And the Impact of a Statement of an Estranged Sister

Therein lies the story of dreaded impact of being impacted and a victim but not a complete victim.

Last week was a nightmare. 

I blogged about the story about how my week went in a piece entitled Celebrations and Somber Notes. 

In the realm of the Invisible part of me, is the Impact Statement below. It is nine pages of pain and more of the aftermath of a very tragic event that never should have happened. This is something that sadly I had to fight to potentially not even be heard.

Here it is world...  Get your hankie ready and scroll down if ye dare.





                                   Plaintiff,  )


                                  -vs-                )    No.  2016-CF-774                                        )

SHAUN M. THOMAS                )

             Defendant.    )        




I, _Jennifer Stavros_, being a family member of the victim in the above-captioned case, submit this Victim Impact Statement, for review by the Court pursuant to Article I, Section 8.1 of the Illinois Constitution, which states in part, that crime victims have the right to make a statement to the Court at sentencing.           

May 23rd was particularly cold even for California. For some reason I had nightmares that I couldn’t quite pin point. I didn’t know it then but I was going to find out a week later.

I was headed to a visit with my youngest son and going through my own things when I received a frantic phone call from my father. He was extremely distressed and worried about his daughter. Jessica was the golden child. She was the one that was looked to as being steady and constant… and she was missing. It didn’t make any sense. Further, even though my parents are historically known to take things out of proportion to a comedic degree, I don’t think anyone was actually prepared for what exactly we were all going to encounter next.

Two thousand miles away and the world knew of my sister’s loss. The weather outside drew itself dreary and white. Something was indeed in the air. I’d hoped I was wrong.

After the hysterical phone call of my father worried, I called my youngest brother John. John and Jess were closer in their adult years. My sister and I had drifted in our adulthood. It was still very very alarming when hearing the news. It was still very disheartening to hear the pitch and tone of my brothers voice… frantic and panicked and wavering and…

I had to remain fully composed through my already hard time with my youngest son Jonas- a little boy whom thankfully my sister got to meet before that phone call… a little boy who sadly will never know the joy and love of his aunt unlike his siblings who thankfully got to see pieces off and on during their childhood growing up miles away from where my sister settled.

We didn’t know what he had done to her then. We had our fears but… we had hoped we were wrong. I wanted to believe that it was… just something I was going to be wrong about. Sadly I think both my brother and I might have had an idea. Shaun had been a worry of ours with his past for a long time even though, to my knowledge, he’d never laid hands on my sister prior to that.

I posted to Facebook vocalizing my concern- cross country- to the world. I was hoping that my sister was out there and ok. I was hoping this was just a false alarm like it had been the last time one of us had gone missing and not posted on Facebook. My brother called me back and was fearful and freaking out that that post might have made things “worse.” As bad as it was, I’m thankful that it wasn’t “worse.”

Shaun had access to tools where he could have made my sister disappear to even further obscurity. I have thought about these ways many times since that day. I have a feeling that my family has as well. Shaun had access to a private beach club where he could have disposed of my sister. Had he continued hiding her and posting as her, I’m not entirely convinced that he couldn’t have “gotten away with things” for a lot longer.  Instead, the ultimate choice of her demise and placement was one that was extremely personal and dismissive of her. It was clear and convincing of a statement that almost taunted the ones affected. But I’ll get into more about how that scene affected me later.

To whom it may concern at the court, my sister was someone that no one in our family should have ever had to worry about, She was a steadfast, consistent, loving and kind soul to the community she served. She had a loving heart and an empathetic soul… even if that is not the relationship I personally had with my sister in our adult days due to our different zip codes and back and forth about Shaun, a man whom she believed in and loved unconditionally despite what my family stated as concern. My father said it very simply at the funeral procession towards her final official resting place- a place that is filled with fond memories of my sister and brother and I as kids in happier times sledding and dodging headstones which should never have become my sister at her young age, “Look at all the cars.”

To whom it might concern, as I noted already, my sister loved this man tremendously with complete disregard of his past. She was doing everything to maintain her home and to do right by their daughter… a daughter that is now alone to ache with not being able to be held by either of her parents. My sister wanted nothing more than to be a mother to their child and a wife to her husband. She took the lead and was the provider for her family in every way that was possible- emotionally and financially. She did so to her detriment. She did so because, again, even if my sister and I were not close, the core of her being was kind and forgiving and loving in a way that most people can never understand. My sister held the keys to love in a powerful way that… I have spent so many moments crying that Shaun not only didn’t appreciate, but treated with such disdain as he did to take her voice away and shove her in a plastic trash bag and box… to seal her eyes and face and tie down her limbs to make it very very clear that she was nothing anymore due to him.

