Murders A-Z is a collection of true crime stories that take an in-depth look at both little-known and famous murders throughout history.
There’s a special bond between mothers and their daughters, and many would do anything for each other. In the case of Joan Shannon (pictured, right) and her daughter, Elizabeth (left), that included murder. Prosecutors say Elizabeth killed her stepfather, David Shannon, at her mother’s request, after Joan fell in love with another man she met through a “swingers” sex club. Some family members, however, still think Elizabeth acted on her own.
“She is evil," said Elizabeth’s aunt, Virginia Schanz, to Oxygen's "Snapped."
Joan Myrtle Shannon was born in Rochester, New York, and grew up experiencing bad parenting firsthand. When she was 12 years old, she came home from school one day to find that her folks had moved away and left her behind. Her older sister took her in, but that didn’t work out. Joan was eventually put into foster care. She married soon after graduating from high school and had two daughters, Daisy and Elizabeth. The marriage, however, didn’t last.
Now a single mom, Joan was determined to support her girls and get her life back on track. She got a business degree and in 1990 started dating a young Army Major named David Shannon.
“They were definitely soulmates,” David’s sister told "Snapped." “He fell head over heels.”
In 1991, the couple married and David adopted Daisy and Elizabeth, who were 6 and 4 years old.
David’s job as a computer specialist in the United States Army meant the family often had to relocate to wherever he was stationed. The family moved to Minnesota, and then in 2000 to Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina, by which time David and Joan had two sons together. Whether it was the moves, the new siblings or because they just didn’t get along with their stepdad, the girls began acting out.
“They did not want discipline. They did not want to behave,” said David’s sister. “Any rule he made, they broke. They were just trouble.”
As teenagers, Daisy and Elizabeth gained a reputation in their new hometown for throwing wild parties after school while their parents were at work.
“We had an awful lot of problems with this family. There were lots of complaints,” a neighbor told the New York Post. By 17, Daisy was pregnant and 15-year-old Elizabeth was kicked out of school for getting into fights. The girls’ parents didn’t know what to do.
“They tried every avenue that’s available to parents to try and save their kids,” said David’s sister. “The kids just didn’t want to be saved.”
Aside from having trouble with their teenager daughters, the Shannons seemed to settle comfortably into life in Fayetteville. They made friends in town and had an active social life. One of those friends was a soldier named Jeffrey Wilson, who became close with Joan.
“They would go out and eat. They’d go out with the girls. They’d go shopping,” a prosecutor told "Snapped."
Just after 3:30 on the morning of July 23, 2002, 911 operators in Fayetteville received a frantic call from Joan Shannon.
“I need an ambulance. I need an ambulance here — I need the police here — NOW,” she can be heard saying on phone recordings. “Somebody killed my husband while we were sleeping... somebody shot him.”
When first responders arrived at the Shannon house, Joan met them outside and said she had been awoken by a gunshot and saw someone standing over her husband. After another gunshot, the supposed intruder ran off into the night. According to the prosecutor, those at the scene described her as “not overly distraught, not tearful or anything like that. Inside the home, investigators found David Shannon lying in bed with fatal gunshot wounds to his head and chest. Also home asleep at the time were the two young Shannon boys, their half-sister Elizabeth and a friend, Vera Thompson, who was sleeping over.
Despite her claims that she was in bed with David at the time of his murder, Joan didn’t appear to have any blood on her. There were also no signs of a break-in and no items missing from the Shannon residence. Police brought Joan, her daughter Elizabeth and friend Vera down to the station for gunshot residue tests. Elizabeth and Vera were clean, but Joan tested positive. The pattern of the gunshot residue, however, revealed she was not the shooter. With nothing to hold them on, they were allowed to leave.
While searching their home in the aftermath of the shooting, police found an extensive pornography collection underneath the Shannons' bed. On David’s computer, they also found homemade pornographic photographs. According to the prosecutor, the photos included “about four men and a female” and they were “engaged in sexual intercourse and positions and two at one time and things like that.” The woman in the photographs was Joan Shannon, while the men included her husband David and family friend Jeffrey Wilson.
After being brought in for questioning, Jeffrey Wilson told police he met David and Joan Shannon in an online chat room. According to court documents, they invited him to join the “Fayetteville Gang Bangers," a “swingers” club that held monthly sex parties. At one party, Wilson had sex with Joan and another women. On another occasion, he and David had sex with Joan at the same time.
Joan and Jeffrey Wilson eventually began seeing each other outside of the sex party circuit. This upset David Shannon.
“Major Shannon became concerned about how much Joan was seeing Jeffrey,” said a prosecutor. “It was becoming more than someone that she was having a sexual relationship with.”
Shannon told Wilson she was in love with him.
Wilson later testified, "I'd tell her what she wanted to hear to get what's at the end of the rainbow, which was to get [Joan to] co-sign for my motorcycle," according to WRAL.
Despite his salacious tales of the Shannons' sexual exploits, Wilson wasn’t a suspect in David’s murder. The Fayetteville Police Department, however, soon received an anonymous phone calling saying Elizabeth Shannon was the killer. Not only that, but the caller also said she killed her stepfather on the orders of her mother Joan.
Police interviewed the only person in the Shannon home the night of the killing who wasn’t a family member. A prosecutor told "Snapped:" “Detective Mike Murphy went and found Vera Thompson, brought her in for an interview and at that point, Vera Thompson somewhat cracked and told what she knew.”
When police arrested Joan Shannon on July 30, 2002, her 15-year-old daughter was nowhere to be found. A couple days later, police found Elizabeth Shannon hiding under a bed in a trailer owned by one of her friends. Both mother and daughter were charged with the same crimes; first-degree murder and conspiracy to murder.
When questioned by police, the tough-talking teenager quickly offered up her mother on a plate. An investigator told "Snapped" that she “broke down and told me the facts.”
According to Elizabeth, Joan wanted David out of the way so she could be with Jeffrey Wilson. Prosecutors thought David’s $700,000 life insurance policy and military benefits had something to do with it as well. The District Attorney’s office offered Elizabeth a reduced sentence if she agreed to testify against her mother.
Joan Shannon’s murder trial began on August 15, 2005. The prosecution’s star witness was 15-year-old killer Elizabeth Shannon. She told the jury her mother asked her to find someone to kill her stepfather and then pressured her into pulling the trigger herself when she couldn’t find a hitman. The Shannons' tawdry sex life was on full display during the trial, with the couple’s homemade pornography shown in court. Joan refused to take the stand in her own defense.
At the trial’s conclusion, Joan Shannon was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to life in prison without parole. As part of her deal with prosecutors, Elizabeth Shannon received a maximum sentence of 31-and-a half years. David Shannon’s family stood by Joan, laying blame solely at Elizabeth’s feet.
"Elizabeth is a very vindictive, evil child," sister-in-law Virginia Schanz told WRAL at the time.
David’s sister later told "Snapped," “I know Joan is innocent, she had nothing to do with David’s murder. This was Elizabeth’s evilness.”
Now 50, Joan Shannon is serving out her life sentence quietly at the Southern Correctional Institution in Troy, North Carolina. About 90 miles to the east, her daughter Elizabeth is being held at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, outside Raleigh. Now 30 years old, Elizabeth’s earliest possible release date is in 2029, when she will be 42 years old. Since being incarcerated, she has racked up over 30 offenses, from theft and fighting to sexual acts.