Ongoing stories
Bellush murder


Court files show couple was troubled

By St. Petersburg Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune staff writers

©St. Petersburg Times, published November 11, 1997

SARASOTA _ Sheila Bellush called her mother last week, excited that she had joined a church with what she called wonderful fellowship.

"Please don't worry about me," she told her mother, Verma Gene Smith. "Mommy, I feel that God is watching over us. Mommy, I'm gonna be all right. I'm in the hands of the Lord."

Two days later, Bellush was killed in her home in south Sarasota. Her body was found Friday at 4:20 p.m. by her 13-year-old daughter. The woman's quadruplets were nearby, covered in blood and wearing life jackets. They were unharmed.

"I'm beside myself," said Smith, who arrived in Sarasota on Saturday with her husband, Donald, from Salem, Oregon. "I can't believe anybody would hurt Sheila."

Sarasota County detectives believe Bellush was targeted by someone who knew her. They know how she died, but have not released details of an autopsy, which was completed Saturday. On a 911 tape, her daughter said her mother's throat had been cut.

Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Bill Stookey said Monday that detectives are still trying to find a man who stopped at a Chevron station at about noon Friday and asked for directions to Markridge, the street where the Bellush family lives.

Smith said she was worried about her daughter, who moved with her second husband, James, from San Antonio, Texas, in August. Part of the reason was to get away from her ex-husband, Allen Blackthorne, who had been harassing Bellush, she said. Though divorced since 1988, Blackthorne and Bellush were still wrangling in court over their two daughters up until two months ago.

Bellush and her second husband have been married for five years. Smith said he is a wonderful man with a kind heart. "She was his heart and soul."

By contrast, she said, her daughter's first marriage was traumatic. A court-appointed psychologist in the Texas divorce confirmed that assessment.

Sheila became depressed after giving birth to her second daughter, wrote psychologist Jack G. Ferrell Jr.

Allen Blackthorne told Ferrell that his wife accused him of infidelity with a nanny and a woman he had met on an airplane. Two years before their divorce, Blackthorne said, she made comments about killing herself and the girls.

"The overall impression is that this is a very vulnerable and dependent woman, who clearly presents some evidence of a personality disorder and who, at this time, is particularly sensitive regarding her feelings of lack of control," Ferrell wrote.

Allen Blackthorne, who could not be reached for comment Monday night, described his own harrowing upbringing, Ferrell reported to the Bexar County District Court.

According to Blackthorne, he bounced around, living with different relatives. He didn't know his biological father until he was 16 and grew up around a troubled mother. When he was 13, Blackthorne said, his mother grew angry when he was painting the house, threw gasoline on him and set him on fire, according to the court report.

Blackthorne also claimed to the psychologist that his mother beat him. He said she had attempted suicide by trying to shoot herself. He also told Ferrell that he was an only child, but admitted to having five half-brothers and sisters, when confronted with those facts.

"The general impression was that Mr. Blackthorne attempts very often to present information which he believes will be acceptable and unless otherwise pressed, will present himself in the most favorable light, even to the point of distorting actual facts and circumstances," Ferrell wrote.

According to Mrs. Smith, Sheila Bellush graduated from Sprague High School in Salem, Ore., in 1980, where she was an honor student and ran track.

Her father was shot down over Laos in 1972 during the Vietnam War, said Donald Smith. "They didn't get his body until 14 years later."

Sheila and Blackthorne met in Salem, where they both worked. At the time, he was named Allen Van Haute, which he changed to Blackthorne in 1986.

He told Ferrell he changed his name because his mother told him that Blackthorne was the name of his biological father. But Sheila told Ferrell her husband changed his name to avoid debt they had accumulated in Hawaii, when their business failed and they filed for bankruptcy.

He picked the name Blackthorne because of a character in the television mini-series Shogun, she said.

Blackthorne said he graduated from Stanford University and in 1978 started his first company, Blackthorne International, to sell physical therapy equipment. In 1980, he opened a chain of stereo stores. Early in their marriage, the Blackthorne's lived in Hawaii and then moved to San Antonio, where their marriage took a downturn.

She became active in a Pentacostal religion, spending time listening to tapes and reading. "He viewed her involvement as being somewhat episodic and saw her for the most part as trying to hide from life."

Despite different upbringings, the doctor noted several similarities about their personalities. He said both had inner conflicts that could occasionally manifest themselves in outward violence. Both, he said, had a strong need for nurturing and security.

In the summer of 1988, a jury heard their marriage case and determined that Sheila should be appointed guardian for their daughters Daryl and Stevie, now 12 and 13, and that a preponderance of the evidence had shown that Allen Blackthorne had committed physical violence against his wife. She eventually was awarded $75,000 in sanctions, plus $200,000 as part of a division of property.

Sheila was also awarded 20 percent of Blackthorne's interest in his company, Electronic Medical Sciences Inc.

That year, Blackthorne was charged with sexually assaulting one of his two daughters and hitting his ex-wife. The sex case was dismissed the next year, but he was sentenced to one year of probation for striking Sheila Bellush.

Sheila married James Bellush about five years ago. They moved to Sarasota in September, a few days after she bailed out of jail on charges of beating Daryl. Though Texas social workers allowed the girl to live with her, the criminal charges were still pending when she died.

In Sarasota, Bellush and James were renters, but planned to move into a new house in December, Smith said. This Halloween, Bellush took her quadruplets trick-or-treating in the new neighborhood.

They joined Sarasota Baptist Church, where Bellush attended Sunday service, a Wednesday prayer service and worked in the nursery, said Dr. Michael Landry, the church's pastor. Members of the church are caring for the Bellush quadruplets and the 13-year-old Stevie.

It is still unclear where the 12-year-old daughter, Daryl, has been living and where she was Friday when her mother's body was discovered.

Landry said the toddlers are doing well, but they miss their mom.

"They are making them feel as comfortable as they can, but the sad thing is the little ones will cry out occasionally for their mom."
-- Times staff writer Kelly Ryan and Patty Allen-Jones of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune contributed to this report.

©Copyright 1998 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.