CAMPBELL, Ohio (WKBN) – Every few weeks, Debbie Depaul visits the spot where her little sister Shannon Graves is buried at Saint John’s Cemetary in Campbell. After trimming the grass, she spraypaints a large pink heart next to the gravestone. It’s Shannon’s favorite color.
In February 2017, Graves was murdered, her body brutally dismembered and mutilated. DePaul still remembers getting the call that her sister’s partial remains had been found months after she had gone missing.
“You almost knew, but you’re not ready for it. I can’t really explain how I felt. It was just so many different things,” DePaul said.
DePaul and Graves were actually half-sisters, sharing the same father. Even from an early age, Graves showed she was a very smart girl.
“She’s like 7 or 8. She was talking like an adult. She had these ideas like an adult,” DePaul said. “She had a big huge heart, and she wanted to be loved.”
Shannon’s friends said she had a spunky side as well, calling the woman who stood less than five feet tall a “pitbull in a chihuahua’s body.”
“She took care of whoever was around her. When Shannon was in your corner, she was in your corner,” said Katie Morar.
Even though all those charged in Shannon’s death and its cover-up have been convicted, there are still scars. The loss has been more heartbreaking for DePaul. In the middle of the investigation, her father died suddenly, never getting to see the guilty receive their punishments. DePaul admits telling others the ordeal left her numb and in pain.
“It probably doesn’t make any sense to a lot of people, but it’s the only way I can explain it. I felt pain, but I also felt numbness,” she said.
Finally, just as the pandemic was building earlier this year, Debbie’s emotions overwhelmed her.
“When all this stuff started hitting me was right after COVID, and I got laid off from work, It was actually a blessing in disguise because it gave me the time I needed to decompress,” DePaul said.
Since then, DePaul started seeing a trauma therapist. She also looks after her younger brother, who’s in the Marine Corps.
Investigators who helped put Shannon’s killer behind bars continue searching for the remains that have never been recovered. Recently, the lead prosecutor and detective in the case sat down with DePaul and some of her friends to talk about the investigation and how it all came together.
When some of Shannon’s dismembered remains were discovered inside a freezer at a house in Campbell. Shannon’s one-time boyfriend, Arturo Novoa, and Katrina Layton were quickly arrested and Layton pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and obstruction.
DePaul was convinced others were involved but couldn’t get investigators to listen.
“At the time, they didn’t want to hear anything we had to say,” DePaul said.
A year later, an assistant prosecutor was sent from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and started looking into Novoa’s jailhouse phone calls.
“Although Arturo Novoa was pretty smart about what he talked about, he wasn’t smart about who he talked to,” said Assitant Special Prosecutor Dan Kasaris.
That led to searches on Facebook pages and the discovery of a number of old cell phones dumped along the curb outside Graves’ old apartment building. As the phones were analyzed, evidence pointed to two others – Andrew Herrmann and his wife Michelle Ihlenfeld. That brought about a new and much larger indictment against Novoa.
“When we did the re-indictment, we got a barrage of Facebook messages and phone calls,” Kasaris said.
With terra-bytes of information collected by investigators, Novoa pleaded guilty to killing Graves. In court, Kasaris told the judge Novoa hit the victim in the head with a hammer. Her body was then dismembered and dipped in acid before being burned in a bonfire.
Although Novoa is given a life sentence, the case is far from over. Evidence shows Novoa and Layton were still talking with each other even after Novoa was imprisoned.
“And the phones allow us to get Katrina Layton’s plea deal pulled,” Kasaris said.
Layton is eventually sentenced to 18-years in prison. Herrmann and Ihlenfeld were also convicted for their roles in the scheme.
Kasaris said the motive is just as convoluted as the case itself. He calls Novoa “a pathetic drug dealer” who was jealous of Graves’ money and possessions, adding Layton wanted Novoa for herself.
At one point, Kasaris said he asked Novoa why he didn’t just dump the body into one of the local lakes.
“He said sooner or later the body would float up and somebody would have “pinned it on me,” and I said it’s pinned on you now,” Kasaris said.
That could leave Novoa behind bars for the rest of his life and give Shannon’s sister and brother some sense of justice.
Family and friends admit the relationship Shannon had with Arturo Novoa was often violent. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is in a potentially dangerous relationship, there are shelters like the Sojourner House where you can turn for help by calling 330-747-4040 and their 24-Hour Hotline at (866) 436-6269.
Although all of those charged in Shannon’s case have been prosecuted and sentenced, authorities continue looking for additional leads, including where they can locate the rest of her remains. Anyone with information is asked to contact Youngstown Police.
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