Episode Three: The Patels

Shailesh Patel was murdered in a small Georgia town in 2000. Questions remain, but one thing is clear: Patel’s murder is part of an emerging pattern of crime.

The home where Shailesh Patel was found murdered in the spring of 2000. Photo: Ryan Christopher Jones for The Intercept

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Shaliesh Patel was visiting Adel when he was brutally murdered in the spring of 2000. Years later, his family still doesn’t know anything about who killed him. Their interactions with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations left them with more questions than answers. But one thing was clear, Patel’s murder was part of an emerging pattern of crime.


Jordan Smith: When someone dies, no matter how it happens, there are some questions we always ask.

Liliana Segura: How did they die? Who was with them? Did they suffer? Or was it peaceful?

Jordan Smith: Knowing doesn’t change anything, but it does bring a measure of comfort, closure. When somebody gets killed, knowing how and why takes on a bigger meaning. A way to make sense of something scary and inconceivable.

Liliana Segura: Families of victims often talk about the need for closure and especially the need to know the perpetrator has been ‘brought to justice.’ But when a crime goes unsolved, the family is left with nothing. Especially when it’s gone unsolved for 20 years.

Vipul Patel: Yeah, I talk about couple times GBI to be mostly … I talk almost about eight, nine times over there. And they tell me on the phone, “We still looking, we still looking there. We still don’t find nothing there.”

Liliana Segura: Vipul Patel’s uncle, Shailesh Patel was brutally murdered in Adel, in April of 2000, about a year and a half after Donna Brown’s death. His killer has never been found.

Vipul Patel: Then after I move over here in 2004 so I don’t talk anything after then.

Jordan Smith: Did you ever have contact with the Adel police department after the-

Vipul Patel: Yeah, I contact Adel but they say, GBI handle everything so we don’t have any information.

Liliana Segura: The investigation into Shailesh Patel’s death is still officially open. Officially. But, from the little information we have, it seems more likely that there was never much of an investigation at all. And there’s a chance that if there had been one, the violence in Adel that began with the murder of Donna Brown in 1998 could have been stopped in its tracks. From The Intercept, I’m Liliana Segura.

Jordan Smith: And I’m Jordan Smith. This is Murderville, Georgia. In the spring of 2000, Shailesh Patel was 37 years old. He had a wife and two kids. He had recently sold the gas station he owned in Albany, Georgia, about an hour northwest of Adel, and was living in Locust Grove — another hour and a half north of there, when his brother-in-law Vishnu called. Vishnu needed somebody to watch his store down in Adel while he went on a trip. Shailesh was happy to help.

Manishh Patel: Shailesh had a- he was in between businesses or jobs, whatever. So he was kinda free. So he asked him and was like, “Hey, can you come run my store while I go for this wedding?” So my mom and everybody was at this wedding in California.

Liliana Segura: This is Manishh Patel. He’s translating for his uncle, Haribai, Shailesh’s older brother. This is a big immigrant family, really close knit. We’re at a budget hotel in Macon, Georgia, which Manishh runs. Hotels are part of a long family tradition.

Manishh Patel: Hotels are our original businesses, but now we’re more into gas stations.

Liliana Segura: Maybe you’ve heard of the phenomenon known as the Patel Motel. It’s a thing, all over the country. One third of U.S. hotels are owned by Indians – and some 70 percent of them have the last name Patel. The story goes back to the Indian region of Gujarat, which is where the Patel name comes from. The short version is that beginning in the 1960s, the U.S. loosened immigration laws, attracting waves of Indian immigrants. Back home, the Patels were largely landowners and farmworkers. In the U.S., they began buying distressed properties for pennies, then converting them to motels where they often lived and worked. Like all immigrant communities, they networked and spread.
Jordan Smith: Today, If you’re looking for a cheap room for the night in Georgia, it’s likely you’ll be staying in a Patel motel.

Liliana Segura: Shailesh Patel, the murder victim, and his big extended family, were a part of this trend. They’re from a small town in Gujarat named Jasalpur. Shailesh was born there and, like the rest of his family, moved to the United States. They settled in North Carolina, first working at a textile company, and then moved to Georgia. Shailesh arrived around 1985. He helped out his relatives, running the Passport Inn just off the highway in Locust Grove.

Here’s Manishh again, remembering his uncle Shailesh.

Manishh Patel: Oh man, he was super kind. He stayed with us for a little bit when he first came to America. Probably one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, soft spoken. I mean, just a hard working guy.

Liliana Segura: Manishh asked Haribai to describe his brother, then translated what he said.

