A 25-year-old Florida man is accused of murdering his wife, then impersonating her in text messages for nearly a year to hide his alleged crime. But when the woman’s family grew suspicious of him, police say, the man bludgeoned her parents and brother to death with a hammer inside their Tarpon Springs home.
Shelby John Nealy is facing murder charges for the heinous killings, which authorities believe occurred just days before Christmas. Police say Nealy’s wife, 21-year-old Jamie Ivancic, with whom he had two young children, was likely killed in January 2018.
On New Year’s Day, police discovered the bodies of Laura Ivancic, 59, her husband Richard Ivancic, 71, and their son, 25-year-old Nicholas Ivancic, during a welfare check. The body of Jamie Ivancic was found buried behind a Port Richey home days later and showed signs of “violent blunt force trauma,” police said.
Nealy is charged with three counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of his in-laws. He also faces three counts of aggravated cruelty to animals for allegedly killing the family’s trio of small dogs, and one count of grand theft auto for stealing Laura’s SUV.
The state attorney’s office has yet to charge Nealy in Jamie’s death.
In January, Tarpon Springs police said a neighbor had spotted a short man (Nealy is 5-foot-3, records show) digging a ditch outside the Ivancic residence.
The sighting prompted investigators to look into Nealy, the son-in-law, and led cops to Lakewood, Ohio, where he was living with a roommate.
Nealy, who’d been jailed in Ohio for a month, was extradited to Florida on Saturday, the Tampa Bay Times reported. He is being held without bail.
James Zindroski, Laura’s brother, said the Ivancic family was kind, giving, and had taken in Nealy as one of their own.
“My sister and brother-in-law took him in and chose to make him part of the family,” Zindroski told The Daily Beast. “It was a big plus for him. He never really had a family.”
The Ivancic family had moved from Ohio to Florida a few years ago as part of their retirement. “They were looking forward to living in the good life in Florida. They never got to enjoy it,” Zindroski added.
According to Zindroski, Laura and Richard fostered children for a number of years before adopting Jamie and Nicolas. “They did everything they could to give those two children the best opportunities and the best life they could,” Zindroski said. The Ivancics didn’t have a lot of money, he added, but “were trying to help their children get a start in life.”
Nicholas attended trade school for heating and cooling systems and was a “genuinely good kid,” while Jamie married shortly after high school and had a baby, Zindroski said.
For months before her death, Laura Ivancic worried she’d done something to upset her daughter. “Laura did share with my wife that maybe she had done something to offend Jamie or offend Shelby and that’s why they chose not to maintain communication,” Zindroski recalled.
Laura grew concerned that something happened to Jamie after Nealy paid a visit sometime in December without her. Nealy, who brought along the couple’s 2-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, had an excuse for his young wife’s absence: Jamie was busy taking a dog grooming class, according to Zindroski.
Still, why Nealy might have killed his wife remains unclear.
Court records reveal how Laura’s suspicions about her son-in-law may have led Nealy to allegedly murder her and her family.
On the afternoon of Jan. 1, Tarpon Springs police responded to a request for a welfare check on the Ivancics’ mobile home. The request was made by Richard Ivancic’s adult son from a previous marriage who said he was unable to reach his father or Laura.
When one officer arrived, “he looked through the window and observed numerous live flies and smelled a strong odor of body decomposition,” a complaint in the murder charges states. The cop entered through a sliding glass door and saw the residence was “ransacked and in complete disarray.”
The bodies of Laura and Richard were found wrapped in area rugs while Nicholas’ body was covered in a painter’s drop cloth.
Investigators learned that Laura’s vehicle, a 2013 Kia Sorento, was missing. According to court papers, police traced the car to Nealy’s residence in Lakewood, Ohio. Police also determined that Nealy’s girlfriend, Jamie, was Laura and Richard’s daughter.
Nealy, who also goes by Shelby Svensen, was arrested Jan. 3.
According to police, Nealy confessed to killing Richard, Laura and Nicholas Ivancic during an interview at the Lakewood Police Department in the early hours of Jan. 4. He also allegedly confessed to killing Jamie, whom he called his “wife,” about one year ago in Pasco County.
Nealy allegedly told cops that he moved to Texas after killing Jamie and used her cellphone to keep in touch with her parents—while pretending to be her. Richard and Laura Ivancic, however, were growing suspicious because they hadn’t heard Jamie’s voice in a while, Nealy told police during his alleged confession.
