Dateline   |  July 12, 2013

'A Cold December Morning,' Part 1

An attractive mother of five is found dead in her Washington State home.  But what shocked the most is the way she was found.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

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>> austin starbuck then 21 years old was nearing the end of his shift in deer park , washingt washington when his phone chirped.

>> it was my sister logan.

>> she said i'm cold, come and pick me up.

>> but where was their mother? wasn't she supposed to be there? austin , dutifully collected his sibling as a cold, gray afternoon darkened.

>> i had no way of getting in, so i took her to my house where i had a key.

>> evening came, no word from mom. the kids called their mom, not afraid, more like irritated.

>> mom, you need to come home.

>> it had happened by then, of course. though as the children bedded down at their father's house , they never guessed it they wouldn't understand the day, that everything about life was different now and nothing made any sense at all.

>> unbelief. it was unbelief.

>> narrator: a friend named summer stark put the words to it, so impossible that she, of all people.

>> it was hard to wrap your mind around that it had occurred.

>> narrator: but apparently, it was possible. shannon starbuck, mother of five, dead. dead in the way that made skin crawl. and she had been so many things, mother, artist, woman on the brink of something new.

>> shannon was funny, she was vivacious, she liked to joke around and have a good time. but classy, always very, very classy.

>> her two older sons austin and blake, remember how she stood out, even if it embarrassed them a little bit at times.

>> she would embroider our names and numbers on all the baseball teams on our hats.

>> narrator: shannon tried to instill a deep mormon faith in their lives. how was she with the kids?

>> i would. hesitate to say she was a good mom.

>> he was a boy on vacation from alaska when he laid eyes on her 20 years earlier, cold and hot words come colliding.

>> i told her that i lived in alaska and she thought she was lucky because she wouldn't see me again. but she did.

>> they married within months, started a family right away. and there were yours, aren't there always? clay wasn't as interested in church, not the way she was. she wanted you to be there at the e7d?

>> i couldn't meet her there. it is a big issue, and i'm not saying i was right and it had to be my way, that's not an issue at all, we were different.

>> narrator: they divorced in 2000 , they had lasted ten years that time. yes, that time. full of hope and good will, they tried again. in 2006 , they remarried, moved to washington state , set up a house in deer park . and from there, clay commuted up to his job in alaska , which meant he had to be gone weeks at a time. so when he came home --

>> the kids and i were about playing catch, playing frisbee, playing basketball.

>> having fun?

>> yes, i know shannon several times made the comment to me about me being a disneyland dad. that probably was true, because she was making dinners and taking care of the kids and trying to maintain the house .

>> though it was up and down, good and bad.

>> shannon and i never fully recovered.

>> narrator: it was 2010 , when they filed for divorce the second time. they decided to live apart, but close to each other, he got a house near shannon . the two oldest boys opted to live with with aim and the three youngest, with their mom. clay was out of work with a back injury, but at least he was able to share parenting, like swapping days for taking the kids to and from school.

>> i would go over and pick up the kids and take them to school and sometimes she would pick them up and take them back. and it just worked out.

>> narrator: or at least it did, until that dismal afternoon december 21st , 2011 , the day shannon failed to show up after school. they with respect worried, said clay, they all knew she had started dating again, so maybe she went out, lost track of time. a mix-up.

>> my thoughts were not that anything serious happened to her.

>> you thought she was with a guy?

>> she was with a guy. it probably went late, they were having a good dinner.

>> narrator: but the next day, one of the kids texted grandma melanie in florida, had she heard from their mother? she had not. and that, said melanie, was alarming.

>> i texted shannon and i never got anything back. and i called and her phone box was full. i knew something was wrong.

>> narrator: she felt the panic rise in her throat. she called her sister amy and brother steven.

>> she said it was very unlikely that shannon would not return her calls.

>> because they talked every day.

>> they talked every single day, they knew everything that was going on in each other it's lives. so i continued to talk to shannon , talked to the kids, find out what was going on.

>> clay called and was asked to check shannon 's house .

>> it was you know, find her.

>> the sheriff's deputies came over, had a good look outside and left. but shannon 's family in florida insisted something was wrong, had to be. and shannon 's friend summer said she would never not pick up her kids from school and then never call.

>> i know she doted on her kids. she loved them.

>> narrator: it was sunday morning before shannon 's mother got through to the deputy's office. and a landlord opened up the house . two deputies went in the and radioed for backup. they had found shannon . she was dead, her body on her bed and displayed in such a way the detectives knew. her killer had more than just murder on his mind.