Her friend’s brutal murder in Dallas was unsolved for decades. This is how she helped find the killer.

Angela Samota. CREDIT: Courtesy of Sheila Wysocki

The phone started to ring.

Sheila Gibbons raced into her mother’s bedroom before the sound stopped and “picked it up, all happy.”

It was a Saturday morning in October 1984 and Gibbons, then 22, was home spending time with her family in North Texas. Many of her fellow classmates from Southern Methodist University, however, were headed to Waco, where the SMU football team had a game against Baylor.

Angela Samota was with them, Gibbons thought.

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Samota, Gibbons’s friend and former roommate, had gone out dancing and drinking the night before but still planned to get up and go.

But she never made it to the game.

Now, one of Samota’s sorority sisters was on the phone telling Gibbons why: Samota had been murdered.

Gibbons started to feel sick and her hands started to shake. She let out a shrill scream.

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Her mother ran into to the room, but she struggled to tell her what had happened. Gibbons’s words were buried beneath stammers and sobs.

“I remember screaming and crying,” she told The Washington Post, adding: “The world was never the same.”

The night 20-year-old Angela Samota was found sexually assaulted and fatally stabbed in her apartment would haunt a community that once vowed to find her killer.

The initial investigation by Dallas police fell apart and the case turned cold.

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For more than 20 years, it remained untouched, buried away in storage boxes, until Samota’s college friend started digging.

Gibbons – now 53, and known as Sheila Wysocki – said there came a point when she had to find answers.

She said she urged detectives to reopen the murder investigation but was told “some cases just aren’t meant to be solved.”

“I thought, ‘Well, this one’s going to be,'” she said.

And she would spend years making sure that it was.

Wysocki set up a “war room” at home where she pored over the facts in the case, she told People magazine, and got licensed as a private investigator hoping that – at the very least – it would force the police to take her seriously.

“I think when they found that out, they knew I wasn’t going away,” Wysocki said about becoming a P.I. “So did it help? I don’t know, but it was a turning point.”

‘Talk to me’

Wysocki and Samota seemed an unlikely pair when the two were matched as roommates freshman year.

By her own account, Wysocki, a psychology major, was cautious and could be a bit standoffish at times.

She didn’t drink alcohol, she said, and she still doesn’t.

Wysocki said Samota was “a triple threat” – an intelligent and beautiful young woman with a “bubbly” personality. She was a computer science and electrical engineering major and, later, the social chair of her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, according to local reports.

By the end of the first year, they were close friends.

The last time Wysocki saw her friend alive was a week before her death when the two met on campus to “catch up.”

On the chilly night of Oct. 12, 1984, Samota decided to go bar-hopping with two friends – Russell Buchanan and Anita Kadala, according to the original police report obtained by NBC News’ “Dateline.”

Samota’s boyfriend at the time worked in construction and opted to stay home because he had an early morning, Wysocki recalled.

So they went out on their own – into the chaos.

The State Fair of Texas was in full swing and some 75,000 fans in clashing colors of burnt orange and crimson red were gearing up for the annual Red River Showdown between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma.

People were everywhere – and so were police.

The friends landed at the Rio Room, an ultra-elite dance club nestled in the back a popular discotheque, according to the police report.

“Angie was going table-to-table, talking to people,” her friend, Buchanan, told the Dallas Morning News in 2012. “She knew everyone.”

By about 1 a.m., when they were ready to leave, Samota drove her friends home, according to the report. She swung by her boyfriend’s apartment to say goodnight, according to his account to police, and then she headed home.

It was the last time she was seen alive.

Based on investigators’ theories and courtroom testimonies, just moments after Samota got home, a man whose name she may have never known tapped on her door, begging to use the bathroom and asking to borrow her phone.

She let him in.

Then she grabbed the phone and called her boyfriend. “Talk to me,” she said, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Soon, the two were disconnected and, when her boyfriend couldn’t get her to answer the phone, he drove over to her place.

He tried to open to door, he said, but it was locked.

He tried to knock, he said, but no one answered.

The boyfriend, who was a construction supervisor, had a mobile phone in his truck and used it to contact police, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Rookie officer Janice Crowther answered the call.

Crowther and her partner had been working a long 12-hour shift – manning the massive crowds that were in town for the big game.

When the officers arrived, Crowther said, Samota’s Toyota Supra was parked outside her apartment, but there was no movement inside.

An “eerie” feeling overwhelmed her, she told The Washington Post.

Crowther went to find the apartment manager to get Samota’s keys.

“I was shaking in my boots,” said Crowther, now a detective with the Dallas Police Department. “I could feel it. I knew something was wrong. It was kind of a surreal night.”

The officers unlocked the door and entered the home. Crowther headed to the kitchen where Samota’s shoes were still on the floor.

Her partner, she said, moved toward the bedroom.

“I heard him say, ‘Hey Janice, I found her,” she said.

Crime-scene photos from that night showed a bloody and broken young woman stretched naked across her bed, both legs hanging from the side, according to local news reports and eyewitness accounts.

A giant stuffed rabbit rested next to her lifeless body.

“We found Angela lying on a bed with her heart basically cut out,” Crowther said. “It was lying on top of her chest.

“Her eyes were wide open. They were brilliant blue eyes.”

“It was almost like everything stopped that night,” she added. “It’s like nothing else happened or nothing else mattered.”

Samota’s boyfriend was a suspect.

So was Buchanan, the man she danced with that night. In fact, