Shelby Duis
March 29, 1997 - January 4, 2000
Find A Grave Memorial

I'm kind of starting this story more towards the end, though I am not sure WHY I am doing that. State child abuse investigators in the case of Shelby Duis were partly to blame for the death of this beautiful little Angel, at least in the eyes of Iowa's Citizen's Aid/Ombudmans who said that their response to the complaints about her abuse were not appropriate. However, Citizen's Aid/Ombudsman Will Angrick, after investigating for ten months, stated that he could not draw any conclusions as for if Shelby's life could have been saved:

"I think there could have been a more thorough and timely responses to some of the calls"

Findings in his report state concerns with DHS policy as well as the action of the workers who were involved in Shelby's case, workers could have spoken to people who were not the ones reporting the abuse and they could have gone to the home to check Shelby and find out the explanations for the injuries she had. In all, 23 recommendations were being addressed about the problems he found in his investigation. Of course actions were being taken to make improvements in the system, but of course, as we see all too often, those changes are not in time to save as many lives as are needed to be saved.

Also being faulted with part of the blame was Doctor Thomas Kalkhoff who faced charges of failing to report suspected child abuse. On January 3, 2000, this "doctor" treated Shelby for sores on her bottom, bruising on both of her eyes as well as her forehead and lesions on her genitals and under her chin. It was reported that Thomas knew that his partner had reported some concerns for abuse when he had treated Shelby in October of 1999 when she had many bruises and a broken hand. It was also reported that Shelby's "mother", Heidi Watkins, told Thomas that there had been reports against her in the past, for child abuse. Heidi told Thomas that Shelby was not an abused child, that she just bruised easily and he gave her some cream to treat her injuries and then ordered some tests to be performed the next day. Unfortunately, the next day, Shelby died from the abuse she was suffering.

So what ever happened to Thomas? Thomas "agreed" to complete a course in child abuse recognition, pay a $5,000. fine and get a warning about how wrong he was, he is still allowed to be a Doctor though, I guess he learned HIS lesson, let's hope so for the sake of any other children who are unlucky enough to be in his care.

Here is the story of Shelby Duis. Heidi met a man named Jesse Wendeldorf when she was working at her stepfather's business. Jesse and Heidi at first became friends and eventually their relationship turned to more and Jesse started to stay the night in May of 1999. By September their relationship had become more serious and the two moved in together. In the beginning of this live in relationship, Shelby seemed to be happy and had no problems being with Jesse, however, by October of that year, she showed signs of not wanting to be around him and would have negative responses to being around him. November brought many arguments between Jesse and Heidi because he wanted Heidi to give up both of her children and let their fathers raise them, Heidi asked Jesse to move out though a friend stepped in and played peacemaker, Jesse stayed in the home.

In February of that year, employees of the day care she attended started noting that shelby had bruises and as required by law, they called D. H. S. and when she was interviewed Heidi, they accepted her excuse that Shelby had ran into a door while running through their home.

In October of 1999 Shelby attended Small World Day Care while her mother worked and then at times, she was there on the weekends, her brother Tyler was also enrolled and would be there at times. Shelby showed up with bruises on her back and a swollen right hand. Employees contacted the Department Of Human Services and a case worker was sent out and pictures were taken. Pictures show Shelby had red marks below her right eye and a scratch below her right ear, her hand was swollen and she had bruises on her back. Heidi was contacted and told to take Shelby to the Doctor. Dr. Timothy Taylor had x-rays done of Shelby's right hand and it was found to be broken and was between ten and 30 days old. Heidi said she had no idea how this injury had happened, though later she told people that Shelby had caught her hand in her crib. A cast was put on the hand, Shelby was hospitalized over night and DHS was called because the Doctor did not like Heidi's explanation of the injury. A Case Worker met with Heidi the next day with concerns over the number of complaints and injuries that Shelby was receiving.

Shelby did not return to Small World after that and her grandmother baby sat her until Heidi was laid off and stayed home to care for her children. In December a DHS investigator was once again called to the home and noticed that there was a discoloration under Shelby's eye and she had old bruises on her stomach as well as her forehead. Heidi was, once again, told to take Shelby to the Doctor.  Three different appointments were made, Shelby was never taken to any of them. Then on January 3, 2000, Heidi finally took Shelby to Doctor Thomas Kalkhoff. At that time, a sore on her private parts was noted as well as a diaper rash and a bruise on the bridge of her nose which was in the process of fading. Heidi was told to bring her back the next day for testing.

On the morning of January 4, 2000, Heidi signed a form for her son to take to school and she says she checked on Shelby before going back to bed. Heidi said that at 10:30 a.m. she checked on Shelby again and she was still sleeping so she again went back to bed. About 12:00 p.m., Jesse returned home from work and after having lunch, he and Heidi had sex. Heidi's mother called about 3:50 p.m. to tell Jesse she had a job for him to do, so he left to do that job. At about 4:00 p.m., Heidi once again checked on Shelby and found her not breathing and unresponsive, she called 911 and when they got there, Shelby was already dead.

Dr. Susan Deffek, who was a Pediatric Radiologist, compared x-rays of Shelby taken that day to those that had been taken by Dr. Taylor in October. Shelby had four new broken bones in her hands which were determined to have been broken in December, she had several broken ribs from the same time period and Dr. Deffek said that none of these fractures appeared to be accidental, she felt that they were the result of child abuse.

