field.
Five months earlier, in June 2000, Jessica had given birth to a baby that she alleged was Shawn’s, and had convinced Shawn to sign the birth certificate. Shawn was court ordered to pay child support. He wanted visitation, but Jessica refused to allow that. The child was born meth-addicted with extreme medical problems. Shawn wanted those problems addressed and repeatedly got Children’s Services involved. That made Jessica’s live-in boyfriend, Alan Allwood (aka Roger Alan Taravella) furious. He publicly threatened to “blow Shawn’s head off,” (which was how Shawn died).
After Shawn’s death we found papers in his file to indicate that he was in the process of applying for a paternity test. Eight years before, at age 21, Shawn had received a medical discharge from the Marine Corps after suffering testicular cancer. He lost a testicle, went through chemo, and survived the cancer, but doctors told him he would never father children.
As the mother of a child who was legally registered as Shawn’s, Jessica was (and still is) collecting Shawn’s Social Security and Veterans benefits. Our family challenged this in court, requesting proof that the child was Shawn’s. Time after time, Jessica would agree to DNA testing and then not show up with the child. One time, Alan, her boyfriend, stood up in court and announced that he was the child’s father. After that hearing, Jessica’s attorney told us that Jessica would consent to DNA testing if we would agree not to use the results to stop her financial benefits. We were caught between a rock and a hard place. We wanted the truth exposed, yet we wanted the child to receive the medical help she needed. We also had grown to care about that little girl and wanted to play a part in her life. We let our emotions guide us and allowed Jessica to win without getting the DNA test.
Although he had many good qualities, my brother was no angel. He was scheduled to start alcohol rehab the weekend he died and had paid all his bills in advance and stocked his refrigerator with food. He smoked marijuana, although, to the best of my knowledge, he used no other illegal drugs. He also told tall tales without considering the consequences. Tongue in cheek, he told Jessica’s friend, Tad, that he had a $100,000 insurance policy and that his dog, Nikki, was the beneficiary. (In truth, he had a $25,000 policy and our mom was the beneficiary.) Tad believed that ridiculous story and, when Shawn died, Tad took possession of the dog and had a microchip implanted. He has twelve other dogs, and Nikki is the only one with a microchip. That’s how valuable Tad considered him at that time. When Mom tried to get Nikki back, Tad told her she would have to pay him thousands of dollars. She never did get the dog.
Jessica also bought into the story about the insurance policy. After Shawn’s death, that was all she could talk about. She insisted that she was entitled to the non-existent $100,000 and to everything Shawn owned. She submitted a handwritten list, itemizing Shawn’s possessions, right down to his necklaces and sunglasses. High on that list is Shawn’s dog.
I am not accusing any particular individual of Shawn’s murder. However, our family is convinced that he didn’t shoot himself. There are too many conflicting stories, particularly those told by Tad and Jessica. Jessica first stated that she last saw Shawn on Nov 17. Then, she changed that to Nov.15. Then, Detective Eric Utter discovered that she had dinner with Shawn on Nov.18. That would have made Jessica the last person to see Shawn alive. Since there was no autopsy, there’s no way to know when Shawn died. He could have returned to his cabin after his dinner with Jessica and found his killer(s) there waiting for him.
There are also several viable motives for murder: (1) Tad, Jessica and Alan’s belief in a big insurance policy with benefits to go to a dog that Tad confiscated right after the shooting; (2) the fact that Shawn was going to have a paternity test that might have relieved him of all responsibility to Jessica; (3) Shawn’s outspoken threats to expose local drug activities.
The lack of investigation by the Sheriff’s Department -- no autopsy, no tests to determine who fired the gun, no interest in how a man could blow half his head off and then walk across the room to die on a sofa with his feet on top of the gun – raise questions. Under Oregon Statute, if an unnatural death is not witnessed or attended by a physician, it is to be considered a homicide until such time as the evidence warrants other findings. That was not done in Shawn’s case.
The LaPine Sheriff’s Department does not have a stellar reputation. In the years since Shawn’s death, the (then) sheriff, Greg Brown, has been arrested for embezzling a quarter of a million dollars from the Sister's Fire District and later for selling rifles from the Sheriff’s Department and pocketing the money. Two of the deputies involved in Shawn’s case, one of them the DARE officer at LaPine High School, were arrested for having sex with teenage girls, giving them drugs and attempting to put sex videos on the internet. As I write this, the DARE officer is incarcerated.
There is no way we can get an outside agency involved in this investigation unless we can get the finding of “suicide” removed from Shawn’s death certificate. When we made an appointment to talk to the County Coroner, Dr. Ben Chaffey, who signed the death certificate without viewing Shawn’s body, he kept us waiting five hours and then charged us money to see him. The door to his office was ajar, and we could hear him on the phone, nervously telling someone, “They are here!” and asking, “What shall I tell them?”
It apparently never occurred to him just to tell us the truth.
Rita Allison (Shawn’s sister)