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Tidings and salutations, bibliophages. Thank you for joining me on True Crime By The Book where every other Tuesday we meet up to talk real crime one page at a time. I’m your host, Tasha Pierce. Since this is the first episode, I want to tell you what to expect- I’m not an investigative journalist. I may have my opinions on unsolved mysteries, but I won’t attempt to solve any crimes on the show. I feel like podcasts have such a broad reach that too much speculation could potentially contaminate a jury pool if these crimes finally DO get a trial. We can definitely discuss current events, but I’ll really try to keep the discussions to the facts of a case. My real focus is cases that have been written about. There’s more than one type of crime, I’d like to read and hopefully recommend books that run the gamut. For the first episode, I could not have chosen a more convoluted tale. Today we cover “Obsessed” by M. William Phelps.
Phelps, an acclaimed and award-winning investigative journalist, is a name you should get used to hearing on the show. He is a staple among true-crime aficionados. According to his author page on Audible, he is a New York Times bestselling author of 40 nonfiction books to date. He has consulted for crime shows on television including season 1 of Dexter. So, in a nutshell, he is definitely about this true crime life!
“Obsessed” was originally published in 2014. I consumed it in audiobook form- it’s roughly 13 hours in length, but honestly, it didn’t feel that long. It was narrated by J. Charles whose cadence was perfect, in my opinion.
Okay, let’s get to the story-First, I’ll give you the Goodreads synopsis and then my summary and thoughts on the actual story.
Sheila Davalloo was young, attractive, and successful. When she started a new job at a cutting-edge research lab in Stamford, Connecticut, she met the man of her dreams. Nelson Sessler had no idea how violently Sheila would react when he began seeing a coworker, Anna Lisa Raymundo. Sheila eliminated her rival in a bloody knife attack–and then turned her rage on another victim she saw as an obstacle to her passions.
So, we already know that Sheila’s unhinged ass murdered Anna Lisa. But, the lead up to the murder is important. Now, I admit that Phelps can get a little “wordy” from time to time but the sheer outrageousness of this story forces you to forgive him when he sways off course. The story takes place in the Greater New York metropolitan area. Stamford, Connecticut is one of the safest cities in the US. In fact, we’re going to be discussing one of its very few murders of 2002. Stamford is home to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. The people involved in this case worked at Purdue Pharma (remember them- they’ll be featured again in a future episode). They earned six-figure salaries and held multiple degrees. Young, bright and educated. So, Sheila Davalloo was a research scientist and was involved in this on again off again love affair with a co-worker named Nelson Sessler. Nelson was living his best bachelor life, which translates into him being a bit of a ladies man. The situationship that they were in finds Sheila being more into him than he was her. That, of course, didn’t stop Sheila. She couldn’t get enough of him- he spent weekends at her place, she hung out at his. Sometimes, he even drove an hour just to walk her dog when she was away. She was spending all her free time with him and doing the absolute most to keep him interested. Except he was. Not. That. Interested. He started to recognize that she was a stage 4 clinger, which caused him to pull away.
Enter Anna Lisa Raymundo, another co-worker who Nelson began cozying up to. She was a Harvard University graduate who went on to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University. She worked at Purdue Pharma with Sheila and Nelson for several years before taking a job at a company in New Jersey approximately a year before the murder. At one point Anna Lisa found out that he was still philandering out there, so she left his ass alone. Then upon losing her, he realized that she was who he needed. Typical shit. Happens all the time, I don’t make the rules I just live by them. Anna Lisa was the type of lady Nelson could see himself settling down with. Naturally, Sheila was more than a little peeved about this development. I’ve been there. Maybe we all can relate to having bouts of jealousy and insecurity when a former love interest moves on. But Sheila’s actions over the following months are incomprehensible. She had an overwhelming need to get Nelson back and it literally CONSUMED her.
Sheila began obsessively talking about an imagined “love triangle” to anyone who would listen. Instead of using their actual identities, she changed the names of her character and Nelson’s character. Anna Lisa remained Anna Lisa. Well, one day she was talking to her husband about it- oh, wait. I didn’t mention that Sheila was married? Well, yeah, she was married. To Paul Christos. Paul is, like everyone else in this story, a high achiever. He graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in business. He later went on to NYMC to get a master’s degree in public health/epidemiology and a second master’s in biostatistics. In 1994, he met his wife-to-be in a study group he ran at NYMC. She was pursuing a master’s in environmental health science at the time. They began to spend time together away from the group which then evolved into dating. They were involved against her strict family’s wishes for a couple of years, but Paul eventually won them over. The two were married in May of 2000. So, I bet you’re wondering if Paul knew about her lover. No. He was absolutely clueless. Because Sheila was sneaky, for one. But- two- she had also convinced Paul that every weekend he needed to remove any indication that he existed from their home and check into a hotel or stay with his parents. She says this was because her “brother”, who is mentally ill, spent weekends with her and he wouldn’t be able to accept that she had married. Now, you and I know that excuse is horse shit. He had to go so she could entertain her boo. Now, just let that sink in. She’s got a husband who endured not being accepted by her family. A husband who would pack up his belongings and leave their home EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND for MONTHS because she wanted to hide her whole marriage from her brother. He did this with no real questions asked (or at least not the right ones), which made me scream “WHY PAUL????” to absolutely no one. He was just a good guy who really loved his wife who really loved Nelson who really loved Anna Lisa who really loved Nelson- in fact, they had gotten quite serious and were discussing marriage.
