Serial killer 'Shelly' Knotek who tortured, killed helpless relatives is a 'ticking time bomb', says daughter
In 2003, Michelle Knotek, 50, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for abusing her kids and subjecting her friends and relatives to a campaign of terror before killing them. Ahead of her scheduled release in 2022—after 19 years of her prison term—her kids have spoken up about their mother, warning others of how big a manipulator she is.
“I just wanted people to finally really know the truth. When my mum comes out of prison, I don’t want her to be able to hide it. She’s the biggest manipulator of anyone I’ve ever met. I don’t think that she could ever outgrow that. I don’t think that she could ever change—I just wanted to save other people from her manipulation," Sami Knotek, presently a 41-year-old teacher and mother-of-three told the Sun.
Sami was nine years old and her sister Nikki was 12 when their mother, Michelle, who was better known as Shelly—a two-time divorcée with two young daughters—met their stepfather, David Knotek, a mild-mannered navy veteran in 1987. Their relationship was far from normal. David, who fell head-over-heels in love with Shelly, discovered that she had a violent side and would often slap him and resort to other forms of abuse against him. Being a submissive man, he was unable to stand up to Shelly and soon became an accomplice in the violence. The couple went on to have their own daughter, Tori, in 1989.
Shelly and David lived in the small town of Raymond, Washington, and as their kids grew older, they began to provide shelter for some of their friends and relatives who needed help after falling into hard times. For example, Shelly's 13-year-old nephew Shane Watson was taken in by the couple in 1988 after his absentee father and mother, who struggled with substance abuse, was unable to provide a stable home for him. Later that year, Shelly’s hairdresser friend Kathy Loreno lost her job and moved in with the Knoteks. In 1999, military veteran Ron Woodworth came to stay with the family after losing his own home.
However, the houseguests started disappearing under mysterious circumstances and Shelly started making vague excuses for their disappearances. The deaths went unnoticed for years till their three daughters approached the local sheriff’s office to recount the horrors. Shelly was charged with the torture deaths of Kathy Loreno and Ronald Woodworth and David was charged with the fatal shooting of Shane Watson.
While Shelly entered an Alford plea, which meant she was not admitting guilt but acknowledged a jury would find her guilty, on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in both deaths, David, then 51, was sentenced to 15 years before being released early in 2016. Knotek, now 65, is expected to be released from the Washington Corrections Center for Women two years later.
Last year, a book published on Shelly's crimes, 'If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood' by New York Times bestselling author Gregg Olsen laid bare the details behind the abuse and deaths she was responsible for. According to the New York Post, the three daughters of the inmate reached out to Olsen because they were concerned about their mother’s release. “My mother was like a ticking time bomb,” Nikki recalled in the book. “I never knew when she would go off.”
Shelly's daughters accuse her of physically and mentally abusing them over the course of years, from the time they hit adolescence. They were regularly forced to sleep outside the house. They, along with Watson, would be made to stand outside naked in the middle of the night in freezing temperatures while being doused with ice-cold water. Sometimes they were forced to take off their clothes and roll around in the mud. Such punishments were branded, "wallowing," which were inflicted for "crimes" such as visiting the bathroom without asking.
Other abuses Shely subjected her daughters to ranged from forcing them to chop off tufts of their pubic hair as she laughed at their embarrassment to locking them up in a kennel or chicken coop. She also forced her eldest daughter Nikki to dance together naked with Shane to humiliate them. During one school holiday she shoved Nikki head-first through a glass door. As her face was dripping with blood, Shelly shouted, “Look what you made me do."
To make sure that no one at her daughters' school got a hint of the abuse she was subjecting them to, she would tend to their injuries herself, making sure that they were properly hidden from the public eye. The girls were given the best clothes and possessions to facilitate that. Shelly also tried to gather sympathy for herself by shaving off her eyebrows in order to fake cancer.
Kathy was the first boarder who was killed at the Knotek house. When she had originally moved in on Christmas 1988, she was warmly welcomed by Shelly and even began helping her with the children and the household work. However, Shelly soon started to berate her and subject her to emotional abuse. At one point Kathy was forced to work naked, fed sedatives. She was forced to rise in the boot of the family's car and sleep next to the boiler in the basement. Following six years of this torture, Kathy died in 1994. She was thin and frail at the time and passed away after a brutal beating by Shelly.
“I don’t think she meant to kill Kathy. I think she meant to abuse Kathy, just like she abused us. She got off on it. She liked the power, she liked doing it, and it got worse and worse," Sami said. Shelly claimed the hairdresser had run away with a boyfriend called Rocky at the time.
Next came Watson's death after David shot him in the head in February 1995, after being asked Shelly. Nikki had unwittingly told her parents that Watson had taken photographs of Kathy at the later stages of abuse and hid them in a teddy bear. Shelly told the girls that Shane had moved to Alaska to work as a fisherman.
A few years later, when Woodworth, a gay and witty veteran moved in with the family, Shelly's abuse began again. She cut him off from his friends and loved ones, verbally abusing him as worthless and disgusting. Slowly the emotional abuse turned physical and Shelly withheld everything from clothes, food, and the use of the indoor bathroom from him. He was frequently drugged with pills. He died in August 2003, after he was forced to drink his own urine and jump off the roof of the two-story home. Instead of treatment, his wounds were doused in boiling water and bleach.
“While I think [the murder of] Kathy was an accident, Ron was definitely on purpose,” Sami said. “It was done in the exact same way. She knew what the outcome would be.”
After Woodworth's death, the girls approached the police, leading to the arrest of their mother and stepfather. “Shelly delighted in making other people hurt. It made her feel superior. She has never been formally diagnosed as a psychopath, but showed all the traits," Olsen told the Post.