Victim: Sara West, five
Age at time of murder: 16
Crime date: February 14, 1993
Crime location: Zanesville
Crimes: Child molestation, murder of a child, corpse mutilation, conspiracy to commit mass murder, and terroristic threatening
Murder method: Stabbing and shooting
Weapon: Knife and gun
Murder motivation: Satanic ritual
Conviction: Aggravated murder
Sentence: 20 years to life
Incarceration status: Incarcerated at the Marion Correctional Institution
Shafer was an extremely disturbed young man who had an interest in Satanism, sacrificed animals, and desired to become a serial killer. He became acquainted with Sara’s father and agreed to babysit Sara and her three-year-old brother Seth. That fateful night, he killed little Sara after his plans to murder people at a friend’s house didn’t work. Shafer molested Sara, stabbed her, and shot her three times in the head. He also cut open her torso, removed her insides, and cut satanic symbols into parts of her body. Shafer also planned to murder Sara’s father and brother as well, but was prevented from carrying out those additional murders when Sara’s father entered through the wrong door. From prison, he has continued to threaten to kill Sara’s family, who fear his potential release.
Murder of Sara West
Billy Shafer was 16 when he molested, murdered, and mutilated five-year-old Sara West as part of a satanic ritual. Sarah and her three-year-old brother Seth had been spending the weekend with their dad Kevin. Shafer, who had become acquainted with Kevin, agreed to babysit. Unbeknownst to Kevin, Shafer had a history of disturbing behavior, including making violent threats and stabbing his six-year-old brother as he slept. He also idolized murderers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson and wanted to become a serial killer. He was interested in Satanism and admitted to police that he sacrificed one to three animals a week, such as mice, rabbits, cats, and dogs. He also told police that he drank dog blood on five occasions.
On the night of February 14, 1993, as Shafer was babysitting, he found a gun in Kevin’s basement. He decided to kill two boys at his friend’s house but when he went there he found that there were more boys, meaning he could be overpowered. He went back to Kevin’s house. There, Shafer molested Sara with his finger as she slept causing her to wake up screaming.
Shafer then got a knife, stabbed her, and bit her thigh and breast. He slashed her throat from ear to ear, nearly decapitating the little girl. Shafer cut Sara from her pelvis to neck, stuck his hands in her body, removed her insides, and cut satanic rituals into parts of her body. He also shot her multiple times in the head. Shafer planned to kill everyone in the house, but his morbid plans were ruined when Kevin entered through the wrong door.
Even from behind bars, Shafer has continued to torment and terrorize Sara’s family. He sent a death threat letter saying that he would kill Seth, Kevin, and the entire family to finish his gift to Satan.
5-year-old was brutally murder by man who planned to kill her family in 1993
Shelly SchultzZanesville Times Recorder
November 15, 2019
Warning: This story contains graphic material. It is printed with permission of Sara West’s family and based on their accounts of the events that lead to her death.
ZANESVILLE – Sara West would be 32 years old today. She never got to finish kindergarten or experience her double-digit birthday, prom, graduation, or the multitude of other milestones we often take for grant.
Moments her family has also been denied for nearly 27 years, when a 16-year-old neighbor brutally murdered 5-year-old Sara in what he later would describe to detectives as a satanic ritual.
“Christmas hasn’t been the same since Sara died,” said Sara’s father, Kevin West. “Birthdays, holidays, every day is affected. It affects your entire life.”
Billy Joe Shafer, who was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison, will go before the parole board on Dec. 2. He could potentially regain his freedom – a reality that terrifies Sara’s family.
“This man is a psychopathic killer and he should never be set loose,” said Shirley West, Sara’s paternal grandmother. “He has sent death threats to our family and I am sure if he were set free he would come and kill us all.”
At 85, Shirley should be proudly overwhelming guests with photographs of her grandchildren positioned among her large stuffed bear collection.
Instead, she sits staring at a 27-year-old photograph of her granddaughter, 5-year-old Sara, with honey blond hair and a princess smile.
Sara’s mother, Tracy Hickman, still struggles to talk about her daughter. The pain is still just as debilitating as it was nearly three decades ago.