The day that my sister died…

My sister and I were supposed to get old and get through our sibling rivalries and come out the other end laughing. She and I were supposed to laugh about how vastly different our lives have been. She and I were supposed to laugh about both of our failed marriages choosing men who didn’t treat us with the kindness and love that we deserved. My sister was supposed to eventually come on a plane and see the ocean with her daughter, my father, her nephews and niece and…

And now I have memories of a day where I heard pitches in my families voices that I should never have had to imagine possible let alone live through. I have a resting place to fly across country to to talk to the air and cry about instead a sister to laugh with, bicker with, cry with and hug and clink glasses with. I have a niece whom I get to worry about even more so because of her father whom thought more about his own force than of my sister’s loving altruistic voice and presence.

To whom it may concern, the world around my sister was tremendously affected by her passing. Both of the coasts were lighting up in fear about the possibility of this. Jessica had family and friends from Tampa to Los Angeles and beyond even if she really didn’t leave Champaign or the surrounding area much in her adulthood. My sister may very well also have people in Bolivia crying about her passing as well. My sister had served the community there at one point in yet another example of my sister’s unending devotion towards giving back to communities that needed it.

Jessica has three nephews and a niece whom will not be able to experience the love and kindness and beauty of the lessons my sister, their aunt, could have shared with them. My children will never be able to see the beauty of two sisters, once close in childhood and then grown apart in adulthood finally coming through it and laughing about it.

In the weeks that have passed since my sister passed, I have had several nights where sleeping was filled with nightmares. When I first learned about pieces of the events that transpired I was nervous to go to my car alone at night. I thought about what happened and it was paralyzing. I found myself relocating towards staying with a friend for support. I’ve been holding on and fighting through the storms but there have been many days where it just feels completely dark and having a friend to talk to has felt almost like a necessity.

I have spent a considerable amount of money on therapy to cope with things. I am now seeing a specialist for trauma as the events tied to my sisters passing have been dreadfully difficult. I am easily paying a rent payment in bills on a monthly basis and could pay even more if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to find a therapist whom had the qualifications and candor and empathy that mine has to make things as successful as they have been. I’m talking $150 sessions that should easily be $250 sessions that I have been going to for months due to things.

To whom it may concern, I live in Southern California and am a single mother who struggles financially to survive in my big city. To that measure my heart aches even more so about my sister and her family as I know first hand about how hard maintaining things are. My sister, although I didn’t agree with her choice of husband, was doing things in ways that I looked up to in admiration. She was finding the way to make things work for her family financially. I’m amazed at her capabilities to do that part… and about how much my brother in law didn’t seem to appreciate those very things he had… which were things I often feel at times that I could only dream about having… an unconditional devoted partner who was committed towards making things work.

To whom it may concern, my sister being found in a box left to decay stripped of her dignity and voice was a scene that none of us should ever have had to imagine let alone be our reality. It is a sight that I cannot get out of my head that often haunts my dreams. I can hear my sister screaming to be free from this box. I can see her eyes fearful of what is happening as he blocked her in that room and taped her arms and legs down. I can see the tears rolling down her face as he shoved a bag in her mouth and proceeded to strangle her.  I can see her eyes become wide with shock as this man whom she loved…. as the reality that her daughter whom she wanted her whole life to exist was going to be without her mother…. as the muffled sounds begging for her life that went ignored widened them and likely filled them further with tears… as her final moments...I… I wouldn’t wish these things on my enemies. This is a living nightmare.

There have been days where the weight of everything is just so much that it makes working difficult. I have lost wages because I find myself being reminded of my sister with something random from our childhood or for someone I encounter making a statement that reminds me of something connected to my sister and I just end up in a ball of tears... many times that I have had to push past in order to just survive and make ends meet.

I think about the day sister died and of the call that stopped me in my tracks in shock that it was actually a reality. Of the moments where my heart felt as if it left my body and I was amazed at how I was just quiet and in shock. Of my brothers voice telling me that she had been indeed been found murdered and placed in a plastic bag and box in the home she worked so feverishly to maintain… for the family and man that put her in it with complete disregard of her worth. All I could do was hug my son a little. I was a doe in headlights picking up toys in a room after getting that call. “My sister was murdered. Oh my god my sister was murdered.” There was nothing but shock when the words came out of my mouth.

My sister was just supposed to have been found camping or doing something stupid and silly for our family to laugh about for one time in her life. That phone call with finding her found was supposed to just be something we were all laughing about… yes she hadn’t responded to her Facebook because for once in her life my sister went and did something fun for herself or something ridiculous that we’d all laugh about… like what happened when my parents freaked out when I hadn’t posted on Facebook for a minute too. It wasn’t supposed to be… like this. There are many days where I am still just shocked. How could this have happened to my sister of all people? Why was the person whom was simply incapable of not putting most all others first stripped of her voice and ability to do so… by one of the people whom she did the most for? It is an abomination.

My family has had to pay so many bills to deal with my sister's loss. They had to pay a pretty penny to fly this estranged daughter all the way from the west coast to go to a funeral proceeding that we never should have had to worry about anytime soon. My parents have had to fly out many times as well. This is such an extraordinary financially draining experience and that’s just the money part.

