Nerissa Annette Shaw, whose sheet-wrapped body was found last week in St. Louis Park, was remembered by her niece as a fun-loving mom of three who enjoyed fishing and family before alcohol and poor “choices in men” took her life on a downward spiral of homelessness and domestic violence.
Walter Thompson III, 54, Nerissa’s long-time boyfriend, has been charged with second-degree murder and stands accused of beating and possibly kicking Shaw to death in their Minneapolis apartment before recruiting the help of his daughter, Rachel, and sister, Senaca, to move her body to dispose of the body behind a Cedar Lake Road industrial business. His daughter and sister have been charged with accomplice after the fact.
Nerissa died on Friday, Sept. 13, according to the criminal complaint, just miles from the north Minneapolis neighborhood where she was born 46 years earlier.
Soon after she enrolled at Unity High School in the early 1980s, Nerissa’s father moved to Pine Bluff, Ark., leaving her in her older brother’s custody. (Nerissa’s mother, who died three years ago from alcoholism, was out of the picture during her childhood. Her father, now 90, still lives in Arkansas.)
Troy Shaw was actually slightly older than her aunt and became a close friend to Nerissa during that period.
“We were really tight,” Troy said. “We did a lot of firsts together: We did the going out together, the partying, the hanging out, the barbecuing and all that type of stuff. She was very family-oriented, she was very loving.”
After graduating from Unity, Nerissa got a well-paying job at Honeywell, dated “nice men,” according to her niece, and gave birth to her first child, a son, now 18.
She had a “good disposition” and “was a very smart and intelligent person,” Troy said. “I looked up to her for a long time, and then, slowly but surely, her choices in men caused me to”—a reflective pause—“she became stuck on alcohol, really.”
Nerissa’s family life was often marked by tragedy.
“One of the sisters died in prison from a heart attack, my brother was killed, then they lost their mom, then another brother passed away from lung cancer,” her niece said. “They were a family of 10, and they’re down to three.”
But for a while, Nerissa went forward with her life, living in Shakopee and Richfield for a time and giving birth to her second children, a boy now in his early teens.
Her niece traces the dark phase of her life to when she met Thompson, about five years ago.
“Up until she started going through the cycle with him, her life was pretty normal,” Troy said.
Thompson’s lengthy criminal rap sheet includes multiple convictions for domestic abuse. In 2011, Nerissa received an order of protection against him; he was convicted of violating the order in 2012.
After she met Thompson, she stopped working, started hanging around St. Paul and was evicted from an apartment near East 66th Street and Nicollet Avenue in Richfield. She and Thompson were temporarily homeless before they moved in to a 15 East Grant Street apartment together, according to the niece.
Dating Thompson, Nerissa became alienated from her family, her niece said, and her drinking intensified.
“She wasn’t the type of girl who went from man to man,” Troy said. “Once she got into a relationship with someone, she stuck it out; that’s how we Shaw women are, really.”
On Monday, when the three Thompsons made their first appearance in Hennepin County Court, Troy was joined by five of her aunt’s friends and family members in the gallery.
“We’re going to get through this,” Troy said. “We’re concentrating on making sure that Walter Thompson and Senaca and Rachel get prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Brandy Miklethun LeShore, a close friend of the family, wrote on St. Louis Park Patch that sitting in the courtroom as Thompson’s daughter and sister’s bail was reduced to $10,000 felt like someone had “stabbed us in the chest.”
“How are we suppose to cope?” LeShore wrote. “How do I look in my family's eyes and tell them it’s gonna be okay?”
Troy Shaw expressed anger that Thompson’s history of domestic abuse did not translate to more time behind bars.“What I want to see happen is that domestic abuse laws change to protect the victims more than they protect the perpetrators,” she said. “When you look at how many interactions they had with that man, they knew that there was an issue, but they didn’t do anything.”