Sunday, July 10, 2022

The Murder of Brittany Stykes

 

The evening of August 28th, 2013 was supposed to be a celebratory evening for the family of Brittany Stykes. The 22-year-old woman was due to join her family at their farm in Ripley, Ohio, to celebrate her father's birthday. In the early evening, Brittany and her 14-month-old daughter, Aubree, got into her husband's Jeep to drive to the party. Unfortunately, neither Brittany nor Aubree would make it to their destination that night. 

Shortly before 7:00 PM, a couple driving on Ohio Route 68 saw a Jeep pulled over on the side of the road. When the couple pulled over to inspect the scene, they spotted something horrific. The young woman driving the car, who was later identified as Brittany, had been shot several times. Brittany's infant daughter, Aubree, had also been shot in the head. The frightened couple immediately called Brown County Police to report this gruesome discovery.

Authorities rushed to the area, where they found both Brittany and Aubree suffering from gunshot wounds. Miraculously, Aubree was still alive. She was immediately rushed to the hospital. Tragically, it was too late for Brittany. The young woman, who had suffered gunshot wounds to the arm, neck, and chest, was pronounced dead on the scene. 

Brittany and Aubree were shot in an area located just 3 miles from Brittany's parents' house. Her parents heard the ambulance and police sirens rushing to the scene. Brittany's brother, who was on his way to the party, also noticed the ambulance and police presence on route 68 - so he called his parents to let them know about it. This immediately worried their parents, as they knew Brittany would be taking that route to their house. Brittany's father decided to go to the scene to see it for himself. He was stopped by police, who told him that a young woman and her baby had been shot. Brittany's father immediately knew the victims were his daughter and granddaughter. 

Little Aubree underwent four brain surgeries due to her gunshot wound to the head. She fortunately received proper care and recovered from her injuries. Still, now Aubree was left without her mother. The rest of Brittany's loved ones were also left to deal with their loss. They were also left with several questions - the main questions being: who killed Brittany? Will her killer ever be brought to justice? 

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About Brittany.

While investigating any murder, it is important for detectives to look into the victim's life. Learning about a victim's day-to-day life and the events leading up to their murder can help detectives establish potential suspects, motives, and theories. When detectives looked into Brittany's life, they learned that she was a fairly typical young woman who loved spending time with her family. 

Brittany grew up on her family's farm in Ohio. Brittany loved the farm and would often spend time there with her family - even after she moved out. She enjoyed working on cars with her father, and she also loved interacting with the animals. 

At the time of her death, Brittany was living in her own nearby home with her husband, Shane Stykes, and their daughter Aubree. She was also four months pregnant with her second child. Brittany loved being a mother and was looking forward to having another baby. By all accounts, Brittany seemed like a family-oriented young woman who did not have any known enemies. 

Shane and Brittany with their daughter. 

Brittany's husband.

Brittany's husband, Shane, said he was initially confused when the police showed up at his house on the evening of his wife's murder. He said that he believed Brittany and Aubree were at Brittany's parent's house; he had no clue why the police were at his door at 11:30 PM. However, once police asked him if he was the owner of a yellow Jeep, he immediately knew something was wrong. Brittany had left the house in that Jeep.

Stykes' Jeep

Police inevitably looked into Shane as a suspect. Several other people reportedly felt he was involved as well. Shane is 16 years older than Brittany - making him 38 years-old at the time Brittany was killed, while Brittany was only 22. Such an age gap can often raise red flags. Shane also did not accompany Brittany to the party that evening, leaving some to question if Shane did not get along with Brittany's family. This question became even more prominent when Brittany's parents filed a lawsuit against Shane in December 2013. The lawsuit claimed that Shane was keeping Aubree from them. The lawsuit was short-lived, though, as Brittany's parents dropped it about a month later. 

When questioned by police, Shane told them that he was at a gym at the time Brittany and Aubree were struck by gunfire. Said gym is located an approximate 15-minute drive away from the spot where the shooting occurred. Shane was given a polygraph exam, which he passed. Additionally, police were able to confirm his alibi. Overall, Shane cooperated with the investigation and was eventually cleared as a suspect.

In 2014, Shane told reporters that he knew who killed Brittany. He explained that he had known from the beginning, and he had been "pointing [police] in the right direction from the moment they took him in for questioning." Shane did not publicly identify his suspect in question. He merely said, "it's someone he knows - just not on a personal level."

However, in the same report, Shane also expressed fear that investigators would not solve the case. Even though he had told police exactly what he believes happened, an arrest had still not been made. The report then quotes the police, who disagreed with Shane's assessment of the investigation. They said that they had been working on a prominent theory that they believed would help solve Brittany's murder. Still, police did not elaborate on this theory.

The informant.

In 2015, police revealed that an informant had come forward with information about Brittany's case. The informant was a young woman who said she witnessed the shooting of Brittany. The woman told police that on August 28th, 2013, she was riding in the passenger side of a car belonging to her ex-boyfriend, Tommy Lopez. The couple were at a gas station when they saw Brittany drive past in the yellow Jeep.

