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Ashland, Illinois is a sleepy little town of 1300 people smack dab in the middle of corn and bean fields; you know, Settlement Americana, Littletown, USA? The kind of place where the major events were the weekly livestock auctions, which proved to be exciting only when the occasional cow would cut loose and bolt down the street followed by a bunch of young boys and girls donning spurs on their cowboy boots making one hell of a racket as I was sleeping off the night before. The kind of town you’ve all heard about, full of those willing to lend a helping hand, give you a polite smile as you walk by. I know it well. I lived in the only funeral home it had.

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Steven Watkins

They set their priorities a little differently than those in a normal world. Especially when it comes to a murder crime scene. In Ashland, murder just kind of seems to take a backseat to other things more important…like perhaps the parade of idiot gawkers traipsing through the house checking out the hole in the dead man’s head. Think I’m being facetious?

It’s been a while. November 25, 2008. Almost a year ago today, on the cusp of Thanksgiving. Steven Watkins drove into Ashland to his estranged wife’s grandparent’s house to pick up his youngest daughter for his court ordered/approved visitation. I’m sure he was anticipating a less than warm welcome as he and Jennifer were due in court the following day to continue his effort to gain full custody of his child. But I’m fairly sure Steven didn’t plan on getting a bullet through the back of his head.

Yes, I’m aware of the fact we read about this shit every day. What sets this case apart is the best part: how this case was handled. The cast of characters are some I know so very well. So let’s get to it.

Steven’s estranged wife, Jennifer Watkins, was staying with her grandparents, Kenneth and Shirley Skinner in a nice ranch-style home. When Steven arrived to pick up his daughter, Jennifer, Shirley, and Kenneth were all home. So was little Sidney. There was a 911 call placed regarding a domestic disturbance, Steven was shot from behind, and when Chief Jim Birdsell arrived, the dog and pony show started.

There was a body. There was a gun. The scene started out with 4 people, add Birdsell and whomever he brought along, plus the numerous others that were allowed to walk on in and have a look around. Grandma Shirley started pulling a Fred Sanford, having some flipping medical condition that allowed the focus to shift from the dead dude with his head shot up, to her. Of course they got some medical attention for that poor ailing woman of 74 years. In walks Robert Daniel, owner of MECCA Ambulance, a man I spent many years working beside – fully expecting to find his victim but totally not expecting to find a body sprawled out on the living room floor with a hole through the back of his skull. Knowing Robert (and knowing he is quick on his feet) I’m sure he handled the situation like a pro. Or at least the best one can after finding what he did. Discovering that Chief Birdsell had been there a while and that the Cass County Death Examiner, Wyatt Segar had not been called…well Robert made a command decision to take it upon himself and report the corpse to someone who’d actually give a shit. I can only imagine that conversation…”Hey Segar, it’s Bob. Hey. We’ve got a situation here in Ashland. We got called for a medical and our patient isn’t the one laying on the floor with brain matter scattered. I think you should probably come. Yep, the police chief is here but I don’t think he’s seen the body he’s been tripping over. See you soon.”

Wyatt Segar made the drive in record time, processed the crime scene as a death examiner will as grandma Shirley was being taken to the hospital. God only knows what else was taking place within that home…but the one thing that didn’t take place was a gun shot residue test. Nope. Birdsell didn’t think it was necessary I suppose. Cause shit, if a test was done, he’d actually be responsible for making a decision to arrest someone. He couldn’t decide on calling in a fucking murder.

For damn near a year, Steven’s family has been wondering where their granddaughter was. As soon as the dust settled a bit, Jennifer took Sidney and split the state. Her attorney couldn’t give them a location. Couldn’t let them know little Sidney was okay. The State’s Attorney, John Dahlem couldn’t tell them where they were in making any arrests. Jim Birdsell became a pro at uttering, “No Comment”. This family knew nothing other than the fact that 3 adults knew exactly what happened on November 25, and the authorities had totally fucked the crime scene up so much so, an arrest was looking like a long shot. That’s right: there was a waning feeling that an arrest would be made, in a case where the victim was shot in the head from BEHIND! There’s a name for this kind of thing. Execution style.

Then the State of Illinois came in and yanked the case from Cass County. (oh, it was “turned over”) *ahem* Okay, which ever way you want to read it. But shit started to happen. No one knew. Especially not the Skinner family who were yucking it up at their winter home in Florida. Yucking it up, living the good life until they were leaving a pizza joint Monday evening. That’s when Birdsell was flown in, escorted by officials who actually knew how to handle a situation, and Shirley Skinner was arrested for allegedly being the gun-wielding granny. According to her attorney, Shirley’s “obviously very upset. She’s traumatized by the charges.” Hey lawyer dude: wasn’t she fucking traumatized by having her grandson-in-law laid out dead on her living room floor?

Shirley Skinner was flown back to Illinois Wednesday and is being held in Pike County (because Cass County has no jail) on a $5 million dollar bond accused of first-degree murder. According to the officials, the one’s who actually made things happen, more arrests may follow. God I hope so. And I also hope Steven’s family gains custody of Sidney so she can join her older half-sister who also resided with her adoring father. The Watkins now have custody of her. I can only imagine it would make the step forward a little easier to take knowing that Steven’s most prized blessings would be safe and sound in the loving arms of a family who displayed patience and grace and not with a family who chose to settle a custody dispute with a Glock 9mm.

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Alex, Steven, & Sidney Watkins

Source1 | Source2 | Source3 | Source4 | Source 5

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  • defenestratethis

    Unreal..a guys laying on the floor, face down, with his head blown off…but grandma’s feigned heart attack was what warranted a call to the medics? Man..this guy really went out of his way to promote that stereotype of the corrupt, ignorant, hick town sheriff. Hope they find Sidney, and soon. I also hope the local law enforcement pays a very heavy price in whatever way possible.

