Thiele and his colleagues had chased down countless leads in the last two years and never found a thing. His gut told him that this time would be different but so many cases like this ended badly.
As the flashlight hovered over the staircase, he noticed something that made his heart race with fear. He silently prayed for good news. When one of the stairs was wrenched open, what Thiele saw tugged his emotions in different directions.
As a police officer working in one of the most famous cities in the world, Detective Erik Thiele wasn’t easily fazed by the challenges of his job. The town of Saugerties in Ulster County, New York, was a far cry from the big city life of Manhattan.
However, Thiele had still encountered his fair share of disturbing cases there. He had already been a detective for a few years by 2021. Still, nothing had prepared him for what he would find under that staircase.
The case in question had been a troubling one from the beginning. While it was still early days in the investigation, Thiele and his colleagues remained hopeful that there would be a breakthrough early on.
In cases of that nature, time was of the essence. When the days turned into weeks and eventually months, Thiele began to lose hope. While it wasn’t an easy thing to admit but he had begun fearing the worst.
Although the stakes were as high as they could ever be in a case like this, the most likely angles that Thiele worked early on felt promising. Detective Thiele never allowed himself to contemplate the worst scenarios in those days.
All the evidence pointed in one direction. Thiele’s instincts told him the answers were there. Yet, each time the leads were followed nothing ever turned up. He began wondering if he could have missed something.
If someone had explained the facts of the case to Thiele in theory, it would have been an open and shut case to his mind. The chief suspects were clearly involved somehow—they had to be!
In reality, every time Thiele thought he had what he needed to solve the case, all leads against chief suspects, Kirk Jr., and Kimberly would evaporate again. This led to the unsettling thought that maybe there was someone else involved.
Thiele’s training had thought him that remaining objective was vital. Human beings were all capable of personal biases. Having a case tainted with a phenomenon called “confirmation bias” could be disastrous.
It could result in objectivity being clouded and cause him to draw conclusions based on what they wanted the truth to be, rather than what it actually was. On the other hand, Detective Thiele’s experience had also taught him that, more often than not, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
So many officers from the Saugerties PD could place themselves in the shoes of the affected family. This made it especially difficult not to take the case personally. It was everyone’s worst nightmare.
Everyone wished for a good outcome but now two whole years had passed without a breakthrough. The worst part was the hope constantly dangled in front of them by all the tips and leads over the years.
Over the years, several tips had been received. Despite the original scene of the crime being 180 miles away in Cayuga Heights, the leads kept pointing to a house in Saugerties. The residents of the house had an undeniable tie to the case.
Comprehensive search warrants were hard to come by as the tips were all based on hearsay evidence. Every search of the property had turned up nothing but Thiele was still convinced that something was being hidden.
These legal loopholes were frustrating as each search warrant only allowed for limited access to the house. Police teams who combed the house for clues weren’t allowed into some parts of the house.
They were also always on a time limit which prevented them from being able to search as thoroughly as they wanted to. However, these challenges only made Detective Thiele more determined to solve the case.
Although the main suspects were the couple Kirk Jr. and Kimberly, the house belonged to the father, Kirk Sr. It wasn’t always apparent if he had anything to do with the case or was simply unaware of what was happening under his roof.
These dynamics compounded an investigation that had already proven to be complicated. That was until one final tip-off gave Detective Thiele and his colleagues the breakthrough they needed to finally solve the two-year case.
While official reports don’t provide many details about the tip-off that broke the case, it was revealed that this tip “was corroborated” and led to a new search warrant for the house being issued.
This time, Detective Thiele’s instincts proved correct. As he walked up the house’s main staircase, the light from his torch bouncing ahead, he noticed the light flicker against something between the stairs.
When Detective Thiele saw what looked like a blanket visible beneath a crack in the stairs, he immediately called his colleagues over. Detectives used a special tool to pry open some of the stairs. What they first noticed shocked them.
A makeshift little room had been hidden under the stairs all this time. Also visible, was a pair of little feet. After all their previous searches, they had finally found the little girl that had gone missing two years ago.
Paisley Shultis was living with her custodial parents when she went missing in 2019, aged 4. While Kirk Shultis Jr. and Kimberly Cooper were her biological parents, they had lost custody of her back then.
It now seemed that the concealed area was used to hide her during previous searches. The area clearly showed signs of being used before and contained blankets, a pillow, and stuffed toys. Paisley was treated and found to be unharmed and in good overall health.
Kirk Shultis Sr., together with Kirk Jr. and Kimberly (who had been found hiding under the stairs with Paisley) were all charged with a variety of offenses.
For detectives like Thiele, the safe return of little Paisley marked the end of one of the most grueling and heart-wrenching investigations of their careers.
The dramatic but ultimately good ending to this case illustrated how vital it can be to never give up hope. The sterling work of Detective Thiele and the other police officers involved was a testament to this fact.
With so many similar cases ending tragically, the case has unsurprisingly received much media attention for its positive outcome. Paisley, now 6-years-old, was said to be in good spirits after being reunited with her custodial family.