The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

November 28, 2010

Family seeks peace after killer stalker sentenced

Man refused to accept end of a high school romance

CHARLESTON — First came the phone calls, which left the 55-year-old woman in a fetal position, sobbing on the floor. Then came the 32-page letter.

Each was a jarring reminder of that July day in 1975 when her mother and a family friend were killed in her West Virginia home by a man who refused to accept the end of their high school romance.

They also served as grim proof that the killer, Thomas Creighton Shrader, had finally tracked her down, despite her family’s 1,200-mile flight to Texas and the passage of time.

“It was excruciating,” the woman, identified in court papers as D.S. to protect her privacy, told a federal judge this month. “He knew the names of my children.”

The phone calls and the September 2009 letter repeated themes from Shrader’s prior, unsuccessful attempts to contact D.S. through family and friends: the slayings were her fault, but all would be made right if she just returned to him.

“In the name of Jesus I claim you and your soul in future lives,” the letter reads. “You have been running from me since July 1975. By that I mean running away from seeing me and being with me to actually confront your real and true feelings for me!!”

Her husband, referred to as R.S., initially spared her the letter but said he had to do something “as a husband and a father,” he told The Associated Press.

“I was at my wit’s end,” said the husband, who spoke to the AP on condition that the couple’s full names not be used for fear of further harassment. The AP also is not revealing the family’s location in Texas. “I saw what the phone calls had done. ... But I didn’t know where else to go.”

The husband resorted to leaving a voice mail message for the FBI at its Pittsburgh district office, which covers West Virginia. That set in motion a case that led to Shrader’s 2009 arrest at his West Virginia home, his August conviction on two counts of interstate stalking and his recent sentencing to nearly 20 years in a federal prison.

“It is my hope that this sentence will promote respect for the law and protect the public,” U.S. District Judge Irene Berger said at Shrader’s sentencing Nov. 18.

Shrader, 56, is appealing the stalking conviction, and one delivered in July that found he was a felon in possession of firearms. Agents found two shotguns and a rifle in his Mercer County home after his November 2009 arrest.

Shrader did not speak at sentencing. Assistant U.S. Public Defender Christian Capece, who represented him, declined comment.

In court filings Capece argued the letter was “distasteful,” but didn’t violate federal law and contained “statements that show that the author did not intend to harass or harm DS and RS and their family.”

According to court documents, Shrader had been harassing D.S. for at least a year after their 1974 breakup. One day he showed up at her mother’s house demanding that D.S. get in his car.

When she refused, he drove away, but returned with a high-powered rifle. He shot the lock off a door, entered the house and shot Howard William “Rusty” Adams Jr., a family friend visiting while on leave from the military. Prosecutors believe Shrader mistakenly thought Adams was D.S.’s new boyfriend.

Shrader then shot D.S.’s mother as they tried to flee — and blames them for that.

“I shot for the door frame so it would splinter the wood and scare you bad enough into stopping, so I could get to you,” Shrader wrote in the 2009 letter. “At the instant I pulled the trigger your Mom stepped over into the line of fire headed for the front door.”

Shrader continued firing as D.S. ran to a neighbor’s house. The neighbor’s teenage son was wounded before Shrader was disarmed. He alleged in his letter that he intentionally spared her.

“I did not shoot you in the back that day as you ran down the middle of the road,” the 2009 letter reads. “While standing on the front porch of your house I had the rifle raised and the (crosshairs) of the scope were dead center between your shoulder blades. Bye-bye heart, bye bye lungs, sternum and some ribs.”

On the eve of trial, Shrader pleaded guilty in January 1976 to both slayings and to unlawful wounding. He was sentenced to life in prison with the chance of parole.

But D.S. enjoyed little peace. Shrader escaped from the McDowell County Jail that June.

She recounted to Berger how state troopers hustled what remained of her family out of the area for weeks while Shrader was on the lam. His letter reveals he went to her home and watched her go to work one morning.

Captured four months later in Texas, Shrader pleaded guilty to escape and received an extra year in prison. Still, his obsession remained: he sued D.S. from prison in 1978, alleging she had broken a verbal agreement to marry him.

D.S. and her husband would eventually leave West Virginia, hoping to escape Shrader’s attention.

Still, Shrader periodically wrote to the families of D.S. and her husband, seeking information about them. His efforts to locate D.S. appear to have ceased several years before he was paroled in December 1993.

Capece noted the large span of time between his parole and the phone calls, made in 2008.

But R.S. believes there were earlier attempts. Someone tried to request his Army records, and prosecutors cited phone calls before 2008 from a man inquiring about the couple’s children.

Capece said no evidence shows the calls came from Shrader.

Berger noted Shrader’s “sad” life at his sentencing. He was born premature and was given up for adoption at six weeks. He had worked as a coal miner and welder before the 1975 rampage. He remained unemployed once paroled, drawing Social Security for a back injury. Those benefits have since been suspended.

Court records also show Shrader landed a minor part in a low-budget, straight-to-video horror movie, “Hurt,” filmed in West Virginia in 2006. Prosecutors sought without success to cite the film in their case, as the plot involved a killer targeting the former high school girlfriend of Shrader’s character.

Shrader has his supporters.

His 85-year-old adoptive sister, Elizabeth Jones, attended sentencing. She told AP she believes her brother’s version of what happened in July 1975.

Mercer County lawyer Phillip Scantlebury recalled the time Shrader volunteered at his office in 2007 and 2008, describing him as a dependable worker and friend in a letter to the court in November.

“I do not consider Thomas Shrader to be a danger to anyone including ’DS’ or her husband,” Scantlebury wrote.

But at sentencing, Berger cited how he gave D.S. two weeks in his letter to respond to his ultimatum. The judge also read excerpts including this one: “Running won’t do you any good this time. It’s time to face the piper.”

“If we had not acted, I believe I would be dead,” R.S., the husband, told AP. “He was cunningly, calculatingly attempting to see how far he could go.”

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