Jesse was charged with first degree murder, sexual abuse and multiple acts of child endangerment. Jesse  was acquitted on the murder and sexual abuse charges. Jesse had a new girlfriend who claimed that after he was acquitted, he told her that he had abused Shelby as well as killing her. Jesse denies ever say anything like that.

Heidi waived her right to a trial by jury and a bench trial took place in which she was acquitted on the charge of murder, though she was convicted on the charges of multiple acts of child endangerment. Heidi faced the Judge who told her that her involvement in the death of her daughter was heinous:

"The very nature of the this crime cries out for confinement. Society is appalled when a child
is betrayed by his or her parents"
District Judge - Joseph Straub

The Judge told Heidi that with her use of drugs and by not taken her for medical care when she was abused and her bones were broken by Jesse, she had betrayed Shelby:

"You chose to sacrifice her on an altar of illicit sex and illicit drugs"

Judge Straub sentenced Heidi to 50 years in prison for what happened to Shelby, though it was reported that the sentence might be reduced by about half with good time and work credits and she would most likely be eligible for parole before the 50 years could be served. With the crime being a felony, suspending any part of the sentence would not be allowed.

In February of 2005, Jesse John Wendelsdorf, who was 30 years old at the time, was arrested on drug related charges. It was reported that Jesse tried to rent a house for the purpose of manufacturing Meth amphetamine as well as Marijuana, with intentions of distributing, using the drugs. If convicted, he faced five to 40 years of prison time, a two million dollar fine and up to life of supervised probation, though the Judge said he would not have done that any way. Heidi showed no emotion when the sentence was read and her Lawyer said there would be an appeal. Heidi didn't speak in court though she did later talk to the media:

"I'd just like to thank my family and friends for their love and support through all of this"

Attorney Ned Bjornstad said that this sentence should bring closure:

"This child was alive a year ago today and it was brought to a close in less than a year. It
has been a really intense year. probably time will tell what kind of effect it had on us"

Larry Stoller, Heidi's Lawyer, said:

"We're still convinced Heidi Watkins is innocent"

Ned Bjornstad said:

"I remain convinced to this day that Jesse Wendelsdorf killed Shelby Duis and Heidi
Watkins failed miserably as a mother"

On December 5, 2013 Heidi Watkins, who was 43 years old by that time, was granted parole after serving only about 13 years of her 50 year sentence. Though the message had been clear and strong when Judge Straub had sentenced her to 50 years, the Iowa Board Of Parole, or a group of people with little brains, in my opinion, decided that Heidi had served enough time and set her free:

"I was glad to see Heidi released. She has paid her debt to society and I wish her the best"
Michael H. Johnson - One of Heidi's Defense Lawyers in her appeal

I wonder, Michael, if Shelby would feel the same way. I don't think she would.

Assistant Director Fred Scaletta of the Iowa Department Of Corrections explained that this could happen:

"There are mandatory minimum laws that would apply today, but back then, those laws didn't exist.
So when she walked in the door, for every day she was here, 1.2 days comes off the back of her
sentence and eventually they meet. That meeting day is November 19, 2022"

Heidi could be considered for early release at any time between the day she first got to prison and the year 2022. At her parole hearing, Heidi had to answer questions and members of the board would decide if she could be paroled or not:

"It's always best to have the people with longer sentences be supervised while they're out in
the communities so we can help them adjust as well as monitor them. In these cases, if there
are transition problems or if they're not meeting the conditions of their parole, those types of
things, they can be brought back to prison on a fairly quick basis because it's an administrative
decision. It's not a court decision to get someone back into the system if they're not adjusting
well or if they're not complying with the conditions of their parole agreement"
Fred Scaletta

The Communications Director with the Iowa DHS said that they were not involved in the decision to grant Heidi parole:

"We have confidence that the board weighed the facts in this case and made it's decision"

Prosecutor Charles Thomas did not agree:

"I am very disappointed that the Parole Board has granted parole to Heidi Watkins.
Her crime was a crime of violence committed against a helpless child. Anyone familiar
with the suffering that Shelby endured during the last two months of her young life would
feel as I do, Heidi Watkins should have served a much longer term"

Fred Scaletta didn't find it to be unusual for Heidi to be paroled after only 13 years:

"It just depends on the circumstances and what the adjustment has been like while they've
been in prison. So, there are a lot of factors that go along with the Parole Board making a
decision for release. Every case is different. The Parole Board and Department Of
Corrections are two separate agencies. The one thing that's important and that we hope
the public will understand is that at some point in time, people are going to get out. It's best,
particularly with people who have more serious and longer sentenced crimes, rather than
just open up the door and let them walk out, it's always best to have them supervised for
a period of time while they're out there so we can help them, in the system, to transition
back into the community"

Fred doesn't seem to realize that the life of a child is worth FAR MORE than 13 years, 50 years should MEAN 50 years. The public SHOULD be able to rely on the legal system, we SHOULD be able to know that when a crime is committed that the person who commits that crime and then is convicted of that crime, will NOT be able to skate by with such a short sentence. Where is the justice for the this little Angel? She gets NONE! It's like a slap in the face on top of all the other injuries she was given, it's like she is once again being told she has no value to anyone.

Thank you goes out to Leslie for sending me this story.

This page was created on October 21, 2014
Death occurred in the state of Iowa


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