Does a male acquaintance and his father hold the answers to Molly Dattilo’s disappearance and the location of her remains?
Molly Laura Dattilo was a 22-year-old college student and scholarship runner at Eastern Kentucky University—spending the summer in Indianapolis, Indiana—when she went missing on July 6, 2004. Prior to her disappearance, Molly—a native of Madison, Indiana—was taking summer classes at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis while staying with her brother at the Westlake Apartments on the west side of the city. She was also taking vocal lessons and practicing to audition for American Idol later that summer.
At the time of her disappearance, Molly’s physical description included: white female, around 5 feet tall and 100 pounds, with an athletic build, light brown hair with blonde highlights, and hazel / green eyes. Molly also had a small birthmark near her right elbow and a slightly deformed left thumb resulting from a childhood accident.
Molly came from a large family, the youngest of nine children. Her friends and family described her as “... a very social and trusting person.”
When Molly went missing
The day Molly disappeared—July 6, 2004—she attended classes and did some shopping before walking to a Wendy’s near her brother’s apartment around 7:00 pm to drop off a job application. On her way there, she ran into a friend of her brother’s, who spoke briefly with her. This friend would later recall that Molly had her cell phone with her at the time they spoke.
Later that evening, Molly attended a party at the Westlake Apartments complex, where she met a man named John E. Shelton. At some point, Molly and John left the party to take a rowboat out on the complex’s retention pond, then ate dinner at a nearby Taco Bell. Around 11:00 pm, they ended up at a Thornton’s gas station about 3 miles from the Taco Bell—but in the opposite direction of the Westlake Apartments.
Molly attempted to call a friend from the gas station’s pay phone, but the line disconnected as soon as the friend answered. That was the last time anyone other than John E. Shelton saw or heard from Molly. When questioned, he claimed he took Molly home after they left the gas station.
Declared legally dead after 13 years missing
Molly’s brother did not immediately report Molly missing because it wasn’t abnormal for her to be away from the apartment due to her busy schedule and social life. After two days without seeing or hearing from Molly, however, her brother became worried and notified the police on July 8, 2004.
At first, law enforcement treated Molly’s disappearance as if Molly simply left on her own (at 22 years old, she was legally an adult), and they did not open an investigation right away. When authorities learned that Molly’s belongings—including her car, cell phone, bank card, money, and ID—were still at her brother’s apartment, they began to consider that foul play may have been involved. The fact that Molly’s phone was found in her brother’s apartment is noteworthy because it means she (or someone with her phone) was in her brother’s apartment sometime after Molly delivered the job application at Wendy’s when her brother’s friend saw her with her phone.
After losing valuable investigation time soon after Molly’s disappearance, police did not have any luck identifying a suspect or finding Molly. The family took matters into their own hands, launching a campaign to get Molly’s story into the media and collect any intel they could to uncover leads.
They also began advocating for a new law that would require law enforcement to act immediately in cases of adult missing persons where the missing person is considered high risk. Enacted in 2007 and updated in 2013, the Molly Dattilo Law directs law enforcement to take missing person reports about adults and to begin investigating immediately if the missing person is considered at high risk of being in danger.
Based largely on their own investigation and what little information they could get from police, Molly’s family became convinced that John E. Shelton and his father, Edward Shelton, were responsible for Molly’s disappearance and likely death. While authorities were not prepared to bring criminal charges against John E. Shelton, the Dattilo family worked with an attorney to file a civil lawsuit against him and his father, which resulted in a judgment that awarded the Dattilos nearly $3.5 million in damages.
Molly’s family assumes they will never receive any money—John E. Shelton is currently in prison, and his father’s whereabouts are unknown—but they were relieved to get what little justice they could on Molly’s behalf.
In 2017, more than 13 years after Molly’s disappearance, a judge signed an order declaring Molly Dattilo legally dead.
Where the case stands today
There have been no criminal charges filed in Molly’s case, but the family believes John E. Shelton and his father, Edward, are responsible for Molly’s death. They hope that one day Molly will receive the full justice of a criminal conviction and that they will find Molly’s remains so they can lay her to rest.
Anyone with information regarding Molly Dattilo’s disappearance, death, or the location of her remains should contact Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana at 317-262-TIPS (8477) or the Marion County Sheriff’s Office at 317-327-1700.