  • thinkgoat

    Lo and behold, Jennifer and Sidney were dining with grandma Shirley in Florida. Let’s just hope they all have to return and face the music.

  • Lazlo

    What has always amazed me was that the major players were allowed to leave the state while the so called “investigation” was on-going. Everyone in that house that night LEFT THE STATE! I hope the story comes out on what kind of connections these folks had. The Cass County authorities can’t be that stupid. Can they?

  • ItsMe

    That ass Jim Birdsell showing up in Florida makes me want to puke! “Look at me everyone! I care about this and I’m making an arrest! See I didn’t let the ball drop!” Sorry Chief! We’re not buying it even if the Ashland Mayor is! The Mayor sang the praises of ol’ Jim Birdsell and claimed he was retired from the IL State Police. HE’S NOT! He is retired from Secretary of State, which is a completely different agency!

    And the only reason the Illinois State police stepped in is because Dateline had just announced they were going to do a show on Steven and how nothing was being done about his murder.

    I hope the arrest Jenny too and other members of the family on obstruction of justice.

  • Death Bed

    Great article, TG. <3

  • Peeperann

    Great job on the write up TG! Damn, talk about fucking up a case, and people wonder why the entire justice is so messed up! Really, the guy in charge just did nothing? I hope the lot of them get arrested and little Sidney lives happily ever after with daddy and sister.

  • chelesbells1

    All they are wanting to do is to try to now make Birdsell look good and that he was doing his job all alog..Bullshit…Now we have to wait and see how much of the evidence is screwed up to actually get a conviction and to make sure it’s a conviction of the right person..Even though every single person who wa in that house that night needs to be held accountable for what part they played in either hiding the truth, messing with evidence, accomplice to pre-meditated murder( you know it was when every member of that household supposedly went shooting that day so they could all have gun residue on their hands)..(even that was botched from what I understand by not taking a residue test on ea. of them) …Just waiting for more arrests to come, and they had better not just pat their slimy hands and let them walk…Being from that county It just brings up the disgusting feelings I have about the way some people do things around there..Maybe this will bring some change…but I doubt it..

  • Veronica

    Let me guess — the Skinners were “upstanding members of the community.” Nope, no need to “cause a scene,” Birdsell must have just thought it was an “unfortunate situation.”

    I mean, no WONDER granny thought she could get away with an execution style murder in THAT fucking town!

    I hate these fucking people. I hope granny has a real heart attack, but is revived and has to spend the rest of her fucking years in prison. The piece of shit husband and granddaughter, too. While we’re at it, let’s throw Sheriff Moron in there with them.

    This pisses me off to no end. My jaw is CLENCHED right now!

  • Coyote

    Great write-up Thinkgoat. I completely agree there needs to be more arrests in this case, including that of Chief Birdsell for helping with the cover up of this crime. Knowing small town politics the way that I do though I highly doubt anyone will truly pay for what was done to Steven. Let’s hope I’m proven wrong.

  • Boughtthefarm

    LMFAO @ gramnda pulling a Fred Sanford!!! Toooo MFing funny!!
    I bet Granny deserves an Oscar for that stellar preformance. Heartless old bitch!

  • Veronica

    Direct link to Grandma Shirley’s ugly, wrinkled, evil, smug mug:

  • Veronica

    I don’t know, maybe this is getting to me worse than usual because my hubby is also a Steven, but SHIT…I can’t believe they called an ambulance for heart-attack faking Grandma Cuntlip while this poor man was on the floor with his brains blown out. I wish I could understand WHY Sheriff Idiot didn’t find the dead guy on the floor notable enough to call the fucking medical examiner and maybe grill the house’s occupants on how he got, you know, DEAD, on THEIR FLOOR.

    This is infuriating. No one is that dumb. Your average 3rd-grader knows about gun residue tests and shit from watching CSI shows! At this point, the sheriff should be considered an active participant in a cover-up and, IMO, do some time.

    Does anyone know the chances of bringing the FBI in on this? I know that obvious misconduct by local law enforcement makes that much more likely. The State of Illinois got involved but that doesn’t mean the buck ultimately stops with them.

  • Abroad

    I hope the lot of them get arrested and little Sidney lives happily ever after with daddy and sister.

    That is going to be difficult, Peeperann. Daddy is dead…….

  • Siobhan

    Fabulous write-up!

  • Kdogg

    At least they won’t be able to say he committed sucide. That is the only saving grace in this slipshod investigation.

  • thinkgoat

    Unfortunately, it’s unlikely the FBI will look at this case – even more unlikely Birdsell will be held accountable. Cass County is the quintessential good-old-boy’s network. And when this story first broke, I can’t remember being more flabbergasted at the turn of events on how it was handled. Our local paper carried a couple of stories but didn’t cover it like the capital city’s newspaper.

    Being very close to the case, I have the horrible feeling that it wasn’t only gross incompetitance, but something more sinister. And Veronica, your first comment about being fine upstanding citizens…yep! You nailed it.

    And where else is there an unsolved murder – 3 adults admit being present when the shot was fired – and all three are allowed to come and go as they please, leaving the state for fuck’s sake? And who, in this day and age, doesn’t think of GSR testing? Who lets the crime scene be contaminated by other family members and/or friends?

    It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out. If Jennifer and Kenneth are arrested…and for what. If there’ll be a conviction… for the sake of the Watkins family, I certainly hope so.

  • Veronica

    At this point I’m sure Birdsell is going to try and throw the Skinners under the bus to save his own ass, but I suspect it’s going to be difficult for him to do that considering that to highlight what THEY did is to highlight what HE did (and didn’t) do. Will he say they lied to him? Well, that’s nice, but that doesn’t explain why the medical examiner wasn’t called and why he didn’t even do a fucking investigation! Really, what’s he going to say? “They told me they didn’t do it!” Yeah, because you’re supposed to take people’s word on that. What a corrupt fucking piece of shit. And I absolutely believe he was an active participant in a cover-up.

