The black widow

My friend Jessica had just paid her last respects to her hubby, So why had police turned up at the graveside?

Published by: Sarah Fellows and Jean Jollands
Published on: 21 March 2013

Snipping carefully with the scissors, I cut along the length of green fabric. Needles and thread were strewn all over the kitchen table.
‘I can't believe it's just two months to the big day,' I beamed.
Then I stopped cutting.
‘Are you sure this colour is right?' I frowned, turning to the figure next to me. She just gazed ahead in silence.
My best mate Jessica, 23, was going to be my maid of honour when I married my bloke Daniel, 34. I'd invited her over for a fitting, as I was making her dress myself. But she didn't seem one bit interested.
‘Jessica?' I chuckled. ‘I've turned into a bit of a bridezilla, but I'm not that boring am I?'
‘Sorry, I was miles away,' she admitted. ‘Me and Shane are having problems.'
I'd known Shane, Jessica's hubby, since I was four years old, and he was like an older brother to me. Shane and I had met Jessica while we were at school.
I was 15 and she was 14, and we all just clicked with each other.
When her and Shane had started dating, I'd been so excited. What could be better than my two best friends together?
But now Jessica looked anxious.
‘I've been having an affair,' she blurted. ‘Shane's found out.'
‘What?' I said, stunned. Shane was the most loving guy ever. Why the hell was she risking everything she had?
‘Who is it?' I demanded angrily.
‘Danny Blair,' she murmured.
My tummy tightened. Danny was a friend of Jessica and Shane's. He had even lived with them for a while.
He seemed a bit creepy and I felt uneasy around him. Plus, he was always out of it and
I suspected he was on drugs
‘It's over now, we've ended it,' Jessica promised. ‘Shane's forgiven me and we're trying to save our marriage.'
I was torn between anger at Jessica for her betrayal and wanting to tell her everything would be alright again.
She was my best friend. She was the one I'd always turned to whenever I had boy trouble. But now she looked like a lost little girl.
‘Don't cry,' I soothed. ‘Shane worships you. Just stay away from Danny and you'll work it out.'
I hoped the wedding would give her something fun to focus on. But every time I blabbled away about flowers and seating arrangements, she always seemed like she was a world away.
‘Everything's fine now,' she repeated, whenever I asked about her and Shane.
Two months later, as I walked down the aisle, my heart was full of excitement, not Jessica and Shane's marital woes. Still, I was relieved to see them dancing together at the reception.
‘I think they're finally back on track,' I whispered to Daniel.
Not long after the wedding, Shane got a new job as a sheep farmer and they moved away to Ogden, Iowa.
Over time, me and Daniel had two sons, Michael and Jonathan - brothers for my daughter Kya from a previous relationship. And I wished Jessica and Shane lived closer, so my kids could grow up alongside their two, Jessica Junior and Cody.
But we still talked on the phone as much as we could.
‘Wish you'd come and visit us more,' I urged her on the phone one afternoon.
‘Me too,' she sighed. ‘It's just that Shane always seems to be watching me these days. He doesn't want me out of his sight.'
It sounded like the affair was still casting a dark cloud over their marriage. When they did eventually visit us, Shane didn't seem himself.
‘If you ever need to talk, I'm here,' I reassured him.
‘I'm fine,' he shrugged back.
I remember when we were younger, Shane was 6ft and stocky. He'd always been a real man's man who loved hunting and fishing. Now, he seemed nervous and insecure. His old charm was long gone.
But still, Jessica maintained that everything was okay.
‘We have our fights now and then, but who doesn't?' she said when I asked.
One afternoon, two years after my wedding, I was driving back from the supermarket when Shane's brother Jason rang me.
‘Shane's gone,' he blurted. ‘He accidentally shot himself while he was at work.'
Convinced it was a sick joke, I actually heard myself chuckle. Shane, 29, carried a firearm to protect his flock of sheep from wild animals. He was an expert with a gun. How could he just shoot himself by accident?
Maybe it was shock, but even as I hung up, I still didn't believe it was true.
But when I got home, Jessica called me.
‘He's dead. Shane's dead,' she sobbed over the phone.
Nausea filled my throat as if I was hearing the news for the very first time.
No, he couldn't be. The boy that I'd known nearly all my life was really gone forever.
Suddenly, the shopping bags I'd been unpacking tumbled to the floor.
‘I need you here,' Jessica said. ‘I can't cope with all these people around me.'
But her voice was so cold, so emotionless.
It's just the raw shock, I reasoned, getting back in the car and driving over to
her house.
When I got there, it was crammed with grieving family. The sobs of Shane's mum Patty filled the air. But while everyone else was in turmoil, Jessica was eerily calm and collected.
The poor girl was in denial.
I listened in horror as she explained that Shane had been struck by a bullet and called 999.
‘He told the operator he thought he'd accidentally shot himself,' she said matter-of-factly. ‘While he was still talking, he'd shot himself again.'
He shot himself twice accidentally? None of it made sense. But if it wasn't a tragic accident, who could be to blame? Shane was a lovely bloke and didn't have any enemies.
I made Jessica come back to mine with the kids. Later, as we put little Cody and Jessica Junior to bed, my heart wrenched for them.
