Today we are talking about the murder of Skylar Neese, commonly referred to as the Trial by Twitter case. This is one of those cases that I just can’t wrap my head around and has stuck with me since the first time I heard it. Most of the time, when someone is murdered it’s pretty easy to pinpoint the motive and follow the thought processes of those involved to see the “why.” *Not that having a clear motive makes murder okay.* But with this case, there isn’t any real reason and the reason given doesn’t make any sense.
In July 2012, Skylar was a 16 year old honor student. She was often described as intelligent, compassionate, stubborn, and bubbly. She was an only child and when she wasn’t studying or working at the local Wendy’s, she could usually be found with her best friend, Shelia.
She and Shelia had been best friends since second grade despite being about 20 miles away from each other. Shelia’s parents went through a divorce not long after her father was in a serious car accident that left him partially disabled and unable to work. When her mother got remarried, they moved much closer to Skylar’s family and by high school the girls were inseparable. Skylar’s parents didn’t mind and welcomed Shelia with open arms. They had the kind of friendship where Shelia didn’t have to knock when she came over, she just walked in and no one minded.
While they had been best friends for so long, they had vastly different personalities. Shelia was known for being a little crazier and Skylar was the more rational one of the two. Skylar’s mom said, “Skylar thought she could save her. . . I would hear her on the phone givin’ Shelia all kinds of hell: ‘Don’t be stupid! What were you thinkin’?’ On the other hand, Shelia was so much fun. She was always silly and doin’ crazy stuff.”
Their freshman year of highschool, the duo became a trio when they met Rachel Shoaf. Other than the fact that she was an only child and her parents had divorced, it seemed like Rachel was the polar opposite of Shelia. She had grown up very religious, was actively involved in church activities, and until high school had attended a Catholic school. She could make friends quickly and enjoyed being involved in school plays as she aspired to be an actress.
The girls started hanging out together and tended to get in a little bit of trouble. They were regularly drinking, smoking weed, and breaking curfew. Some of Skylar’s other friends avoided hanging out with her when she was with the other girls because they felt like she was mean and controlling. But this was her best friend so she brushed their comment off.
At first glance, it may seem like Skylar would be the one to hold the trio together being the middle ground between Shelia and Rachel. Surprisingly though, Rachel seemed to idolize Shelia for her wild and carefree personality and they started growing closer together while Skylar started to feel like the odd one out despite having been friends with Shelia so much longer than Rachel. Despite this, things were going great between the three until sophomore year when at a sleepover Skylar saw Shelia and Rachel have drunken sex with each other. The sleepover ended with Skylar and Shelia arguing, opening a rift in the group.
Shelia and Rachel continued to grow closer together as they felt like they were growing up faster than Skylar. They both had boyfriends now and were sexually active, leaving Skylar the odd one out and they began to view her more as an immature little sister who had to tag along, but also knew all their secrets. The fighting became more constant and because they were teenagers in the early 2010s, a lot of this was documented on Twitter. They were constantly subtweeting each other and while they didn’t specifically tag each other in these things, it was pretty obvious who they were meant for. One of Skylar’s tweets on September 6, 2011 said, “id tell the whole school all the shit i have on everyone, which is a lotttttt #ificouldgetawaywithit.” The tweets escalated and by spring of 2012 Skylar was posting things like “you’re a twofaced bitch and obviously fucking stupid if you thought I wouldn’t find out” and “too bad my friends are having lives without me.” It’s pretty easy to infer what was going on in the group, but despite all these things being tweeted, they still hung out constantly and on July 5, when Shelia called Skylar and invited her to go on a joyride with her and Rachel she snuck out to do just that.
What she didn’t know is that this wasn’t just a joyride. Shelia and Rachel had decided that they didn’t want Skylar around anymore and the best way to go about this was to kill her. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision either. Back in October, some of their classmates as well as a teacher had overheard the two talking about the best way to dispose of a body. The conversation happened during a biology class where they were learning about forensic science and a body had recently been found behind the school, so it was brushed off for the most part. At least one student was concerned by it though and said that they were specifically talking about how to get rid of Skylar. When told about this conversation, Skylar ignored it and said it was just a game they had been playing. Rachel had also told another friend in the spring that she was worried Skylar might blackmail them and said, “I wouldn’t mind if she died.” I don’t know about you guys, but if I found out my friends were talking about killing me, whether I thought it was a joke or not, I probably wouldn’t want to keep hanging out with them.
