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For two years prior to her death, Pamela Shadle insisted someone was trying to kill her. She told her family she “knew too much” about local political corruption, and said if she ended up dead or shot, it wouldn’t be because she’d taken her own life.
Under normal circumstances, it may have seemed odd talk for the Dakota City, Iowa, wife and mother of two who enjoyed caring for her pets, attending garage sales and auctions, or visiting with friends and enjoying music. But in the seven years before her death – particularly the last two – Pamela Shadle’s life had become anything but normal.
Shortly after graduating from Ft. Dodge High School in 1978, Pam married her “best friend,” Dorman “Dean” Shadle, and the couple had made their home in the Thor and Bode areas before moving to Dakota City. For many years Pam was employed in the Chantland’s South Plant, and later worked for Casey’s General Store in Dakota City.
Dean, eight years older than Pam, had proven himself a hard worker of the first order. Although he’d left high school before graduating, he eventually earned his GED while serving with the U.S. Army. Following his military service, he worked for several different employers, ran his own welding business and also worked as a construction worker and laborer.
In the early 1990s Dean enrolled at Iowa Central Community College, received a degree in digital electronics, and went to work installing security and fire systems for a number of businesses.
Life for the Shadle family got even better in 1997 when Dean secured a position with the Snap-On Tools Corporation. His primary job involved equipment maintenance and troubleshooting problems via a laptap computer, and while working for the company he enrolled in and completed an advanced computer programming class. He enjoyed the work and its challenges, and there seemed to be no stopping how far he might go.
Pam and Dean began remodeling their older home, restoring the old woodwork and updating the plumbing. They also had a second home they planned to fix up and keep as a rental.
In August 2001, however, life came tumbling down all around the Shadles, and this time, there would be no climbing back up.
The beginning of the end arrived on August 4, 2001.
While at work, Dean fell approximately 10-12 feet from a ladder, sustaining in the fall a right clavicle fracture, fractured ribs and an occipital skull fracture. He was flown by life-flight to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and on August 5 underwent a decompression of a subdural hematoma related to the skull fracture.
Dean did not recall the fall and his fragmented memory would not return until some time later.
Once Dean began occupational therapy, Mayo Clinic officials were better able to gauge his cognitive impairments, which they called “significant.”
One therapist noted on August 22, 2001, that Dean not only was unaware of the level of his cognitive impairment, but that he required 24-hour supervision for safety.
The former computer programmer also showed deficits in problem solving and short-term memory; Dean still believed he’d be able to return to work for Snap-On Tools, even though the therapist noted he no longer had the complex problem solving and cognitive skills needed for his position.
By September, medical reports cited a number of other deficits: Dean had severe problems with auditory recall and recognition; severe problems with math and money skills; complex problem solving skills involving mental flexibility; and problems involving safety, judgment and abstract thinking.
Dean, however, continued to insist he was ready to return to his regular employment.
In May 2002 he was allowed to return to his job, where problems surfaced almost immediately. He also began having problems sleeping and developed severe bi-frontal headaches.
Much to their credit, Snap-On Tools made every effort to work with Dean, who continued his downward spiral.
Following another admission to the Mayo Clinic, Dr. David Johnson noted in December 2002 that Dean was having “very unrealistic and paranoid” thoughts. And by January 2003, Dean had begun to believe family members connected with his employer were not only conspiring to find out something detrimental about him, but that e-mails from friends and former employees contained hidden messages intended to create trouble for him.
In May 2003, Dr. S.O. Lee stated the following: “He may improve to the point of engaging in some gainful activities, but in my judgment, not enough to hold any job to maintain any gainful employment.”
Dr. Johnson said Dean seemed most comfortable in a fairly reclusive lifestyle and that as a result it seemed highly unlikely he would be able to function in a work setting and feel even minimally comfortable. In September 2003, Johnson wrote that Dean Shadle continued to express and evidence paranoid and delusional thoughts concerning a variety of matters, and that these thoughts and tendencies were not present prior to the work injury.
Based on a conference with Dr. Lee, who stated Shadle would not be able to return to work, Snap-On Tools terminated Shadle’s employment with them on October 3, 2003.
