ISU student charged in double homicide

Atiba Spellman

Atiba Spellman

Dylan Boyle and Bethany Pint — S

Atiba A. Spellman, 33-year-old sophomore in computer engineering, was arrested Monday and charged with two counts of first degree murder in connection with Saturday’s double homicide.

The bodies of Shakena “Amy” Varnell, 34, of 415 Garden Road, and Michael Odikro, 32, of 1103 Pinon Drive #2, were found on the 1100 block of Pinon Drive in the early morning hours of Saturday. Until the arrest, Spellman had been identified only as a person of interest in the case.

Spellman was arrested in Pikeville, N.C., Monday afternoon and is being held on a $2 million bond in the Wayne County Jail in North Carolina.

“As a result of numerous interviews and other investigative techniques, we were able to track Spellman to the North Carolina area,” said Jim Robinson, Ames Police Department investigations commander.

However, Robinson wouldn’t elaborate on the specifics of the investigation.

“During the course of the investigation we were able to develop additional information that allowed the [Story] County Attorney’s office to decide to have charges filed and an arrest warrant issued,” he said.

Kinte Varnell, Shakena’s first cousin, said Spellman told Shakena’s uncle and one of her cousins that he was going to hurt Odikro.

“My uncle tried to talk him out of it, but he promised my uncle, he said, ‘I promise you, I swear, I promise you, I will not touch Amy, but I’m going to kill Michael,’” Kinte said.

 But after the homicide was reported early Saturday morning, Kinte said Spellman called Shakena’s grandmother and uncle and said he did not do it.

“He’s been calling people and trying to say he didn’t do it,” Kinte said. “He’s been connecting with people. He’ll talk for a few minutes and turn the phone off and when you try to call back, it’ll go straight to voicemail.”

Robinson would not confirm whether Spellman was in contact with Shakena’s family at any point.

According to court records, Shakena and Spellman were involved in several domestic abuse cases and Shakena had several protective orders filed against Spellman. Kinte said the two began dating in 2000 and had had a troubled relationship.

“They had a relationship that, I’m sure the whole city knew, it was up and down,” Kinte said. “I felt he was a jealous man, you know, I felt that’s the reason why this happened, because he was a jealous man and she was ready to move on. But he felt that this was how it was going to be… He told family members that he was going to hurt Michael.”

Robinson said a motive has not yet been determined, but he said he hopes to talk to Spellman regarding the homicides.

“We’re not discounting anything,” he said. “We realize that there had been a domestic relationship between the two at some point. We are still trying to determine what their relationship was leading up to the time that the victim [Shakena] was killed.”

Robinson said the public provided valuable information that led to Spellman’s arrest but wouldn’t elaborate on whether family members assisted in locating Spellman or in providing information that led to the charges filed against him.

Robinson said he wasn’t sure when Spellman would return to Iowa, if at all.

“That’s something that will be worked out through the legal system, so it depends on what he decides to do,” he said. “Whether he would fight extradition or not, again, this will be something that will be worked on through the Story County Attorney’s office in regards to his return to our jurisdiction.”

Robinson said he isn’t sure of the relationship between Varnell and Odikro.

“They were acquaintances,” he said. “At this point, we don’t know what their relationship was, between the two of them, but we would be very interested in knowing what their activities were throughout the evening hours leading up to the assault.”

Robinson said the police are now trying to develop a timeline of the victims on Friday, the night before the homicides. Those with information are asked to contact the Ames police station at 515-239-5133.

Double homicides rare in Ames

Jim Robinson, Ames Police Department investigations commander, said the double homicide Saturday was the second one he has seen in the 30 years he’s been with the department.

He said the first occurred in the 1980s, when two young boys died in an arson-set fire.

A story from the Daily reported that this arson occurred in 1986 when ISU computer science graduate student Dale Royer forced his way into the home of ISU professor Deepinder Sidhu, cut the telephone wires, poured diesel fuel on the living room floor and ignited it. Sidhu’s 7-year-old son, Ravinder, and 12-year-old son, Harjit, later died of smoke inhalation.

Royer had been angry with Sidhu because he had given him an incomplete grade.

Royer was sentenced to two life sentences with no chance of parole and an extra 25 years for an arson charge.