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A Multi-Million Dollar Plot Is Revealed When A Mother Of Quadruplets Is Brutally Murdered
A woman was shot and stabbed at her Florida home before the eyes of her toddler-aged children. With many players involved, could this have been the work of a murder-for-hire?
Greed would come into play when a beloved mother of six was murdered at her home in front of her young children.
On Nov. 7, 1997, a 13-year-old girl called 911 to report that her mother, Sheila Bellush, was dead on the kitchen floor of their Sarasota, Florida home. The teen said her mother’s throat had been cut and that her four half-siblings — a set of toddler-aged quadruplets — were with their mother when she was killed.
The children were found with their mother’s blood on their bodies, and little, bloody footprints were imprinted around the home. However, the toddlers were physically unharmed.
The homicide known as the “Quad Mom” murder would shock those closest to the deceased, including friend Kelly McGonigal.
“Knowing Sheila the way I did, what happened to her didn’t make sense,” McGonigal told “Blood & Money,” airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen. “How could anyone even think of doing this?”
Investigators from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Markridge Road residence, which Sheila shared with her two teenage daughters and quadruplets, the latter of whom she welcomed with her second husband, Jamie Bellush. There, detectives — including retired Detective Sgt. Chris Iorio and retired Cpt. Ron Albritton — secured the crime scene.
In the garage, investigators found a towel containing gunshot residue and a bullet hole — presumably used to act as a silencer — as well as an unknown person’s fingerprint on the clothes dryer, where a bullet casing was left behind.
Detectives also found a broken and bloody knife close to Sheila's body in the kitchen, and blood on a nearby phone indicated she attempted to call for help before succumbing to her knife and gunshot wounds.
Investigators believed the towel caused the gun to jam, preventing the killer or killers from firing multiple shots and prompting them to grab one of the kitchen knives to complete the murder.
Soon, husband Jamie Bellush — a pharmaceutical sales representative — arrived on the scene, and according to Detectives Iorio and Albritton, he asked for a lawyer.
“That was a surprise statement for an innocent person,” said Albritton. “Why does he need a lawyer? Is he hiding something? So many of our homicides we investigate, you never have to go far to find who the suspect is.”
Authorities described Jamie Bellush as a “no-nonsense” former U.S. Marine, who told interrogators that Sheila and her ex-husband, Allen Blackthorne — the father of Sheila's teenage daughters — were once embroiled in an acrimonious divorce.
“He was very manipulative,” he told detectives. “He was very abusive.”
Jamie explained that Blackthorne was a wealthy man from Texas and that in light of the divorce, Sheila was awarded 20% of his multi-million dollar company, plus a $170,000 payout awarded in civil damages. Blackthorne owed Sheila $1,070,000 in total and filed for bankruptcy a short time later.
But investigators found Blackthorne had an alibi: he was on the golf course when Sheila was killed.
News of the murder circulated, prompting a nearby gas station employee to call in a tip to authorities. The woman claimed a man wearing camouflage attire entered the business on the day of the murder and asked for directions to Markridge Road — where the Bellush family lived.
The employee provided a laminated map used by the unknown person, and investigators were able to lift a fingerprint — one that would match the fingerprint found on the Bellush’s clothes dryer.
“And then we got a tip that was what every cop goes to bed and prays for at night,” said Detective Iorio.
A witness mowing a nearby lawn told detectives he saw a man who didn’t “fit in this neighborhood,” according to Albritton. The landscaper created a rhyme to remember the stranger’s license plate number. Though there was no record of the tag number belonging to anyone in Florida, it did match to a woman named Maria Del Toro of La Pryor, Texas — some 1,300 miles west.
On Nov. 9, 1997, Sarasota detectives traveled to La Pryor to meet the woman, who said her grandson, Joey Del Toro, was the car’s primary driver.
“Joey Del Toro was a star football player in his high school, a running back. Very popular,” said Detective Albritton. “He’s not an accomplished criminal, he’s more of a party boy, a fun guy. Everybody loves Joey.”
Ultimately, the prints found on the map and the clothes dryer matched to Del Toro, placing him at the crime scene.
Sarasota detectives looked for Del Toro at his girlfriend’s Austin, Texas apartment, but she said he’d left days earlier, leaving behind his car and a duffle bag. Inside the bag were camouflage clothes, matching what witnesses saw the suspect wearing on the day of the murder. And in the car, investigators found receipts for the attire, directions to Florida, and the pistol used to shoot Sheila.
“The question of the day was why would he drive from Texas to Sarasota, kill Sheila Bellush, [and] drive back. What’s his connection?” Iorio asked himself.
Speaking with Del Toro’s associates, detectives soon learned of Del Toro’s cousin, Sammy Gonzalez. On Nov. 12, 1997, investigators brought Gonzales in for questioning to glean information on Del Toro’s whereabouts. But Gonzales appeared nervous and soon started talking.
“I just want to get the truth out,” Gonzales told detectives. “I feel very sick by this.”
With eyes on Del Toro and Gonzales, Gonzales said his friend, Danny Rocha, discussed paying thousands of dollars to anyone willing to beat up a woman originally from San Antonio, Texas. But if the men wanted more than $10,000, they’d have to kill her.
It became clear to detectives that Sheila’s death was a murder-for-hire job.
