Vicious killer Shelly Knotek tortured and murdered her lodgers inspiring ‘If You Tell’ book

Mugshot of Shelly Knotek
Shelly Knotek abused, tortured, and murdered her vulnerable lodgers at her Washington farmhouse. Pic credit: WA Dept. of Corrections

Michelle “Shelly” Knotek and her husband, David Knotek, tortured and murdered at least three people in their farmhouse near the picturesque town of Raymond in Pacific County, Washington. Their crimes inspired Gregg Olsen’s book, It You Tell.

Shelly and David, parents to three daughters, preyed on individuals who were vulnerable and down on their luck. They offered them a place to stay and would initially shower them with kindness.

However, over time the twisted couple would begin degrading and humiliating their victims. This abuse would then move on to violence and eventually murder.

When the couple was not abusing their lodgers, they were also tormenting their three daughters, Nikki, Sami, and Tori. It was their children who eventually turned Shelly and David over to the police.

The community generally saw David Knotek as an affable, friendly, and helpful guy. However, Shelly was known locally as “Crazy Shelly.” Family and friends described her as volatile, violent, and schizophrenic, with a talent for manipulating vulnerable people.

Shelly and David tortured and murdered Katy Loreno, Shane Watson, and Ronald Woodworth and have been implicated but not charged in the death of James McClintock. While David participated in these horrendous crimes, Shelly is regarded as being the ringleader.

Michelle ‘Shelly’ Knotek: Kathy Loreno was first murder victim

Kathy Loreno was an old friend of Shelly’s who moved into the Knotek farmhouse after a falling out with her family. At first, Shelly showered the new lodger with kindness, but this soon flipped to a constant pattern of degradation and humiliation.

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Shelly routinely abused Kathy, forced her to work naked, withheld food, and randomly beat and tortured her. Kathy was beaten, slapped, dragged across the ground, poisoned, and forced to ingest prescription medications.

David constructed a water-boarding contraption to help torture the young woman. The twisted couple would also tie up their captive and pour bleach onto open wounds.

Finally, in July 1994, 36-year-old Kathy succumbed to her wounds while locked in the boiler room. David would later say she choked on her own vomit. He also admitted they didn’t take Kathy to a hospital because they knew their abuse would be revealed.

By the end of her life, Kathy had lost 100 pounds, her hair and teeth had fallen out, and she could not walk or talk properly.

David disposed of Kathy’s remains by burning her body and scattering her ashes into the Pacific Ocean. Kathy had endured approximately five years of unprovoked humiliation and torture before she died.

When Kathy’s family reported her missing, the police questioned Shelly and David. The couple concocted a story claiming their victim had run off to California with a truck driver. They also forged letters supposedly from Kathy to convince her family she was still alive.

Shelly’s daughters later recounted how the whole family was gathered together after Kathy’s murder when Shelly told them, “All of us will be in jail if anyone finds out what happened to Kathy.”

Michelle Knotek’s next victims: Shane Watson and Ronald Woodworth

The couple’s second victim was 19-year-old Shane Watson, a nephew of Shelly, who also came to live at the farmhouse and was subjected to similar abuse. He reportedly angered Shelly by taking photographs of Kathy’s injuries. David shot Shane with a .22 caliber rifle, and his ashes were scattered on the same beach as Kathy’s.

Shane’s disappearance was covered up with a story that he had run away to Alaska to work on a fishing boat.

The twisted couple’s third victim was 57-year-old Ronald “Woody” Woodworth. In October 2001, Ronald was down on his luck and had lost his home, causing the war veteran to accept an offer from Shelly to come live at their house of horrors.

Soon after Ronald moved in, he was subjected to the exact same abuse and torture as Kathy. His health rapidly deteriorated, and he passed away sometime between the end of 2001 and August 2003.

Witnesses later spoke about seeing Ronald forced to work outside naked. He was also forced to jump off the two-story house onto gravel, causing broken bones and lacerations.

David later told the cops that Shelly had phoned him at work to say Ronald had committed suicide. He buried Ronald’s remains in the backyard later that evening.

Shelly and David Knotek suspected in James McClintock death

There was a fourth possible victim, 81-year-old James McClintock died under suspicious circumstances in February 2002. In September 2001, James hired Shelly to look after him on certain occasions. A few months later, he died from a blunt impact blow to the head.

James had previously injured himself falling from his motorized wheelchair, and the authorities deemed it possible his death resulted from another fall. But ultimately, his cause of death was classed as unknown.

In his will, the pensioner had left his $137,000 house to his faithful labrador Sissy, writing that the dog was a “wonderful pet, who has been a faithful companion and friend for many years.” However, when the dog died, the house was to be inherited by Shelly.

Shelly told the authorities that the dog had died in 2002. After the Knotek’s arrest, Sissy was found alive and well, along with five other dogs, four kittens, a rabbit, and a bird at the farmhouse. Ironically, the pets were all found to be happy, well-fed, and cared-for animals. It seems the couple’s cruelty didn’t extend to their pets.

Knotek sisters turned in their parents to the police

Shelly and David Knotek were finally arrested in 2003 after their daughters contacted police to say their parents had been torturing and killing people in their home for years. The trio had got together in Seattle, where Nikki had moved to, and they agreed that their mother needed “to be stopped.”

The cops searched the farmhouse and surrounding land, where they found Ronald’s remains. Shelly and David were arrested on August 8, 2003.

Mugshots of Michelle and David Knotek
Michelle and David Knotek took Alford pleas. Pic credit: WA Dept. of Corrections

Crazy Shelly was initially charged with the first-degree murders of Kathy Loreno and Ronald Woodworth. However, she eventually entered an Alford plea and was convicted of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

An Alford plea meant she was allowed to maintain her innocence but had to accept that the prosecution would likely win a conviction in court. She was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

David Knotek pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing his nephew Shane Watson and was sentenced to just under 15 years. He was released in 2016 after serving 13 years.

On November 8, 2022, Shelly was released on parole. She had served just over 19 years. At the time, there were reports of anger and dismay that she had been released. It’s unknown where Shelly went on her release, but it is unlikely she returned to Pacific County. She is thought to be in poor health.

‘If You Tell:’ Shelly Knotek book documents her crimes

At the time of their mother’s release, the couple’s daughters reached out to author Gregg Olsen to write a book about their mother’s crimes to warn the public.

Olsen penned a book called If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood, which documented the pain and suffering caused by Shelly Knotek. The sisters say they hope their mother can never kill again.

Shelly’s daughter Sami said, “If she ever turns up on my doorstep. I can just see myself locking all my doors and barricading myself in the bathroom to call the police.”

David reached out to his daughters, asking for forgiveness. Sami and Tori forgave him, but Nikki said the years of abuse were unforgettable and unforgivable.

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