(As originally published with bells and whistles, Thu, October 27th 2022, 4:00 AM EDT)
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — Many people around South Florida have heard this news before, but it’s not a joke. Quite the opposite.
A murder trial more than 30 years in the making is about to start, and the killing was bizarre on its own.
The person with the gun was dressed in a clown costume and bearing gifts.
There would be no arrest for 27 years but it eventually happened more than 800 miles away.
And the suspect is married to the victim’s widower.
This case started on Memorial Day weekend, 1990, in Wellington.
The first George Bush was president. Germany was reunified. The Hubble Space Telescope was launched. And there was a new kind of car being built, called the Saturn.
Marlene Warren was home on Saturday, May 26.
The 40-year-old mother had money. She lived with her family on Take Off Place in the exclusive Aero Club community, where large dwellings with small hangars encircle a landing strip.
There were others home at the time: her son and some of his friends. The doorbell rang. Marlene would answer it.
On the other side was a person wearing a red wig, a red nose, white gloves, and a red painted smile on its white face.
That person dressed as a clown was carrying a flower arrangement and two balloons. They’d been bought earlier that day at a Publix, about a mile away from the suspect’s apartment. One balloon read, “You’re the Greatest.” Snow White appeared on the other. The cost of the flowers: $15.87. The buyer paid $100 in cash, according to court records.
The clown offered the items to Marlene, who reached out to grab the balloons and said, “How nice.”
Then the clown pulled out a gun and shot Marlene in the face. She fell to the ground.
Outside, the clown was last seen walking calmly to a white Chrysler LeBaron convertible.
Bill Kramer was a neighbor who was walking his Labrador retriever. Years later and still living there, he told CBS12 News he heard the gunshot. His wife went out the back of their house and someone asked her to call 911 because somebody had been shot.
Kramer and his neighbor who was a doctor ran to the home. The doctor asked him to help administer first aid before first responders arrived.
Nobody could save her.
9/27/2017: Neighbor relives day of the clown murder
Marlene Warren would die in the hospital, two days later, on Memorial Day.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office had a person of interest in the killing but wouldn’t say so for many years.
Four days after the shooting, detectives recovered a white LeBaron and said it was the killer’s.
The car had been rented, and Michael Warren owned a business called Bargain Motors.
A detective said the people who rented the car mistakenly called to return the car early but were told to leave the car and keys there.
Investigators said Michael Warren, a woman named Sheila Keen, and a third person picked up the car.
Keen used to repossess cars for Warren, husband of the victim.
She’d been separated from her husband for a few months and rumored to be having an affair with Michael Warren.
In fact, Keen’s estranged husband told that to investigators.
But Michael and Sheila repeatedly denied that allegation, and there was not enough evidence to charge Sheila, though detectives later said they had a lot of puzzle pieces in 1990, and had Keen on their radar not long after the murder.
Still, the crime went unsolved. It seemed nobody would pay for the murder of Marlene Warren.
Then, time passed. A lot had changed after nearly a quarter-century.
In 2014, the sheriff’s office received new grant money. Its cold case team took a new look at the old crime.
Investigators reconnected with witnesses.
They used technology not available in 1990 and conducted additional DNA analysis.
Then, there was a break in the case. Authorities thought they’d unmasked the killer clown.
In August, 2017, prosecutors took the case to a grand jury, and Sheila Keen was indicted for first-degree murder.
But she wasn’t exactly Sheila Keen and she didn’t live in Florida anymore.
In 2002, she married widower Michael Warren and moved to a different world: the Tri-Cities of Tennessee and Virginia.
There’s a joke that it’s not the Bible belt; it’s the buckle.
The new Mr. and Mrs. Warren lived about 10 miles northeast on the Virginia side, in Abingdon.
They ran a fast food restaurant called the Purple Cow across the state line in Tennessee.
Sheila Keen-Warren’s arrest came years after living her new life, in the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017.
Authorities from Palm Beach County were there for the event.
Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman said Michael Warren was present when his wife was arrested for the murder of his previous wife.
Sheila Keen-Warren, then 54, was arraigned the next day and extradited a week later.
She made her first court appearance the next day. No decision had been made about whether she’d face the death penalty for the crime.
First, the prosecution wanted capital punishment. Then, they decided against it.
The state shared evidence with the defense team, but the state didn’t share all of its evidence with the defense team.
And there are issues over the quality of the DNA evidence, and whether it was contaminated.
That has caused delay after delay after delay in the State of Florida v. Sheila Keen-Warren, year after year after year.
The only things one can be certain won’t change anytime soon is that Michael Warren’s first wife is dead, and his second wife will be spending another night in jail waiting to be tried for her murder.