Anywho, back to this “joyride.” Rachel was supposed to be at a Catholic church camp, but it had been delayed due to weather. Once she left, she would be gone for two weeks, so they decided if they were going to do something they had to do it now. In the trunk of the car they loaded a shovel, towels, bleach, and a change of clothes for each of them. They put on sweatshirts and hid knives under them. After picking Skylar up, they drove to a secluded area to hang out and smoke weed. This area was right over the border into Pennsylvania. After chatting for a while, they realized they had left the lighter in the car, so Skylar went to go get it. As she walked toward the car, Shelia and Rachel counted to three before they started stabbing Skylar with the knives they had hidden under their sweatshirts. Skylar tried to run, but Rachel tackled her. She was able to get her hands on Rachel’s knife and cut her ankle, but it was two against one and she didn’t have a chance. They overpowered her and stabbed her over and over. Then they stood over her, watching her die. The last thing she said was simply, “Why?”
They then got the shovel out of the trunk and intended to bury her, but the ground was too rocky and they gave up on this plan. Instead they dragged her body next to a big tree and covered her with rocks and branches. Next they washed themselves and the knives off in a nearby creek and changed into their clean clothes before heading home around dawn. At 9:09am, Shelia retweeted “always keep your cool.”
Everything they’ve done so far is horrible, but it doesn’t stop there. The next day, Rachel went boating with her mom before leaving for her church camp on the seventh. She gets to pretend to be blissfully unaware of what Skylar’s family is going through now. Her parents got up on the morning of the sixth and assuming she was still in bed, went to work. Dave, her dad, came home midday knowing that she had a shift at Wendy’s and he was planning to let her borrow his car to get there. He was confused when it appeared that no one was home and Skylar’s room was locked from the inside. He also noticed a small bench outside her open window and realized she must have snuck out the night before. Knowing the usual culprits of sneaking out he called Shelia to ask if she had seen Skylar who said that they had talked on the phone around midnight, but she hadn’t seen her. He was hopeful that she had just stayed out too late and gotten a ride from someone else to Wendy’s. This hope didn’t last for long though as her manager at Wendy’s called to see where she was as she hadn’t shown up for her shift.
At this point, they decided it was time to call the police. Shelia then called back and admitted that she and Rachel had in fact seen Skylar and told them that they had gone joyriding around 11, but that she had dropped her off at the end of the street before midnight. When she heard that Skylar was missing, she and her mom showed up at the Neese home to help find her. The building had security cameras and these showed Skylar getting into a car at 12:31am. The video was really grainy so they couldn’t make out what kind of car it was and since this was more than half an hour after Shelia had said she had dropped Skylar back off, no one suspected anything. Since Skylar had willingly gotten into the car on the video, the police advised the Neese’s to give it a few days and she would probably come back. They knew this wasn’t something she would do, but they didn’t want to consider the alternative, so they tried to believe the police were right.
By July 9, when Skylar still hadn’t shown up, the FBI got involved because they thought it could be connected to another missing person case that had occurred recently. Since Shelia was the last person they knew had seen Skylar, they called her in for an interview. She repeated the story she had told the Neeses, but a detective on the case felt like her behavior was “wrong.” There’s not much you can do with that though, so they moved on and kept investigating.
Shelia was constantly checking in with the Neeses; asking if any progress had been made, helping put up missing person posters, and assisting in the search for Skylar. At one point a few days after the murder, she even cried on Skylar’s bed. She was putting on such a good show that Dave thought she genuinely cared. One of the detectives warned him about telling her too much and explained that they were pretty sure she was responsible for what had happened.
When Rachel got back from camp, she was interviewed and told the same story Shelia had told. It sounds like they really planned ahead and were going to get away with it, but that detective who felt Shelia was acting wrong noticed that their stories weren’t just the same, they were identical. She said that they were so perfectly the same that it almost sounded rehearsed, but again there isn’t any actual evidence so there’s not much she can do with that.
The case continued to be investigated, but it wasn’t really making any progress. It wasn’t until after the school year had started that the police were watching the surveillance video again and realized that Shelia didn’t pick Skylar up at 11. This started to shake the girls’ story and on September 3 a warrant was issued to seize means of electronic communication from both girls. They were starting to put together a narrative of what happened, but it was all circumstantial and they didn’t have any proof. A police officer made a twitter account under the guise of a teenage boy and worked his way into having access to their tweets. He said that neither of them so much as hinted at being upset by their friend’s disappearance. He also noted that Shelia seemed perky and posted all kinds of mundane things while Rachel was more reserved and quiet. One of Shelia’s tweets at the beginning of November said, “no one on this earth can handle me and Rachel if you think you can you’re wrong.”