  • Veronica

    Chief Birdsell would not say whether the three adults had been subjected to gunshot-residue testing to determine if any of them had fired the pistol that was recovered.

    Cass County Sheriff David Osmer, whose department is assisting in the investigation, said he was not aware of those tests being conducted, but lack of testing “hasn’t harmed the investigation,” he said.

    Hasn’t harmed the investigation? Are you fucking kidding me? Something tells me Sheriff Osmer isn’t much better than Barney Fife Impersonator Birdsell. Is he trying to cover something up as well? Because I don’t see why else one would make such a monumentally stupid statement.

    And pardon me, but Steven Watkins’ mother has lost her damn mind. She “doesn’t blame” the Ashland police and Birdsell for the bungled investigation, because the state police “should have been brought in from the start” since Ashland “doesn’t have the resources.” No resources for a simple gunshot residue test? Yeah, that’s feasible.

    I hope she wakes the hell up, because if she doesn’t Birdsell getting what he deserves is even less likely than it already is.

  • Dr.Keegee

    Fabulous write-up!


    Worst case – County atty offers to drop all charges against Gramps and Jennifer in exchange for ‘state’s evidence’ then reduces charges on grammy b/c their testimony indicates 2nd degree.

    Or even worse – grammy claims self defense “he went berserk and ran backwards at me – for land’s sake!”

  • He was shot in the back. I’m pretty sure Texas is the only state in the Union where you can still claim that shit was self defense. 😛

  • thinkgoat

    Because Cass County has no jail, Skinner was taken to the Pike County Jail. Bail was set at $5 million and she will need to post $500,000 in cash to be released from jail.

    “She gave no indication to me that she would be bonding out,” Pike County Sheriff Paul Petty said. “She had no family there when she arrived.”

    Skinner is to appear Friday afternoon in Cass County Circuit Court before Judge Bob Hardwick Jr., said Michael Vujovich, a special prosecutor for Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor’s Office.

    From the Cass County Death Examiner’s Office – Inquest

    Death Examiner – Wyatt Sager Chief of Police – Jim Birdsell
    *typed by me – direct transcripts

    Mr. Sager: Who was present in the home when you arrived?

    Chief Birdsell: When I arrived was Jennifer Watkins, the wife of Steven’ their daughter, Sidney’ Shirley Skinner, the grandmother of Jennifer’ Kenny Skinner, the grandfather of Jennifer’ and I believe there might have been one or two other people got there just about the same time or shortly thereafter I did.

    Mr. Sager: Okay. It should be noted for the permanent record that this home is owned by Kenneth and Shirley Skinner, and it’s our understanding that Jennifer Watkins would be the separated spouse to Steven was also living in that residence with her daughter–their daughter.

    Chief Birdsell: Their daughter. And then Jennifer’s mother and father, Deborah and Bob Webster, were living there also, as far as I know.

    Mr. Sager: Did you attend his autopsy?

    Chief Birdsell: Yes, I did.

    Mr. Sager: From your discussions with the pathologist, he was shot from, of course, behind him?

    Chief Birdsell: Yes.

    Mr. Sager: Any other description?

    Chief Birdsell: He said it would have been more than two feet away. It was not a contact wound. It was — the bullet went in at the lower base of the skull and traveled in an upward direction toward the front part of the skull.

    Mr. Sager: Okay. Do you gentlemen have any questions of Officer Birdsell?

    Juror: If he would have committed that shot himself, would that gun have been that far away from him?

    Chief Birdsell: No, it wouldn’t. The coroner — or sorry. The pathologist said that it was not a contact wound. He pretty well said that it was not self-inflicted.

    Mr. Sager: There was absolutely no way it could have been self-inflicted.

    Juror: Otherwise, the shot came a ways back.

    Chief Birdsell: It had — he said it was at least two feet from the entrance wound.

    Juror: The bullet went in lower than it came out?

    Chief Birdsell: It went in lower —

    Juror: — projectory?

    Chief Birdsell: It did not come out.

    Juror: Oh, it did not come out.

    Chief Birdsell: There was no exit wound.

    Jurur: Okay.

    Chief Birdsell: Matter of fact, we found the bullet inside the skull.

    Juror: Okay.

    Juror: Had he traveled any distance after he was shot, or was it just drop instantaneously?

    Mr. Sager: He dropped instantaneously.

    Chief Birdsell: Yeah.

    Mr. Sager: You can tell by — I’ll answer that one. Because of the blood pattern on the carpeting, it was very distinctual as to where he was standing when the incident took place and where he fell.

  • joo

    TG, I love how you linked the Wikipedia article for “God.”

  • Death Bed

    TG, I love it when you call me “Big Papa”.

  • Peeperann

    I hope the lot of them get arrested and little Sidney lives happily ever after with daddy and sister.

    That is going to be difficult, Peeperann. Daddy is dead…….

    You’re right, I was pretty enraged when I wrote that. Well, hopefully she’ll get to live happily ever after with her Paternal grandparents and sister.

  • MadeaBecBec

    Here’s to hopin’ Grandma Skinner has a “real” stroke and suffers until death. And the rest of the idiots, including the former Sheriff, get arrested for obstruction of justice!!
    I can’t imagine anything an ex-inlaw could say or do, in my own home, enough to piss me off that I grab a gun and shoot them in the head, short of catching them in the act of molestation, even then, I would go for their knee caps….. 😉

  • Wonder

    I’m thinking, sheriff had a nice sit down with them explaining that he has to take them in. He tried and done as much as he could. Time has come.