Manishh Patel: Shailesh, if you want to describe him. Yeah, genuine guy, like he was a good guy. He wasn’t very gossipy. That wasn’t his scene. He was always to himself. Just took care of stuff.

Jordan Smith: Haribai was almost 20 years older than Shailesh and like any big brother, he worried. He didn’t want him to go to Adel. Vishnu, their brother-in-law, had recently been robbed at the store. By a “stocky black man,” he said, wearing a mask and brandishing an Exacto knife. But Shailesh insisted.

Manishh Patel: My uncle, he was like, “I made a promise so I’m going to go run the store for him like I said I would.” That’s why he was down there. And I think he was only down there for three, four days only when this thing happened.

Jordan Smith: Shailesh had actually been thinking about moving to Adel — it was supposed to be safer than where he’d been working.

Manishh Patel: My uncle had a gas station in Albany. And the reason why he sold that is because of crime in Albany. So he was like, “I’m trying to get away from this stuff.”

Jordan Smith: April 7, 2000 was a Friday. Shailesh was in Adel, filling in for Vishnu at the E-Z Mart Convenience store on North Hutchinson Ave. It’s connected to a Phillip’s 66 gas station. Today, it’s called the Adel Food Mart.

Liliana Segura: We went there. It’s a typical gas station convenience store. You can buy pretty much anything. Coffee, Gatorade, air fresheners, ChapStick, a lottery ticket. Inside, it kinda smells like wet socks. Haribai said he would call his brother every night. But on Shailesh’s fourth night in Adel – his last night alive – Haribai didn’t call for some reason. He doesn’t remember why. His memories are really fuzzy. It was a long time ago. But also, like a lot of people who live through traumatic events, the details are just a blur. Part of what we know about Shailesh Patel’s death comes from an article in the Adel News Tribune. Manishh was in college then and was the family spokesperson – he is quoted in the story a bunch, although he has no memory of that now.

Jordan Smith: According to the story, Shailesh left work after closing the store with an unidentified co-worker at 11:20 p.m. It says that Patel usually went to get dinner in the neighboring town of Nashville after work. For a vegetarian like him, there really aren’t any options in Adel — save for the Taco Bell. But that night, apparently, he didn’t go to Nashville. He walked home instead, to Vishnu’s house on North Gordon Ave. Police think he got there around 11:30 p.m.  But this is about all we know. Unlike the GBI file in the case of Donna Brown, there are no police records to sort through or summaries of interviews done by investigators.

Liliana Segura: When Shailesh didn’t show up for work the next day, another employee at the E-Z Mart called the cops. They got to the house a little after 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. The front door was open. Shailesh was inside, covered in blood. Dead. He had been brutally beaten and repeatedly stabbed. The attacker had also picked up the TV — one of those old, heavy tube TVs —  and used it to smash his head in. It was gruesome.

Tim Balch: You see something savagery like that, it’s like- somebody that does that is a straight psychopath.

Liliana Segura: This is Tim Balch, the former Adel cop. He was one of the first to arrive at the scene that afternoon. He was also one of the first to arrive at the Taco Bell the night that Donna Brown was murdered.

Tim Balch: When I got there, I just peeped in and it was like, “We’re calling GBI. This is bad.”

Jordan Smith: The GBI. That’s the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. As we’ve explained before, they’re a statewide law enforcement agency. And small, rural police departments all over Georgia routinely call them in to investigate when there’s a major crime. The Adel police called them in to investigate Donna Brown’s murder too.  But calling in the GBI doesn’t necessarily mean that things get done right, or at all. Investigating Donna Brown’s murder, the GBI left plenty of stones unturned and then they arrested the wrong guy, Devonia Inman, for the crime. So, there was reason to believe things wouldn’t work out for the Patels either. For starters, they say the GBI didn’t even call the family to tell them what had happened. Instead, the family got a call from an acquaintance. Here’s Manishh, again, translating for Haribai:

Manishh Patel: It’s either one of those guys that called him. So that’s how we found out. No police or nobody called us and let us know this happened.

Liliana Segura: No police called?

Manishh Patel: No.

Jordan Smith: Manishh’s father was the first to hear the news that something bad had happened. But he didn’t know how bad.

Manishh Patel: They didn’t really know that he was killed. They knew that he was beat up pretty bad.

Jordan Smith: Manishh’s father got in the car and headed for Adel. He called Haribai on the way.

Manishh Patel: Before my dad even made it down there saying that, “Make your way down there, but he’s not alive anymore. Like, it’s not- he just didn’t get beat up, he was murdered.” He said he’d never talked to a cop until GBI came to their place like four or five days later.