By November a grand jury was called with the trio’s other friends subpoenaed to appear before the jury. Like we talked about in the JonBenet case, a grand jury is confidential, so no one knows for sure what was discussed there except for those who were there. Whatever it was though made Shelia start to worry and she started making adjustments to her story that increased suspicion.
She was still checking in with the Neeses every day though and trying to insert herself into the case.
On the other hand, Rachel was staying as far away from the whole thing as possible. She didn’t even visit the Neeses once. Her mental health was suffering though and she was starting to crack. By the end of December, her mom was really worried about her and decided it would be best to have her dad move in for a while to help with her. When Rachel saw him there though she freaked out and started running around the neighborhood, screaming “You’re ruining my life!” It became a physical altercation between Rachel and her mom with Rachel eventually barricading herself in her room, threatening to kill herself. The police were called and she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Shelia was getting nervous of the implications Rachel’s breakdown could have and tried to visit her a couple times, but the hospital was directed to only allow family members in.
She was released 5 days later on January 3. She had a polygraph appointment right after this because police wanted to talk to her before Shelia could get to her and at this appointment she confessed to killing Skylar. When asked why they did it, she said “we just didn’t like her anymore.”
Rachel agreed to take them to the body, but it was so snowy that she couldn’t find exactly where they had buried her. So with just Rachel’s words, everything against Shelia was still circumstantial. So what they did was have Rachel meet up with Shelia with her room under electronic surveillance. Unfortunately this was a bust too and she wasn’t able to get Shelia to say anything incriminating, so they were stuck again.
2 weeks later, they took k9 units out to the area Rachel said they had buried Skylar and they found her skeletal remains. So now they’ve found Skylar, but they still need to gather evidence. Rachel was able to roam free during this time because they didn’t want to alert Shelia to what they knew and they had an agreement that she would turn herself in when the time came.
On March 13, the body was officially identified as Skylar and her death was made public. After the announcement, Shelia posted “rest easy skylar, you’ll ALWAYS be my bestfriend” before returning to business as usual. Rachel posted, “rest in peace baby, i love and miss you more than anything. may you finally have justice.” Which like I’m sorry you’re going to tweet about justice when you literally killed her?!
On May 1, as agreed, Rachel surrendered herself to authorities and was transferred from juvenile to adult status before she pled guilty and agreed to testify against Shelia.
So, as you mentioned Breya, the guilt made Rachel suffer so much, she had come apart at the seams. And, I think, at this point she just wanted this whole nightmare to be over. Now, just to be clear, my empathy towards Rachel is a zero on a scale of 1-10, for obvious reasons. She killed one of her closest “friends”, and I put this in air quotes because, really, who does this to a true and real friend?! As the saying goes, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?” The decision was made by Rachel, along with her attorneys and family, to take a plea deal.
Under this 2nd Degree Murder Plea, and because of Rachel’s willingness now to assist in the prosecution of Sheila, the prosecution recommended a sentence of 20 years, which is the state minimum under this charge. WV has indeterminate sentencing, so it was possible she could serve more than the state minimum, up to 40 years. The sentencing judge split the difference, and sentenced Rachel to 30 years in prison, with the possibility of parole after 10 years. Also, agreed to in the deal, was that Pennsylvania would not charge Rachel, as the murder was actually committed in Brave, PA not WV. And, although you may wonder why that is a big deal, it’s because Pennsylvania could have charged her separately for the murder, and their laws are more strict than WV’s.
At the sentencing phase, Rachel did apologize to the Neese family, but Skylar’s father, Dave speaking on the family’s behalf stated, “You can never ever say you’re sorry to me or my wife, because you’re not. There will never be closure for us as far as you two are concerned. You defied our trust. We trusted you with Skylar’s life and this is how you treat us”. When he was asked afterwards in an interview what he had to say in response to the apology Rachel Shoaf directed to him and his wife, Mary, at her sentencing, Dave Neese said Shoaf was only sorry for getting caught, not for killing his daughter.
Now, while all this was happening, Shelia was at Cracker Barrel with her mother, none the wiser to what was about to happen. When they left the restaurant, police were waiting in the parking lot to arrest her. There were some rumors that Sheila’s mother, Tara, knew about her daughter’s pending arrest, and may have taken her to Cracker Barrel that day to avoid the scene & humiliation of having her daughter taken into custody by police at their apartment.
As opposed to Rachel, Sheila decided to plea, “Not Guilty”, and face trial for her part in Skylar’s murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit murder. Sheila was also charged as an adult. During the arraignment, she was very composed and was often described as having an inappropriate demeanor for a defendant being charged with murder. Often appearing as though she was smiling on multiple occasions. Maybe it’s because she was nervous, or maybe it’s because she still believed she was going to get away with it. Only Sheila really knows.
But, a month later, at the pre-trial motions hearing, Sheila was no longer smiling. She now appeared more subdued, as her attorney filed several motions to try to move the trial venue out of the county, to set bail, and have the trial delayed to a later date. Perhaps the most pertinent of these motions, was to have the testimony of Rachel Shoaf suppressed because of her mental health issues. All motions, with the exception of moving the trial to the beginning of 2014 were denied by the court. Prior to the actual murder trial being started, there was another pre-trial hearing in January of 2014. At this hearing, Sheila began to cry as soon as she was seated. I supposed it was from her impending doom, so to speak. Unlike the prior pre-trial hearing, there was no smiling or smirking going on. And, as it was live streamed to the public, Sheila decided to plead guilty to the charges before her. As her own attorney later admitted, he believed the testimony Rachel would have given against Sheila, would have been too damaging, and he had no plausible excuse to use to defend his client against it. Other than answering the court’s questions with “yes, sir”, “no sir”, answers, Sheila said nothing. She never apologized or showed any remorse for Skylar or Skylar’s family. Her attorney merely relayed a message from Sheila Eddy’s family indicating they “recognize the Neese’s sorrow”. Like what is that? What kind of remorseful statement is that to make, and through an attorney nonetheless? And, he also said that any silence by his client or his client’s family should not be seen as a form of disrespect, because it was ordered by him. Nice of him to take the blame I suppose? Though, I don’t think it provides much solace to Skylar Neese’s family for the murder of their daughter.
Under Sheila Eddy’s guilty plea, she was convicted of First Degree Murder with Mercy, and was sentenced to life imprisonment, with the possibility of parole after 15 years. As with Rachel, the State of PA agreed to allow the State of WV to handle the charges for the crimes committed by Sheila. Because under the Dual Sovereignty Doctrine, with separate crimes having taking place, conspiracy & kidnapping in WV, murder being committed in PA, both Rachel & Sheila could have been charged by both states. And, as I mentioned earlier, PA laws are much stricter when it comes to murder. As they do not have the murder “with mercy”, that allows the possibility of parole to the life sentence imposed by the court, after 15 years. Skylar Neese’s parents have vowed to be at every single parole hearing to ensure their daughter’s murderers stay behind bars for as long as the law allows.
In addition, Skylar Neese’s parents, Mary & Dave, worked to create change after there was a clear breakdown with West Virginia’s use of the Amber Alert system. In most situations, when a child under the age of 18 goes missing under suspicious circumstances, a statewide Amber Alert goes out to the public. But, because Neese left of her own free will, as was seen on the surveillance footage, she never qualified for an Amber Alert. Unfortunately, as is often the case, law enforcement classified her as a runaway, rather than a minor in danger.
Due to the lack of action taken by police, which led to the time delay in her search, her body being discovered, and the arrest of those involved, a change needed to be made. And, this is exactly why her family fought for that change. Their fight let to a new addendum being added to the state’s Amber Alert Law. This addendum, entitled “Skylar’s Law,” took effect in West Virginia in May 2013. It requires that an Amber Alert must be issued for every child reported missing, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the disappearance.
Accessed April, 2022. https://skylarneesemurder.com/court.html
Accessed April, 2022. https://allthatsinteresting.com/skylar-neese-murder
Accessed April, 2022. https://www.vizaca.com/skylar-neese-story-case/
Accessed April, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj2rEnGtihs&ab_channel=ThatChapter
Accessed April, 2022. http://www.wvlegislature.gov/wvcode/chapterentire.cfm?chap=62&art=3§ion=15
Accessed April, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2Mw1SOOlho
Accessed April, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seal_of_confession_in_the_Catholic_Church