    I smell a Plea deal for a confession. So therfore nope gun residue test won’t be needed.

    Was Jennifer and Sidney in the home when shit went down ?
    Where is Jennifer’s parents in all of this ?

    Does seem to be a bad time to visit, with all that tension, Not sure what the circumstances were and why he was seeking full/joint custody?

    really now how that town seems, would he had a fair hearing?

    Oh poor guy and poor family so sad, I am pleased that dateline stepped in to get the ball rolling. Kudos to his family that was able to get the help that they needed.

  • thinkgoat

    Was Jennifer and Sidney in the home when shit went down ?

    Yes. There were 4 people present when Steven was shot. Grandma Shirley, Grandpa Kenneth, Jennifer and Sidney.

    Where is Jennifer’s parents in all of this ?

    Not really sure nor sure if it’s relevant. They weren’t in the main residence when Steven was shot. When Chief Birdsell arrived, he can only recall one or two people (but not sure) arriving at the same time as he…or closely after.

    Does seem to be a bad time to visit, with all that tension

    I don’t think Steven was there to visit. He arrived to pick up his daughter. There’s bound to be tension but that is no excuse, nor did he choose to use it as an excuse to not see his daughter. He looked forward to his visitation days.

    really now how that town seems, would he had a fair hearing?

    Ashland is a small town within Cass County. Custody hearings would not have been performed in Ashland and I’d like to assume he would have been fairly represented as well as Jennifer would have. And that the custody would have been determined based on facts…which is perhaps why they chose to kill Steven instead of lose the custody hearing.

  • Wonder

    Thanks, were you able to get grandpa’s mug?

    did stephen and alex live in cass county also?

    I only asked about Jennifers parents – seems reasonable, will they come to the rescue? If one lives with grandparents and not their own parents, you have to wonder how come. It is a stability issue, step mothers, step fathers, drug problems, money, space. Maybe they are locked up – just curious

    STill very sad story!

    I was never comfortable when the ex came for the kids, or vice vs. At first I would take the kids to see daddy but the new g/f would try to fight me. At one time I thought we were going to have to pick a public parking lot to exchange them. It was easier the older they got. He would blow or call on the cell from our driveway and they would go. I didn’t even approach the door. It was never very comforting. I am glad he didn’t come regularly and the older the kids got they were too. One day it hit them how fortunate they were to escape the what ifs. It helped them to see how the g/f’s kids turned out.

  • Wonder

    inquest hearing, Jan 2009 (13 pg pdf describing the murder scene)

    page 7 says Jennifers parents, Deborah and Bob Webster were living there too, as far as he knows.

    page 8

    The bullet entered at lower base and traveled in an upward direction

    page 11

    says that either someone sitting or a awful short person shot Steven

    Steven was 5’7″ (69″)

  • thinkgoat

    Thanks, were you able to get grandpa’s mug?
    did stephen and alex live in cass county also?

    No, Kenneth Skinner doesn’t have a mugshot because he hasn’t been arrested for anything.

    Steven Watkins was from Chandlerville Illinois – another small town located in Cass County. There is one town that separates Chandlerville and Ashland (Virginia, IL) although Chandlerville and Ashland schools are consonlidated with each other.

    There hasn’t been any confirmation on exactly who else lived in the house with the Skinners. It was speculated earlier (when the murder occurred) that even a brother was living in the house. Chief Birdsell has neglected to confirm any of that basic information. “As far as he knows”!

    says that either someone sitting or a awful short person shot Steven

    That was actually a question posed by a Juror during the inquest.

    Juror: How tall a man was he?

    Chief Birdsell: I believe he was 5’7″.

    Mr. Sager: 69 Inches.

    Juror: And the bullet come in at a low angle?

    Mr. Sager: Yes. So it had to be — he had to be shot from a lower position.

    Juror: Somebody sitting or awful short person?

    Mr. Sager: Right. Someone from behind.

  • Death Bed

    How tall is this grandma lady? Most old people shrink as old age deteriorates them from the inside out. It’s possible her medical condition was legit — shooting people in the head just really takes it out of an elderly person.

  • thinkgoat

    How tall is this grandma lady?

    Her arrest information states she’s 5’4″

  • biteme

    The sheriff’s loser no question and everything about his investigation and how he handled the crime scene is questionable
    As far as calling the ambulance, in emergency situations you’re taught to deal with the living before the dead.
    Although in this case sounds like the dead/crime was totally ignored or forgotten

  • thinkgoat

    As far as calling the ambulance, in emergency situations you’re taught to deal with the living before the dead.

    That’s true – BUT – no one but a coroner or a doctor can pronounce death…and it certainly isn’t the decision of a Chief of Police with absolutely no medical training whatsoever. The moment Birdsell saw a dead body sprawled on the floor, he should have called for the Death Examiner. Period. Securing the crime scene runs a very close second.

  • Lazlo

    As far as calling the ambulance, in emergency situations you’re taught to deal with the living before the dead.

    In early local reports it was understood that Birdsell was on scene for a period of time before G’ma started having he conniption. Also, he nature of the “attack” did not preclude removing the victim from the crime scene in order to preserve it.

    That’s true – BUT – no one but a coroner or a doctor can pronounce death

    Thanks TG – I have been screaming this since I read his words that the young man was clearly dead. Who in the hell is he to make that call. An arrogant, self serving, incompetent dipshit – thats who.

