WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Shelia Warren was dressed as a clown one Saturday morning in the summer of 1990 when she fatally shot her now-husband's wife at the couple's South Florida home, a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office detective said Thursday.
Warren, 54, was arrested Tuesday in Washington County, Virginia. She is charged with first-degree murder in the May 26, 1990, shooting of Wellington resident Marlene Warren.
"Marlene answered the front door and the clown had two balloons, as well as a bouquet of flowers, and went to hand Marlene those items," lead Detective Paige McCann told reporters Thursday morning at a news conference.
The Wellington woman, who had been eating breakfast with her then-22-year-old son and several of his friends, was surprised.
"How nice," she commented.
That would be the last thing Marlene Warren ever said.
"It was at that time that the clown pulled out a gun and shot Marlene in the face," McCann said.
The clown then calmly walked back to the white Chrysler LeBaron in which she had arrived and drove away.
Marlene Warren died at a hospital two days later.
Investigators had long considered Sheila Warren to be a suspect in the shooting, but they spent 27 years building their case.
"You get, basically, one shot," McCann said. "If you roll that dice and you take that chance and she's found not guilty, then she never can be charged again, so sometimes just patience is the best."
It had been rumored that Sheila Warren and the victim's husband were having an affair.
Sheila Warren -- 26 at the time and then known as Sheila Keen -- eventually married Michael Warren in 2002 and the couple moved to Tennessee, where they operated a restaurant.
Investigators haven't disclosed if Marlene Warren was aware of the alleged liaison. But even if she had known, she had no reason to be suspicious of the clown who came to her door in the upscale Aero Club community that morning.
"One balloon said, 'You are the Greatest' and the other one, I believe, was a Snow White balloon," McCann told reporters.
Homicide investigators reopened the unsolved case in 2014, re-interviewing witnesses and collecting new DNA evidence.
Detectives learned that the balloons and floral arrangement had been purchased at a Publix near the suspect's apartment that same day.
Then there was the car.
"The Chrysler LeBaron was a rental car from a Payless rent-a-car, which was a different business from Mike Warren's business, which was Bargain Motors," McCann said. "The people who had rented the car had seen an ad in the newspaper and they went to try to return the car early. Michael Warren's business had Payless in his ad as well, so the people became confused and called the number, thinking that it was Payless, but it was actually Bargain Motors."
An employee at Bargain Motors told them to leave the car with the keys.
"They did so, and that's when Michael Warren and Sheila Keen-Warren and another individual went and picked up the car," McCann said.
A Palm Beach County grand jury was presented the evidence in August and returned an indictment against Sheila Warren, leading to her arrest.
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said modern technology, which is "exponentially so much better" than it was in 1990, aided detectives in linking Sheila Warren to the crime.
"There's one thing to think somebody did something. There's another thing to know that they did it and be able to prove it in court," Bradshaw said. "We want to make sure we got the right person."
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said Sheila Warren could potentially face the death penalty, but a decision won't be made until after she returns to South Florida.
Investigators haven't said whether Michael Warren will face charges. He was traveling home with his wife when they were stopped and she was taken into custody.