‘He looks so much like Shane,' Jessica said wistfully, stroking Cody's sandy, blonde hair.
That night, we sat on my front patio until 4am reminiscing about Shane.
‘Remember when we were 19 and we insisted on entering that archery competition?' Jessica smiled wistfully. ‘Shane was so shocked when none of us won a thing!'
How could I forget? Back then we'd been so full of hope. Now the future had been ripped apart.
The next day, Jessica went back home with the kids. But, hours later, she phoned me.
‘Danny's been arrested,' she gasped to me. ‘It's for Shane's murder!'
‘What?!' I stumbled, trying to take it in. ‘But I thought it was an accident.'
Why on earth would Danny kill Shane? Jessica had told me their fling had finished a long time ago.
But I tried to put my questions aside and stay strong for Jessica.
At Shane's funeral the following month, one of his cousins sang a moving tribute. There wasn't a dry eye anywhere in the service - except for Jessica's. She just stared ahead.
As we stood at the graveside,
I took her hand and held it tightly. Her expression just seemed completely empty.
Afterwards, the mourners drifted away, but she decided to remain by the grave.
‘I'll catch you up,' she said.
‘I just want to say my last goodbyes to him.'
‘Of course,' I nodded, walking off to the reception hall.
But, minutes later, as I stood in the hall, Patty came marching over, her face white with shock.
‘The police are arresting Jessica!' she cried, as I heard a commotion out front.
Arresting Jessica? At her husband's funeral?
My legs almost gave way, but I forced myself to run over to her.
I got outside just in time to see two officers leading Jessica, handcuffed in her black suit, to a waiting car.
Suddenly, she looked me right in the eye.
‘What's going on?' I begged. But she just climbed into the back of the car without a word. Then it sped away.
Word spread that she'd been arrested on suspicion of Shane's murder. But even though I'd seen it with my own eyes, I still couldn't believe it.
‘She's innocent,' I sobbed to Daniel. ‘She just has to be.'
Jessica wrote to me as she awaited trial in prison.
I know what people are saying, but please believe me, I had nothing to do with Shane's death, she begged.
I felt torn and confused. The idea of her being involved in Shane's killing was sickening. But if she was innocent, then she desperately needed my support right now.
I remembered when I'd left my first husband when Kya was just a month old. Jessica had been the one who was there for me.
‘You'll get through this,' she'd reassured me. And with her by my side, I had done. Now, she needed me.
No matter what, I'm here for you, I wrote back.
In time, Danny Blair and his room-mate Aron Moss went on trial for Shane's murder.
The court heard that Danny had told police that he'd been at the farm that day, but it was Aron who had pulled the trigger.
However, Aron had claimed, in a letter to his wife while awaiting trial, that he'd dropped Danny off at the farm. But he said that he hadn't been aware of a plot to
kill Shane.
Danny was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Aron Moss was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years.
So, Danny and his sidekick had killed Shane.
‘But surely Jessica knew nothing about it,' I insisted to Daniel when I heard the news.
I prayed that I'd be proved right when Jessica's trial began.
Sitting in court, I gasped as she was led in. Her face was bloated and her hair looked lank. She stood in an ill-fitting black and white regulation prison jumpsuit, her hands in shackles. She didn't even meet my eye.
The court heard that police had initially investigated Shane's death as an accidental shooting. But then his mum had told them that she'd found evidence that Danny and Jessica were still having an affair in the weeks that led up to Shane's death.
But she told me it was over, I thought, trembling all over.
Phone records showed that Jessica and Danny had exchanged text messages on the morning that Shane was killed.
Jessica had texted to say that Shane had just left for work and that she wished he would never come home. Danny had responded that she should be careful what she wished for.
As Jessica was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss and betrayal. Shane was dead and it was as if Jessica was, too. Had I ever really known her at all? I thought.
Over the next three years, I still couldn't accept what had happened to Shane.
Why Jessica, why? I raged. How could you do it to Shane? He was so decent and he loved you so much.
Then I heard that Iowa Court of Appeals was granting Jessica a new trial on the grounds that the evidence of one of the prosecution witnesses was found to be hearsay.
‘Jessica's insisting that she never told anyone to kill Shane,' I told Daniel, stunned as I read the newspaper headlines.
Her second trial began and Jessica pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and being an accessory after the fact. She was then sentenced to 12 years in prison. But having already served five years, she was transferred into a work-release programme the
following year.
Six years on from Shane's death, she's getting on with her life. But mine will never be quite the same. When I close my eyes, I still remember those carefree, happy days, when we were all in our teens. We had our whole lives ahead of us.
I can still hardly believe how it was all torn apart because Jessica fell for Danny. So many lives ruined and for what? I've lost both of my best friends. Nothing will ever be the same again.
Ronda Anderson, 33, Gilbert, Iowa, USA