A request from a Paw Paw councilman set Wade Shambaugh on a path that would carry him through 20 years of law enforcement service in Morgan County.
Sgt. Shambaugh retired on Sunday, August 30 from the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, closing out a two-decade career in uniform.
His start in law enforcement came after years spent working in structural steel in the Winchester area.
In June of 2000, the late Louie Herrell told Shambaugh the Town of Paw Paw was in need of an officer, since they had only part-time coverage from DNR officer Rod Mills.
Shambaugh completed the 16-week West Virginia State Police Academy, and took the reins as Paw Paw’s officer. He would serve as the town as officer and chief, also working part-time with the Town of Bath before moving to the Sheriff’s Department. Along the way, he also worked in federal law enforcement as a contractor for the Federal Protective Service – a position he would keep for 10 years.
Shambaugh joined the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department in September 2004 under Sheriff Ronnie McIntire.
McIntire’s Chief Deputy, Tim Stapleton, would be one of the officers he worked most closely with over the next 16 years. Stapleton is now a Captain and the department’s lead investigator.
“Timmy is the smartest, calmest guy you’d every want to work with,” Shambaugh said. “When he’s left alone to do what he needs to do, he’s probably worth three or four officers.”
The pair would work several high-profile cases together, some of which stick out in Shambaugh’s mind as highlights in his career.
Not every case came with a headline, including their recovery of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stolen property for county residents.
But some cases did gain attention. One was their murder case against James Zell Jr.
Just days before Christmas 2011, local police were alerted by officers in Shenandoah County, Va. that the Berkeley Springs man was rumored to have killed his girlfriend.
Shambaugh and Stapleton went to the couple’s residence in Tri-Lake Park to speak with Zell. They questioned where his girlfriend, Kelly Elizabeth Butler, might be. Zell claimed he didn’t know.
Later that night, Zell would be picked up on DUI charges in Pennsylvania. Shambaugh and Stapleton interviewed him again, this time coming away with a confession that Zell had strangled Butler. Officers were then able to locate and recover her body from a remote cabin in Hampshire County, where she had been for two weeks.
Zell was later convicted on two murder charges – one for the strangulation of Butler, who was pregnant, and another for the death of Butler’s unborn child.
“It’s about the stuff you can do for victims, or families to get closure. She wasn’t even reported missing up until we solved it,” Shambaugh said.
He and Stapleton also solved the case of an ATM machine that had been stolen from the Bank of Romney in Paw Paw, following clues that led them to find the mangled remnants of the machine buried in a field in Gore, Va. Their investigation took them to Cumberland and into Virginia, and even into a graveyard in Paw Paw, Shambaugh said. Two men — Scott Heward of Cumberland and Brian Stotler of Gore – were convicted of grand larceny in the case.
“Shifts didn’t matter,” he said of their multi-day pursuit of leads in the case.
He recalls one case that ended well, even without a criminal conviction. Working with former Prosecutor Debra McLaughlin, he was able to recover $65,000 for an elderly man who had been robbed of his money by a local couple claiming to care for him.
No crime had been reported, but Shambaugh uncovered their financial scheme after being contacted about the elderly man’s housing situation.
“He was penniless and I looked into how it was he didn’t have any money,” he said.
It turned out the couple had siphoned off his funds to the point he had no money to pay for a place to live.
Shambaugh gave the couple the option to return the man’s money or face a felony indictment. They showed up the next day with $65,000.
“It’s not always about putting people in jail,” he said.
Looking back, Shambaugh said his fellow officers have shaped his career.
“It’s all about the guys you work with,” he said.
As a young officer in Paw Paw, he worked his first complicated felony sexual abuse case with West Virginia State Police Trooper Chuck Platt. At that time, Joe Adams was the local troop commander over Platt, Troopers Todd Peer and Eric Widmeyer. Morgan County’s Sheriff was Bill Spitzer, Ronnie McIntire was his Chief Deputy and Tim Stapleton and Vince Shambaugh were the core of the department back then.
Vince Shambaugh would later become Sheriff, with Wade serving as his Chief Deputy. The two men are cousins.
The pair would answer many calls together, but one domestic incident in 2007 remains clear in his memory.
The two were called to respond to a residence where a woman had been stabbed multiple times. The attacker, reportedly armed with a rifle, had barricaded the couple inside.
Unsure of where the man was, the two officers went into the residence to get the victim out without waiting for additional backup.
The decision was risky, Shambaugh said, but they were sure the woman would bleed to death if they waited.
“Vince had to put his gun away to drag her out,” Shambaugh said. That left him as the only armed officer to provide cover and meet the attacker as his partner pulled the injured woman out of the residence to safety and medical help.
“People talk about ‘leading from the front’,” Shambaugh said of the former sheriff. “That’s what leading from the front looks like.”
Change & the future
Despite changes in technology and equipment over 20 years, Shambaugh said policing in a rural area still depends on having the ability to read a situation very quickly, and act appropriately.
“We have to sort stuff out in a hurry and stay alive while we’re doing it,” he said.
Sheriff K.C. Bohrer said Shambaugh is known for his calm demeanor, leadership and wisdom. He’s distinguished himself as the department’s firearms expert and trainer, Bohrer said.
In his retirement, Shambaugh will continue to work as the lead firearms instructor for the Peacemaker National Training Center in Glengary. He plans to travel to see his daughter and granddaughter in San Diego, and to hunt and fish with friends around the country.