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Crime News Dateline

Navy Petty Officer and Devoted Mom Found Shot To Death in Her Van

Sherri Malarik's brother-in-law found her dead inside her van in a shopping center parking lot in Cantonment, Florida, in 2001. The case went cold for nearly two decades.

By Jill Sederstrom
Sherri Malarik featured on Dateline

The grim discovery of a Navy petty officer and devoted mother fatally shot in her minivan in 2001 sparked a decades-long investigation and tore one Florida family apart.

The complex mystery of what happened to Sherri Malarik will be explored in an all new two-hour Dateline NBC titled “The Sleepover” this Friday, February 2 at 9/8c p.m.

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“Real life cases don’t always get solved in the commercial break like on TV. They can take decades,Dateline correspondent Andrea Canning, who dove into this week's case, told NBC Insider. "But very often, law enforcement will eventually come calling."

As the episode's official synopsis explains: “Navy petty officer and devoted mother Sherri Malarik is found shot to death in her minivan after she disappeared. The case remains cold until new revelations and old memories resurface, dividing the Florida family. In Friday’s two-hour Dateline, her grown-up children speak out about the two-decade search for answers.”

Tera and Jacob Malarik featured on Dateline

What happened to Sherri Malarik?

The tragedy began to unfold after Malarik’s brother-in-law discovered her dead inside her van, parked in a shopping center parking lot in Cantonment, Florida, which is just north of Pensacola. He recounted the horror to Canning as seen in a preview clip of the Dateline episode.

“When I got to the van, I saw blood,” he said of the gruesome crime scene. "I touch her, she was cold.” 

Malarik’s brother-in-law called 911, then set about trying to figure out how he was going to tell her family. "My sister-in-law is dead ma'am," he's heard saying in a recording of his call to police.

Sherri Malarik's son Jacob "went numb" after learning his mom had been killed

Her son, Jacob Malarik, was just 11 years old at the time of his mother's murder.

“Immediately I just kind of went numb,” Jacob recalled to Dateline of hearing the horrific news. 

Who could have wanted the dedicated mom dead? It turned out that Malarik had been keeping a secret.

“I’m having an internal struggle now," one woman central to the case recalled in the preview of her own internal battle in the aftermath of the shooting. "She [Malarik] didn’t want me to tell anybody, but she’s dead so can I tell it now?”

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The all-new episode will feature interviews with two of Malarik's adult children, Tera and Jacob Malarik, along with Tina and Jeff Leake, Jennifer Spohn, Detective Buddy Nesmith, State Attorney’s Office investigator Wayne Wright, Assistant State Attorney Amy Shea, Defense Attorney Chris Crawford and more. 

One of the people interviewed for Dateline had a key connection to the case.

Andrea Canning featured on Dateline

“What surprised me most was that the other woman in this Navy love triangle, the woman at the center of this case, agreed to talk to Dateline in her first TV interview... more than 20 years after the murder!” Canning told NBC Insider.

Canning admitted that getting the key players to agree to be interviewed wasn’t an easy task. 

“The most challenging aspect was for the producer on the story, Sergei Ivonin, to get everyone to talk to us with such a painful feud still raging within the family,” Canning said. “This was a very complex case to cover with many layers.”

To see the dramatic story unfold, tune in to “The Sleepover” on Dateline NBC Friday, February 2 at 9/8c on NBC, or stream it the following day on Peacock.

And for more Dateline, sign up for the show's official newsletter and check out its podcast.

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