RIPLEY, Ohio – Even from a few miles away, Mary Dodson heard the sirens screaming up U.S. Route 68.
Minutes earlier, she sat down for dinner with her husband Dave Dodson to celebrate his 49th birthday. The couple’s 22-year-old pregnant daughter, Brittany Stykes, was on her way with their granddaughter Aubree to celebrate.
She was running late.
The Dodsons weren’t worried, until they heard those sirens.
“Oh Dave, something’s happened,” Mary said.
The phone rang. It was their son.
“Mom, there’s something bad happening on 68. We’re headed home and it’s all over the scanners.”
Dave jumped in his truck and headed up U.S. Route 68 until he was about a half-mile from Gooselick Road. It was a route he had taken countless times. But on this night, police blocked him.
“Is it a girl with long brown hair?” he asked. “Does she have a little red-headed baby?”
“Yes,” an officer replied.
On Aug. 28, 2013, the Dodsons lost their daughter and almost lost their grandchild. One year later, no one has been charged and no suspects have been named.
But Brittany’s widower, Shane Stykes, said he knows who killed his wife – and has since “day one.”
An Early ‘Suspect’ Points The Finger
Police found Brittany shot multiple times in Shane’s bright yellow Jeep Wrangler just after 8 p.m. The vehicle was sitting in an embankment just three miles from Brittany’s parents. The couple’s 14-month-old daughter, Aubree, was still strapped in her car seat, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head.
Shane said he was working out at a gym just 15 minutes away when his wife and child were shot.
He was home when deputies knocked on his door at 11:30 p.m.
“I let them in and they asked me if I owned a yellow Jeep,” Shane said. “At that point I knew something was wrong.”
Deputies brought Shane to the sheriff’s office where they questioned him and swabbed his hands for gunpowder. Exactly two weeks later, investigators said they cleared Shane of any involvement in the case, stating his alibi and “scientific testing” checked out.
Despite that, Shane, 38, said he’s always felt like a suspect.
“I knew right off the bat that they suspected me,” he said. “It upsets me that there are people still today that suspect me. It just breaks my heart.”
After dozens of tips, investigators have made no arrests and have not recovered a weapon. They still can’t say for sure if Brittany knew her killer or exactly where the shots came from, only where the car ended up.
But Shane said he’s been pointing them in the right direction from the moment they took him in for questioning.
“They know who I’ve said that I believe it is from day one and I haven’t changed my story one bit,” he said. “I don’t want to be hypocritical in this situation because there are a lot of people right now that are pointing fingers. I have the pleasure of knowing that the people who are pointing those fingers are dead wrong.”
Shane would not identify the person, but said it’s someone he knows – just “not on a personal level.”
Since Brittany’s death, Shane said he’s been living in “hell.”
His daughter underwent four brain surgeries and is still healing from the bullet that entered her head just above her eyebrows.
In December, he was involved in a custody lawsuit with Brittany’s parents over Aubree. The Dodsons claimed Shane, who has two other children, was keeping their granddaughter from them.
The lawsuit was dropped about a month later, but Shane’s relationship with the Dodsons remains rocky.
“(Life) has been terrible,” he said. “Dealing with a lot of pain, trying – just trying to maintain my lifestyle, trying to still be a father to my children.”
At the one-year mark, Shane said he’s not optimistic his wife’s homicide will be solved.
As more time goes by, he said his chances for closure dwindle.
“This should have been wrapped up months ago,” Shane said. “If things continue like they’re going now… I’m deathly afraid that it’s not going to get solved.”
But investigators disagree. In fact, they’re working on a theory they “strongly believe” could solve this case.
The Clock Ticks
Answering, “Who killed Brittany Stykes?” is the biggest challenge lead investigator Buddy Moore has faced at the Brown County Sheriff’s Office.
“Crimes like that do not happen out here,” he said. “And to go on a year, this is a first for me.”
Everywhere he goes, Moore is met with questions about Brittany. Even at the grocery store, strangers ask, “What’s the latest?” They also offer theories of their own, he said.
