When Shelby Svensen returned to his native Ohio just before Christmas, friends said he showed up driving an SUV they’d never seen before, flashing cash and jewelry.
The 25-year-old acted invincible, they said. He called himself “God” and “sugar daddy.”
“He was power tripping,” Oscar Marcano told the Tampa Bay Times. “Like tripping hard." He said Svensen told him that he had inherited $25,000. Svensen said he wanted to settle down in Lakewood, Ohio, with his two young children and “live it up.” He put down a year’s rent on a house. He went to Walmart everyday, Marcano said, and came back with TVs, Playstations, appliances and workout equipment.
What Svensen’s Ohio friends didn’t know at the time is that they were seeing him just days after Pinellas County authorities believe he killed three of his in-laws in their Tarpon Springs home.
Then his wife was found dead, buried in the yard of their old home. Authorities believe he killed her a year ago and fooled her family into thinking she was alive.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Tarpon Springs murder suspect pretended wife was still alive, deputies say
Svensen had always been an “oddball” and a “loner,” friends said. He sponged off others and could turn violent. He had two kids, ages 2 and 3, but seemed ill-suited for fatherhood. He sought contentment, but only brought discontent.
“He was into spirituality and being healthy and working out,” Marcano wrote in a Facebook message. “(He) wanted to be happy and to have a life where he provides his true known value. We would dream about it all the time.
“But yeah man, dude was inappropriate. Would curse and be aggressive in front of children, mothers, cops doesn’t matter.”
• • •
Svensen, who also goes by Shelby John Nealy, was arrested Jan. 3 by Ohio authorities on three counts of first-degree murder.
Tarpon Springs police believe he is responsible for this grisly New Year’s Day discovery: Richard Ivancic, 71, Laura Ivancic, 59, and their adopted son Nicholas Ivancic, 25, dead inside their home.
Police believe they were killed Dec. 19 or 20. A relative said they were all beaten to death and robbed of jewelry, heirlooms and video games. Their three dogs were also found dead inside. The SUV that Svensen was driving belonged to Laura Ivancic.
Investigators started searching for the Ivancics’ adopted daughter, Jamie, who married Svensen. On Jan. 6, they found a body buried in the yard of the younger couple’s old Port Richey home. It was the 21-year-old mother of two, who hadn’t been heard from since January 2018.
Her friends said Svensen must have been using her phone to pose as his wife and send photos of the children to her family to convince them she was alive.
The Tarpon Springs Police Department said Svensen confessed to killing his three in-laws. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said he also confessed to killing his wife, and the agency said it intends to charge him with her murder.
The couple bounced around Florida and Ohio. Her uncle, James Zindroski, a former police chief in Ohio, said he knew little of Svensen other than that he had spent time in and out of psychiatric care and had a criminal record.
“He was always kind of a mysterious kind of kid,” Zindroski said. “You never really could pin him down with anything.”
Svensen now awaits extradition back to Florida to stand trial. But his story starts where he grew up, in Parma, Ohio.
• • •
Svensen’s mother frequently kicked him out of the house when he was a teenager, friends said. He was homeless through most of his high school years, living in cars and sleeping on couches.
One of his closest friends in high school, Jazalynn McConnell, said his strained relationship with his family wasn’t helped when he dropped out of Parma Community High School early in the 2012-13 school year.
“They treated him like a black sheep,” she said of his family. Svensen’s parents could not be reached for comment.
Svensen isolated himself in high school, friends said. He’d often go to the park and listen to music by himself.
“He was like the emo kid walking around and nobody wanted to talk to him,” McConnell said.
She and her then-boyfriend befriended Svensen in 2013. The friendship seemed "natural," she said, and they helped bring Svensen out of his shell.
For three years, she said, she and Svensen spent almost every single day together. She said Svensen became somebody she could lean on. He also played the referee when she fought with her boyfriend and could calm her down.
McConnell said Svensen was a “great guy,” especially considering what he was dealing with at the time.
But Jamie Ivancic's biological sister Karma Stewart, who said she also knew Svensen in high school, said that’s not the person she remembers.
"Everybody got weird vibes (from him)," Stewart said. "Everyone knew he was a pathological liar."
McConnell said she knew Svensen had anger issues. But she never saw it until he got married.
• • •
In early 2012, Svensen married Kaitlyn Farahay. She was 17 and pregnant then. He was a dropout.
They separated a month later, and divorced a year after that. McConnell described the relationship as “rocky.”
“He would get angry about the littlest thing,” she said. “When Kaitlyn would post a random picture or be talking to somebody in the hallway he would get really angry.”
Then, friends said he would bounce back and move on like nothing happened.
But the couple often fought, and Svensen told friends that she was physically abusing him.
They believed Svensen. But after the divorce, there were incidents that started to trouble them.
Marcano recalled helping Svensen move into a new place with a roommate that had a cat and dog. They’d hang out there, Marcano said, then suddenly he’d see Svensen physically lash out at the animals.
Marcano wondered if Farahay had suffered similar abuse: “I instantly thought about his ex-wife.”
After the divorce, Svensen and Farahay were not close. He didn’t pay child support, friends said. Nor did he talk to her, or his daughter, until she was 4 or 5.
• • •
By 2015, McConnell lost touch with Svensen. So did other friends. They said he had exhausted all their goodwill.
Svensen worked as little as possible, Marcano said, smoked marijuana and did other drugs. He called his ex-friend an “energy vampire.”
Still bouncing from home to home, friends said Svensen overstayed his welcome, took advantage of friends and was abusive.
“He was a leech,” Marcano said. “Almost every encounter you have with him will put you in a bad mood, he’d be in a bad mood himself, and use you for everything you had and over step it two times.”
Then Svensen met his second wife.
Jamie Ivancic met Svensen through her brother Nicholas. Svensen was friends with her brother and always hanging out at their house in Ohio, her sister said. They got married in Palm Beach County in November 2015, records show.
By that time, Svensen was no longer friends with his wife’s brother. He didn’t like the way Svensen treated his sister, Stewart said, and he didn't like that the two were together.
“Shelby brought out the worst in her,” Stewart said of her sister. “He is very aggressive and controlling.”
In October 2016, husband and wife were both arrested, accused of assaulting each other.
Firefighters and officers were called to their home, according to a police report. They found the couple in their basement. Jamie Ivancic was crying. Svensen said he was having suicidal thoughts.
“I need help,” he said. “I need to go to the hospital.”
His wife told police that he had choked her, thrown her against a wall and bitten her in the shoulder. She also said she was 16 weeks pregnant with their second child and feared she could lose the baby.
At the hospital, Svensen told a physician that his wife hit and choked him, too. Both were arrested. Her charge was later dropped, records show. When Svensen was arrested Jan. 3, Ohio police held him on the 2016 charge.
• • •
Those who know Svensen described recent, troubling encounters with him in Ohio.
Months ago, McConnell said she ran into him. This would have taken place while authorities believe Jamie Ivancic was dead but her husband had convinced her family she was still alive.
But McConnell said Svensen told her a different story: “He told me his wife was in the psych ward and then she killed herself so now he was a single dad and was raising the kids alone.”
Then, last month, Marcano said he saw how the single dad treated his two children: “Abusive.”
“He would yank them around ...,” he said, “and when they would resist and rebel, as a 2-year-old would, instead of being the parent and bringing the peace he would yell at them ... screaming it to their face.”
Stewart said she ran into Svensen at Walmart three days before his arrest. She demanded to know where her sister was.
He said his wife left in the middle of the night and went to Florida to live with her parents. He said Jamie Ivancic couldn’t call anyone because her phone was broken. She could only text.
“He said she didn’t have a phone and said he could give me her mom’s phone number,” Stewart said.
That would be the number for Laura Ivancic, who was found dead with her family. That disturbed Stewart:
“He gave it to me, knowing that he had already killed her.”
Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Contact McKenna Oxenden at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @mack_oxenden.