In a case that has been called one of the strangest in Florida history, a woman has pleaded guilty to the murder of Marlene Warren, who was shot dead at her doorstep in 1990 by someone dressed as a clown.
Sheila Keen-Warren, who was the second wife of Marlene Warren’s husband, had long been suspected of being the shooter. In 2017, Palm Beach County sheriff’s investigators used DNA technology to identify Keen-Warren as the perpetrator. She has been in jail since then, awaiting trial for first-degree murder. However, she insisted that she was not the killer.
On Tuesday, Sheila Keen-Warren pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a plea deal that will see her serving no more than two years in prison. The deal was accepted quietly during a judge’s lunch break, avoiding the attention of the media and spectators. Her attorney, Greg Rosenfeld, hailed the plea deal as a win for his client, even as she continued to maintain her innocence.
Marlene Warren’s son, Joseph Ahrens, watched the proceeding online. Only 21 years old when he saw his mother murdered, Ahrens is now in his 50s. His only message to the court and Keen-Warren was to say, “May God be with her.”
At the time of the shooting, Keen-Warren was an employee of Marlene Warren’s husband, Michael, at his used car lot. Witnesses had told investigators in 1990 that then-Sheila Keen and Michael Warren were having an affair, though both denied it. Over the years, detectives said, costume shop employees identified Sheila Warren as the woman who had bought a clown suit a few days before the killing.
The presumed getaway car was found abandoned with orange, hair-like fibers inside. The white Chrysler convertible had been reported stolen from Michael Warren’s car lot a month before the shooting. Keen-Warren and her then-husband repossessed cars for him.
Marlene Warren had reportedly suspected her husband was having an affair and wanted to leave him. But the car lot and other properties were in her name, and she feared what might happen if she did. She allegedly told her mother, “If anything happens to me, Mike done it.” He has never been charged and has denied involvement.
Michael Warren was convicted in 1994 of grand theft, racketeering, and odometer tampering, serving almost four years in prison. His attorneys argued that the punishment was disproportionately long because of suspicions he was involved in his wife’s death.
The plea deal for Sheila Keen-Warren has closed a chapter on this case, which has been marred by delays due to the pandemic and fights over evidence. While there were holes in the case, the plea deal has provided some measure of justice for Marlene Warren and her family. The case will continue to be a part of Florida’s strange and macabre history.
Kill the clown.