“It’s torturous because we know who the people are behind the murder of Sheila Bellush, but they’re not in jail yet. That’s tough,” said Detective Albritton. “We’re on the right track with the right people, and they will be brought to justice.”
Del Toro was spotted in Mexico, but authorities had yet to capture him when Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard Durbin and John Murphy of the Western District of Texas began building their murder-for-hire case. According to the federal prosecutors, investigators could tie Rocha to the Oak Hills Country Club in San Antonio, where Rocha — a gifted golfer — would hustle members out of their money.
Rocha’s golf partner was none other than Sheila Bellush’s ex-husband, Allen Blackthorne. One year, Blackthorne even lost $300,000 to Rocha, and though Rocha was known to be a hustler, prosecutors suggested it was Blackthorne hustling Rocha.
“Our theory was that Allen recognized that he had somebody in Danny Rocha who might be able to serve his still-ongoing vendetta — as it were — against Sheila over the payments after their divorce,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Durbin. “He didn’t want to pay her a dime, and he knew that he could manipulate Danny to cause harm to Sheila.”
Durbin added Blackthorne had been “devious and successful” in placing distance between himself and the three henchmen.
Could investigators prove Blackthorne was behind the alleged hit?
Blackthorne did not cooperate when detectives visited him at his San Antonio mansion on Nov. 16, 1997. However, prosecutors in Texas and Florida agreed there was enough evidence to arrest Gonzales and Rocha, and on Nov. 18, Mexican authorities apprehended Del Toro — the alleged killer — in Monterrey, Mexico.
Legal red tape, however, would make it difficult to extradite Del Toro to the United States, where he could face prosecution for Sheila Bellush’s murder.
Gonzales was the first to reach a plea deal with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony against Rocha, who faced charges of first-degree murder.
“Sammy [Gonzales] wasn’t our big fish, but he was a big part to get to the big fish,” according to Sarasota County Detective Iorio.
Rocha, however, rejected the same plea deal.
Rocha’s trial began on Jan. 11, 1999, arguing that he only hired Joey Del Toro to beat Sheila Bellush and that Del Toro took it upon himself to kill her.
But Gonzales, then serving his 19-year sentence, testified against Rocha, claiming Rocha suggested Del Toro shoot and kill Bellush so as to obtain the money quicker.
Rocha was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
“It aggravated him that he’s in prison for life, and Blackthorne’s golfing and living the life of a millionaire,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney John Murphy. “And he figures, ‘this isn’t right.’”
Rocha decided to flip on Blackthorne, but it didn’t go without its challenges. In the state of Texas, Blackthorne was protected by the Accomplice-Witness rule, which prohibits a person from being charged with a crime solely based on the testimony of someone directly involved — Rocha, in this case. However, the federal Violence Against Woman Act of 1994 made it unlawful for a spouse or former spouse to travel in interstate commerce to cause harm to their partner.
“It was almost tailor-made for this particular case,” said Durbin.
Investigators arrested Allen Blackthorne at the Oak Hills Country Club on Jan. 4, 2000, on federal charges of interstate conspiracy to commit murder. His trial began in San Antonio on June 5 of that year, where jurors heard his teen daughter’s 911 call and saw photographs of the toddlers’ bloody footprints around the Bellush home.
“They were left for hours with their mother in a pool of blood,” said Murphy. “I’m sure they were hungry, they were cold, they were scared… the jury got the message.”
Blackthorne appeared to have no remorse, even when his teenage daughter took the stand.
Danny Rocha testified later, outlining the changing terms of the murder-for-hire, which went from beating Bellush for $10,000 to murdering her. Rocha also claimed Blackthorne offered $50,000 if he could obtain custody of his and Shiela’s teen daughters.
Allen Blackthorne himself also took the stand, claiming everything he had done was for his children.
Federal prosecutors called Blackthorne’s claims “nonsense,” noting that he never sent so much as a birthday card to his daughters in the four years following his ex-wife’s murder.
“He had no contact with them whatsoever after he had their mother butchered,” said Murphy. “And I said, ‘You go to the golf course and use $20,000; you haven’t given your kids a penny since you had their mother killed.’”
The prosecution and defense rested their cases, and jurors were sent away to deliberate. While the jury was still out, authorities in Florida learned Del Toro — the man they believed was directly responsible for Bellush’s death — was to be extradited from Mexico to Florida.
On July 6, 2000, then back in Florida, Del Toro confessed to the crime.
“The words I received were that it would be better if she was dead,” Del Toro told detectives. “‘Better for Blackthorne, and it would be better for you.’”
Del Toro said he “didn’t want to do it” and “was about to leave” after breaking into Bellush’s home through an unlocked window and watching her for about an hour. Then Bellush noticed an open door before she and her killer made eye contact.
“If she wouldn’t have noticed, I would have walked out of that house,” Del Toro stated.
On July 7, 2000, after more than 33 hours of deliberations, the jury found Allen Blackthorne guilty of murder. He was sentenced to life behind bars.
Del Toro pleaded out and was also sentenced to life in prison.
“We were very relieved,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Durbin. “Justice is done, and it’s done fairly to the right outcome.”
Allen Blackthorne’s assets were ordered to go to Sheila Bellush’s family.
To see more true crime, tune in to "Blood & Money," Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.