CHICAGO — His wife described him as a good man _ when he was clean and sober _ and his attorney said he was a model client who showed up at a recent court appearance dressed in a suit and tie.
Nicholas T. Sheley had had several brushes with the law and spent time in jail, but never for anything like the grisly crimes for which he is now suspected.
On Wednesday, a day after his arrest outside a bar in southwestern Illinois following a multistate manhunt, Sheley appeared via a video feed from jail in Madison County Court. Judge Edward Ferguson read Sheley the charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery and vehicular hijacking he faces in Knox County for the beating death of 65-year-old Ronald Randall. Randall's body was found Monday behind a grocery store in Galesburg.
Authorities believe Sheley, 28, killed seven other people in the past week, including a 93-year-old man from Sheley's hometown, Sterling, whose body was found stuffed in the trunk of a car last Thursday; two men, a woman and 2-year-old child, whose remains were discovered Monday in an apartment in nearby Rock Falls; and a couple whose bodies were found Monday behind a gas station in a Missouri suburb of St. Louis.
Authorities say evidence links Sheley to each of the scenes.
There was violence in Sheley's past _ a conviction for aggravated robbery and allegations he held a knife to the throat of a drug dealer and shot at a man during another home invasion.
But the brutal nature of the killings _ all were killed up close with a blunt object _ has left authorities searching for a motive.
Sheley's uncle said his nephew recently struggled with drugs, including crack cocaine. And the FBI said they believe Kelly stopped in Chicago during the past week looking to buy drugs.
Although authorities said Wednesday that Sheley didn't have drugs on him when he was arrested, they said they're not ruling it out as a possible reason behind the alleged killing spree.
"In this day and age drugs are always involved (but) at this point we've got no way of knowing if he was high or not," said Ron Potthoff, the police chief in Sterling, where Sheley was well known to law enforcement.
Less than two years ago, he allegedly stole six bags of cocaine from a drug dealer at knifepoint in Rock Falls. Police say after Sheley stole the drugs and left, men remaining in the house argued over the theft, leading to the fatal beating of the homeowner by two men.
Sheley was charged with armed robbery, home invasion and aggravated battery. But charges were dropped when a witness couldn't be found to testify.
Sheley's wife, Holly, told Sauk Valley Newspapers that her husband was a good man _ when he was clean and sober.
"This is not Nick," she told the newspaper after authorities sought Sheley in connection with the first killing. "Without drugs, without alcohol, Nick is kindhearted. He's caring. He has respect for people."
Attorney James Mertes said Sheley was a model client in the years he represented him, including in a pending home invasion case.
"Nick would appear for court in a suit and tie and he was always appropriate and well behaved in court," Mertes said. He declined to talk about Sheley's alleged drug use.
Among the crimes Sheley is accused of is a June 14 home invasion in which authorities say he became "somewhat physical" with a 90-year-old woman, stole money and forced her to write checks. But the woman's injuries weren't serious enough to warrant medical attention, police said.
Sheley was arrested Tuesday night without incident while smoking outside a bar in Granite City, an Illinois community about 10 miles north of St. Louis.
An employee recognized Sheley from the pictures circulated by the media, and a customer notified a police officer parked outside the bar.
On Wednesday, Sheley was led out of the Granite City police department in an orange jumpsuit, leg shackles and pink handcuffs. He didn't respond to shouted questions from reporters before being driven to the Madison County Jail in nearby Edwardsville.
Sheley appeared in court via a video feed from the Madison County Jail hours later. Ferguson ordered him held there until Knox County authorities can pick him up.
Meanwhile, in western Illinois' Whiteside County, authorities issued a warrant for Sheley's arrest for the murder of 93-year-old Russell Reed in Sterling and issued a $10 million bond.
He has not been charged in the six other slayings, including those of Jill and Tom Estes, a Sherwood, Ark., whose bodies were found behind a gas station in Festus, Mo., after their blood soaked dogs were seen roaming a motel parking lot.
Police say the body of Reed, the first of the eight killed, was found stuffed into the trunk of a car Thursday.
On Monday, police discovered the bodies of two men, a woman and a child in an apartment in Rock Falls. Investigators believe they likely died late Saturday or early Sunday.
Sheley was acquainted with the male victims, Brock Branson, 29, and Kenneth Ulve Jr., 25, who were both from Rock Falls, said Illinois State Police Region Two Commander Mark Maton. The Whiteside County coroner identified the remaining victims as Kilynna Blake, 20, and Dayan Blake, 2, both of Cedar City, Utah.
Associated Press writers Jim Suhr in Granite City and Ashley M. Heher in Chicago contributed to this report.