Liliana Segura: I guess I would ask you what that was like to hear that news?

Manishh Patel: [foreign language]

Haribai Patel: [foreign language]

Manishh Patel: He was like sad. How else would I feel? I was heartbroken.

Liliana Segura: And shocking, I would imagine, shocking.

Manishh Patel: You can tell in his voice right now. I don’t know, by the tone of him.

Liliana Segura: Try to imagine for a minute what it would be like to find out that your loved one was violently murdered and then waiting four or five days to hear from police. It certainly wouldn’t make you feel like solving the crime was a priority. According to Haribai, when the GBI finally came to see the family, the officer didn’t spend very much time with them.

Manishh Patel: 20 to 30 minutes?

Haribai Patel: Only one person GBI.

Manishh Patel: Oh, one. One guy came only. One GBI officer came. And about 20, 30 minutes he asked them questions. [foreign language].

Haribai Patel: [foreign language]

Manishh Patel: Oh, so basics. He said, he asked them basic … Yea, the basic question were like, “How are you related to this guy? Why was he down there?” You know, the basic interview questions that we just kind of did right now. That’s what he was asking. And then that was the last what they heard from him.

Liliana Segura: Haribai doesn’t remember who did most of the talking with the GBI agent. Again, it’s all a blur. But a few months after the murder, the family was asked to help produce a public service announcement, pleading for anyone with information to come forward. Just like Manishh had to speak for the family, it fell to one of his cousins to do it. She filmed the spot and it aired on a local TV station. And that was all they ever heard. No one from the family knows if it attracted any leads. Yet another unanswered question. Still, even without people coming forward, there should have been plenty to work with. Like in Donna Brown’s case, there was a lot of evidence at the scene. Including plenty of fingerprints. And even DNA — at least according to a story in the local paper.

Jordan Smith: It seems the best the GBI could come up with was a composite sketch of a man they say could have been a witness. A slim white guy with greasy brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. They said he’d been seen around the neighborhood several hours before Patel arrived home that night. So, not exactly a promising lead. But there’s something even more disturbing. Talking at the hotel, Haribai said something Manishh had never heard before. He said that the GBI told the Patels that if they wanted the murder investigated, they would have to help pay for it. It’s not clear who said this – or who in the family received the information. Maybe there was a misunderstanding. Maybe it was the language barrier. Whatever the reason, the family couldn’t afford it. They didn’t know that the system doesn’t work this way.

Manishh Patel: Cause the thing is, first generation here, they don’t know the actual process of what happens. If this happened today, I would definitely be like, ‘That’s not right. This is what you all’s supposed to do.’ Like I said, we never had any kind of police investigation or like involved with police or…We’re just hard working people, you know what I’m saying? So, if somebody tells you, “This is what it is, you got to pay for it,” and like “Oh, we don’t have the money for it,” I guess case closed then.

Liliana Segura: While we discussed this, it became clear Haribai was getting upset at what he was hearing. It was bad enough to have all this dragged back up. Now it turns out that the little they thought they knew wasn’t even true.

Manishh Patel: They just don’t know what really happened, because the communication was one thing back then, the mental state they were in. So like even just bringing this up right now, is even hard for them right now. Because they kind of sealed it away a little bit, you know? There was like, they’d rather be free, not have to think about this no more.

Liliana Segura: It’s been nearly 20 years since Shailesh Patel was killed. We called the GBI to see what the story was and reached Special Agent Mark Pro. Like a lot of people we spoke to, he was not forthcoming.

Mark Pro: There’s very little information that I can give you. I mean, you can ask some questions, and if I can answer it, I’ll be glad to, but I can’t go into specific details about what we’re investigating or who we’re looking at or anything like that because my agent is actively pursuing leads in the case. I’ve kind of tried to motivate my newer agents to pick up these older cases and put a fresh set of eyes on them. But go ahead, if I can answer any questions for you, feel free to ask.

Liliana Segura: We asked if he could put us in touch with the original agent in charge of the case. A man named Mike Clayton. It’s Clayton’s name that appears next to Patel’s on the GBI unsolved homicides page. Adel police investigator Jimmy Hill’s name is there too.

Mark Pro: I really would not like for that to happen at this point, because we are still working on it and if you put something out there that is different than what we’re looking at, or that if it puts the people on notice that we’re looking back at them, I don’t really want to risk that.

Liliana Segura: I see.

