your connection to The Boston Globe

Town in Iowa saw wife change when husband vanished

DEFIANCE, Iowa -- Townspeople knew about Scott Shanahan's temper, that he was antisocial and often moody. Some people said they saw the bruises that his wife, Dixie, tried to hide.

But authorities say Dixie Shanahan, 36, kept her biggest secret for the 14 months that followed her husband's August 2002 disappearance. Last week, Scott Shanahan's skeletal remains were found in a spare bedroom in their house. An autopsy showed he had been shot in the head.

Dixie Shanahan has since been ordered held on a charge of first-degree murder, and her children -- ages 7, 5, and 8 months -- have been placed in state custody.

Her lawyer, public defender Greg Steensland, did not return a message seeking comment.

In July, nearly a year after Dixie Shanahan had reported her husband missing, she told sheriff's Deputy John Kelly that he had left her and moved to the nearby town of Atlantic.

Neighbors had already noticed a change in her. "She was free -- like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders," said Mary Schmitz.

Schmitz and her son, Doug, said they never saw Dixie Shanahan with bruises, but that there were rumors that abuse was common in the household.

"I can see what she went through, and he got what he deserved if what they say is true," Mary Schmitz said.

Court records show that Scott Shanahan beat his wife on several occasions, leaving her bloody and bruised.

Resident Mickey Kloewer said people knew of the abuse, "but you didn't want to intrude in their business."

No one thought much about Scott Shanahan's disappearance until several months had passed and they noticed he had left his pickup truck and dog behind, neighbor Doug Schmitz said.

"People joked about it, that he was buried in the backyard or buried in concrete in the basement," he said.

Resident Karen Kloewer said the case has shaken the town. "It's heartbreaking to think she didn't think she could turn anywhere for help," she said.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives