I am a true crime junkie. This is a fact. I am obsessed with missing persons and trying to find the clues that police and detectives have missed. I position myself as a makeshift FBI agent who often gets caught up in the rabbit hole of crime solving. The deranged hearts of fictional characters like Hanibal Lector to the real-life criminal masterminds like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and The Unabomber hold an intrepid space in my legal brain.
In 1980-something, my tv viewing was subjugated to 5 networks.
Millennials, I hope you feel my pain.
We were served broadcasts that consisted of network-produced shows that left us addicted to The Cosbys, The Keatons, and The Conners. We were introduced to the rebel network Fox (sidebar: it is not the conservative Fox Network we see today). The Fox network gave us salty line-ups including the iconic show The Simpsons and irreverent programming like Married With Children. Amidst the programming coo that was 1980s Fox, I had my first dalliance with true crime.
The Fox Network rolled out a superstar. John Walsh, the host of America's Most Wanted. To date, the show has facilitated the capture of over 1000 fugitives. Walsh, whose story began with the disappearance and murder of his 6-year-old son, Adam. Adam Walsh, son of John and Revé Walsh was abducted on July 27, 1981, when he was six years old. What was so terrifying about this story was that it could have happened to anyone, in a department store, when Revé had been absent for only a moment. After searching the area, no one could locate the missing child. Adam was murdered; his severed head was found two weeks later, but his body was never recovered.
In 2004, the crime junkie in me hit close to home. My best friend in college was met with a nightmare. My friend, Keri Dattilo, was granted the unwanted position of championing her cousin Molly Dattilo's return. Along with Molly's family, they rang alarm bells and garnered media attention when the police ignored their pleas.
According to an article from the website UNCOVERED was a wonderfully sweet young woman who had a promising future ahead of her.
The Story of Molly's disappearance:
When Molly went missing
The day Molly disappeared—July 6, 2004—she attended classes and did some shopping before walking to a Wendy’s near her brother’s apartment around 7:00 pm to drop off a job application. On her way there, she ran into a friend of her brother’s, who spoke briefly with her. This friend would later recall that Molly had her cell phone with her at the time they spoke.
Later that evening, Molly attended a party at the Westlake Apartments complex, where she met a man named John E. Shelton. At some point, Molly and John left the party to take a rowboat out on the complex’s retention pond, then ate dinner at a nearby Taco Bell. Around 11:00 pm, they ended up at a Thornton’s gas station about 3 miles from the Taco Bell—but in the opposite direction of the Westlake Apartments.
Molly attempted to call a friend from the gas station’s pay phone, but the line disconnected as soon as the friend answered. That was the last time anyone other than John E. Shelton saw or heard from Molly. When questioned, he claimed he took Molly home after they left the gas station.
Declared legally dead after 13 years missing
Molly’s brother did not immediately report Molly missing because it wasn’t abnormal for her to be away from the apartment due to her busy schedule and social life. After two days without seeing or hearing from Molly, however, her brother became worried and notified the police on July 8, 2004.
At first, law enforcement treated Molly’s disappearance as if Molly simply left on her own (at 22 years old, she was legally an adult), and they did not open an investigation right away. When authorities learned that Molly’s belongings—including her car, cell phone, bank card, money, and ID—were still at her brother’s apartment, they began to consider that foul play may have been involved. The fact that Molly’s phone was found in her brother’s apartment is noteworthy because it means she (or someone with her phone) was in her brother’s apartment sometime after Molly delivered the job application at Wendy’s when her brother’s friend saw her with her phone.
After losing valuable investigation time soon after Molly’s disappearance, police did not have any luck identifying a suspect or finding Molly. The family took matters into their own hands, launching a campaign to get Molly’s story into the media and collect any intel they could to uncover leads.
They also began advocating for a new law that would require law enforcement to act immediately in cases of adult missing persons where the missing person is considered high risk. Enacted in 2007 and updated in 2013, the Molly Dattilo Law directs law enforcement to take missing person reports about adults and to begin investigating immediately if the missing person is considered at high risk of being in danger.
Based largely on their own investigation and what little information they could get from police, Molly’s family became convinced that John E. Shelton and his father, Edward Shelton, were responsible for Molly’s disappearance and likely death. While authorities were not prepared to bring criminal charges against John E. Shelton, the Dattilo family worked with an attorney to file a civil lawsuit against him and his father, which resulted in a judgment that awarded the Dattilos nearly $3.5 million in damages.
Molly’s family assumes they will never receive any money—John E. Shelton is currently in prison, and his father’s whereabouts are unknown—but they were relieved to get what little justice they could on Molly’s behalf.
In 2017, more than 13 years after Molly’s disappearance, a judge signed an order declaring Molly Dattilo legally dead.
Where the case stands today
There have been no criminal charges filed in Molly’s case, but the family believes John E. Shelton and his father, Edward, are responsible for Molly’s death. They hope that one day Molly will receive the full justice of a criminal conviction and that they will find Molly’s remains so they can lay her to rest.
Anyone with information regarding Molly Dattilo’s disappearance, death, or the location of her remains should contact Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana at 317-262-TIPS (8477) or the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD)
➡The police did not start an active search or start an investigation for 6 weeks after her disappearance.
Person Of Interest:
The main suspect John E. Shelton of Indianapolis is currently incarcerated for 26 years. He has been convicted of dealing methamphetamines and is deemed a habitual offender.
John E. Shelton case files:
Molly's family has been in agony for the past 18 years. Let's bring Molly home.
How can you help solve this case?
Keep talking about it. Share this information with everyone you know. Keep talking. Keep the pressure on alleged perpetrators. Do not give up. If you know someone who is missing, do everything you can to keep your loved one's name in the headlines.
Finally- Join us on the Clubhouse App for a powerful conversation about Molly's disappearance and legacy. We will be joined by her family members and experts on this pivotal case that changed legislation.
JOIN US ON TUESDAY JULY 18th at 6 PM CST. This is how we will keep Molly's legacy alive and bring her back home.⬇
Please reach out if you have any tips or information on the disappearance of Molly Datillo. #findmolly
For more information about the disappearance of Molly Datillo check out this site:
Bring Molly home.