— -- intro: At 38, Shelby Wilkie, from Asheville, North Carolina, seemed to have it all.
She was a manager at a local radio group and married to her husband Michael Wilkie, with whom she had a 3-month-old daughter named Sydney.
“She was excited to start a family and, you know, have a baby,” Shelby’s dad, Bill Sprowls, told ABC News’ “20/20.”
However, just months into their marriage, the two began having issues, and eventually, Shelby’s parents said, she made plans to leave Michael, taking baby Sydney with her.
But on New Year’s Day 2012, the new mother vanished, leaving her baby behind. It was the last time Shelby’s family heard from her.
Click through to see how police were able to uncover what happened to Shelby Wilkie.
quicklist:1title:Oct. 10, 2010text:Shelby and Michael Marry
Shelby Wilkie lived in a suburb of Asheville, where she managed the Asheville Radio Group. She met her husband Michael Wilkie through an online dating site.
Two months into their relationship, Shelby and Michael married on Oct. 10, 2010. They lived with Michael’s daughter from a previous marriage and their baby Sydney at Michael’s home.
But two weeks into their marriage, Shelby filed a restraining order against Michael.
“She was beginning to see after marriage … certain things that she had not seen before, you know?” Shelby’s mother Jan Sprowls told “20/20.”
In the restraining order, Shelby said Michael attempted to restrain her from leaving for work, tried to forcibly remove her wedding rings from her finger, broke her fingernail and car door and scratched her arm.
Six months into their marriage, Shelby called the police again saying she had bruises and cuts on her face from Michael. Michael was charged with assault and agreed to attend anger management classes at Mainstay, a domestic violence prevention agency.
And on Oct. 19, 2011, eleven days after their daughter was born, Michael called police about Shelby
“I was wondering if you can send someone here,” Michael told the 911 operator. “My wife is drinking, and she’s acting crazy.”
Nearing the end of her rope, Shelby went to attorney Greg Newman to draw up a separation agreement.
“She thought it would be possible,” Newman told “20/20.” “And so the way we left it was that she would speak to Mr. Wilkie, her husband. ... She would come back to my office, tell me what to put in the agreement." media:30394704
quicklist:2title:Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011 - Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012text:Shelby’s family sees her for the last time.Just a few months before she was reported missing, Amanda Casey, one of Michael’s two ex-wives and the mother of their 10-year-old daughter, said Shelby called her.
“And she said, ‘I just want to ask you some things about Michael, is that OK?’” Casey told “20/20.” “And I said, ‘Sure ... Shelby, if there is anybody that knows what you are going through ... It’s me.’” Casey said Shelby never called her back after that call.
On New Year’s Eve in 2011, Shelby and her family gathered at her brother Bill’s house in Asheville, while Sydney was at home with Michael.
“We said our goodbyes and hugged, and I distinctly remember looking and watching [Shelby and her brothers] walk away,” Shelby’s mother Jan Sprowls said of seeing Shelby for the last time.
On New Year’s Day, Shelby texted her family at 4:52 pm to tell them that things had taken a turn for the worse and that Michael had taken her rings.
“I texted her and said are you okay? And a text came back, ‘Yes,’” Sprowls recalled. “So I texted her back … and said, ‘Call me, and let me know that you’re okay.’ And I waited and I waited a little bit and a text came back and said, “I’ll call you later.”
It was the last time Jan ever heard from Shelby.
“And I went to Bill, and I said, ‘Something’s not right. Something is really not right,’” Sprowls said.media:30394435
quicklist:3title:Monday, Jan. 2, 2012text:Shelby’s dad calls 911 to file a missing person’s report.
By Monday evening, after not hearing from Shelby, her brother Bill Sprowls, Jr., went to her and Michael’s home and found that her car was gone.
Michael told them he hadn’t hear from Shelby since she left for work that morning in her black SUV and that he left her several messages on her office voicemail. However, Shelby’s parents said she would not go to work that day because it was a holiday.
After two more hours of radio silence, Bill Sprowls called 911 to file a missing person’s report for his daughter.media:30394936
quicklist:4title:Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012 text:Police investigate Shelby’s disappearance.
Shelby’s parents told police her marriage to Michael was on the rocks, and they had even helped Shelby set up a secret safe house. The plan was to leave him while he was at work, so when her phone went dark, they started to panic.
Meanwhile, Michael pleaded for Shelby to return on ABC News affiliate WLOS. That same day, police visited Michael and Shelby’s home to ask Michael questions and take a look inside the house.
“Little Sydney was sitting on the coffee table in her car seat, and he invited us to sit down and talk to him right here in the front room,” Henderson County Sheriff's Office detective Sonya Matthews told “20/20.”
Michael’s attitude was that of a concerned husband, Matthews said, but she couldn’t help but notice marks on his face that were visible during his TV statement.
“We see what appears to be scratch marks around his eyes and on his cheek and it’s just ... too suspicious,” Matthews said. “We looked everywhere that, that a human body could be. We didn’t see anything suspicious.”
Matthews said Michael told police the scratches were from a tussle he had with Shelby, but that he did not fight Shelby back.media:30395161
quicklist:5title:Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012text:Police find Shelby’s car and blood in her home.
Shelby’s family and police searched for her, as helicopters and scuba divers also searched the nearby area.
Two days after she was reported missing, Shelby’s car was found in the parking lot of the J&S Cafeteria, which is across the road from the Asheville Regional Airport.
Later that day, Michael took a polygraph test, which he failed. That afternoon, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation agents went to the Wilkie home with a search warrant and luminol, a chemical solution that can detect the presence of blood even after it’s been cleaned up.
“There was actually the silhouette of a human body, and you could see the person had been on their knees,” detective Matthews said. “It looked like they had been slumped as if in death, and the outline went right around them.”
At night, police also found a rectangle-shaped section burned in the home’s yard.media:30395324
quicklist:6title:Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012text:Police find Shelby’s remains, and Michael admits Shelby is dead.
By Thursday, cops hadn’t found Shelby but believed that had enough to bring Michael back in for questioning.
“I didn’t kill her,” Michael told police during the interview. As Michael was being interviewed, detectives went to his parents’ house with SWAT team members. Michael’s parents gave them permission to search the property, where they quickly located a small pile of burned ashes and apparent bone fragments in a wooded area along with a barrel. The bracelet Shelby’s mom gave her was also found charred and warped.
Meanwhile, Michael admitted to police that Shelby killed herself and that he had attempted to dispose of her body by burning it in the back yard and dumping the remaining ashes at his parents’ home.
“Shelby always said she wanted to be cremated,” Michael told police during his interrogation.
Police arrested Michael for the murder of Shelby.media:30395455
quicklist:7title:January 2015text:Michael Wilkie is found guilty.
Three years after Shelby went missing, Michael finally went on trial for his wife’s murder in January 2015. Michael pleaded not guilty.
After quick deliberation, the jury found Michael guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Michael and Shelby’s daughter Sydney, now 3 years old, is in the process of being adopted by Shelby’s brother, Bill Sprowls, Jr., against Michael’s wishes. They have prevented Michael from ever seeing her.
“Shelby referred to her as her angel, and we all feel she really is a little angel because she's kept our family together and given us reason to smile,” said Jan Sprowls.
Help and information for victims of domestic violence is available 24/7 through the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1.800.799.SAFE or visiting their website HERE.
For more resources on ways to stop domestic violence among teens and women, click HERE.media:30394200