So anyway, yeah, she was running the tales of the three people involved in the love triangle who worked in her office. A male, Jack, his girlfriend Anna Lisa and the jilted lover “Melissa,” played by Sheila. And Sheila is telling her husband that she gets all the scoop because she’s good friends with Melissa. She believed that Melissa was better for Jack and really wanted to help her win him back. This meant she needed a male point of view. She was constantly asking Paul what advice he could offer Melissa to get the guy. He was intrigued by the story in the beginning, but she literally talked about these people he didn’t know ALL THE TIME. When she wasn’t asking her husband, she’d ask family friends. It was practically all she talked about. When she wasn’t pestering Paul for advice, she was asking to borrow his night-vision goggles so that she and Melissa could go stake out Anna Lisa’s home. Again I asked, “WHY PAUL???” Because Paul, possibly due to being sick of hearing about this love triangle, gave her the goggles. Then this chick ordered a lock picking kit for Melissa. She showed it to her husband and then attempted to pick the lock in their home before realizing the kit didn’t work. In fairness, he grew quite concerned when his wife was considering aiding Melissa in breaking into Anna Lisa’s home. And I’m thinking that at the very least he should have realized that Sheila was getting too invested in this situation even if he didn’t catch on that she was Melissa. Sheila obsessively continued to ask what Melissa should do, until one day Paul told her to encourage Melissa to confront Anna Lisa. The lady had a right to know that her fiance was seeing another woman. So, finally hearing something she wanted to hear, Sheila thought this was a great idea.
On Nov. 8, 2002, an unidentified woman called the police to report that her neighbor was being attacked by a man. The neighbor provided an incorrect address before finally getting it right. The call was traced to a nearby restaurant’s payphone. Upon getting to the scene, law enforcement found a badly beaten and bloodied Anna Lisa Raymundo. It appeared that an epic and prolonged battle had taken place- evidenced by overturned furniture and plants that seemed to go on throughout the home. She had put up one hell of a fight against her attacker. I won’t get too descriptive about the injuries she sustained. Just understand that the attack was brutal. Anna Lisa had been stabbed nine times about the head, neck, and face and struck about the head. Apparently, the killer also injured themselves in the frenzied attack. The person had taken the time to wash the victim’s blood off of them in a bathroom sink. Unbeknownst to the perpetrator, a tiny smear of their own blood was left on the faucet handle. After studying the crime scene, the detectives began to talk to the family and friends of Anna Lisa- including her fiance, Nelson. Who would want to do this to her? The attack was very personal- the wounds were aimed at her face. They also wondered if the DNA from the smear of blood would point at Anna Lisa’s killer. Let’s talk a little more about the victim so we can get a better idea of what the world lost when she was taken from it:
Anna-Lisa was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Sept.11, 1970. The daughter of Drs. Renato and Susan Ramos Raymundo. She had two siblings- a brother and a sister. Anna set everything aside if anyone in her family had issues. She was considered thoughtful and unselfish. She was described by her family and friends as highly intelligent and a bright star. She was the type to set a goal and ACHIEVE it. She had very little use for small-minded people or their opinions. She embraced life- had fun with friends at various events, danced, read, cooked. Loved. And she still found time to knit.
She was devoted to her circle and was quite reliable. When she said she would do something, she could be counted on to do just that. That’s why it was odd to her mother that she didn’t get a promised phone call. When that call didn’t come as expected, Mrs. Raymundo tried calling her daughter. When there was no answer, a sense of dread overcame her. Anna worked from home on Friday’s, and TODAY was Friday. She was usually at home all day and would most definitely answer a call from her parents. Mrs. Raymundo felt as if something was wrong When the horrible news was delivered, she experienced a mother’s worst nightmare. Anna Lisa had been taken from her family under vicious circumstances. She was only 32 years old.
