Unsolved Montana: Sheila Fallang Jordan
The Tragedy of the Sheila Fallang Jordan Murder:
A Memory that Lingers in Livingston to this Day
Glittering” is the word one person used to describe Sheila Fallang Jordan’s smile. Another remarked that the gesture was “bright.” Still another said it was “joyful.”
Sheila’s smile fueled her family and friends, and cheered up strangers. She owned it as a teenager, bopping along to “Stayin’ Alive,” her performance replete with hand gestures and embellished carpet glides. As a young lady, she carried it well during the holidays, a notoriously cozy but chaotic time, when this mother of two anchored large family dinners.
Her expression greeted customers at County Market, the grocery in Livingston where the curly-haired 29-year-old worked as a clerk in 2000. Her checkout line at the market was often extended; she wasn’t slow at her tasks, but the regulars liked to swarm her row to enjoy her good nature.
That same reliable expression could be observed in one of the final photos of Sheila taken in August 2000: hazel eyes, pretty without effort, hiking boots planted in a riverbed, a small rock smooth in her fingers, enviously abundant curly hair, sitting in the sun with her smile glinting.
The Life of a “Very Good, Sweet Young Lady”
Sheila Marie Fallang entered the world on May 4, 1971 in Bozeman, the youngest of William and Mary Fallang’s three children. Sister Sherie had arrived first in 1965, brother Bill a few years later in 1969, and then came Sheila.
“She was two years old, happy and stubborn. I still see her quirks,” says Sheila’s second cousin Elaine Fallang. “Silly things like how she’d suck on her middle two fingers, and not her thumb, tapping on her cheek with her pointer finger as she did so, usually putting herself to sleep. To me, whoever killed her also killed that tiny girl.”
Nursery school. First grade. Decorated handlebars of tricycles. Bath times followed by the firm “no” of bedtimes, the inducement of eating vegetables, the warnings to not chase balls into the street, the Fallangs navigated the decades of childrearing and nurtured three bright, healthy children.
“She was a very happy child,” says Mary Fallang, Sheila’s mother. “We thoroughly enjoyed her. She had a good family life. She had a gorgeous head of hair.”
“She was so beautiful,” recalls Sheila’s older sister, Sherie Fallang. “Her hair was naturally curly, and she would blot it dry after she washed it; that was her secret to her curls. She could’ve gone to California and become an actress or a beautiful model, and made her fortune.”
The Fallang family moved from Bozeman to Clyde Park before Sheila started in the third grade. Not a problem; she made friends easily, and retained them effortlessly.
“She seemed so worldly to us small-town girls at the time,” says lifelong Clyde Park friend Chris Broell. “She was an advanced student and ahead in math and reading, and much more mature physically. She had a great home life and family, and her older sister had a large old record player in the living room. Sheila introduced me to Meatloaf, and we’d crank that up and dance. We were classic rock girls.”
The less self-assured days of high school arrived. Tall and skinny, Sheila embodied the cutting-edge fashion and pop culture of the MTV-infused 1980s: acid wash jeans, sea-green tube tops, and her perennial favorite, a tank top and a T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. “She loved Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, and she had a huge crush on Brett Michaels of Poison,” recalls her friend Chris Broell.
“‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ from Guns N’ Roses was one of her favorite songs, and every time I hear that song, I think about her in a lot of different ways,” Broell says.
Karie Webb first met Sheila in elementary school at Clyde Park. Karie says she remembers the new girl as “lovely-looking, with big glasses and a tumbling mass of hair.” The pair kept close through all of the many transitions in their lives that followed.
We lived for MTV,” Webb remembers. “She was the best air guitarist you will ever know.”
After Sheila graduated from Clyde Park High School in 1990 – the final year before the Clyde Park Blackbirds consolidated with the Wilsall school district and became the Rebels – she went right to work in Livingston, clerking and cashiering at Western Drug, the retail store Pamida, and County Market supermarket.
