Delayed Discovery

Police received reports of hidden body months before recovery

By Ryan Lowery | June 25, 2020

The horrific smell coming from the structure was obvious, even from the outskirts of the property. Trash, furniture and other debris cluttered the lawn and prompted someone living in the west side neighborhood to contact the city about the mess.

Two enforcement service specialists — city employees who assist with animal control and code enforcement violations — arrived at an appalling scene. Flies, maggots and an “unbearable smell” awaited them inside a squat stucco building on the property, according to reports filed by ESS officers.

They explored the building where the repugnant odor was strong and distinct, and an initial assessment was that an animal might have died inside one of the walls.

One of the ESS officers wasn’t convinced the smell was a decaying animal, though. Something about the situation, and the condition of the house — which had been emptied of all its contents — led him to believe something more ominous had taken place. He contacted dispatch and requested that Las Vegas Police come to the house.

An LVPD sergeant and an ESS officer searched the building together, and in a bathroom, hidden beneath the floorboards, they discovered the body of 42-year-old Shana Storey, a Las Vegas woman who’d been missing for months.

Problem property

Storey’s body was located May 6 inside a small building on a piece of land sandwiched between Romero Street and Salazar Street. It wasn’t the first time LVPD was called to the property, though. It wasn’t even the first time police had responded to calls about a possible body being on the property.

LVPD officers were dispatched to the property seven times between Jan. 21 and May 6, according to calls for service reports and police dispatch audio obtained  through a records request.

Storey disappeared Jan. 18, and three days later, a woman called police to report that a neighbor had told her a dead body was inside a building on the Romero Street property, according to LVPD call sheet reports. Two officers responded around 3 p.m., but left the property after about 20 minutes, records show.

An officer followed up with the call around 5:30 p.m. Feb. 4, spending 1 minute and 31 seconds on the property, according to the call sheet report. The officer didn’t locate anyone on the property, and the door was “padlocked from the outside,” according to dispatch audio recordings.

Three officers responded to the address around 9 p.m. Feb. 10 after a 911 caller reported that the body of Shana Storey might be under the floorboards of the building. Officers found the door to the building unlocked, but after 19 minutes, they weren’t able to locate anyone living on the property and left the area.

Las Vegas City Police Department, Las Vegas, New Mexico

Just before noon on Feb. 18, a woman called police to report someone removing carpeting from the building. Three officers responded, and this time, officers were able to speak to the owner of the property. According to a call sheet report, after about 9 minutes at the property, officers determined that clothing, not carpet, was being removed from the building; however, according to police dispatch audio recordings, an officer leaving the home said “it was just carpet.” No report was filed.

Later that day, police were again called to the address, this time around 8:30 p.m., about an “unwanted” man in the house. After making contact with the person who called police, officers determined it was a “landlord-tenant dispute,” according to dispatch audio recordings. Officers left the area after being there about 14 minutes.

Officers were at the property again around 1:45 a.m. on May 3 after someone called police for a welfare check on the owner of the property, who was sleeping in a truck. Police located the man asleep in his truck, and after 9 minutes at the property, police determined the man was OK and left.

May 6

Two enforcement service specialists were dispatched to the property on Romero Street around 2:30 p.m. to inspect the furniture and other debris that had been stacked in a tall pile in the yard, according to reports filed by the officers.

The ESS officers smelled the foul odor almost instantly.

“I was overtook by a strong odor of something deceased as we approached,” one ESS officer wrote in a report.

The door to the stucco building wasn’t locked this time. In fact, ESS officers found the door wide open.

After making contact with the owner, ESS officers were granted permission to enter the structure. The deeper into the building they walked, the stronger the odor became.

“We began to focus on (the) floor just left of the side-entrance door that was swarming with flies,” an ESS officer wrote. “We noticed evidence of a hole that was being dug as there were markings from a shovel.” The property owner said he wasn’t aware of the hole.

As they walked deeper into the building, the strong odor was difficult to ignore. They searched for the source of the smell, and entered a kitchen. To the left was a bedroom, and directly off the bedroom was a bathroom. The toilet was filled with human waste, but officers were sure it wasn’t the source of the smell. The odor was too distinct, too strong.

More flies swarmed by a wall near the bathroom. ESS officers theorized that a dead rodent could be decaying inside the wall. The owner promised to have the issue looked into soon.

The longer they were inside the building, the more unbearable the smell became.

In the fresh air outside, the officers discussed the “horrific smell,” as one of them described it. Something wasn’t right. It had to be more than a rodent in a wall. That’s when ESS officers contacted dispatch and requested an LVPD officer.

A police sergeant arrived and entered the home with one of the ESS officers, the owner of the property and a man identified as his son-in-law.

Within minutes, all of them exited the house coughing and gagging, according to a report filed by an ESS officer.

An active crime scene

Police described the building on Romero Street as an “abandoned home,” finding only a mattress inside. Officers also noted that “all other items that were once inside were thrown and piled on the property,” according to an LVPD incident report obtained through a records request.

By the time police arrived, the owner of the property and his son-in-law had been joined by two women described as the property owner’s daughters.

The owner told police there was a trap door in the bathroom, according to an LVPD incident report. Officers pried the flooring open, and underneath they located “a blue tarp and a brown blanket which appeared to have something wrapped inside,” one officer wrote in an incident report.

The tarp was also wrapped in wire, possibly fencing material. Once police removed the wire and tarp, they discovered Storey’s body.

The Office of the Medical Investigator arrived around 5:30 p.m. Investigators examined her body, which “appeared to have a plastic bag wrapped around the head,” according to an incident report.

Details remain elusive

Storey was reported missing Jan. 18. She’d just been released from the San Miguel County Detention Center where she’d spent 11 days because she could not pay court fees related to misdemeanor traffic violations.

On Jan. 27, LVPD notified the Las Vegas Optic that the department was investigating her disappearance as a missing person case. The Optic published an article about her disappearance online Jan. 28, and in print Jan. 29.

In the weeks afterward, LVPD was contacted for updates on the case, but either provided no response or said there were no updates. In fact, Chief of Police David Bibb was contacted on May 6 — the day Storey’s body was discovered — about an update on her case. On May 8, Bibb said via email that the case was still “being worked as a missing person case.”

When asked for a more detailed update, Bibb wrote: “The investigators have followed several leads, but so far nothing has panned out.”

On May 25, Storey’s family members notified the Optic that she had been declared deceased. Chief Bibb was again contacted.

“Officers from Las Vegas Police conducted a search of the residence and found the body of a deceased female, who was later identified by the Office of the Medical Investigator, as Shana Storey,” Bibb wrote in a May 26 email.

When asked if Storey’s death was being investigated as a homicide, Bibb replied, “Presently, no. The investigators are still waiting for a cause of death and toxicology report from OMI.”

LVPD did not respond to requests made this week seeking an update in the case. To date, LVPD has not named any suspects, and no one has been charged in connection with Storey’s disappearance, death or the discovery of her body.