Crime Junkie Podcast’s ‘Mysterious Death of: Shawn O’Brien’ tries to untangle the mystery around the untimely death of 34-year-old Shawn O’Brien in his Providence, Rhode Island, home in late July 2006. The episode gathers interviews, autopsy reports, and other important documents related to the case as the experts try to determine whether it was a homicide or an accidental death. If you’re intrigued to know more about the investigation and the outcome, here’s what we know.
How Did Shawn O’Brien Die?
Shawn P. O’Brien was born to the late Raymond J. O’Brien and Ellen P. (Harvey) O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, on December 5, 1971. He had lived in Providence most of his life before moving to Cranston two years ago. Shawn went to public schools but dropped out in 8th grade to join the workforce. He was a talented carpenter, having learned his trade from Albert Zeke DiStefano, a well-known Rhode Island contractor. He also worked for the Artesani & Sons Roofing Company and Marshall Building Products.
Shawn’s family stated he was a funny, genuine, and caring man. His daughter, Natalia N. Kaya, described him as the funniest guy on the planet who would give others the shirt off his back if required. Shawn loved his daughter and ensured she was always happy, and he cared for her. He was 21 when he and his former girlfriend, Amy Kaya of Cranston, had their daughter, Natalia, in 1992. The episode noted Shawn struggled with drug and alcohol use in his life, causing the split between him and his then-girlfriend.
Natalia was two when Shawn and Amy split, and she lived with her mother and grandmother. She reminisced about meeting her dad for the first time when she was nine. Natalia recalled how he taught her to play baseball and how they watched Boston Red Sox games together on television since he was a big fan of the baseball team. Sadly, when Shawn’s sister, Karen D. O’Brien, dropped in at his 145 Pleasant Street apartment to speak with him on July 22, 2oo6, a shocking scene awaited her.
Karen found her brother on the floor unresponsive and called 911. The first responders rushed him to the hospital, where the medical personnel noted his injuries were severe. According to medical reports, Shawn had extensive brain swelling caused by blunt force trauma to his head and had several abrasions, bruises, and cuts on his head. The 34-year-old was taken off life support on July 25, 2006, and succumbed to his injuries. It was later determined that the official cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.
Was Shawn O’Brien Killed?
According to the episode, Shawn was living in the basement of Armand Rouleau’s duplex-style apartment in June 2006. The homeowner lived in the ground-level space with his girlfriend, Lynn Hallal. Police sources stated Shawn and Armand got embroiled in a verbal altercation over noise levels-related issues on June 8, 2006, at 11:52 PM. The latter told the responding officer he wanted to file a report to assist in eviction. Shawn was also arrested for an outstanding Superior Court warrant for failure to appear.
On July 21, 2006, Shawn went to work as usual, picked up his paycheck, cashed it from the bank, and returned home to call Amy around 3:30 PM. She and Natalia brought him his favorite sandwich from Carmine’s Sub Shop on Atwood Avenue and met him at the driveway. Shawn made plans with them to go to the ongoing summer festival organized by a religious organization called St. Mary’s Feast. However, Natalia had a headache, and they canceled the trip. But Shawn was not ready to spend the evening at home with his landlord and his girlfriend.
Amy dropped Shawn at a local bar, Billy’s Frosted Mug, around 6:10 PM, and he went alone since his sister, Erin D. O’Brien, was out of town. When he did not report to work between 7:00-8:00 AM the following day, his family was worried since it was highly uncharacteristic of him to miss his shift without notifying them. Consequently, Karen went over to Shawn’s place in the evening to check on him. Natalia claimed Armand had run out to meet her aunt when she arrived and shouted, “Come in quick. Shawn’s been in a seizure for over an hour.”
Since Shawn had a history of seizures, Karen called 911 and told the authorities her brother might be having one of his seizure episodes. The first responders informed the detectives that they found him lying on his stomach, his feet facing the door, and his head in a small pool of blood. They initially thought Shawn had bitten the inside of his mouth, causing it to bleed. But, his attending doctors stated they didn’t believe his injuries resulted from only a seizure. Meanwhile, the officers found no signs of a struggle in his bedroom.
Two days after his death, the police sealed Shawn’s apartment as a crime scene and revisited the place. However, the brief investigation seemingly concluded without any answers. The medical examiner reported the initial cause of death as “blunt force trauma to the head.” Shawn’s autopsy report found a fractured skull, several other injuries to his head, and cocaine in his system. Coupled with his history of seizures, the coroner officially labeled his manner of death as “undetermined.”
Cranston Police Chief Colonel Michael Winquist stated, “Unfortunately, as I sit here today, we still don’t know exactly how that blunt force trauma occurred.” The authorities officially named Shawn’s landlord, Armand, and his then-girlfriend, Lynn, as people of interest around a year after his death. According to reports, both of them had prior criminal records. Police reports indicate Lynn was arrested for allegedly assaulting Armand on July 21, the night before Shawn was found in the basement.
Independent forensic pathologist Dr. Shiping Bao determined that Shawn’s cause of death was a “skull fracture with intracranial hemorrhage due to a strike by another person” and opined the manner of death be relabeled a homicide. The victim’s family claims they found other blood stains, reportedly covered by items, when they went to his apartment to retrieve his belongings. They alleged they saw blood on the walls, floors, doors, pillows, blankets, and dining room chairs.
Natalia has been fighting to find answers in her father’s case and for it to be officially relabeled as a homicide investigation. She said, “I am aggressive, hungry, and relentless. So to the men expecting me to back down, you will need to stand taller to look me in the eyes to tell me to move on.” Nonetheless, the authorities claimed they had conducted multiple repeat interviews and found no additional information. The police chief alleged that the investigation has been suspended but not closed. Natalia is offering $1,000 for information leading to an arrest.