“I love her and I miss her every single day,” Tracy said. “And I have worked very hard over the years to be a voice for Sara.”
Tracy said there is so much more to the story than just her daughter’s murder. Shirley echoes that statement, adding “This wasn’t just a simple bang, bang with a gun. That boy butchered little Sara.”
Both women have spent countless hours collecting signatures to petition against Shafer’s release and pleading with the parole board not to set him free.
“His psychologist said he could not function in a normal society and would always be a threat,” Shirley said. “His own father is afraid of him and goes with us to parole hearings to tell the parole board Billy Shafer should never get out of prison.”
The TR could not reach Shafer’s father.
A very disturbed child
It was Friday, Feb. 14, 1993. It was cold and the ground was covered in snow and ice. Sara and her 3-year-old brother, Seth, were spending the weekend with their dad, Kevin.
“I was over at their house and saw them that day,” Shirley said. “Kevin and Tracy were divorced but they kept it friendly for the kids.”
Kevin had lived at the rural Ridge Road residence for about four months. In that time, he had become acquainted with 16-year-old Shafer who lived nearby.
“Billy had been pulling the children up and down Ridge Road on a sleigh and he helped them build a snowman,” Shirley said. “When I stopped by, both kids were excited. Sara showed me a picture she had drawn.”
Pointing to the stick figures in her drawing, Sara told her grandma “There’s me, daddy and Seth. And Starlight Sparkles is there.”
Starlight Sparkles was her favorite doll.
“It was permanently clutched in her hand,” Shirley said of the doll. “It even went to bed with her.”
There was another figure in the drawing standing behind Sara, who was pictured on the sled.
“That’s Billy,” Sara told Shirley.
Unbeknownst to Kevin, Shafer had been under psychiatric care since the age of 5. He also had an undisclosed juvenile record.
“When Shafer was 6 years old, children’s services witnessed Shafer get angry and punch his grandmother in the face,” Tracy said.
While in sixth grade, it was recommended that Shafer be supervised at school for behavioral problems. The concerns listed on the counselor’s report involved inappropriately touching other students, disruptive behavior and making verbal violent threats.
The report also stated young Shafer had recently been hospitalized as the result of violent episodes at home.
“He stabbed his 6-year-old brother four times while the little boy was sleeping,” Shirley said.
By his freshman year, he had already been participating in satanic behavioral patterns for more than five years. He was said to have idolize serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson.
He had even written a letter to Dahmer for a school report.
Shafer told detectives that at the age of 9 or 10, he developed an interest in the occult and was introduced to the satanic bible.
During the same interview, Shafer said he and a peer had practiced satanism by killing one to three animals a week – mice, cats, dogs and rabbits. He also stated he had drunk dog blood on about five occasions.
A child sacrificed
Shafer had spent a lot of time with Kevin in the short time he had lived on Ridge Road.
“In my mind, he was already planning this mass murder he wanted to commit and was just waiting for the right opportunity,” Kevin said.
Schafer had dinner with Kevin and the children and agreed to babysit that night.
“It was Valentine’s Day and Kevin had just started seeing a girl he wanted to take to a dance at Dance Land,” Shirley said. “It was out on Ridge Road just across the road from the corner of his house.”
Kevin and his date left the house around 9 p.m., instructing Shafer to put Sara and Seth to bed by 10 p.m.
According to his confession interview, Shafer put the children to bed shortly after 10 p.m. He then drank a beer and snorted some glue fumes before watching “Friday the Thirteenth” on television.
At some point, Shafer took a pornographic magazine into the bathroom to masturbate.
After speaking to a friend down the street on the phone, Shafer went downstairs to get a bicycle from the basement to ride to the friend’s house.
While in the basement, Shafer found a gun. The idea then occurred to him that he would use the gun to kill the two boys at his friend’s house.
“He had thought for a long time about killing people,” Shirley said. “He wanted to be a serial killer like his idols so he had to kill more than one person.”
After arriving at his friend’s house, he discovered there were more boys there and he might be overpowered. Instead of killing them, he showed them the gun, and then he and two other boys took the gun outside to shoot off a few rounds.
