LEE COUNTY —
EDITOR'S NOTE: Reporter Steve Beardsley will be blogging from the Hendry County courthouse today as opening statements are expected in the trial of Joe Shook. Click here to read the blog.
In legal papers spelling out the divorce between Joseph and Melissa Shook in 2007, negotiations appear routine.
He would give up the van, but not the SUV. She wanted him to take out a second mortgage and give her half. He wanted custody of the children and $1,000 a month in child support.
In the end, Joseph Shook, 35, checked off on every stipulation but one, that his estranged wife, who had moved back to Estero, would return to her maiden name.
On Tuesday, prosecutors are expected to argue that the impending divorce motivated Joseph Shook to kill his wife in 2007, days before the agreement went into effect. Melissa Shook’s body was found buried in a shallow grave near the Lee and Hendry county border on July 29, 2007, five days after the mother of three was reported missing.
Duct tape covered her mouth, ropes bound her hands behind her back. A neck injury claimed her life, according to the medical examiner.
Joseph Shook faces life in prison if convicted of the second-degree murder charge. Opening statements are expected on Tuesday.
The case against Shook hinges on his relationship with his estranged wife. Records and witness accounts depict an abusive husband anxious to reclaim a wife who wanted to move on. She was living in Estero, working for her father and dating another man.
Joseph Shook was the last person to see his wife, when on July 24, 2007, around 10:30 a.m., she arrived at his Alva home to drop off their 1-year-old son. She was expected back at work later that day, and she had even promised co-workers she’d pick up lunch. She never returned.
Her husband told detectives she appeared distraught when he saw her. He said she later texted him, around 2 p.m., that she had left her van in his driveway. Joseph Shook found the van, he told detectives, but not Melissa.
Family members began receiving odd text messages from Melissa Shook’s phone beginning around 1 p.m. that day. In the messages, Melissa Shook, 31, said she was confused, had broken up with her boyfriend and needed to clear her head. She said she still loved her husband, and that she was enrolling in a rehabilitation center.
The texts puzzled Melissa Shook’s relatives. Her mother, Debra Smith, told detectives the grammar and word choice didn’t sound like her daughter, that the messages lacked her daughter’s standard signature and that Melissa Shook would have called instead of texting such important information. The mother and daughter talked on the phone every day, Smith said, and Melissa Shook had been in a good mood.
After days of searching, family members began to fear the worst. Five days after Melissa Shook disappeared, her body was found in a stand of woods. Her purse, emptied, lay in a nearby bush.
Joseph Shook was arrested on Aug. 9, 2007.
In addition to the text messages, crucial evidence in the case will likely include duct tape found on Melissa Shook’s body that detectives say came from a roll in Joseph Shook’s house, and that is alleged to have his fingerprint.
A hardware store employee may also testify that Shook entered his store to purchase rope and a shovel that detectives later linked to the scene.
Shook was originally to be tried in Lee County but was allowed to choose between Lee and Hendry after detectives acknowledged they could not verify in which county the crime was committed. He chose Hendry County.
The couple was married in 2003. In a January 2007 petition for injunction, Melissa Shook claimed her husband slapped her across the face while she was pregnant, pulled her hair and beat her with a belt. She said he beat the children, as well, and beat her in front of them. The petition was granted, and Melissa Shook filed for divorce in March 2007.
They have three children, Joseph Ray II, 6; Kaylee Jill, 4; and Kronos Magnusson, 3.