  • biteme

    if you’ve ever seen the damage a shotgun can do from 2 feet, you’d understand everyone knew he was dead
    Maybe I didn’t explain myself well, but in an emergency situation, a coroner is not there, you look at the scene decide who is salvageable and who is not and act accordingly, the victim didn’t necessarily need to even be dead but not as salvageable as the old lady, for the sheriff to react to her instead of Steven
    Bottom line, Sheriff was wrong in this whole matter, except an ambulance needed to be called

  • biteme

    NO! you do not let some one die of a heart attack to preserve a crime scene
    As far as the sheriff being there awhile before the heart attack i don’t know. like I said the sheriff was not professional maybe criminal, that’s not for me to decide, all I’m saying is some one is having a heart attack, you call an ambulance right away.

  • Lazlo

    if you’ve ever seen the damage a shotgun can do from 2 feet, you’d understand everyone knew he was dead

    Weapon was a Glock 9mm – single gunshot to the back of the head – no exit wound.

    Indeed – a shotgun would cause and “injury inconsistant with life”. A single 9mm bullet does not.

  • biteme

    Weapon was a Glock 9mm – single gunshot to the back of the head – no exit wound.
    Indeed – a shotgun would cause and “injury inconsistant with life”. A single 9mm bullet does not.

    OOPS! my mistake
    but you still have to call an ambulance for a heart attack, crime scene or not

  • Lazlo

    NO! you do not let some one die of a heart attack to preserve a crime scene
    As far as the sheriff being there awhile before the heart attack i don’t know. like I said the sheriff was not professional maybe criminal, that’s not for me to decide, all I’m saying is some one is having a heart attack, you call an ambulance right away.

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that a victim be allowed to die – just moved away from the crime scene. Easy-Peasy. EMT’s are trained to provide service with minimal impact on a crime scene – and Bob Daniels and crew did a fine job. It is the Sheriff’s gross incompetence and possible ulterior motives that are called into question here. I think we agree on that.

  • biteme

    That’s the point, EMT’s disturbance would be minimal but necessary
    And if you’re calling the coroner, you’ve already made the death call, just waiting for the signature, so deal with the live person first.
    I’m sure most of us feel the sheriff is more dirty than incompetent, but definitely one of the two

  • Lazlo

    That’s the point, EMT’s disturbance would be minimal but necessary

    Not necessary if the victim is ambulatory

    And if you’re calling the coroner, you’ve already made the death call, just waiting for the signature, so deal with the live person first.

    I agree with this. And given that Birdsell is not professionally qualified to make a death call – the EMT’s should have been in route upon discovery of Steven’s body.

    I’m sure most of us feel the sheriff is more dirty than incompetent, but definitely one of the two

    Ardently agree with this!!!

  • ItsMe

    Oh give me a F ing break! She wasn’t having a heart attack! She was having a FAKE attack! They planned this. They knew Steven was coming over and what time he was coming over. They went to the shooting range that day so they would all have gun powder residue on them. But really, that was just a waste of time cause old Birdbrain didn’t even bother to check. And the back up plan was to fake chest pains. That ‘s what the report said. CHEST PAINS/ and or anxiety attack ! Not possible heart attack! Whatever. She even called her Pastor to come up to the hospital to be with her. Gotta get the good old pastor on your side from the get go.

    Here is a Statement from a Sheriff in Ashland. This is hilarious!

    Cass County Sheriff Dave Osmer said he selected the Pike County Jail to house Skinner because it was less populated than the Morgan County Jail “and I felt their jailers can observe her a lot easier than Morgan.”
    Petty said that in talking to Skinner as she was being processed at his jail she did not appear to have any health concerns.

    Keep up the special treatment guys! Your just making yourselves look more guilty in the cover up!!!!

  • Lazlo

    Amen ItsMe 😀

  • thinkgoat

    Okay. The thing is….grandma didn’t start having “whatever” until a while after Birdsell had arrived at the scene. He arrived, saw a dead body and did nothing but allow others to come in and contaminate the crime scene. THEN granny started to freak, have her panic attack, whatever it was…the ambulance was called, the body discovered by someone who gave a rat’s ass. Plus – Robert Daniel was able to successfully treat and “stabilize” the patient AND get Wyatt called. Even IF granny was fitting-out when Birdsell arrived…call the ambulance…call the Death Examiner. NOT THAT DIFFICULT. Birdsell had ample time. The ambulance is based out of Virginia IL approx 12 miles away.(the call comes into MECCA – then the medics respond to the ambulance shed from their home – although their response time is great – there’s STILL ample time to have made a call) Wyatt Sager lives in Beardstown IL approx 20 miles away.

  • thinkgoat

    A handcufffed Shirley Skinner stood before Judge Bob Hardwick Jr. and quietly cried Friday as she learned she faces a minimum of 45 years to natural life in prison if convicted of the first-degree murder of her granddaughter’s estranged husband.

    At the brief court hearing Friday in Cass County Circuit Court, Hardwick told the 74-year-old Skinner that because she is accused of using a gun to kill Steven P. Watkins, she faces an additional mandatory 25 years or up to natural life to the term of imprisonment imposed by the court.

    First-degree murder not involving a gun carries a mandatory minimum of 20 years and up to as many as 60 years imprisonment.

    Skinner is accused of shooting Watkins in the back of the head with a Glock 9mm handgun.

    At the request of Michael Vujovich, a special prosecutor for Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, Hardwick ordered Skinner surrender her passport is she makes bail.

    She is to appear in court Nov. 4 for a preliminary hearing, where the state must show probable cause that a felony was committed by Skinner.

    I wonder – was the rest of the family there? Have they (especially Jennifer) left Florida to support Shirley or are they hanging her out to dry?

  • shelly1968

    Thinkgoat I have always had great respect for you, thank you for telling it like it is!

  • Death Bed

    That is just some serious incompetence going on with the defendants and the police department in this whole matter. That goes without saying at this point though, but I find it amusing that perhaps a better course of action could have been thought up by people at the errortapioca site. Yes, that is an exaggeration, but I think you take my meaning.

