By Tom Midlane @GoldenLatrine

AN AMATEUR sleuth turned private detective has devoted her life to cracking unsolved crimes after helping to track down the killer of her college friend 26 years after her death

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Videographer / director: Zack Wilson / Barcroft Media
Producer: Jack McKay
Editor: Nora Hakramaj

Sheila Wysocki, 55, who now lives in Tennessee, met Angela Samota - who went by the name “Angie” - at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, in 1982.

And despite being very different personalities, the pair quickly became inseparable.

Sheila, whose surname at the time was Gibbons, said: “The very first time I ever met her, we were roommates and it was pot luck we were put together.

"I had such anxiety about who they were going to match me with. And she was walking down the hall and she was so happy and vibrant, she was so incredibly vivacious.

"I thought 'oh no, this is my roommate, I’m a night person she looks like a morning person'.

“But it turned out we kind of complimented each other - we were very different in some ways, but our family dynamics were pretty much the same. I didn’t have a father and she didn’t have a father and so that brought us together."

But age 22 Sheila was about to head off to a college football game, when she received the phone call that would change her life forever.

One of Angie’s sorority sisters called to tell her that on October 12 1984, Angie, then 20, had been raped and murdered in her own home.

Angie had been stabbed 18 times and the attack was so brutal that police initially thought her heart had been removed.

The murder had a devastated attack on Sheila’s life - she dropped out of college and retreated to the safety of her family home.

Sheila, now a mum of two, said: "The murder happened and my entire life and security crumbled. I became fearful. I was fearful because you know at the very beginning you didn’t know who killed her.

"You didn’t know if it was her boyfriend. You didn’t know if it was an acquaintance that we all ran around with. So going out was off the table. I dropped out of college, I moved back home and I was done."

Police named a suspect to Sheila, a friend of Angie’s, and even talked her into meeting up with him after the killing to see if his alibi was consistent.

Sheila said: "I drove over there and I’m thinking ‘Is this guy is a murderer?'"

But with no evidence and a seemingly coherent alibi, just six weeks after Angie’s murder, the case went cold.

Sheila fell in love with her husband, moved to Nashville and started a family - but says she never forgot about the fate that befell her friend.

Then watching the OJ Simpson trial Sheila realised that DNA technology offered a potential new way of approaching Angie’s death.

She said: "I was pregnant with my second child and I remember sitting in bed and watching the trial thinking ‘Oh, so there’s this thing called DNA’ - which I had heard about at college.

“They said they could actually take that DNA and put it to a person then I thought, ‘Well, we got a little hope here'.

"I knew we had semen. I knew we had fingernails and I knew that we had a blood type.”

Sheila reached out to an organisation in New York working in cold cases, but since she wasn’t in law enforcement they wouldn’t work with her.

She focused on life as a mom, but in 2004 with her kids in school she decided to refocus her efforts on the case after experiencing a vision of her murdered friend.

Sheila said: “I was doing a Bible class. I was laying down reading my book, when all of a sudden I saw Angie exactly the way I saw her the very first time I ever met her, walking down the hall, the same vibrant face.

"The very first thing I did was pick up the phone because I knew it was time. And one of the relationship things that Angie and I had was she would call me when something happened."

But after making hundreds of calls to local police to try and persuade them to reopen the case files, Sheila set out to get her private investigators license - qualifying in 2005.

She said: "I’m a little obsessive when people don’t return a phone call. I’m the type where if you don’t return a call, I’m going to start calling even more.

"I started calling more and more and more. And I kept getting blown off each time. So at that point I thought ‘okay, now I’m going to become a private investigator, then you’ll take me seriously.'

By 2006 her persistence paid off, and Dallas police tasked detective Linda Crumb with reopening the case, including sending off the DNA found at the scene for analysis.

A backlog in the system meant the results took two years to come through, which ruled out any of the previous suspects.

But they did find a match with Donald Andrew Bess, a convicted rapist serving a life sentence at Huntsville Prison in Texas.

In 2010 he was convicted of Angie’s murder and sentenced to death - it was the only cold case solved in Dallas that year.

Sheila set up her own agency in 2011 and has helped many other families who have been chasing justice in cases that have gone unsolved.

In 2016, Bess unsuccessfully appealed against the death penalty, but was unsuccessful and while he may still appeal through the federal courts, he remains on death row.

But despite the case launching her professional career, Sheila is adamant that Bess’s conviction and appeal failure offer no sense of closure.

She said: "When Donald Bess was convicted, there was absolutely no closure. She’s still dead. The people that talk about closure, they’ve really never been through something like.

“People say things like 'don’t you feel better? Don’t you feel some accomplishment?’ Well no, she’s still dead."