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Allegations of murder and mayhem swirl around former defense attorney

Sneak peek: Chasing Catherine Shelton (Part 1)
Sneak peek: Chasing Catherine Shelton 04:24

I've been a crime reporter since college and have covered dozens of gruesome, bizarre, stranger-than-fiction cases over the years. But nothing has captured my attention like the cases swirling around Catherine Shelton.

I met Catherine Shelton back in 2000 when she and her husband were the prime suspects in a shotgun ambush of a married couple outside of Dallas; the husband in the couple was killed and his wife wounded. The wife immediately told police that Catherine Shelton was at the scene and had been the mastermind behind the attack. 

Both assailants had been wearing masks, but the witness said she recognized Shelton, who was her former boss, by her voice. I was a young producer at "48 Hours" at the time. It took me nearly three years to get Shelton to agree to interview with us back then.

Jenna Jackson
"For years, I've been tangled up in a bizarre game of cat and mouse with a woman named Catherine Shelton," says "48 Hours" contributor Jenna Jackson. CBS News

From the first time I met her, I was intrigued. She was smart and wily – you never knew what was going to come out of her mouth and whether it was true, partially true, or just said for shock value. Yet, she was also guarded and gave very few details when asked questions.

And did I mention she was a criminal defense attorney? She definitely knew her way around the justice system.

Catherine Shelton has never been charged with a murder but she has links to five men who have mysteriously died over the years. She says that's not unusual, given her line of work.

"I'm not a nurse," she says, laughing. But she's the only criminal defense attorney I know who is personally connected to that many unusual deaths.

I left CBS News and "48 Hours" in 2012 to pursue other opportunities. I opened my own production company, had kids and created a different life.

Jenna Jackson
"I've heard a lot of outrageous crime stories in my life. But nothing comes close to what's in these boxes: assaults, arrests, trials, disbarments — records and documents from years of Catherine Mehaffey Shelton's wild and mysterious life," says Jackson. CBS News

But I couldn't get Catherine Shelton out of my head. A few years ago, I pulled my old files out of the attic and started going through them. I decided to text her and see if her old number still worked. She got back to me immediately and said after all these years, she was ready to talk. It was like she was waiting for me to call.

Shelton's husband is serving a life sentence for that shotgun ambush attack. Shelton was never charged in the crime although the former prosecutor in the case told us that she is still considered a person of interest. Shelton insists neither of them had anything to do with it and is determined to get her husband's case overturned. That's the reason she says she wanted to talk to me again after all these years – but I told her I wanted to look into all the cases surrounding her, not just her husband's.

Since then, Shelton and I have met a few more times and have been engaged in a bizarre game of cat and mouse. It's always the same -- she's coy, even playful. When I asked her why this kind of stuff just follows her around, she said, "I don't know. I don't look where I'm walking. You know, I stumble into things."

She keeps hinting there's more to tell me – that maybe she'll confess to something before we're done. Is she guilty of anything? Some things? Or is this all a coincidence? Given how clever she is and the enormity of the project, I knew I would need help to fully investigate these old cases. I recruited two experts here in Houston to help me – Lisa Andrews, a former prosecutor known as "the ice queen," and Brian Benken, a skilled private investigator and defense attorney. They are both consultants for "48 Hours." 

Benken, Jackson and Andrews
Brian Benken, left, Jenna Jackson, center, and Lisa Andrews reinvestigate many of the allegations against Catherine Shelton through conversations with people who knew her, dated her and investigated her, to ultimately answer the questions of whether all of the accusations are just a coincidence or if Shelton is guilty of anything. CBS News

According to Benken, Shelton is "a legend around Harris County ... 'cause I almost go back 40 years down at the courthouse. And if you talk to any of the old prosecutors and defense attorneys from back in the day, they know all about Catherine."

The controversy around Shelton started in the 1970s, when a relationship with a fellow student allegedly turned violent. Ferris Bond told us that after they broke up, Shelton stole his car, shot at him with a shotgun and eventually burned his apartment down in 1974. To get away from her, he says he joined the Marine Corps.

She denies all of those claims and was never charged with anything related to Ferris Bond.

As a law student at University of Houston in the late 1970s, Shelton began dating an anesthesiologist named George Tedesco. By 1978, they were in the middle of a nasty breakup. Shelton sued Tedesco, claiming they were common law married and she deserved half of his estate. As the case progressed, Tedesco accused Catherine of stalking him and even burglarizing his home.

On the day he was supposed to show up in family court for a hearing, police discovered him savagely beaten to death in his garage. Shelton and a former client of hers, Tommy Bell, were later named in a wrongful death lawsuit by Tedesco's family.  The family accused both of them of conspiring to kill the doctor.

Shelton was never charged in that death – and the wrongful death suit never made it to trial. Tedesco's murder remains unsolved.

In October 1979, Shelton began a relationship with a local newspaper reporter, Gary Taylor. Shelton said she thought Taylor was interested in writing a story about her attorney prowess – but claims his real motive was to get close to her and write a story about whether she had anything to do with Tedesco's death.

They ended up getting very close. They had an affair which pretty quickly unraveled. Shelton doesn't even admit that they dated. She said, "I don't consider him a relationship or anything. He's nothing." Shelton and Taylor each say the other was the pursuer, but things came to a head one night in January 1980 when Shelton admits she shot Taylor in the back.

Taylor says she lured him to her apartment under the false pretense that she could help him recover items that had been burglarized from his home, and then tried to kill him. She says she shot him in self-defense. Shelton was arrested and charged with attempted murder. During the first trial, the jury deadlocked and the trial ended in a hung jury.

During the second trial, Shelton claimed that Taylor had held a gun on her and said she was trying to get away from him, even though Taylor ended up getting shot in the back. She was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. But she never served any time – she appealed the verdict and remained out on probation while the appeal was pending. The case was overturned, and rather than going through a third trial, Shelton  agreed to plead guilty to aggravated assault and serve probation. She was temporarily barred from practicing law. She later convinced a judge to set aside her conviction for shooting Taylor.

Meanwhile, another man connected to Shelton turned up dead. Remember Tommy Bell, the former client who was accused along with Shelton of killing George Tedesco by Tedesco's family? He was found shot to death in his apartment.  

His roommate, who was apparently in another room at the time, told police that Bell was playing Russian roulette and shot himself in the head. With almost no investigation, the death was ruled an accident.

We have since discovered some curious new information that has never been revealed about the circumstances surrounding Bell's death.

Two bizarre deaths and a shooting — and we've only made it to 1980 in Shelton's life, which she describes as "dull." In the years to come there would be deaths of three more people with some link to Shelton, and a lot more mayhem.

It's impossible to cover it all in just one episode and that's why this story turned into a special two-part "48 Hours".  

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