Mark Pro: Generally, and I’ll just be frank with you, we’re dealing in an area in South Georgia that is very small and the neighborhood and the people that live in that area are very close knit and very tight and it’s very difficult to work cases in those type of areas, because everybody unfortunately is related to each other, and they don’t want to give up information on their relatives. Really right now, to be quite honest with you, where we’re at in the case, I really don’t want any kind of publicity on the case other than something simplistic that, “We’re working the case.” I don’t want to get into any kind of specifics, because I don’t want to put somebody on notice that we’re going in a direction. Do you know what I’m saying?

Jordan Smith: Yeah, we knew what he was saying. A bunch of bullshit. I mean, certainly the cops play it close to the vest in the days and weeks following a murder. That makes perfect sense. But nearly two decades later? That makes no sense at all. In cases as cold as this, cops usually welcome some help to shake out tips and new leads. But apparently the GBI is fine with where things are.

Liliana Segura: Pro wasn’t saying anything else. So we tracked down Richard Deas. Deas is a former GBI agent. He collected evidence at the scene of the murder. He retired in 2001.

Richard Deas: I just remember, just like you said, it was very brutal. He was beaten very severely, lots of blood around. I just remember processing and taking pictures, dusting for prints.

Jordan Smith: From that scene, do you remember what you thought about the evidence that you had in front of you to collect? In other words, did it seem like that you had a good amount of evidence that might be probative in trying to determine who did it?

Richard Deas: Yeah. I thought so. They came up with a suspect I thought they could link it to.

Jordan Smith: I don’t know if you know, but that crime was never solved.

Richard Deas: It wasn’t?

Jordan Smith: No, does that surprise you?

Richard Deas: In a way it does. It really does, yeah.

Jordan Smith: Why?

Richard Deas: Well I figured whoever did that would be a person that would be in trouble with the law, or had been in trouble with the law, or would be in trouble with the law again. And there’d be fingerprints on file that they could match to. I thought it might be a local person.

Liliana Segura: We talked to Deas last year. As of today, the story of Shailesh Patel’s murder is still just five short paragraphs on the GBI website, with a gray N/A instead of a picture. The Patel family still has a lot of questions and they may never get answers.

Manishh Patel: We just want to know what happened. You know, I told you, was it a forced entry or not? What was the story? Were they waiting for him at home to get there or did- they were already there and he walked in? How many people were there? Was it one-on-one at the house? Were they going after him or was this really for Vishnu? And really, my uncle just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, kind of thing?

Jordan Smith: One thing is certain. Patel’s murder was part of an emerging pattern of crime in Adel. In fact, it was the second of four heinous murders that engulfed the small city over a two-year period. It started with the murder of Donna Brown in 1998 and ended with the slaughter of a beloved shopkeeper and his employee in 2000. In between, there was Shailesh Patel. Patel’s death didn’t cause the same kind of stir in Adel that these other murders did. Sure, an elderly resident told the newspaper that the crime was a shock. “We live in a nice, quiet neighborhood,” he said. “We have never had anything like this happen here before.” But nobody really knew Shailesh Patel — remember he’d only been in town for a few days when he was killed. And even his family who owned the store there were relative outsiders in the community.

Liliana Segura: But when William Carroll Bennett and Rebecca Browning — the shopkeeper and his employee — were killed in Adel just months later, there was talk. Lots of it. About a man named Hercules Brown. People had told the GBI back in 1998 that it was Hercules, and not Devonia Inman, who killed Donna Brown. Eventually, Hercules would confess to murdering Bennett and Browning. Some wondered, could it be that Hercules was also responsible for the death of Shailesh Patel?

Manishh Patel: Even if it was Hercules Brown, like what was he thinking?

Jordan Smith: Next time on Murderville, the grisly killing of Bennett and Browning. The last two people murdered in a two-year string of bloodshed. Were these really random acts of violence? Or is it possible they were all connected?

Murderville, Georgia is a production of The Intercept and Topic Studios. Alisa Roth is our producer. Ben Adair is our editor. Sound design, editing, and mixing by Bryan Pugh. Production assistance from Isabel Robertson. Our executive producer is Leital Molad. For The Intercept, Roger Hodge is our editor and Betsy Reed is the editor-in-chief. I’m Liliana Segura. And I’m Jordan Smith. You can read our series and see photos at theintercept.com/murderville. You can also follow us on Twitter @lilianasegura and @chronic_jordan. Talk to you next week. If you can’t wait for more episodes, you can binge listen to the entire season ad-free on Stitcher Premium. For a free month of Stitcher Premium, go to stitcherpremium.com/murderville and use promo code MURDERVILLE.

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