In the heat of a transatlantic custody battle, James Shields Jr. turned to GoFundMe, seeking the advice and money of strangers.
He titled his campaign “Child Kidnapping,” and he portrayed his ex-wife as a spiteful woman who had taken their son from New York to the Netherlands and proceeded to “drag” him through “court case after court case.” Shields said he had “the perfect life a few years ago,” but it had since “spiraled out of control,” threatening his new marriage and his financial stability.
His despondent pleas for help — and for $30,000 to help him fight his battles — resulted in no donations.
“How do I choose between financially ruining my current relationship vs giving up the battle for my son?” asked Shields, a physical therapist.
On Monday, New York police said he made a different choice altogether.
They said Shields killed his 6-year-old son, his ex-wife and his current wife. He then turned the gun on himself in the living room of his first-floor Queens apartment.
It was supposed to be his son’s routine custodial visit, police said.
New York Police Department Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said at a Tuesday news conference that Shields’s April GoFundMe post was among the pieces of evidence suggesting the triple-murder-suicide had stemmed directly from the custody battle.
“We have a twist in the case in that, in this custody battle, if you look at the GoFundMe, there’s some self-reported statements that his life is spiraling out of control,” he said. “Financial and custody seem to be the primary reasons behind this tragic incident at this point in time.”
Shields’s ex-wife, Linda Olthof, and their 6-year-old son, James Giacomo Shields, had arrived in New York from the Netherlands on July 21 so that the boy could spend time with Shields, Shea said. Olthof had invited a friend to come along for the trip so the two of them could enjoy the city together, the detective said.
Olthof, a 47-year-old Dutch actress and drama teacher, had been enamored with New York City ever since she came there roughly 10 years ago to pursue a career in acting on scholarship, a lifelong dream, she told a Dutch newspaper in a profile last year. She got a job at the Actors Studio and a role in a movie, she said, and immediately the work ethic of the city appealed to her.
“In New York life goes on 24 hours a day, and everyone who lives in this city has a mission,” she told the paper, comparing New York to her hometown in the Netherlands. She added: “ ’If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.’ That feeling dominates this city.”
It was not immediately clear how long she had been married to Shields, a 39-year-old co-founder of Score Rehabilitation.
He was known in the neighborhood for throwing raucous parties and for getting into yelling matches with another woman, generating at least one call to police in December, Shea said. The woman refused to identify herself to the police, he said.
“He was not himself lately,” one upstairs neighbor, Tony Bekan, told the New York Post. “He was like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde person.”
In his GoFundMe post, Shields claimed Olthof first fled to the Netherlands while pregnant with their son. He had spent “a fortune” visiting his son, nicknamed Jimmy, while he was a baby. But as the boy grew up, Shields got remarried, to another Dutch woman. (Police declined at the news conference to release her name, saying next of kin was still being notified of her death.)
Now he wanted his son to visit him in the United States.
“She only wants my son to be in the U.S. for 2 weeks a year, which I just can’t accept as a father,” he claimed.
On Monday, after it all came to a head, the friend who accompanied her to New York sensed something was wrong.
Olthof stopped answering her phone. The friend called Olthof’s sister in the Netherlands, Shea said.
Out of curiosity, her sister got on the Internet to see if something unusual was going on in New York, Shea said. She found news of the disturbing tragedy almost immediately.
“She actually Googled ‘New York’ ” and saw news of a murder-suicide, Shea said. “She believed something had befallen her sister,” he said.
Police were already at the scene. A woman taking out the trash behind the apartment building had been the first to see the bodies. She happened to look through the back sliding-glass door to see them clustered in the living room in plain sight, Shea said, and she quickly dialed 911.
When police arrived, they found Shields with a gunshot wound to the chin, lying next to his son and the two women. They recovered two Glock pistols and seven additional fully loaded magazines, which Shea described as a “wrinkle” in the case.
“We have approximately an additional 70 rounds, and what those rounds were meant for may never be known,” he said.
Tuesday afternoon, Shields’s father, James Shields Sr., told reporters from the stoop of his son’s crime-scene-taped apartment that he had no indication the custody battle had become so heated that his son would turn to violence.
“He never talked too much,” he told the New York Times. “He kept everything a secret.”
Olthof and the boy were supposed to return to the Netherlands next week, he said.