After headlines broke about Anna Lisa’s savage murder, Sheila reached out to Nelson. He was grieving, but she let him know that she was there if he needed her. Believe it or not, a few months later, Nelson and Sheila began hooking up again. With Anna Lisa gone, he fell back into the arms of a familiar lover and by most accounts, things were going well. Things were going so well, Sheila began to think of the future. She knew that there could really be no future with Nelson as long as she was married to Paul. Getting a divorce was not an option- see, Paul was her SECOND husband. She cheated on her first husband with Paul. Imagine the shock when Paul learned that this girl that he loved was actually MARRIED. The first husband reached out to Paul when he found out his wife was seeing him and divorced her shortly after. This was why the Davalloo family wasn’t accepting of Paul at the beginning of his and Sheila’s relationship. They saw him as a homewrecker! Paul and Sheila briefly separated, but true love prevailed and they were wed.
Sheila’s family was of Iranian heritage and wasn’t happy about the first failed marriage. They would definitely frown upon another divorce. She certainly couldn’t live with that. She had to get rid of Paul.
Before I go on, I have to say that I felt like Paul was really living with blinders on. Anna Lisa’s murder was a HUGE story. I remind you that Stamford had an extremely low crime rate, then and now. Still, it took some time before Paul heard about the murder, more time to realize that the victim had once worked with his wife, and even MORE time to ask his wife if she was THAT Anna Lisa! Then he believed whatever lies she told him (I really wish I could remember what the lie even WAS), even though she is a KNOWN liar and CHEATER. If she’d cheat with you she’d probably cheat on you. Those are the rules! I just know I thought to myself- Okay, 1-she stopped talking about this dumb love triangle after the murder, 2- THE VICTIM’S NAME IS ANNA LISA, and 3- her lies REALLY ARE BAD! But anywho-
This lady first tried to cause Paul to have a heart attack by having him OD on ephedrine- TWICE. Ephedra can cause a quickened heartbeat and elevated blood pressure. Side effects include heart palpitations, nausea, and vomiting. More than 800 dangerous reactions have been reported with use of the herb. These include heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and sudden deaths. After experiencing adverse reactions to what she told him were “supplements”, he wouldn’t take any more. So, on March 23, 2003, Sheila got more creative. She introduced a “game” to him. The rules of the game were simple: Player one handcuffs and blindfolds player two, rounds up household objects and rubs them on player two’s body. Player two must guess the object. Then they switch places and player one is bound and must guess. “WHY PAUL?????” Well, Sheila is bound first and for this to be her idea she really sucks at the game. Then she binds Paul and blindfolds him- after a couple of easy entries, the third item feels like a slam to his chest leaving him in agonizing pain. He didn’t know that his wife had stabbed him- twice!
Sheila tried to convince him she had injured him by accident. While Paul wasn’t sure exactly what had occurred, he knew he needed medical attention, so he asked his wife to call 911. Initially, she refused to get help. Then, she pretended to call 911 but told Paul the line was busy and said she was unable to get through to anyone. She fake called again, this time pretending to give a dispatcher their info. Then, she leaves the room and calls Nelson. According to him, she wanted him to come by her home for dinner later. Imagine how brazen a person has to be to call her lover while she waits for her husband to bleed to death. I’m not sure how she would think that would even be possible. I mean, Paul has a family and friends who would definitely want to rally around his wife in the light of this terrible tragedy. How would she explain her BOYFRIEND being at her home in the midst of all of this?
After some time, the ambulance still didn’t show specifically because Sheila never called one. There was no way Paul could know that. One thing he did know was he desperately needed medical help so he convinced her to drive him to a nearby hospital. She took the scenic route, even pretending she didn’t know where the ER was (although her mom worked at this very hospital for almost two decades). When they finally arrived at the Westchester County Hospital, instead of taking Paul straight to the emergency room for treatment, Sheila stopped her car in an isolated part of the parking lot and attacked her husband once more, stabbing him in the chest. After it dawned on him that this woman he loved wanted him DEAD, they fought over the knife. He wrestled it from her and threw it beyond her reach. He finally was able to summon help from a bystander who saw what was happening. Paul was taken into the emergency room where life-saving open heart surgery was performed.
Anna attempted to flee, but her husband and the witnesses identified to police that she was the attacker. She was apprehended and taken to the police station to be questioned and later charged with attempted murder. During her questioning, Sheila had insisted that she did make every attempt to get help for Paul. This was easily disputed by investigators when they checked her phone. But what was interesting was the call she DID make as her husband lay bleeding and in pain. The number she dialed belonged to Nelson Sessler- who happened to be the former fiance of Anna Lisa Raymundo, whose murder was currently UNSOLVED. Police had to get to Nelson- this case could very well provide a motive and suspect for Anna Lisa’s killing. Did Anna Lisa die at the hands of her fiance so he and Sheila could come out of the shadows?