His department has received about 70 tips from phone calls, Crime Stoppers and more.
But Moore said it isn’t enough.
“Honestly it’s not as many as we’d like,” he said. “There are people out there that know about this case… If this was their family, I guarantee they’d come forward and expect somebody to talk. So get off your butt and talk to us.”
Moore said he’s working on several promising leads in the case – and those leads are supported by about a dozen people currently behind bars.
“People in custody have talked to us,” he said. “They’ve not led us where we want to be, but I think they’ve led us in the right direction… The type of crowd they run with is the type of crowd that’s involved in this.”
Moore and other investigators have not ruled anything out, but said they have a good idea what the motive in this case might be.
They are also looking at specific people they believe may be responsible.
“I do not feel it was a random act,” he said. “There’s not (enough evidence) yet, but we’ll get there. I strongly believe we’ll get there.”
As difficult as this case may be, Moore said facing Brittany’s parents without answers is even tougher.
Dave Dodson calls Moore almost every day to discuss theories, learn the latest and keep his daughter’s case on the top of the sheriff’s to-do list.
But Moore never has the answers Dodson wants.
“Receiving calls from Dave Dodson every day and not having great news to tell him is one of the hardest things I personally deal with,” Moore said. “When he calls, I want to be able to tell him something wonderful. But I’m not going to lie to the man.”
Brittany’s Killer Tried To ‘Clean A Slate’
Dave and Mary Dodson are in pain, living just miles from where their daughter died.
Some mornings, Dave wakes up thinking Brittany is alive. He cries every time he sees the four-wheeler she grew up riding, and he can't bring himself to finish fixing the old cars they'd been working on together.
Mary, 46, struggles to go into the room where she sewed baby clothes with her daughter. Brittany, she said, was her best friend.
“I loved my daughter so much,” she said. “We were together every day. We did everything together.”
Several animals used to roam the Dodsons’ country property. Brittany would ride horses and deliver puppies. She was over often.
But her death has taken a toll on the family. What was once a vibrant home is now quiet.
“I spend a lot of my time wondering, ‘How am I going to go another 40 years without my daughter?’” Mary said. “That to me is unthinkable.”
Like Moore, Mary and Dave said they are often approached in public about Brittany’s case.
When they took Aubree to a car show in Columbus – more than 100 miles from their home – a stranger asked them why they looked familiar, Mary said.
Drivers still slow down when passing the Dodsons’ home. Dave notices their glances and understands their curiosity.
“They’re just like us,” he said. “They want answers.”
The Dodsons said their granddaughter Aubree is one of the biggest sources of joy in their lives. She has kept them grounded since Brittany’s death.
Aubree Stykes acts like any normal toddler, the Dodsons said.
On July 29, Aubree turned 2 years old and only a small scar remains under her long red hair where the bullet entered her skull.
She smiles, runs and plays like any normal toddler. But she still has moments when she tells Mary, “Me-maw, I miss my mommy.”
The Dodsons said it’s those moments that make them realize why solving Brittany’s case is so important.
They want to be able to give Aubree answers, too.
“She got one birthday with her mother and she’s already asking me, ‘What happened to my mommy?’” Mary said. “I don’t want her coming to me when she’s 14 saying, ‘Me-maw, explain it to me,’ and I can’t. I don’t want that.”
Mary said Brittany was a country girl at heart, and rarely left the farm. She never traveled, and didn’t hang out with bad crowds. The Dodsons said they believe she wasn’t killed in a random act; whoever shot her knew what they were doing.
“To take out a family, to take out a pregnant woman and her child… to me, that was like cleaning a slate,” Mary said.
Mary and Dave don’t know who killed their daughter, but said they have a theory.
Now it’s a matter of moving forward, and waiting for authorities to prove them right or wrong, they said.
But even the slightest reminders take them back to that day.
While Mary washed dishes last week, she heard sirens in the distance.
“I relive (Brittany’s death) every time I hear sirens go up 68,” she said.
“I lost my daughter that day… I want an answer why. I don’t want to wait 20 years to find out.”