Wellington is known for its peace and quiet. At a recent meeting of the village’s Public Safety Committee, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said the biggest issue in Wellington is vehicle burglaries — with many people not locking their cars at night.
So when a serious crime does happen here, it seems to be all the more shocking. It shatters the fragile peace upon which we rely. It becomes the talk of the water cooler, the grocery line, the counter at Gabriel’s Cafe and Grille.
After the PBSO made an arrest last week in the 1990 cold case killing of Marlene Warren at her Aero Club home by a person dressed as a clown, “the clown killing” was on everyone’s lips. When I would introduce myself to people around the western communities in my first official week as your reporter, it was one of the first questions I was asked: Were you here when it happened?
No, but I have been here for some of Wellington’s more sensational crimes, the ones that seem to shake the foundation that one person with whom I spoke referred to as our “suburban utopia.”
1. The death of Scott Patrick Wilson
In 2010, Scott Patrick Wilson was driving to his mother’s home in Wellington for a visit. As he passed westbound through Lake Worth Road’s intersection with 120th Avenue South, his vehicle was T-boned by a Bentley driven by John Goodman, the multi-millionaire owner of the International Polo Club Palm Beach.
The force of the collision sent Wilson’s car rocketing into the canal that runs along the south side of Lake Worth Road, where Wilson drowned as, prosecutors later said, Goodman fled the scene.
Goodman continues to fight the charges that he was under the influence when he hit Wilson. In a 2014 retrial, he was found guilty of DUI manslaughter with failure to render aid. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison, but his legal battle continues. Goodman’s case now is with Florida’s Supreme Court as his attorneys argue Florida Department of Law Enforcement rules governing how blood is drawn and tested in DUI cases could have had an effect on Goodman’s results.
The trial included several interesting twists that kept Wellington talking, including Goodman’s so-called “man cave” defense — his attorneys argued he was sober when he hit Wilson, but drank later in a man cave at a friend’s barn — and Goodman’s attempt to adopt his girlfriend.
2. Neal Jacobson shooting
In January 2010, about a month before Wilson’s death, Neal Jacobson shot and killed his wife, Franki, and twin 7-year-old sons, Joshua and Eric, at their home in The Isles. Jacobson fled the house, making it to the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and State Road 7 before crashing his SUV.
To outsiders, the Jacobson family’s life seemed idyllic. They lived in an exclusive gated community, in a house worth more than $750,000. On the day of the shooting, the family was to celebrate the boys’ birthday with a party at Fun Depot in Lake Worth.
But Neal Jacobson was facing mounting debt. He had left behind a thriving New Jersey mortgage brokerage to care for his ailing father in Florida, the Post reported at the time. After his father died, Jacobson turned to a close friend — who died of cancer a week before the shooting.
Jacobson’s attorneys ultimately said the mounting stress combined with side effects from prescription medication led the troubled man to kill his family. He accepted a plea deal and in 2012 was sentenced to three life terms in prison.
3. The killer clown
Marlene Warren’s shooting death is one of the biggest crimes in Wellington’s history. The details were so shocking: Someone dressed as a clown had broken the sleepy idyll of one corner of the as-yet-unincorporated suburb that was Wellington in 1990.
In the months following her killing, PBSO detectives suspected her husband, Michael Warren, may have been involved. But they also looked to one of her husband’s employees: Sheila Keen.
It was Keen, now Keen-Warren, who was arrested last week by officials in Virginia and charged with the crime. Keen-Warren married Michael Warren in 2002, police said. In her mugshot, Keen-Warren is smiling.