Shafer then rode back to Kevin’s house with the gun.
Kevin said he returned to the house around 10:45 to change shirts and check on the children – both of whom were asleep. Shafer was in the home at that point.
Kevin then walked back across the street to the bar. It would be the last time he saw Sara alive.
Once alone with the children again, Shafer said he began watching the second “Friday the Thirteenth” movie.
At some point during the movie, Shafer decided to get Sara from her bed. He carried her from her bed and placed her on the sofa. No sure what he would do next, according to his confession, Shafer carried Sara upstairs to the weight room.
Shafer took off Sara’s clothes and began kissing her body. He then molested her with his finger until she woke up screaming. Leaving Sara to scream in the weight room, Shafer got a knife and returned.
He began stabbing her tiny body. He bit her thigh and breast.
“He slashed her throat from ear to ear and back again,” Shirley said. “It nearly decapitated her. There was so much blood and he was afraid it would start seeping through the floor and into the ceiling downstairs but he wasn’t finished yet.”
Shafer carried Sara downstairs, leaving blood on the walls and stuffed toys on the steps. He then put Sara in the bathtub.
He cut Sara’s body from her pelvis to her neck and stuck his hands inside her body.
“He removed her insides and began cutting satanic symbols on her body parts,” Shirley said.
Shafer contends that he shot Sara multiple times in the head while she was on the sofa before taking her upstairs. However, the coroner testified that he believed the gunshot wounds occurred after the initial assault.
“Possibly as a way to mislead people into believing Sara was dead prior to being mutilated,” Tracy said.
When he was done, he placed Sara’s body, along with the bloody stuffed toys, in two trash bags and threw them over an embankment.
He then returned to Kevin’s home and staged a robbery by removing a window and throwing furniture around.
He grabbed a bottle of soda and took 3-year-old Seth to an old shed in the woods behind the house.
“It was very cold that night,” Shirley said. “He didn’t even put any shoes on the boy. All he had on was some thin summer pajamas.”
When Kevin arrived home, he knew immediately something was wrong.
The door was open and the window was broke out,” Kevin said.
Shafer said he planned to kill all of them, but his plans were spoiled when Kevin used the wrong door to enter the house.
“Anyone capable of doing the things he did to Sara with the kind of mind that he has, should never be set free,” Shirley said.
A few years ago, the Wests received a call informing them that Shafer had been released from prison.
“We were furious and scared,” Kevin said. “They are supposed to notify us. We spent three days scared he would come for us, I wouldn’t leave Mom home alone. Then they called to say it had been a mistake. A glitch in the system had us all upset.”
Reliving the nightmare
Even from behind bars, Shafer terrorized the family.
“He sent a death threat letter stating he would kill Kevin and Seth and the whole family to complete his gift to Satan,” Shirley said. “He would call here collect, but we never accepted the calls.”
In 2010, when Billy was up for parole, the family hit the streets and gathered more than 30,000 signed petitions to keep Shafer in prison.
Once again, they are faced with the possibility that Shafer could be released, as he is scheduled to go before the parole board in December.
Tracy appeared before the parole board on Wednesday, and for the next two days was barely able to find the strength to get out of bed.
“Every time, it’s like reliving the nightmare over and over again,” Tracy said.
On Nov. 27, Kevin and Shirley will have their day before the parole board to object Shafer’s release.
“I can’t bring Sara back,” Shirley said. “But I’m trying awfully hard to make sure he is never let out of prison. I also want people to know that little Sara is the hero in all of this. Even in her death, she saved her little brother and her dad’s life.”
Tracy said she has never had the opportunity to publicly thank the community for all of the overwhelming support they have shown over the years. She hopes the community will rally with them once more and sign the petitions to keep Shafer behind bars.
“All the signatures and letters, emails are scanned into Shafer’s permanent file they are all there,” Tracy said. “He will never see them so you are safe in signing. We just need as many people to sign these petitions as possible.”
Kevin said no family should ever have to live through what his family continues to live with every day.
“Believe me, no one in this community wants that man walking around freely in Zanesville,” Kevin said. “He is dangerous and he will kill again.”