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Bellush murder

 


Mother's slayer knew her, police say

By LEANORA MINAI and KELLY RYAN

©St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 1997


SARASOTA -- Sheriff's detectives released a sketch of a man who on Friday asked for directions to the street where a mother of quadruplet toddlers was later found slain.

Lt. William Stookey said the man, in his late 20s and probably from out of town, is not a suspect. Deputies have no suspects in the killing of 35-year-old Sheila Bellush.

But detectives want to talk to the man who was seen about noon Friday at a Chevron gas station where a clerk pointed out Markridge Road on a map for him.

"We want him to come forward, or someone to come forward, with information," said Stookey.

He said Bellush's killing was not random but committed by someone who knew her.

Authorities would not release Mrs. Bellush's cause of death, but they released a 31/2-minute 911 recording of her 13-year-old daughter, Stevie, who returned from school about 4:20 p.m. Friday and found her mother lying in blood by the kitchen.

She told the dispatcher her mother's throat had been cut.

"The kitchen drawer is open," the teen told a Sarasota County dispatcher through hysterical sobs. In the background, one of the toddlers can be heard wailing.

"There's blood all over the phone. This is my mom."

She told the dispatcher about the 23-month-old toddlers -- boys Frankie, Timothy and Joseph and a girl, Courtney -- whom she found milling around the scene unharmed and in life vests. The house has a swimming pool, but it was unclear Saturday why the toddlers were wearing the vests or who put them on.

"It was a very bloody, horrendous scene, especially with those toddlers in there running around," Stookey said. "Very, very depressing."

Mrs. Bellush, her husband, James, and six children moved to the Gulf Gate subdivision of Sarasota about a month ago from the San Antonio, Texas, area.

Bellush family members, including the toddlers, were staying Saturday with members of the Sarasota Baptist Church.

"They're struggling," Greg Lester, a church representative, said Saturday.

Back in San Antonio, where the family had been semicelebrities after the birth of the quads, friends were shocked and saddened that the family's attempt to start a new life ended violently.

Mrs. Bellush and her family moved suddenly about a month ago to escape what her lawyer said were escalating pressures.

Raising quadruplets, fighting abuse allegations and enduring media scrutiny wore the family down. By her attorney's account, Mrs. Bellush and her family had begun to find peace in Sarasota.

"They moved to Florida to get the hell out of San Antonio," said Ken Nunley, a lawyer in the San Antonio suburb of Boerne, where the Bellushes lived. He had known Sheila Bellush since 1989 when he worked in a firm where she was an administrative assistant.

"Everyone thought it was a good idea for the children. Get away from reporters. Start over," Nunley said.

After marrying, at age 20, a successful San Antonio businessman named Allen Blackthorne, Sheila gave birth to two daughters born a little more than a year apart.

But after five years, the marriage fell apart in 1988. The couple divorced in Bexar County, Texas, and she took custody of the children. The divorce was messy, with each side making allegations of abuse of each other and the children.

She married James Bellush, who works for a pharmaceutical company, in 1993. In early 1995, the couple decided to have children, but she had undergone a tubal ligation. In-vitro fertilization was necessary. That produced the quads, who were born Dec. 5, 1995.

Shortly after their birth, the family needed to move to accommodate the new arrivals. They settled in the Country Bend subdivision, 30 miles west of downtown San Antonio, where signs warn drivers to beware of children playing in the street.

The neighborhood of spacious homes on large, manicured lawns, is mostly home to families with children, and that made it ideal for the Bellushes.

They lived in a two-story ivory-colored stone home with muted blue trim. For a few months, life was good.

Then came parenting conflicts and allegations of child abuse.

Nunley said Mrs. Bellush and her ex-husband were involved in a dispute over "access issues" with their daughters, Stevie and Daryl. Nunley said Stevie decided she no longer wanted to see Blackthorne, and he challenged his ex-wife in court this year.

Bexar County sheriff's deputies were called to the house in March after Daryl ran out of the house after a heated dinner conversation with her mother and James Bellush, according a report of the incident. She ran to a neighbor's home, saying she feared she was about to be slapped for "being disrespectful," the report says.

Mrs. Bellush ran after her daughter and called deputies when the neighbor would not let her inside.

The neighbor showed deputies several pictures she had taken a week before of bruises on Stevie's legs. Those pictures were taken into evidence by Bexar County deputies, but they determined that no law had been broken.

Then, on Aug. 31, Daryl accused her mother of beating her with a belt, raising welts on her leg.

Daryl was briefly taken from the family into protective state custody. Mrs. Bellush was charged with felony assault for the beating.

In mid-September, Daryl, 12, was returned to her family as Texas social workers determined there was no abuse. Bexar County deputies had intended to pursue the case, but Nunley said he never expected the charge to lead to trial.

Daryl is now living in Florida, but earlier reports were corrected Saturday to say that it was Stevie who found her mother's body Friday.

Neighbors in Sarasota knew little about the family -- only that Mrs. Bellush would take her toddlers in a stroller along the sidewalk.

Sarasota neighbor David MacDonald, 33, returned from work at 3 p.m. Friday. Everything was quiet. His windows were open because of the cool weather. Then he heard emergency vehicles outside.

He walked outside and saw the toddlers being led from the house. At least two were naked with life vests on. Later, MacDonald sat with the toddlers and the 13-year-old in the home of Brian and Carol Ely, another neighbor.

The toddlers donned their Halloween costumes because they could not get to their clothes. They dressed as mice, MacDonald said. Neighbors fed the children peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cereal and read to them and pointed to pictures in Home Ideas, a home improvement publication.

No one mentioned the killing.

"God, those kids were cute; really cute kids," Mrs. Ely said. "The mom must have done a really good job with them. I hope they find out who did this."

Anyone with information on the killing of Sheila Bellush is asked to call Sarasota County detectives at 941-951-5012.


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