Police in Nicholas Sheley's hometown came to know him well as his crimes progressed from marijuana possession to domestic battery, then to resisting a peace officer and aggravated battery.
Now, he is suspected of killing eight people in two states, from a toddler to a 93-year-old, all by the method police describe as “blunt force trauma.”
Sheley was quietly arrested Tuesday outside a Granite City bar known as a police hangout. The capture followed an intense manhunt.
“Nothing would have made us suspect that something like this would happen,” said Ron Potthoff, chief of police in Sheley's hometown of Sterling, a city of 15,000 about 100 miles west of Chicago. “But … he was becoming more and more noticeable to the officers.”
Police say one possibility is that Sheley, 28, was on a drug-fueled rampage.
William Monroe, an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Chicago field office, said he believes Sheley traveled last week to buy drugs in Chicago, where authorities recovered two handguns taken from the first man killed.
Sheley has been charged in only two of the eight deaths. Because the eight killings occurred in Illinois and Missouri, officials need to decide where he could be tried.
Sheley was taken into custody around 6:40 p.m. Tuesday while smoking a cigarette outside Bindy's, a bar in Granite City about 10 miles north of St. Louis, witnesses said.
He ordered a glass of water and went to the bathroom before an employee and customer recognized him, bartender Katie Ronk said. The customer, Gary Range, said he left the bar and notified a police officer parked in the lot outside.
Sheley faces charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery and vehicular hijacking in the death of Ronald Randall, 65, whose body was found Monday behind a grocery store in Galesburg, in northwestern Illinois, police said.
Sheley also is charged with murder in the death of 93-year-old Russell Reed in Sterling, according to the Whiteside County State's Attorney.
Investigators said evidence linked to Sheley was recovered at each crime scene. The FBI and Illinois State Police declined to elaborate.
Authorities said the killings began with the beating death of Reed, a Sterling man whose body was found stuffed in the trunk of a car Thursday.
On Monday, police discovered the bodies of two men, a woman and a child in an apartment in nearby Rock Falls. Investigators believe they died late Saturday or early Sunday.
Sheley was acquainted with the male victims, Brock Branson and Kenneth Ulvey, both in their 20s, said Illinois State Police Region Two Commander Mark Maton. The Whiteside County coroner identified the remaining victims as 20-year-old Kilynna Blake, 20, and Dayan Blake, 2, both of Cedar City, Utah.
More than 250 miles away, the bodies of Tom and Jill Estes of Sherwood, Ark., were found Monday behind a gas station in Festus, said Lt. Bill Baker of the St. Louis Area Major Case Squad. The couple had checked into a Comfort Inn in Festus on Friday and were last seen late Sunday. Their dogs were found in the hotel parking lot, unharmed but covered with blood.
Public records show Sheley has multiple convictions for robbery, drugs and weapons charges and has spent three years in prison.
Two of Sheley's family members also were being held in Whiteside County on charges connected to Reed's killing.