Death came knocking at Marlene Warren’s door disguised as a clown.
And for 27 years the bizarre case of the Wellington clown murder remained unsolved — kind of; detectives had the alleged killer in their sights within three months of the slaying.
It was a Saturday morning, May 26, 1990 when Marlene Warren answered the door to accept a bouquet and balloons from a clown wearing a red wig, a red bulb nose, gloves and a smile painted on its white face.
She was greeted with gunfire, shot at least once in the face.
After firing, the clown calmly walked to a white convertible Chrysler LeBaron, minus a license plate, and drove away.
Marlene Warren, 40, died two days later.
New DNA evidence, police now say, proves the person disguised as a clown was Sheila Keen Warren, the current wife of Marlene Warren’s husband, Michael Warren.
She was arrested Tuesday at her home in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Abingdon, Va. Sheila Keen Warren, 54, is in jail there awaiting extradition to Palm Beach County.
“It feels good that they found [the killer], but it’s taking me back to the memory of it and it’s kind of hard,” Twing said. “I feel like crying now, but I’m glad it’s over.”
The Warrens were living in their dream home in the affluent Aero Club development, where the neighborhood had a private landing strip with taxiways to each home.
Michael Warren owned Bargain Motors Inc. on North Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach. Marlene Warren spent her days managing the rental units she and her husband had acquired during their 20-year marriage.
According to a Sept. 7, 1990 Sun Sentinel article, the search for the killer had focused on Sheila Keen, then 27.
She repossessed cars for Michael Warren’s auto dealership and, detectives learned, had been having an affair with him. They frequently took long lunches together, and Michael Warren began paying Sheila Keen’s rent when she separated from her husband in January 1990.
Workers at a West Palm Beach costume shop called detectives on the evening of the murder and reported that a woman had bought a clown costume, makeup, orange wig and red nose two days earlier. Two store clerks picked Keen out of a photo lineup.
And clerks at a Publix supermarket less than a mile from Keen’s home identified Keen as the woman who bought flowers and balloons about 90 minutes before the killing.
Detectives also learned that Keen once went to a Pahokee auto parts store where she was a regular customer dressed as a clown.
Within a week of the killing, detectives searched Keen’s home where they found fibers from a bright orange wig.
Similar fibers were found in the getaway car which was ditched in a grocery store parking lot at Okeechobee and Royal Palm Beach boulevards. It had been reported stolen from a car rental agency and was later linked to Michael Warren’s car dealership.
Even so, the case went cold. “They needed probable cause,” said Teri Barbera, a spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office reopened the investigation in 2014, conducting additional DNA analysis and re-interviewing witnesses. That’s when detectives learned that Keen and Michael Warren were married and operating a restaurant in Tennessee.
“Our cold case squad, they persevere, they work hard and technology advances,” Barbera said. “They hold several cases each, and all of them are near and dear to their hearts. So anytime they can affect an arrest, it’s a big deal.”
“In this case our detectives did not give up,” she said.
Alanez writes for the Sun-Sentinel.