  • thinkgoat

    MY SHELLY!! Welcome to the Dreamin’ Demon, my friend. Welcome! I am thrilled to have you here! I hope you make this a regular “stop”. I believe you’ll really enjoy the site.

  • shadowman

    Years ago, I was a resident of Cass County. Even then the ineptness of the County’s law enforcement was evident. During the time I lived there, I was involved in two murder investigations. One involved a battered woman who called the city police (Beardstown, Il) to intervene when her estranged husband showed up and began to batter at her door. She had to call several times. The final time she called, her ex had made it in the house and she killed him. The police just sat on their hands until it was too late.

    Now it takes almost 11 months to resolve a murder investigation that was obviously a no-brainer?

    The Illinois State Police should have been called immediately. The family should never have been allowed to leave the state. The Skinners were already packing at this point! Consider the weapon was found on a box of packed items. This is going to happen when there is a custody hearing for the next day?

    I believe the other adults were just as culpable as Shirley Skinner. Obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit. There were several reasons why they should have never been able to leave Illinois.

  • defenestratethis

    The point is, as soon as the law came into the house, witnessed the carnage of blood, brains, and an apparently lifeless corpse on the living room floor..coroners, medics, or WHOEVER, should have been called immediatly. Not AFTER granny starts clutching her chest.

  • biteme

    Luckily Sheriff Birdsell was unbiased and called for an ambulance or grandma Shirley’s family would own the county

  • Veronica

    Luckily Sheriff Birdsell was unbiased and called for an ambulance or grandma Shirley’s family would own the county

    Confirmed idiot Sheriff Birdsell “unbiased?” Are you joking? LOL. The point is that the paramedics/cops/medical examiner should have been called LONG before Granny started conveniently clutching her chest. Granny, her family and the sheriff had plenty of time to concoct her little fake heart attack while Steven lay dead on the floor. Grandma’s faked heart attack is not the story here, biteme. It only serves as more evidence that something stinks to high heaven.

  • thinkgoat

    HA! Well stated Veronica!

    Birdbrain Birdsell was not unbiased at all. His bias was TO grandma and her clan. Otherwise the proper authorities would have been called the moment he stepped into that house and saw Steven’s dead body on the ground. The only family that would stand a chance of owning the County would be the Watkins family due to complete gross incompetitance.

  • ashlander

    I actually grew up just down the street from Jennifer and even dated her a few different times. She was one of those good looking, yet fairly mysterious girls. She was very sweet, and her family always treated me very well, but there were some warning signs that made me cautious about taking things any further. They were always ‘slightly above the law’ when it came to their actions. We didn’t think a lot of it, but their kids were always driving way before they got their licenses, and they had four wheelers and motorbikes that they would speed through the neighborhood on. They were involved in a very odd church that would be considered by many a ‘minor cult.’ They didn’t cut chicken’s heads off or anything, but it was just different. They also were pretty ‘flashy’ in what they drove and how they dressed and spent money, which might explain why they wound up with 4 generations living in one house. For Jennifer’s senior year, she was sent away to a private high school in Arkansas for no real reason, except that is what their family does is send the girls away for their senior year. It wasn’t punishment, but she hated it. Again, I never experienced anything but welcomeness in their presence, but I know her first husband. He wouldn’t ever really talk about their failed marriage, but you could tell just from looking at him that whenever the subject came up, you could tell that he had been through hell and that he thought their family was crazy. When I first heard of the shooting (before it was classified a murder), I will be honest. I was only slightly surprised.

    I am not defending the police in this case, but there wouldn’t have been any favors due to this family. They weren’t looked highly upon or looked down upon by the community. They did their own thing and went relatively unnoticed. In Ashland, there hasn’t been a murder since the 1970’s, so they don’t exactly carry around gun residue tape in the cop car (yes, singular). While there may be ineptness here, I don’t think there is corruption. Not with this family. People in Ashland really do want justice here. There has even been a lot of talk at the state level because of this case and many others about making a state law that would require the state police investigators to be called in immediately in the case of any murder. That would be a good law for any state.

    Okay, that being said, here’s what I think is going to be a key in this case: the phone records. My guess is that the disturbance call did not come until after he was shot. Obviously there is no way of knowing this, but I think this will come out: there may be a call before the disturbance call to their lawyer. Sounds crazy, I know, but this family isn’t stupid. So here’s my proposed timeline: 1) a disturbance occurred at the residence 2) grandma lost it and shot him 3) The family thought to call the lawyer, who recommends the rest of this scenario 4) a disturbance is called in to the police 5) the family agrees to go to bat for each other 6) about 10 minutes later, the shooting is called in 7) an ambulance is called for grandma 8) the police show up just before the ambulance 9) grandma is whisked away in the ambulance before anyone figures out that they should have taken evidence. Just my thoughts, but I’ve had 11 months to think about it!

  • thinkgoat

    Welcome to the Demon, Ashlander. And thank you for your well stated post. Interesting insight.

    I think you’re onto something with the phone records. I know two people who’ve tried to request the times 911 was phoned, and the dispatch times through the Freedom of Information Act. They’ve both been denied. Your speculation is quite interesting as far as a timeline.

    Thank you for signing up and commenting. I hope you’ll continue to provide information as it unfolds in the coming months. I’m tickled to have you here.

  • biteme

    11:08 pm on October 12th, 2009

    Thanks Ashlander, finally a respectable post with insight, reasonable and rational opinion on this case

  • ItsMe

    Yeah, I’ve known this family since I was a baby. I used to attend the same church but I stopped when they took control of it. They hardly ever came to church. When they did they would come in when the sermon was half way over and they would sit and giggle through most of it. They are a very close knit clan (Skinners/Websters). What Ashlander says is true that they were flashy and drove nice cars. But they are definitely not a good representation of our religion. Yes SDA’s go to church on Saturday but comparing us to a cult is bizarre. We are just Christians.