On October 20, 2003, in a letter to Dean Shadle’s attorney, signed by both Dr. Lee and Dr. Johnson, the following opinion was set forth:
It is our judgment that Mr. Shadle will continue for the foreseeable future to require daily custodial care and supervision due to his persistent and severe paranoia, and also because his memory problems prevent him from being able to take care of himself safely at home by himself. If it were necessary for Mrs. Shadle to find employment to meet the family’s expenses, this would create a serious dilemma, since Mr. Shadle does not trust anyone other than his wife. If his wife were to return to the work force, Mr. Shadle would then require daily custodial care and supervision above and beyond what could be provided by a spouse in the usual course of daily events.
Pamela Shadle could no longer work and spent full-time hours caring for her husband. He became more forgetful, had problems sleeping and became paranoid with “outsiders,” including his own daughter, Dixie.
When he couldn’t remember to take his medications, Pam took over that responsibility. She got him up in the morning and prepared his meals; he wouldn’t eat unless she had made them. He trusted no one but her. Pam also began handling the family’s financial needs and responsibilities.
The home renovations, not yet finished, came to a standstill.
Things then took an even stranger turn. Pamela’s own behavior grew more and more erratic. She insisted Dean had a gun and was going to shoot her. She told one of Dean’s friends she was afraid of her husband, and the friend gave her a shotgun to protect herself. Finally, Pam was admitted to a Mason City hospital for treatment of what doctors called Bi-Polar disorder.
At the hospital, Pam met Patrick McPherren, a patient receiving treatment for alcoholism, and the two became fast friends. Pam’s life was about to become even more tumultuous.
Once Pam and Patrick were released from the hospital, Pam moved out of the house she shared with Dean and moved into the couple’s rental home at 201 4th St. South — with McPherren. The two got by on their disability checks.
At 4:43 a.m. on Wednesday, January 14, 2004, a 911 call came in to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department. The caller: Patrick McPherren, of 201 4th St. South, Dakota City. The information relayed to the sheriff’s department: Pamela Shadle had just shot herself.
Humboldt County Sheriff Dean Kruger said when law enforcement authorities arrived, they discovered a female suffering from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He confirmed the female was Pamela Shadle, 48, of 201 4th St. S., Dakota City. Humboldt County Medical Examiner Mike Sexe pronounced Shadle dead at the scene.
McPherren — quite intoxicated in the morning’s early hours — told officials he had gone upstairs to Shadle’s bedroom to awaken her so they could watch the 5 o’clock news. He said he found her lying face down on the floor in her room, and first thought she was sleeping. He’d rolled her over, he said, saw blood and thought she had a bloody nose, and said he then saw the shotgun by her feet and called 911. McPherren also told authorities he’d been sleeping downstairs but did not hear the shotgun go off and didn’t know what “woke him up.”
When officials pressed the drunken McPherren for more details, he became combative, took a couple of swings at officers, and was arrested and charged with assault and interference with official acts.
One of Pamela Shadle’s family members said she had never been an early riser, and questioned McPherren’s account of wanting to wake her to watch the 5 a.m. news. They also wondered how McPherren could not have heard a gun go off in a closed house in the middle of January. And, despite Pam’s earlier rantings about her husband Dean wanting to shoot her, said they found it hard to believe he would ever want to harm her.
They are convinced of only one thing — that Pam did not shoot herself.
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation was called in to assist the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office to determine if foul play was involved in Pamela Shadle’s death.
Pamela Captola (Hahn) Shadle, the daughter of Thomas L. and Naomi Hahn, was born March 25, 1960 at Iowa City. She received her education in Fort Dodge and graduated from Fort Dodge High School in 1978. She was united in marriage to Dorman Dean Shadle — her “best friend” — on June 24, 1978.
Pamela was survived by her son, Dustin Jon Shadle; daughter and son-in-law, Dixie and Latham Hedeen; husband Dean Shadle of Dakota City; brother Gary (Rhonda) Barger of Savage, MN; and sister, Sandy (Chuck) Marienau of Hawarden. She was preceded in death by her parents and brother, Robert Hahn.
Funeral services were held Tuesday, January 20, 2009, in the chapel of the Mason-Lindhart Funeral Home in Humboldt, with interment in the Union Cemetery in Humboldt.