I’m 34 years old and I’ve had to have a talk about how my family wants to be tended to in the event of their passing. Thirty four. Thirty four years old and having to discuss about how my family would like my sister's headstone. Thirty four years old and talking about the space next to my sister which my family had a family meeting about buying because people didn’t like the idea of her murderer possibly forcing his presence there later too. Thirty four years old and having to make phone calls cross country to family and loved ones to inform them about how my brother in law had murdered my sister and stuffed her in a box and told my niece how my sister had been just sick while he did no one really knows for a week while he was attempting to hide that she was even deceased to begin with. Thirty four years old and having to explain to my children- ages 14, 12, 11, and 3, about murder and even more so about how important it is to get away from a toxic lover that does not appreciate them who was stealing her mail and pawning off her hard worked for belongings to buy drugs who was going to argue over a car that she had purchased just like everything else while he refused to assist in more than just lies of him “trying” to be a decent person and help the person that was bending over backwards against all others saying to do so…  and showing possible signs that he could do this for years but…

I’m 34 years old and having to explain to my children even more so about just how much so that emotional abuse is something potentially fatal.

I’m 34 years old filled with a fear that my sister could not have been the only person in that box… but that her story is one that many women out there face as a possibility by choosing to continue in a relationship despite the signs that were subtle and loud. I’m 34 years old and thankful that my brother in law chose not to kill both my sister and their daughter and place them in that box. I’m 34 years old and being thankful for something that most people shouldn’t ever have to think about in their lifetime. I’m 34 years old and being thankful that I am my age but also simultaneously appalled that my children are their young age having to deal with this impact. I’m 34 years old across the country in my big city visiting coroners offices to find resources about victims rights and programs available towards someone affected by a murder. I’m 34 years old and reading materials about how to talk to my young children about the murder of their aunt. I’m 34 years old learning even more so about the punishment system in the United States… and how thankful I am personally that the death penalty does not exist as a punishment but am seeing family divided by pain and anguish about the possible punishments and restitution of a crime that even when done is never completely “done” emotionally. I’m 34 years old and contemplating which programs I can learn about to help my niece, my children, my parents, my younger brother who was the one whom got that dreadful phone call to begin with and… my brother in law whom I wish more than anything could have learned something from the other times that he had been released from a dreadful place he put himself in by his own poor choices back into society.

I was not able to get photographs of my sister with my youngest son before she passed. Sadly the only photos I have of them “together” are of my son and the ribbon that says “sister” that was used in her funeral ceremony. I am dismayed that I do not have the decades more of time and memories to share with my youngest let alone my other older children. The children around my sister are sadly the ones that are going to be hurt the most by all this.

To whom it may concern, the devastation that has occurred due to this crime is something that all that knew my sister are going to feel for all of our entire lives. The holiday season was a bit colder this year. I am not anticipating Christmas… or her birthday which is in a few days of this hearing on December 3rd.

Despite all the pain that my family and I might have with our estranged relationships, my sister still meant so very much to me and my children. I know that my family is going to endure so much emotional and financial strain and have to have a ton of therapy due to the pain for what has occurred. I know that we will all never be able to look at the world the same again. This is not what should have ever happened to someone who gave their unconditional love to someone. My sister had an ability few ever will. This is a complete nightmare.

To whom it may concern, I do hope that you consider these thoughts and more of the pain this family, that I, even the estranged daughter who understands far too well the pain of loss of a voice and a child, know even two thousand miles away. My sister never should have been on television before me the silly sister in California… let alone the most abysmal way that she was. My sister was the one that the family and community loved beyond measure. My sister loved the world and community beyond measure. Please remember her voice and presence and assist my brother in law to hopefully realize that she was a person that the world loved that he was lucky to have love and acknowledgement from. She was the last person that ever deserved this to come to her. This is the last person in the world whom should have done this to her. Please help him. Also please tell him to be thankful to her for the Cubs winning the world series this year because I know that, in a sad and silly way that helps this estranged weird Californian sibling, I know that my sister really wanted her team to beat mine and go all the way into history almost as much as her loss was to our family… but she should have been alive to see it and maybe even go to those big games with my dad and brother and maybe even me in more than spirit.

Lastly- I request, that if at all possible, that the court please assist me in order to read this statement (aside from this paragraph) out loud over the phone via my phone (number of [redacted]) to my brother in law for his sentencing. I was unable to find anything in my research regarding this as a capability nor was I able to find anything specifically in the Illinois Constitution nor the Rules of the Court (this weird California sister who formerly wanted to be an actor studies academics and law) and would very much so adore the court to allow me to have the opportunity to do this at his sentencing per my victims rights since unfortunately the financial devastation that my brother and law has left has also left a harder time this time around getting cross country to be present for physically. I would like this to happen if at all possible to assist with coping but will respectfully understand if it is not something I am able to have per rules of court and procedures which I'd love to know more about. I have a feeling that I'm going to be spending more of my time giving back towards victims of crime and towards bestowing compassion and progress towards the very things that ultimately were the reason my sister is sadly not with us any longer. I beg you your honor and this court to please provide me this one chance to participate.

With utmost and kindest regards and compassion,

Jennifer Stavros