Something that makes Saratoga Springs such an appealing place to live in is its low violent crime rate, with one devastating exception. On November 25, 1980, 22-year-old mother Sheila Shepherd was found gagged and tied to her bedframe in her Church Street apartment. There were no marks on her body that indicated a struggle had taken place, except for a stab wound in her stomach that was determined to have occurred at least 30 minutes after Sheila died.
Forty-one years later, Investigator Chris Callahan of the Saratoga Springs Police Department is still trying to make sense of it all. “The way that she’s left, the way that we think the killer would have accessed the residence, the sheer number of suspects…” starts Callahan. “Nothing in the scene makes sense.” Callahan is now the lead investigator on Shepherd’s murder case, Saratoga’s only unsolved homicide to date. “The detective division was looking to have somebody take a fresh look at it,” he says, “and I just happened to know the case from my parents talking about it, so I volunteered.” That was seven or eight years ago, per Callahan’s recollection.
Since then, he’s examined all the case files left by the original investigators in the ’80s, interviewed leads and even got the case on the popular true crime podcast Crawlspace in an effort to reach a broader audience of listeners. “You hear about these cold cases,” Callahan says, “where the new investigator opens it up, and there’s some glaring hole in the investigation, and you’re like, ‘Eureka!’” These [investigators] didn’t have that. There was really no stone left unturned.”
There are some holes in the investigation, but by no fault of the original detectives. For starters, one of the last places Sheila is thought to have been seen alive was in Downtown Saratoga on a Saturday night—and witnesses (of questionable sobriety) were hard-pressed to remember if they’d seen her that night or the night before or the weekend before that. Also, the video surveillance and DNA-testing technology available in 1980 were nowhere near as effective as they are today.
For Callahan, the investigation is even more difficult, given the decades that have passed since the crime. “It’s by far the most challenging case that I’ve ever worked on,” he says. “When you first start looking at people you want to interview, a lot of them are no longer living. And people’s memories are hazy.”
But despite the fact that more than 40 years have passed, people haven’t forgotten Shepherd. “I’ve gotten to know Sheila’s remaining family members and her loved ones from the time,” Callahan says. “There are still a lot of interested parties, and I feel an obligation to at least give the case my best shot and hopefully get some closure for everyone.”
If you have information regarding the death of Sheila Shepherd, please contact the Saratoga Springs Police Department at (518) 584-8477.