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Sullivan County woman pleads guilty to murdering neighbor

April 28th, 2014 3:37 pm by Rain Smith

Sullivan County woman pleads guilty to murdering neighbor

Rachel Lynn Calhoun, 45

A woman who reportedly killed her elderly, disabled Bristol neighbor three years ago to steal his cash and credit card — leaving his body to be devoured by dogs within the home — has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

Rachel Lynn Calhoun, 45, last address listed as 1148 Reedy Creek Road, appeared Monday in Sullivan County court. Assistant Sullivan County District Attorney Joshua Parsons reports her guilty plea solicited a life sentence, with eligibly for parole in 51 years.

Calhoun also pleaded guilty to especially aggravated robbery of the victim, ID theft and fraudulent use of his credit card.

"I think it was a fair resolution based on the facts, and I'm very appreciative of folks at the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office and the TBI for the work they put into this case," said Parsons.

According to previous statements from the SCSO, a sobbing Calhoun called 911 on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011. She reported finding her neighbor, Johnny Shankel, 73, dead within his residence at 1092 Reedy Creek Road.

Sheriff Wayne Anderson said deputies responded to find a "horrific" scene. Shankel was lying on the laundry room floor in a pool of blood, while his five dogs — which Anderson labeled as "vicious" — had consumed much of his remains.

Shankel was described by police as disabled and eccentric, with substantial funds in his bank account. He was also reportedly known to carry large amounts of cash.

The day after Calhoun called police to Shankel's residence, detectives began receiving alerts from Shankel's credit card company. They indicated someone was attempting to obtain cash from ATMs with his credit card, while a later review of surveillance tapes allegedly revealed Calhoun and her boyfriend, Willie Mack Coleman, as the perpetrators.

When detectives questioned the couple, Calhoun reportedly confessed to the murder, with Coleman admitting he attempted to cover it up.

According to an affidavit, Calhoun went to Shankel's home on Saturday morning, Feb. 5, with the intent of stealing his money and credit card — knowing she would kill her neighbor if needed.

The affidavit says Calhoun admitted entering Shankel's residence, pushing him to the floor and striking him several times with a stick on the face and chest. She then allegedly took a dog cable that was on Shankel's clothes dryer, wrapped it around his neck and choked him.

Once Shankel was dead, Calhoun allegedly removed $25 and two credit cards from his wallet. According to court records, Coleman said his girlfriend returned to their home with blood on her face.

Calhoun took a shower, according to Anderson, with her and Coleman then spending Shankel's cash at Walmart and CVS. With that depleted, they attempted to make withdrawals with his ATM card.

For his alleged involvement in the incident, Coleman was originally charged by police with accessory after the fact, making a false report, facilitation of theft under $500 and tampering with evidence. Parsons says that case is still pending.

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