    Anyway, whenever we would get a new pastor they would come every week and sit in the front row hoping to make a good impression and hoping that he would be someone they could get on their side and under their control. It never worked and years went by. By the time I was about 19 they got their chance. We had a lot of new members attending and the Skinners/Websters became best friends with all of them, inviting them over for swimming parties etc. We also got a new pastor. They became best friends with him as well. Soon they had enough friends to vote them into power at the church and run things they way they wanted to. I left and a lot of other members left as well.

    I’m not surprised by the turn of events either. They were always threatening people. Jenny was their princess.
    I hope they arrest all who are guilty in this murder. Concealing information is a crime and I’m pretty sure they all know what really happened.

  • Woh…Woh…Woh..Wait! You lived in a funeral home?!?

  • SpecialHugs

    Jeez, is the whole town going crazy / crooked. There is a guy there who just recently decided to go ‘Preacher’ over in Pl. Plains. I’m told he was kicked out of the local Ashland school years ago for accosting a student, was arrested in Springfield for prop.. young boys and now has the internet version of ordained minister! Springfield paper is saying Jim Birdsell is now part of another court battle / being accused of harrassing an employee that was mentally challanged.
    Did someone say they grew up in a funeral home? Bet that was fun with your peers in school 🙂 You could have messed with your buddys Big Time 🙂

  • thinkgoat

    A Cass County grand jury handed up a three-count indictment Friday charging Shirley Skinner, 74, of Ashland with first-degree murder in the November 2008 death of Steven Watkins, according to the State’s Attorney’s Appellate Prosecutor’s Office in Springfield.

    Skinner is expected to be arraigned on the charges Wednesday before Judge Bob Hardwick Jr. in Cass County Circuit Court in Virginia.

    @ SpecialHugs – You’re right. Birdsell and Ashland’s Public Works Director are being sued by a former employee who has several disabilities and was taunted. The disabled man “is short of stature, the fingers of his right hand were eaten off by rats when he was young child, his eyes do not line up in the same direction and his voice is non-standard as to sound and cadence,”

    Cave assaulted Naylor “on nearly a daily basis” by striking him on the head and abusing him verbally because of his physical and mental impairments — calling him “stupid,” “dumb” and “retard,” according to the lawsuit. The action contends Cave placed a plastic rat on the table where Naylor would sit to take rest break.

    The lawsuit contends Cave pulled Naylor’s pants down on at least six occasions during the summer of 2008 and that Birdsell also participated.

    And yes – I lived in a funeral home during my early college years – my buddies seemed to be a little more humored by it than me 😀

  • thinkgoat

    Shirley J. Skinner, 74, was arraigned Wednesday on three first-degree murder charges in an indictment handed up Friday by a Cass County grand jury.

    Skinner pleaded not guilty to all the charges and requested a jury trial. She faces a minimum of 45 years to natural life in prison if convicted.

    Judge Bob Hardwick Jr. set pre-trial conference for Jan. 29. The next jury is not scheduled to be seated in Cass County until Feb. 8. Skinner, however, did not waive her right to a speedy trial, which means it would have to be moved up to January to meet the 120-day window.

    Jon Gray Noll, one of two Springfield attorneys representing Skinner, said he will be filing a motion in the next couple of days asking to recuse Hardwick. The defense attorney said he will wait for the reassignment of a judge before filing a motion asking for a reduction of Skinner’s $5 million bail. Because Cass County has no jail, she is being held in the Pike County Jail.

    Noll said after the hearing that he is asking for Hardwick to be disqualified from the case because Cass County “is a relatively small county … and Judge Hardwick knows everybody in this county and everybody knows him.”

    For Hardwick to preside over the case “it would be very difficult and [place] a tremendous amount of pressure on him and probably [would be] unfair to both sides to put him in a situation where he can’t go into the grocery store or local bank or whatever without somebody commenting to him,” Noll said.

    “We think a fair playing field of a different location with a different judge is in the best interest for all involved,” he said.

    Noll said he would not be filing a motion to change the location of the trial until after he gets more information.

  • ItsMe

    Police gathered DNA samples from relatives of Shirley Skinner….on the day Skinner first appeared in court last month

    Why investigators obtained DNA from Jennifer Watkins, estranged wife of the late Steven P. Watkins, and others isn’t clear. It also isn’t clear how many samples were gathered by investigators who served a search warrant when Skinner’s relatives went to the Pike County jail to visit her after her initial court appearance Oct. 9. The warrant is under seal, as is the accompanying affidavit outlining why police needed to gather evidence.

  • Coyote

    I just ran across an update on this story.

    Shirley Skinner, already accused of first-degree murder, now faces murder-for-hire charges in the killing of Steven Watkins at Skinner’s home in Ashland more than a year ago.

    Skinner, 74, pleaded not guilty to the new charges during a Wednesday hearing in Virginia at which a judge denied a motion to reduce Skinner’s bond from $5 million to $1 million.

    Skinner told Donald Russell and Leland Knotts, both employees of a Beardstown pallet company owned by her family, that she would pay $10,000 to have Watkins killed, according to an indictment issued Tuesday by a Cass County grand jury.

    Jon Gray Noll, Skinner’s attorney, dismissed the offer as idle talk over coffee that amounted to nothing more than a joke. He noted that prosecutors allege the offer was made sometime between Aug. 1, 2008, and Nov. 25, 2008, when Watkins was gunned down from behind at Skinner’s home in Ashland after he arrived to pick up his daughter for a court-ordered visit. If Skinner’s offer was serious, Noll said, the men would have promptly reported it to authorities.

