The best friend of a woman whose murder went unsolved for more than two decades has helped catch her killer after refusing to give up in a quest for justice.
Sheila Wysocki and Angela Samota were inseparable.
The young women had been randomly paired as roommates in their freshman year at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, in 1982, and to hear Wysocki describe it, it was kismet.
“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,” Wysocki, 55, told Barcroft.
Their friendship grew for two years, until tragedy struck.
Samota, lovingly known as Angie, was found raped and stabbed 18 times in her own home on Oct. 12, 1984.
The attack was so brutal that police initially thought Samota’s heart had been removed from her body.
She was 20.
Wysocki learned of her best friend’s killing by a phone call.
"The murder happened and my entire life and security crumbled," Wysocki said.
She immediately made it a priority to help police find who was responsible, even agreeing to talk with a suspect to see if his alibi was consistent.
“I drove over there and I’m thinking, 'Is this guy is a murderer?'" she said.
But the man’s alibi checked out, and just six weeks into the investigation of Samota’s murder, the case went cold.
"I became fearful," Wysocki said. “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."
Wysocki went on to marry. She moved to Nashville, Tenn. and started a family. She went on with life as best she could, but she couldn't forget Samota or the questions that remained unanswered.
Then in 1995, an unlikely source gave Wysocki the inspiration she needed.
"I was pregnant with my second child and I remember sitting in bed and watching the [OJ Simpson] trial thinking, 'Oh, so there’s this thing called DNA' — which I had heard about at college," she said. "They said they could actually take that DNA and put it to a person then I thought, 'Well, we got a little hope here.'"
Equipped with the knowledge that semen, blood and fingernails were found at the crime scene, Wysocki reached out to a New York-based organization that deals with cold cases, but because she wasn't in law enforcement, she was turned away.
She focused on raising her two children, but in 2004 decided to revisit the case.
Wysocki said she made hundreds of calls to local police in an attempt to get them to reopen the case to no avail.
"I’m a little obsessive when people don’t return a phone call,” she said. "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."
In 2005, she took matters into her own hands.
“At that point I thought, 'OK, now I’m going to become a private investigator. Then you’ll take me seriously,'"
Her persistence paid off in 2006, when Dallas police tasked detective Linda Crumb with reopening the case. She sent off the DNA found at the scene for analysis.
More than two years passed before any match was found, but finally, an unsuspecting hit gave Wysocki and law enforcement the answer they needed.
The DNA found at the scene came back a match with Donald Andrew Bess, a convicted rapist serving a life sentence at Huntsville Prison in Texas.
He was convicted in 2010 of Samota’s murder and sentenced to death.
Hers was the only cold case solved in Dallas that year.
"When Donald Bess was convicted, there was absolutely no closure," Wysocki said. "She’s still dead. The people that talk about closure, they’ve really never been through something like that, so, the fact that people are like, 'Don’t you feel better? Don’t you feel some accomplishment?' No, she’s still dead.
In 2016, Bess unsuccessfully appealed against the death penalty. He remains on death row.
Wysocki founded her own private investigation agency in 2011 with the hopes of helping others looking for justice for their loved ones.
She focuses on cold cases.
“She has the ability to stick with something and go into great details,” fellow private investigator Paul Fantuzzi said. “Without her staying on top of it, [Samota’s case] would have just been another cold case never solved."
Wysocki still thinks of Samota often and hopes that solving her murder has helped in some way.
“I hope she’s resting in peace now,” Wysocki said, tearing up. “Because her life, the last few minutes were so violent."