Sheila’s older sister Sherie had married and moved away from Montana, switching addresses as often as the life of the wife of a Navy officer mandated. The sisters closed the distance in 1990 when Sherie returned to Livingston and Sheila coached and supported her sibling as her de facto birthing coach. With Sherie’s husband deployed in the Middle East, Sheila was the one who held her sister’s hand and whispered in her ear words of encouragement.
The delivery of Sherie’s third child was bumpier than the previous two, “but she was my outlet and she was there for me the whole time,” says Sherie of her sister Sheila.
One year later, Sheila was pregnant with her first child. The father, Kevin Jordan, was a few years older than Sheila, and he had been divorced.
Jordan owned a couple of properties in Livingston, and Sheila met him while she was searching the market for a rental. It’s not hard to envision why Kevin developed a crush on his bride-to-be; her coquettish smile surely had been one of the catalysts.
“Sheila was quite a catch,” says Elaine Fallang of her cousin.
The Glue of the Family
Sheila Jordan’s life became a version of the American Dream. The wedding of Sheila Fallang and Kevin Jordan took place in downtown Livingston in July 1993. The nuptials were “a happy, wonderful event,” according to Sheila’s family members. Her close friend Chris Broell sang at the wedding, a version of Rod Stewart’s version of “Have I Told You Lately?”
Though she was a homebody and feared flying, Sheila visited sister Sherie and her family in a number of different locations, including California and Idaho. After the Jordans’ second child was born, the expanded family ventured on family trips to places such as Seattle.
“They used to come to visit, and we’d do all kinds of things together,” remembers sister Sherie. “We always had a good time, and they’d spend a couple of days together as a family – the Underground City, Pike’s Market – and they seemed happy.”
Cathy Fallang met Sheila’s older brother Bill in 1996 and married him in 2003. She says she had a number of reasons to be grateful. After all, not only was she marrying her love-at-first-sight sweetheart, but she now had the ideal set of in-laws, including a sister-in-law in Sheila whom Cathy straight away adored.
Cathy envisioned a future of school performances, birthday parties, graduations, and many other milestones. “The plan was that we were going to raise our kids together,” she recalls.
If the family was the structure, Sheila was considered by her relatives to be the nucleus, the central part about which all of the daily rigmarole revolved.
“She was the glue to the family,” says Cathy Fallang. “Sheila organized everything, and she worked hard, and she was an amazing mom. She took care of everything. She didn’t go out. She did everything for her kids.”
In the late-1990s, Sheila and Cathy were both employed as cashiers at County Market grocery at the same time that Sheila’s brother Bill worked in the meat market, and their father, Bill Fallang Sr., was one of the store managers.
“Everybody in the community loved her at County Market and it was a fun place to be,” remembers Cathy. “People loved her – and they went to her line. She was always nice and cheerful and smiling. It’s like she never had a bad day.”
As time went on, cracks appeared in the Jordan marriage. Family members saw glimpses of these cracks, and worried that their relationship was possibly unhealthy.Though she alluded to difficulties, Sheila kept the details of her marriage private. In spite of that ambiguity, things took a turn for the worse. In the summer of 2000, Sheila and her two children, a 3-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy, moved out and told her family and friends that she planned to stay gone.
The pace at which things imploded surprised those who knew her, but not the swiftness of her actions. “Sheila didn’t dilly-dally when she made up her mind,” recalls Chris Broell.
In July 2000, Sheila’s sister Sherie returned to Livingston with her husband to attend his high-school class reunion. Around the same time, Sheila informed her sister that she and Kevin had separated.
“She was excited and optimistic about the new stage,” says Sherie Fallang.
Sheila resolved this domestic discord in the same linear fashion many others do. She first stayed with relatives as she emotionally regrouped; she consulted a divorce lawyer; and then she relocated, kids in tow, to her own separate space. She reminded her loved ones that confrontation didn’t suit her. She would return to the family house only to collect a few photo albums and some of her kids’ favorite toys.
“She had gotten her own place pretty quickly,” says Cathy Fallang. “When she first filed for divorce, she walked away pretty much with nothing.” Despite the abruptness of the split, she reassured her family and friends that a girl of 29 didn’t have to start over; she actually had not yet even to begin.
