Usually, when Wellington makes national news, it’s related to an equestrian event, a celebrity visiting the area, or success in sports or reality television.
But this week, Wellington was in the national — and international — headlines because of an event that took place 27 years ago. At long last, there was an arrest in the infamous “clown murder” case of Wellington resident Marlene Warren.
This past Tuesday, Sheila Keen Warren — current wife of Marlene’s husband Michael — was located in Washington County, Virginia, and arrested without incident. She is awaiting extradition to Florida.
Marlene Warren was fatally wounded outside her home in Wellington’s Aero Club neighborhood in May 1990 by someone wearing clown makeup, an orange wig and holding balloons in what is now believed to be part of a love triangle crime. For nearly three decades, this bizarre case has been the ultimate unsolved Wellington crime story. It sounds like a scenario straight out of a Stephen King story. And given Florida’s notoriety for outlandish crimes, people could be forgiven if they didn’t believe this nearly unbelievable tale.
While Sheila Keen was a suspect at the time, and law enforcement discovered a number of connections (for example, the abandoned getaway car was eventually traced to a rental agency Michael Warren did business with, and two clerks at a costume store picked Keen out of a photo lineup saying she had bought a clown outfit two days earlier), no probable cause could be established at the time, and no arrests were made. The case would remain cold for more than two decades.
Three years ago, the PBSO Cold Case Unit reopened the homicide investigation. Witnesses were re-contacted and additional DNA analysis was conducted, using techniques not available in 1990. A major spark in detectives’ renewed interest in the case was their discovery that, in 2002, Michael Warren and Sheila Keen married in Las Vegas. The marriage established probable cause.
While never charged with Marlene Warren’s murder, Michael Warren was arrested in 1992 on a plethora of charges connected with the ownership of his used car dealership — one count of racketeering, six counts of grand theft and 21 counts of odometer tampering. He did three years and nine months of a nine-year prison sentence. The PBSO said at the time it discovered his crimes while investigating his wife’s murder.
The clown murder took place in the days before Twitter, Facebook and the 24-hour news cycle, so much of the publicity and gossip was contained to Palm Beach County, in large part because Marlene and Michael Warren were among the wealthier residents of the western communities at the time; they had significant real estate and business holdings, all of which were in her name. But not all was happy in the Warren household; despite being married for 20 years, the Warrens were having marital problems, and Marlene had told several people she thought her husband was having an affair and feared for her life.
Authorities have yet to comment on Michael Warren’s involvement in his late wife’s murder, or any plans to prosecute him. But one thing is for sure — if you commit a major crime, you can run, but you cannot hide forever.