Marlene Warren answered the door to her Wellington, Florida, home and was fatally gunned down by a mysterious clown. Despite eyewitnesses, circumstantial evidence, and the identification a suspect early on, it would take more than 30 years for her killer to face justice.
A clown painting by Marlene Warren, made when she was a teenager. When she was 40, she was fatally gunned down by a shooter dressed as a clown.
Marlene and Mike
In 1972, Marlene and Mike Warren were married.
Joe Ahrens was 3 years when his mother married Mike Warren. "That was the only father I knew," said Ahrens.
The Aero Club
In the late 1980s, the Warrens moved into a home in the Aero Club in Wellington, Florida -- a community where every house has access to a private runway.
Mike and Marlene Warren owned several businesses together including Bargain Motors, a used car and rental business that was in Marlene's name. They couple also owned a group of rental properties in West Palm Beach, an airplane, and racehorses.
Ahrens recalls that his mother thought Mike Warren was having an affair, telling him, "if anything happens to me, your father did it."
On May 26, 1990, Marlene Warren answered her front door and was gunned down by a clown bearing balloons and flowers. Her son, Joe Ahrens, and three of his friends witnessed the attack.
After Marlene Warren was shot in the face, she was rushed to a nearby hospital. The 40-year-old would remain in critical condition for two days, before she was removed from life-support and died.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office started interviewing witnesses and searching for anyone who may have recently purchased a clown outfit.
Mike Warren's alibi
Investigators learned Marlene's husband, Mike Warren, was in a car with friends heading to a racetrack at the time the shooting took place.
Investigators quickly learned that Mike Warren was rumored to be having an affair with Sheila Keen, who worked for Warren repossessing cars.
The flowers and balloons
The flowers and balloons left by the clown were recovered from the scene, and investigators tried to track down where they were purchased.
Within days, they were able to link them to a local supermarket. Investigators learned that the woman who purchased the balloons and flowers was described as having long brown hair, similar to Sheila Keen.
Detectives also spoke with a store clerk who said a female customer with long brown hair and brown eyes, matching the description of Sheila Keen, had paid cash for a clown outfit days before the shooting.
Four days after Marlene Warren was shot, authorities found this white Chrysler LeBaron, matching the description of the clown's getaway car, in a parking lot eight miles from the crime scene. Inside the car, investigators found orange fibers that they say resembled strands from a clown wig, as well as a brown human hair.
Sheila Keen's apartment
The same day authorities found the LeBaron, a warrant was obtained to search Keen's apartment. Sheriff's reports say they found orange fibers on clothing inside her home, resembling fibers from a clown wig.
Reopening a cold case
Despite circumstantial evidence that pointed to Keen as a suspect in Marlene Warren's murder, no arrests were made for decades. In 2013, a cold case unit reopened the case and was able to now use DNA testing.
A new life, new name
As the investigation continued, authorities learned that Mike Warren and Sheila Keen had gotten married in 2002 and moved to Tennessee. The couple was running a burger joint called the "Purple Cow," and their employees and neighbors told "48 Hours" that while Keen changed her last name to Warren, she was also using a new first name: "Debbie."
Sheila and Mike Warren sold their restaurant in 2017 and retired full time to this Abingdon, Virginia, lake house.
On Sept. 26, 2017 -- 27 years after Marlene Warren's murder -- Keen-Warren was arrested for first-degree murder.
Going back to Florida
Keen-Warren waived extradition back to Florida and was booked into the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office jail on Oct. 3, 2017.
Prosecution seeks the death penalty
On Oct. 4, 2017, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced the filing of a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Keen-Warren for the murder of Marlene Warren.
Prosecution changes its mind
Nearly three years after filing the notice to seek the death penalty, the state announced, after reevaluating the case, it would no longer seek the death penalty.
Pictured: Prosecutors Aleathea McRoberts and Dave Aronberg
Keen-Warren's defense attorney, Greg Rosenfeld, says tears in evidence storage bags could have led to contamination, making the evidence unreliable.
When asked about the way evidence was stored, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said, "you're asking a lot of law enforcement to be perfect from 1990 to today … Some of the evidence was kept in an evidence storage area that wasn't ideal … Any mistake, any small opening will be exploited by defense lawyers."
A plea deal
After spending five years in jail awaiting trial, Sheila Keen-Warren accepted a deal. She pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the murder of Marlene Warren.
Because of sentencing guidelines for time served, Keen-Warren is expected to be released in 2025, perhaps sooner.
Although Keen-Warren changed her plea to guilty, she, through her defense attorney, still maintains her innocence. "It was very difficult for her to admit to committing a crime that she did not commit," said Greg Rosenfeld. "The defense can't have it both ways.," says Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, "Even when she gets out of prison … she'll still be a convicted murderer."
Some peace of mind
Thirty-three years after witnessing his mother's murder, and after decades of seeking justice, Ahrens approved the plea deal. While he would have preferred a longer sentence, he finds solace now in memories of his mother Marlene's life, rather than her death.