August 13, 2000
“The weekend that Sheila was murdered, I was trying to call her on Friday night,” says sister Sherie.“Her line was busy. Then I got the call Sunday night from my dad.”
Sheila’s sister-in-law Cathy Fallang was no longer working with Sheila at County Market, having started a different job about a year earlier. Her father Bill had moved on, too by that time. Her brother Bill was still employed in the meat department and he was working that night.
Something about the late shift unnerved Sheila and she voiced her concerns. Even though she lived just one block south of the market, the walk still left her feeling vulnerable, shaky. This Sunday would be her final late shift, her very last time working late-night at the store.
A boyfriend who lived next door to Sheila was fixing a late-night dinner for her. Still, Sheila was feeling weird. One of the crew – a night stocker – agreed to accompany her to the edge of the parking lot. Perhaps it was reassuring to her that she could see the fluorescent light of the entrance to her apartment at 1203 West Geyser gleaming in the short distance. The stocker said goodbye, and turned around. Sheila stepped into the shadows.
She did not make it to her home.
A terrifying set of images come to mind, images that would make anyone shudder; an attack with a knife or a tool or a handheld weapon, sudden and atrocious. The blows struck by a monster brought her to the ground at 306 South 12th Street. “Mutilated and bloody,” she didn’t even have a hand to hold when she lost consciousness. Although she was discovered by some passerby soon after the attack, she died a few hours later at a Livingston hospital.
Sheila’s family and friends allowed themselves to weep hard at the funeral of a woman whom so many Livingston people loved, their gifts and flowers and letters multiplying over every surface of the room. There were no words to make their grief more manageable or their horrific experience more comprehendible. No one could understand what made such a monster do what he or she did, and no one wanted to believe such a person existed.
“What have you gained? We don’t understand why you did this,” Sheila’s mother, Mary Fallang, said in a letter she submitted to the Livingston Enterprise. She wrote the devastating note because she assumed that whoever killed her daughter must have been capable of remorse, of possessing emotions that resembled her own.
Perhaps she was wrong.
Police: Sheila Knew Her Killer
Livingston authorities quickly asserted that Sheila knew the person who killed her. Witnesses said that right before the attack, Sheila was observed speaking face-to-face with a man whom, it looked to them, she had recognized. “It is not believed that this was a random attack by a stranger or that other members of the community are in danger,” said a written statement from Livingston Police Department Chief Steve McCann, dated August 14, 2000. Sheila was murdered by someone whom she knew, asserted the statement.
Her estranged husband Kevin Jordan came under an immediate onus of suspicion. Her boyfriend, John Payne, was cleared as a suspect and promptly left town.
“She had decided that she wasn’t going to leave the divorce with nothing. That’s when things changed and things got ugly,” recalls Cathy Fallang. “There was a Fourth of July family gathering in 2000 and Sheila told every single person that she was scared for her safety and feared for her life. A little over a month later, it was over. She was afraid of Kevin, and she made that perfectly clear.”
Kevin Jordan told investigators that he was home with their children the night of Sheila’s homicide. He grew tired of being treated as “a prime suspect,” he told the Bozeman Chronicle in December 20, 2000. “I tried everything I could do to get our relationship back together,” he told the newspaper.
Jordan, who now resides in Eaton, Ohio, has declined multiple requests to be interviewed for this story.
Another suspect, an acquaintance of Jordan’s named Darren Hiller, was detained in the investigation, according to available police reports, and later released; he also declined to be interviewed for this story. According to the Montana Department of Corrections, Hiller had a history of criminal convictions; he was released from a prison facility in Helena in October 2018.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Weeks and months passed without any news of an arrest. In Livingston, family and friends stood at intersections handing out flyers printed with Sheila’s picture over the word “REWARD.” Her photo was hung in the County Market.
In homicide investigations, time is often synonymous with dreaded inefficacy. Time changed slowly but surely, right before everyone’s eyes.
