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Crime News Snapped

A Mother Shoots Her Habitually Abusive Husband, Hides Body Under Blanket In Bedroom For Months

Dixie Shanahan was once beaten, tied up with wire coat hangers, and locked in the basement for three days -- but she was still convicted of second-degree murder.

By Benjamin H. Smith

Defiance, Iowa, is a small town with a population of under 300 residents. It sits on the state’s western end and the nearest big city is Omaha, Nebraska, about an hour away. People in small towns like Defiance tend to know each other’s business, but are reluctant to get involved in it.

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They knew Scott Shanahan beat his wife Dixie, but didn’t feel there was anything they could do about it. When she finally killed him after years of abuse, they weren’t surprised. They even raised the money to bail her out of jail. 

Sadly, abuse was one of the constants in Dixie’s life. She was born in nearby Harlan, Iowa, in 1967 and was sexually abused in her childhood, according to Oxygen's "Snapped." When she was in high school, she started dating 20-year-old Scott Shanahan. Her mother eventually left her stepfather and moved away, but Dixie didn’t want to leave and moved in with Scott and his mother to complete high school.  

After graduating in 1986, she got a job in a warehouse while Scott stayed home and worked on his cars and farm equipment. Scott had “a violent temper,” a neighbor told "Snapped."

“You might see him come strolling out in the middle of the afternoon to go over to his shop and work. He would be throwing his wrenches and stuff around if things didn’t go right,” Bogler said.

In 1994, Scott’s mother died, leaving him the house in Defiance and an inheritance of  $150,000. A few months later, he proposed to Dixie. They’d already been together for more than 10 years. He was 33 years old and she was 28.

“She came in so proud. Showed me her engagement ring.  She was just so happy,” a neighbor told "Snapped."

After the wedding, Dixie started working at a nursing home nearby and became pregnant with her first child in late 1995. That’s also when people noticed the first signs of abuse.

“When she was pregnant, she had a black eye,” a co-worker told "Snapped." “She never said that it was Scott, but people knew that it was him.”

Their son Zachary was born in 1996, and the abuse seemed to get worse. According to attorney Stephan Japuntich, “Dixie became Scott’s slave.” And a  neighbor told "Snapped," “He just took over her life, wouldn’t let her have friends.”

On May 31, 1997 Scott beat Dixie while they were driving and then kicked her out of the car. She walked to a pay phone and called her co-worker for help.

“I told her that you need to call the cops,” said Dixie's co-worker. According to The Los Angeles Times, he was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence for “striking his wife in the face with a closed fist, bloodying her lip and blackening both eyes.” He spent two days in jail and was prohibited from seeing Dixie, but within weeks of his release she wrote the court asking for the restraining order against him to be lifted. 

Scott returned home and the beatings continued, and though he was arrested several more times, Dixie always took him back. In September of 1997, he was arrested for beating her on the head and legs with a metal object and served four days in jail. Several months later, they had another child, a daughter named Ashley.

“I don’t know if she thought she couldn’t make it on her on. She was kinda co-dependent,” said Dixie's co-worker.

“She didn’t know any different,” a neighbor said. “You know, this is kind of how it is, and that’s all I’ve ever known.”

In October of 2000, police visited the Shanahan home where they found Dixie beaten and locked in the basement, tied up with wire coat hangers. She had been there for three days. Scott was arrested and charged with false imprisonment, a felony, and was facing real prison time.

Afterwards, she took the kids to Texas to see her family. Unfortunately, she also missed Scott’s court date. Without her testimony, prosecutors were forced to drop the charges against him. Upon release, Scott traveled to Texas, found his wife and kids and brought them home to Iowa.

After that, things seemed to settle down at the Shanahan’s. With everyone in town knowing their business, the couple kept a low profile. The police hadn’t been called to the house in more than a year. By the fall of 2002, no one had seen Scott Shanahan in months.

When Holly Sorensen ran into Dixie, she said he had left her after she’d become pregnant with their third child. She said he had moved in with a new girlfriend in another town and was using drugs.

“Nobody really cared, nobody looked for him,” said a neighbor. “We always figured Dixie’s better off if he wasn’t around.”

Dixie gave birth to her daughter Britney on March 1, 2003. Zachary and Ashley were growing up, and things seemed to be going right for the first time in all their lives. Dixie even had a new boyfriend named Jeff Duty who worked nearby in a factory. That summer, she began selling off Scott’s stuff, his cars, tools and farm equipment. It raised eyebrows around town.

Sheriff Gene Cavenaugh told "Snapped," “Knowing the way Scott was towards Dixie Shanahan, she would not do that if Scott Shanahan was still around somewhere.”

In July of 2003, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department decided to look into Scott Shanahan’s disappearance. Deputy John Kelly drove out to the house to ask Dixie a few questions.

“She was very cooperative, told me that Scott had moved to Atlantic, Iowa and that he had been possibly involved in some drug activity,” Kelly told "Snapped." When they tried to locate Scott, however, he was nowhere to be found, even after searching for records in all 50 states.

That October, police brought Dixie into the station for questioning after obtaining a search warrant for her and Scott’s property.

“Dixie was quite upset at that news,” Investigator Dave Jobes told "Snapped." When they finally got to the Shanahan house, officers noticed “a real, real foul smell,” according to Sheriff Cavenaugh. Officers followed the odor to a back bedroom that had been blocked off. A towel was placed at the bottom door crack and a scented candle sat in front of it.

Inside the room lying on a bed and covered by a blanket was the badly decomposed body of Scott Shanahan.

“I was shocked,” said Sheriff Cavenaugh. “I’d never seen anything like that in my 30-some years in law enforcement.”

It was immediately clear to investigators Shanahan had died from a gunshot would to the back of the head. Police went and picked Dixie up from the house where she was waiting for them and arrested her for murder.

News of the arrest got around town fast. Knowing Scott Shanahan’s history of domestic violence, people felt sympathy for Dixie and raised the $15,000 she needed to make bail.

“She’d just had enough and she broke. She’d just been beat too much,” said a neighbor.

Dixie's co-worker stated plainly, “If she wouldn’t have killed him in self-defense, eventually, he would have killed her.”

Dixie admitted to killing her husband, but pleaded not guilty on grounds of self-defense.  She was offered a 10-year plea deal, of which she would have probably only served two, but decided to take her chances with a trial, which her lawyer thought she could win. On April 9, 2004, she married boyfriend Jeff Duty at the Shelby County courthouse in Harlan. Two weeks later, she was back there as her murder trial began.

While the prosecution acknowledged Dixie was the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband Scott Shanahan, they claimed she murdered him after his inheritance money ran out. Though Dixie claimed she had shot Scott after he attacked her while she was pregnant, the prosecution said Scott was shot while he was sleeping.

On April 29, after seven hours of deliberation, they jury reached what they thought was a fair verdict. Taking into account the habitual abuse Dixie had suffered for years, they found her guilty of second-degree murder, according to the Des Moines Register. Unfortunately, in the state of Iowa, second-degree murder carries with it a 50-year sentence with a mandatory 35 years before parole.

“Thirty-five years is a long time to serve in prison for what she did,” a juror told "Snapped."

In 2007, Radio Iowa reported that as one of his final acts in office, Governor Tom Vilsack shortened the mandatory amount of time Dixie must spend behind bars to 10 years. According to the Des Moines Register, Dixie was granted work release in June, 2018.

[Photo: Associated Press]

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