Reported surveillance footage of the Jeep (source:browncountycrime.com)

The woman went on to explain that Lopez began following Brittany in his car. She said that Lopez drove behind Brittany for about 25 minutes before the couple plugged in a portable police blue light and turned on the sirens. Brittany, believing that she was being stopped by a police officer, pulled over near Gooselick Road. 

The informant said that she stayed in Lopez's car while Lopez exited the vehicle and approached the Jeep. She explained that she watched as Lopez fired four shots at Brittany's vehicle. He then returned to his own car, and they fled from the scene.

When investigators asked about Lopez's motive, the informant explained that Lopez was a hitman who had been hired to kill Brittany. She explained that Lopez had accepted two payments of $10,000 for this particular hit. The motive, according to the informant, was payback against Brittany's husband Shane. The person who hired Lopez allegedly wanted to get revenge on Shane for not paying drug money that he owed.

At the time the informant came forward in 2015, Lopez was incarcerated in Kentucky on unrelated drug charges. The woman said she was too afraid to come forward prior to Lopez's arrest. Once he was behind bars, she finally decided to speak to police. 

Tommy Lopez

The woman implicated Lopez in not only Brittany's murder, but also two other murders as well. One of the victims was a man who had allegedly sold drugs to an ex-girlfriend of Lopez - who subsequently died of an overdose. The other victim that the informant named was 18-year-old Michaela BrIede, who was killed in her Fort Mitchell, Kentucky home. The informant claimed that Lopez's motive for that murder was robbery. 


Investigating Lopez.

Initially, it appeared that investigators had reasons to believe the informant's story. There was reported surveillance footage of the yellow Jeep that Brittany was driving passing a gas station on the night of the murder. The informant's version of events also seemed to support the evidence that Brittany was the only person who actually got shot. The forensic evidence shows that Aubree was struck in the head by a bullet that had traveled through Brittany's chest. This reveals that the four shots that the informant saw being fired were all aimed at Brittany.

However, there were reasons to doubt the informant's version of events as well. She said that Brittany was killed over a drug debt that her husband Shane owed - but Shane denied being involved with drugs. Just days after Brittany's murder, Shane also told reporters that he was shocked that such a gruesome crime occurred in Ripley. He said that they lived in Ripley to avoid crime. Shane is quoted explaining, "I don't want to be around the drug scene. All my neighbors are very friendly. We're all very close. That's why I don't get this."

Police revealed the informant's account in September 2015. During the months that followed, there were some discrepancies in reports about Lopez's potential involvement in Brittany's murder. In November of 2015, a site called the Brown County Crime Reporter reported that a grand jury was deliberating on whether or not to indict Tommy Lopez for the murder of Brittany Stykes. However, it appears that no other sources posted on these alleged deliberations. The Brown County Crime Reporter also never posted any follow-up on the subject of Brittany's murder. 

No charges filed.

About a month and a half later, in January 2016, the News Democrat reported that Lopez was released from police custody the day after Christmas 2015. The report quoted assistant prosecutor Zac Corbin, who said that Lopez had not yet been cleared of suspicion in Brittany's case, but he also was not yet labeled as a suspect. Corbin also directly contradicted the report from Brown County Crime Reporter, as he stated that they did not yet have enough evidence to utilize a Grand Jury. Corbin explained, "It does us no good for us to run something through a Grand Jury and try to get an indictment when we can’t ultimately go into court and prove beyond a reasonable doubt."

As previously stated, Lopez was incarcerated at the time the Brown County Crime Reporter article was published, but for drug charges that were unrelated to Brittany's case. While Lopez was behind bars, police began to investigate his potential involvement in Brittany's murder. It's possible that the Brown County Crime Reporter was simply confused about Lopez's charges at that time, but it's clear that he has never been charged with anything related to Brittany's case.

Some still suspect that Lopez was involved in Brittany's death, but it appears that these suspicions have dwindled in more recent years. In 2018, Shane Stykes spoke to reporters again, saying that he did not believe that Brittany was pulled over when she was shot.  Shane said that, if Brittany had gotten pulled over, the car would have been at a dead stop and there would not have been any damage to the vehicle. However, the car was damaged in the incident. The front differential of the car had damage consistent with impact. 

Shane then explained that he believed someone had "paced alongside" Brittany in the car and then fired at her. After Brittany was shot, Shane believes that the car then veered into the embankment, causing the vehicular damage. This belief of Shane's once again contradicts the informant's story that Lopez shot Brittany after pulling her over. 

Where the case stands today.

As of 2022, Brittany's murder still remains unsolved. More recent reports have stated that the informant's story was dismissed, but it's unclear if police have officially cleared Lopez as a suspect. Although Shane Stykes said he had been cleared of suspicion, he still feels that people treat him as a suspect. He said that Brittany's parents have pointed the finger at him, and his relationship with them has completely soured. 

There are other people who also still suspect that Shane is responsible Brittany's death. He has since remarried and still continues to deny being involved in Brittany's murder. Early on into the investigation, Shane said he knew who killed Brittany, but the identity of said person has never been revealed. It's unclear if police consider this elusive person to be a person of interest or not. 

There is a monetary reward available for anyone with information that could lead to the arrest of Brittany's killer. If you have any information that could help the investigation, please contact investigators via email at qcarlson@bcoso.us or by calling 937-378-4435.
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