There were no clue-providing witnesses. The $20,000 reward for information offered from Sheila’s family remained uncollected.
The Livingston authorities have said that they grabbed at every proverbial straw without success; some years ago, acknowledging their frustrating lack of progress, they requested assistance in solving Sheila Jordan’s murder case from the state Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI). The Major Case Section of the DCI provides criminal investigative assistance to city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies at their request. Agent Anthony Poppler of the DCI is currently assigned to Sheila’s homicide.
In the Livingston area today, there are memorials preserving the memory of Sheila Jordan: a plaque next to the County Market where she worked, and another one with a loving inscription adjacent to a tree in Clyde Park. And there are two even more obvious living, breathing testaments to Sheila: her two children, a boy and a girl now in their twenties.
The violence committed to Sheila’s two children by their mother’s death is something they carry. Homicide grief may be a kind of living bereavement. Survivors slog on, diminished by loss. Yet, they’ve succeeded and advanced in a spirit that inspires the family members who have served as their protective surrogates. After the murder, the children resided in the full custody of their father, but then later moved in with Sheila’s family.
“Even after all they’ve been through, [they] are such amazing human beings,” says Cathy Fallang. “They’ve suffered the most in this, and they’ve excelled, and they are just amazing people. They are their mother’s children through and through.”
Two decades have now passed since Sheila Jordan was murdered, and a pall still hangs over Livingston. It’s a crime that belongs to everyone in town. Unlike several other unsolved murders in Park County, many of which are crimes that involved victims living on the edges of society, impoverished and undereducated, Sheila’s case was an entirely different situation. She was a mainstream, small-town sweetheart, the neighbor next door whose friendly face lit up the grocery store.
It may be easier for people in Livingston to disassociate from victims of violent crime who skirt the edge of society like Angela Brown, 32, who was discovered in the Yellowstone River near Springdale in February 1998. Brown didn’t present a happy face to the world, and the Park County Coroner Al Jenkins once called Brown’s a “counterculture” life in the Bozeman Chronicle.
The same thing might have been said a few years earlier, when 18-year-old Nelson McNair was found in the Yellowstone River on May 4, 1995. Or earlier still, when 24-year-old single mother Amy Johnson disappeared after heading out on a date one Friday night in 1986. Beyond the violent end to these particular Park County lives, all share another similarity: no arrests were made in any of these cases.
Sheila’s family and friends retell her life in small bits and pieces, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They have lovingly archived their thoughts of her, polished and placed them carefully in their heads but the retrieval mechanism, alas, is slower. When the memories do emerge, they invariably engender sadness.
“It is really hard for me to believe that she is gone,” says her brother Bill Fallang. “Even after all these years, I can still hear her voice and her laughter. I can’t believe that someone was such a lowlife coward that they couldn’t live in this world with my sister.”
Sheila’s mother, Mary Fallang, says she is unable to clean out a closet or plant a flower bulb or open the oven to check the thermostat on the Thanksgiving turkey, without thinking about her daughter.
While Sheila’s killer has left her mother with the cruelest of scars, Mary says she has learned that she, not the one who injured her daughter, is the person who would suffer the most if she were to withhold her forgiveness. But the qualifier would be the distinction she draws between pity and punishment.
She wants justice; her forgiveness shouldn’t suggest otherwise. That justice, she says, is holistic, relational, and framed in the broader societal context of a“resort town,” wrestling with the unshakeable truth of its evil spirits.
“What’s been so devastating to us has also been devastating to many other mothers and fathers in Livingston,” says Mary Fallang. “Suicides. Murders. Murders passed off as suicides. When people who are interested in finding answers to the things that have happened in this town, they are cut off.”
Livingston Police Detective Joseph Harris may be reached at (406) 222-4172. Department of Criminal Investigation Agent Anthony Poppler is the lead DCI investigator in the charge of Sheila Jordan’s homicide. He may be reached at email@example.com. Future “Unsolved Montana” profile ideas may be sent to Brian D’Ambrosio at firstname.lastname@example.org.