Note: The following article is adapted from Karen Spears Zacharias' A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder (MacAdam/Cage). Used with permission.
When Sarah chopped off Karly's hair, it was the first sign of trouble. Police investigators, David Sheehan and Karly's doctor all agree that something bad happened to Karly that night. A badly matted braid is not proof of abuse, but that hair incident was the first hint of the violence that would follow. It would be the event that a host of people would puzzle over as the investigation, which had started as potential child abuse, turned into an investigation for murder.
David had a couple of extended business trips in October and November, 2004. Prior to leaving, he'd made daycare arrangements with Delynn Zoller. It gave David peace of mind to know Delynn was watching after Karly.
He was out of town, but Sarah, his ex-wife, warned David before he returned home that she had taken Karly in for a haircut. She also casually mentioned she and Karly had spent three nights at her new boyfriend's place. David didn't like it one bit, but divorced parents all over this country understand you cannot dictate the ex-spouse's dating behavior, even if children are involved. Shawn wasn't the first man Sarah had introduced into Karly's life since her breakup with David. In fact, there had been several. David worried that Sarah's lack of discernment would negatively affect their daughter.
On Monday, November 15, 2004, David wrote a letter to Sarah. He was trying to find a civil way to let her know he was worried about her lifestyle choices:
I have something I need to talk to you about, and figured that this was the best way to initiate it—and remove the tone of my voice from the picture. I definitely don't want to appear unreasonable or confrontational, so bear with me.
I am really dismayed that Karly has effectively moved in with Sean (not sure if name is spelled that way or 'Shawn'). While maybe you haven't officially moved in, it looks like Karly spends her nights with you at his house. I think it is very irresponsible of you to do this again. You only started dating in September, and by the end of October you have our daughter living at his house. How can this possible strike you or him as a good idea? I think you have a long track record of making bad decisions in relationships by rushing into things, and now you are with a guy who is also content to rush in, and both of you are bringing two young girls along for the ride.
I firmly believe that Karly does not like the situation at all. Of course, it is hard to believe everything she said, so I won't go by what she tells me about not liking it over there. What I will go by is what Karly doesn't say to me—she never asks for you anymore. I don't hear her say, "I want my mama" the way she used to say a month ago.
Hopefully you can at least have a think about things, and reflect a little on what's best for Karly. On Saturday night after you dropped her off, she slept from 7 p.m. until 9 a.m. on Sunday morning (when I decided to wake her). Any thoughts on why she is so tired over the last few weeks? Similarly, why she has experienced such dramatic hair loss over the last few weeks? I think we should take her to Dr. deSoyza and have her take a look at Karly's scalp.
David never got around to mailing that letter to Sarah. He decided against it because he feared Sarah would dismiss the letter as a rant from a jealous ex, and David didn't want to be mistaken for that by her or anyone else.
Sarah said she and Shawn discussed whether Karly should go to Delynn's daycare. "It was a fairly reoccurring conversation between us," she said. "Shawn's opinion was Karly shouldn't be in daycare. He said if I was a good mother, she would be with me all the time."
Karly's attendance at daycare became sporadic. It was one of the things Delynn kept track of in a journal, following more obvious signs that Karly was in distress. Delynn's relationship with Sarah grew increasingly strained.
"If it hadn't been for David," Delynn said, "I would not have taken care of Karly because I don't work for people I can't get along with and I couldn't get along with Sarah. She always acted like she was irritated or annoyed with me. I guess we just didn't click."
David was traveling a lot that fall and Delynn noticed Karly's eating and sleeping patterns were changing.
"That's when I began to keep a journal, writing down all the things that worried me. Karly always seemed hungry. She was asking for food all the time. She hadn't done that before. And she was complaining about being tired all the time. Karly would tell me that she wanted to take a nap. When a kid wants to take a nap, you know something is up. Three days in a row, Karly fell asleep while watching Barney. Something just wasn't right."