Investigation Discovery is premiering all new specials every night for five days during Serial Killer Week. The majority of them are similar in format to many true crime documentaries. But there is a recurring theme among these killers. No one pegged them for psychopathic or sociopathic tormentors in day to day life. They all could have been the guy next door, down the block, or in the next room. That is, until they were trying to escape a room. That’s how “I Didn’t Know It Was Blood,” a special extended 90-minute episode of the series Evil Lives Here, opens.
The first thing we hear is a 911 call from a woman, known only as Jane Doe, who says she’s been abducted and is afraid to wake up the man who is keeping her captive. Every noise she makes into the phone, as the 911 operator tries to get information, puts her in more imminent danger. The man she is afraid of is Shawn Grate, to all outward appearances, a normal guy. This is someone so average he could ask his girlfriend to clean up his homicidal crime scenes like they were lethal leftovers. He even gets angry when she misses a spot, and she doesn’t think much of it.
Christina Hildreth first met Grate in 2005 and was his girlfriend for six years. She had no clue. The scene where she talks about cleaning the stairway of an old house Shawn was trying to flip, gives the episode its title. “I didn’t know it was blood,” she says before biting back on her acknowledgement she cleaned the blood of a young woman. The victim had been selling magazines door-to-door across the country. Two bodies were found at the house Jane Doe was being held captive, Stacey Stanley and Elizabeth Griffin. Hildreth had no idea about those either.
Grate was charming, even though he was also domineering, jealous, and violent. He was arrested when he was 18 years old for grabbing his girlfriend’s throat. When he was 23, he broke the home of his 17-year-old pregnant girlfriend and choked her, later threatening to kill her. The documentary keeps its focus tight on Hildreth, as she comes to grips with all she’d missed which was right in front of her. This makes the installment increasingly claustrophobic, especially as she describes Grate becoming more tightly delineated within his own karmic fantasia. He never leaves the house. He goes through increasingly growing paranoia. His jealousy spouts through as he begins to demand control of her entire life.
We get most of Grate’s background from Hildreth. We learn his parents got divorced when he was 6 years old and his mom’s only answer was to encourage him to pray away the pain. Hildreth tells of his dual nature. She confronts him with a ring she knows he’s lying about. She stops wearing it when he admits it came from a burglary, because she can’t accept he proposed to her with a “stolen ring.” When she finds out even this is a lie, and that the ring came from his first victim, it makes her sick. But Hildreth doesn’t see how the two-headed monster for what he is until she confronts Grate with something seemingly odd, but not necessarily ominous: Every kitchen knife in their house is missing. At first she sees the violence behind the eyes which he hides with his charm. Then he becomes apologetic. It gets to be a frightening pattern.
This escalation of the violence in the home which Hildreth talks about takes on interesting parallels to the growing violence in Grate’s life. When he breaks furniture over a vase she moves, it is like a serial killer moving from torturing animals to harming people. The domestic abuse becomes more flagrant, just like serial killers get emboldened by not getting caught. Grate goes from taking pictures of his girlfriend’s wounds to moving her children out of their home just to further isolate her.
When Hildreth made her escape and Grate was charged with domestic violence charges, he was sentenced to 120 days. She’d been his prisoner for six years, Hildreth makes plain in the recollection of her initial reaction, and is only given a six month furlough. She goes on the run, but two years later Grate finds her friend and tries to get information about Hildreth. In his trunk, the friend spots too many implements of bondage to ignore. By this point, “I Didn’t Know It Was Blood” has been building its suspense gradually, and very personally. Then we get to the 911 call which brings it all into perspective.
“I’ve been kidnapped,” Jane Doe whispers to the 911 dispatcher who tries to keep her on the line. Jane Doe told police she was tied to a bed and sexually assaulted for days. The woman told police she had known Grate for a month and a half before the abduction. After he kidnapped her, he broke into an abandoned home. Grate was arrested on Sept. 13, 2016. He had also been squatting in an abandoned home with a woman named Candice Cunningham. Her body was found after Grate told police they would find remains next to a burned-down house. Police found garbage, dirty clothes, and stuffed animals piled around the rooms, which smelled of decay. An upstairs room was sealed with duct tape. Police found the body of a strangled woman beneath a pile of clothes. They found the decomposing remains of a second victim in the basement.
Grate confessed to the 2006 killing of Dana Nicole Lowrey. He told the police he dumped her body and returned to burn the evidence. Her remains were found in 2007. Rebekah Leicy’s body was discovered in February 2015. Originally ruled an overdose, Grate confessed to strangling her and dumping her body. He ultimately admitted killing five women. Hildreth is convinced that is a conservative estimate.
Investigation Discovery is putting all their serial killers in one bowl for the week. The Evil Lives Here series spoons its revelations slowly and methodically. By keeping the focus on one, flawed and shaken, victim, “I Didn’t Know It was Blood” angles the storytelling outwardly. Hildreth is a believable and sympathetic focus which offsets the horrific crimes of Grates only to make the killings more chilling because it allows the audience to fill in the stories of the dead women with the anguish of the living survivor. Shawn Grate kidnapped and tortured his victims, psychologically and otherwise, before strangling them. When Hildreth comes to the realization her face could have been on one of the photos of the dead women she looks through, she makes us realize it could have been anyone.
Evil Lives Here’s “I Didn’t Know It Was Blood” kicked off Serial Killer Week on Aug. 30 at 9 p.m. on ID.