    Michael Vujovich, a lawyer with the state’s attorney’s appellate prosecutor’s office who is prosecuting the case, said the new charges are not a case of “gamesmanship.” Investigators located and interviewed the two men in October, Vujovich said, and they may have had good reasons for not coming forward.

    “This case has not been easy for the state in many respects,” Vujovich told the court. “Obviously, the fear of job loss and all that weighed heavily on them.”

    Adams County Circuit Judge Mark Schuering, who has been called to Cass County to preside over the case, cited the new charges as one factor in his decision not to reduce bond.

    Applause broke out when the judge said he wouldn’t lower the bond, prompting Schuering to issue a warning from the bench.
    “Please be quiet,” the judge said. “I don’t want to have anyone removed.”

    Skinner has demanded a speedy trial, and Schuering said a trial could start as early as Jan. 25. The next step is a Dec. 30 hearing on Skinner’s motion for the case to be moved to Adams County.

    If the case stays in Cass County, it could take three weeks to pick a jury due to pre-trial publicity, Noll predicted. A trial could take a week in Adams County, he said.

    Shirley Skinner confessed, and her granddaughter Jennifer Watkins also said that Skinner shot Steven Watkins, police told a Cass County grand jury in October.

    Ashland Police Chief Jim Birdsell testified that paramedics who responded to Skinner’s home, where Steven Watkins was killed on Nov. 25, 2008, told him that Skinner admitted shooting the Chandlerville man.

    Jennifer Watkins said much the same thing, Birdsell told the grand jury, according to a transcript of the proceedings made public Wednesday by Adams County Circuit Judge Mark Schuering, who is presiding over Skinner’s murder trial.

    “When I finally got a chance, I got Jennifer Watkins outside, and I asked her what happened,” Birdsell testified. “She told me that he (Steven Watkins) had forced his self in and knocked her grandma down and that she was having heart problems. And that he was coming after her to take the baby away from her and her grandma shot him.”

    No identifiable fingerprints were found on the Glock handgun used to kill Watkins. Birdsell said he picked the weapon up to unload it, but he wore rubber gloves while doing so. Birdsell also testified that abrasions on Skinner’s hand were consistent with injuries caused by the slide of a handgun.

    Since the killing, Skinner’s relatives have refused to answer questions, authorities say.

    Even before paramedics took Skinner, who was complaining of chest pains, to a hospital, someone handed a phone to Birdsell. Jon Gray Noll, Skinner’s attorney, was on the line.

    “He (Noll) said that he was representing Mrs. Skinner and that he did not want me to talk to her,” Birdsell testified.

  • Coyote

    The parents of Steven Watkins are seeking a court order granting them the right to visit their granddaughter. The grandparents haven’t seen the girl since her father was killed. Alexandrea Watkins, Sidney Watkins’ 10-year-old half-sister, has also not been able to see her sister, the Watkins’s say in their request for visitation. They’ve lost their son and now cannot even see his daughter. I feel for them and hope they can find someone to help them gain access to their granddaughter.

  • Coyote

    Now there’s a possible wild-card witness listed for Shirley Skinner’s trial. Shelly F. Malone is described in court papers as a cellmate of Skinner who has evidence of the defendant’s innocence. Penny Watkins, Steven Watkins’ mother, said she’s heard that Malone has told authorities that Shirley Skinner told her Jennifer Watkins, the estranged wife of Steven Watkins, is the real killer. Prosecutors have said Jennifer Watkins, who owned the gun used to kill Steven Watkins, had the strongest motive to kill he husband. In addition, testing showed that DNA from Jennifer Watkins was on the gun, but there was no DNA from Skinner. Jennifer Watkins is Skinner’s granddaughter. Penny Watkins believes this is just a strategy that Shirley and her attorneys cooked up to cause confusion right before she goes to trial.

  • Coyote

    Shirley Skinner was found guilty and sentenced to 55 years in prison. At her age, it’s definitely a life sentence.

  • Doris Fanning

    I am so confused I lived in Ashland for several years and know most of the people involved here. The skinner/webster family owned a day care in Pleasant Plains, Nanny's Day Care, they actually were trusted with the care of so many children including my own.

    This was such a total shock to all and My heart goes out to Stevens family. I grew up in Chandlerville and spent many evenings at his mothers parents house while our parents visited….

    This is a tragedy. The whole damn skinner/webster family sure had insight and coaching to pull this off and all but one took the blame. They all should have been arrested. I try to keep up on this story and prey to God that everyone involved will pay for what happened. WHERE THE HELL IS JUSTICE……….

    As far as Jennifer I think she is the one who shot Steven and grandma took the blame so little Sidney wouldn't be without both parents. Who has the right to make that call it is because of them she is without her daddy and Shirley well she has lived her life…….How can Jennifer go to bed at night and sleep.I prey someone here comes forth and that little Sidney comes home to her real family!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Selliot13

    your all incorrect,
    medical first responders WERE the first people on the scene.
    Birdsel did not call the first responders.

  • Selliot13

    again your mis informed- medical first responders were the first on the scene

  • Coyote

    This case is going to be featured on Dateline on NBC tonight.

  • Coyote

    This case is going to be featured on Dateline on NBC tonight.

  • Livingright

    I hope this evil family suffer the consequences of their actions for the rest of their lives! Jennifer’s evil ass should be punished beyond measure!!!!! That little girl is going to find out just how sinister her mother and her evil family are and that is the saddest thing about this whole story. I hope she gets to live with her daddy’s family. Burn in hell skinner family!!!

  • Debra Large

    Shirley is trying to get out of jail on clemancy petition. This is the BEST summary of the events I’ve read. Everyone who is still interested in justice for Steven should sign the petition to keep the old b…. behind bars.

  • Coyote

    Do you have a link to this petition?

  • Watching it on Elder Skelter. Sigh…RIP Steven. 🙁