Nealy said those suspicions roused him to drive Jamie’s car to her parents’ Florida home and kill them, according to police.
He said his first victim was Richard Ivancic, whom he killed on Dec. 15, 2018, striking him in the back of the head with a hammer, court papers allege. Nealy “said that he struck Richard Ivancic multiple times in the head to make sure that he received a quick death,” the complaint states.
The alleged killer then claimed he murdered Laura once she returned home to her family’s trailer—using the same hammer. Nealy wrapped their bodies in area rugs, which he dragged into their bedroom, prosecutors say.
Their son, Nicholas, was killed while he slept on the couch sometime on Dec. 16, the complaint alleges. Nealy allegedly told police that he covered Nicholas’ body with a painter’s drop cloth.
After the murders, Nealy snatched Laura’s SUV because the license tag had expired on Jamie’s vehicle, court documents allege. Nealy had planned to return to the residence to dispose of the victims’ bodies later on, police say.
A complaint on the grand theft charge further details Tarpon Springs police work.
Responding officers found Richard’s body covered in blue paint, court papers state, and “a rope tied in a loop as if to be a noose on top of a new painter’s cloth in the residence.” Police visited local businesses to determine if Nealy had purchased any of these items.
Nealy was allegedly spotted on security cameras at a Home Depot, where he purchased three 9-by-12-foot painter’s drop cloths, waterproof patching and sealing tape, and three packages of rope.
Cops also discovered pawn transactions completed by Nealy on Dec. 16, 17 and 18, in which he sold multiple pieces of jewelry. (Investigators found “numerous empty jewelry boxes strewn about” the Ivancics’ trailer, the complaint states.)
In one pawn shop’s security footage, Nealy is wearing a black skull shirt, which was later discovered inside the Ivancics’ washer and dryer and covered in paint, court papers allege.
Police say the paint on Nealy’s shirt—which wasn’t visible in the video—was consistent with the paint found on Richard’s body.
When he hawked the jewelry, Nealy had provided several Pinellas County pawn shops with his fingerprint and his cellphone number, court papers state.
That cell number was used to order Domino’s Pizza to the victims’ residence on Dec. 21, police say. Police obtained a recording of the order, which was placed by a man from Nealy’s phone.
Meanwhile, officers put Laura’s vehicle into a national database as connected to the triple homicide. And they obtained a search warrant on Jan. 2 for Nealy’s cellphone data, which placed the phone in Lakewood, Ohio, on Christmas Eve.
Tarpon Springs investigators then reached out to Lakewood cops, as well as the neighboring Parma Police Department, and learned they both have a license plate reader system that monitors roadways throughout Cuyahoga County. The Ohio departments searched for Laura’s license plate and discovered it had been scanned by the system on three different occasions, the complaint states.
In addition to the license plate reader system, Lakewood County has a surveillance system with cameras stationed throughout city roads. The Kia Sorento was captured near 117 Street and Franklin Boulevard in Lakewood, and a review of the footage showed two white men inside the vehicle. One of those men was Nealy, police say.
On Jan. 3, 2019, Lakewood police located Laura’s car outside a Newman Avenue home and conducted surveillance of the residence. Officers approached Nealy’s roommate, Thomas Altenbernd, after watching him leave the home.
Altenbernd told cops he and Nealy are from Cleveland, Ohio, and have known each other for four years, court papers state.
The 22-year-old told police he and Nealy had been in touch throughout December 2018 with a plan to lease a home together. Altenbernd said that on Dec. 24, he met with Nealy to sign that lease, and they moved in two days later.
(According to ABC Action News: Tampa Bay, Nealy’s children were located with him in Ohio and taken into custody by Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services.)
The roommate said that he noticed Nealy’s vehicle had a Florida tag, court documents allege, and that Nealy had moved in with a “neatly organized” cooler that contained two wallets and a coin and money collection.
Nealy told Altenbernd that the wallets belonged to the father-in-law and brother-in-law of his ex-wife, Jamie Ivancic, prosecutors say. The alleged killer told his roommate that he needed those wallets because he “has a record and he needed them to get a job,” court papers state.
Altenbernd told cops that Nealy said “he wanted to kill his ex-wife’s family” but “claimed he didn’t,” the complaint alleges.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Nealy has married several times, goes by several names and has sought psychiatric treatment in the past.
Zindroski told The Daily Beast that Nealy had a troubled past, was disconnected from his mother and his family and at one point, living out of his car and in friends’ homes.
“Nobody knows why Shelby did this. We’re trying to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together,” he said.