November 8, 2010
There’s nothing quite like the look on the face of a crook who unexpectedly finds that he didn’t get away with the crime after all. And two former County investigators who finally cracked a long unsolved murder case are now being recognized by their peers for making sure justice was done.
On July 30, 1995, a driver found the nude body of Shannon Conway on Craven Road just west of Twin Oaks Valley Road in San Marcos. Evidence at the scene included a blue jacket and a Mountain Dew soda bottle lying beside her. An autopsy revealed she had been beaten, raped and strangled.
At the time of her murder, Conway was homeless and living in the Ocean Beach area. A friend last saw Conway getting into a gray pickup truck at a convenience store. Witnesses
described the driver as having clean cut hair and possibly serving in the military.
A man was initially arrested in the rape and murder case, but was released when DNA evidence and his fingerprints did not match those found at the crime scene. The case then hit a wall.
In 2007, San Diego Sheriff’s Detective Rick Scully evaluated the case with the help of District Attorney Investigator Dan Ahrens. Investigator Ahrens, a former homicide detective with
the Oceanside Police Department, had been assigned to the Sheriff’s Department to assist in cold case investigations. They reconstructed the crime scene, evaluated all evidence, conducted numerous interviews around the country and submitted additional evidence for DNA analysis.
On July 28, 2008, a DNA match led Detectives Scully and Ahrens to a prisoner in Mississippi. Michael E. Williams was serving time for molesting his son and step-daughter. Until
his Mississippi conviction, Williams had never come into contact with law enforcement.
Williams’ fingerprints were obtained and later matched to latent prints found on the soda bottle found next to Conway’s body. Scully and Ahrens conducted two interrogations of Williams at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, but Williams denied knowing or killing Conway. He also denied owning a gray 1987 Mitsubishi pickup truck, despite two Mississippi traffic citations the detectives found issued to him in 1995. Williams could not explain how his prints and DNA came to be at the crime scene.
The detectives conducted an in-depth investigation into Williams’ background and discovered he had been in the Navy in July of 1995 and was assigned to the Naval Training Center in Point Loma during the time of Conway's murder. Military records they obtained revealed that Williams had been declared a deserter just days prior to Conway's death.
A murder warrant was issued against Williams in 2009 and he was extradited to California. In July of this year, just prior to his preliminary hearing, Williams pleaded guilty to
raping and killing Conway. In August, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Legally, Williams must finish serving his 40-year prison sentence in Mississippi before he can begin serving his life sentence in California. Williams still has 37 years to go.
The tenacious efforts of detectives Scully and Ahrens to solve this cold case brought justice and some measure of closure to Conway’s mother and family. The California Peace Officers’ Association is honoring the pair with its “Best Cold Case Solved” award. Scully and Ahrens will receive the award at the association's COPSWEST expo in Ontario on November 15.
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