We know that’s not the case. Now, it’s time to let Nelson in on what really happened to the woman he was poised to marry. When Nelson was questioned by police he had to be the person with the LEAST amount of answers in the room. Yes- he spoke to Sheila that night, they were having dinner later. What did the police mean by Sheila’s husband? The Sheila he knew wasn’t married. They were seriously telling him that Sheila STABBED her husband then invited him to dinner. The whole thing didn’t make sense (and probably never would until the case went to trial). But the one thing that everyone suspected was that maybe they’d found their killer!
Sheila would go to trial for the attempted murder of her husband in February 2004. She opted for a bench trial. Her defense argued that she was emotionally disturbed at the time of the incident and didn’t intend to injure Paul- much less kill him. Prosecutors said she most certainly did intend to kill him- she stabbed him twice in their home, stalled when he needed medical assistance and then stabbed him AGAIN in the car. She was a woman who had a goal in sight and, to her, Paul was just another obstacle to get over. The judge agreed with the prosecution and handed down a 25-year sentence for her vicious attack on Paul.
With Sheila locked up, it would still be some time before investigators had enough evidence to charge her with the murder of Anna Lisa Raymundo. They had that small smear of blood that turned out to match Sheila, but the DA wanted a case that was as airtight as possible. They finally had the preponderance of evidence that the DA needed, and Sheila was charged with first-degree murder in November of 2007.
Almost 5 years later, in 2012, the trial began. This time around, Sheila decided to put her fate in the hands of a jury. She also chose to represent herself, which is absolutely batshit. It’s also classic narcissism. She put on quite a display for the jurors, too. She staged (my opinion) an emotional breakdown while she questioned her now ex-husband. His testimony was interrupted and she was unable to finish her cross-examination. When she questioned her former lover Nelson Sessler she tried to get him to admit to leaving work and having injuries the day that Anna Lisa was killed to turn him into an alternate suspect. She took shots at the victim by saying that Anna Lisa outweighed her, which would give HER the advantage in a fight. But these were rookie moves and weren’t supported by any evidence- nor did her arguments lead to reasonable doubt. The skilled prosecution presented the DNA evidence (which is literally checkmate), along with her incessant stories about the love triangle, the stakeouts of Anna Lisa’s home, her attack on Paul, her duplicitous nature, the fact that she wasn’t at work at the time of the killing AND-
A 911 call that voice experts say matched her voice by 68%. Yes, remember the call placed by the “neighbor” of Anna Lisa? That was allegedly Sheila. She had attempted to steer the direction of the investigation by reporting that Anna Lisa was being attacked by a male. Because 911 calls are NEVER EVER recorded, right? A juror said they literally tossed that expert testimony out because they didn’t trust the science. But they HEARD the 911 call and Sheila’s voice for 2 and a half weeks. They trusted their ears on that one.
Sheila attempted to bob and weave the accusations and evidence but she was ill-equipped for the avalanche of a case that had been formed against her. The evidence presented indicated that she was not only obsessed with Nelson, but she also was very fixated on Anna Lisa as well. Anna Lisa probably NEVER even thought about Sheila, but Sheila’s whole life revolved around her. The DNA proved that she was at the crime scene and BLEEDING. There was only one reason for her blood to be on the victim’s faucet handle. The 911 tape was really just icing on the proverbial cake. Case closed. Anna Lisa and her loved ones finally received justice when the jury returned a guilty verdict. Unanimously. On the first vote.
Had she just divorced Paul instead of trying to kill him, she may have very well gotten away with murder. Instead, ten years after the crime, Sheila Davalloo was sentenced to 50 years in prison, to be served AFTER her 25-year sentence for Paul’s attack. She is currently 50 years old and will likely die in prison. She is serving her sentence at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York. Her scheduled release date is in 2079.
I know I went over the story in what may seem like a lot of detail, but trust me when I say there is far more to this book. I do recommend Obsessed to anyone who would like to really get into the nitty-gritty of the investigation and trial. There are also a lot of details that I didn’t share for the sake of time. There’s also Sheila’s therapy sessions that you have to hear for yourselves. After listening to this book, I couldn’t help but mourn for everyone affected by these crimes. I also wondered what, if anything, could have been done to prevent Anna Lisa’s murder. How could she know that a person she really wasn’t acquainted with was stalking her? I wonder if anyone looks back and remembers when Sheila started going off the rails. How does one have all these balls in the air without dropping one? It solidified my belief that ANYONE can be deluded- no matter how educated or attractive. Insecurity is a mofo. Sheila is where she belongs, but look at what it cost.
And that is M William Phelps’ Obsession. I’ll see you in two weeks when we discuss The Setup by Pete Crooks. If you have feedback, comments, or book suggestions, I’ll direct you to my email TCbyTB@gmail.com. Please subscribe to True Crime By The Book on Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, Google Podcasts, and many other podcatchers and share the show with a friend. I would also appreciate ratings and reviews on your platform of choice. Thanks for listening. Later bookworms!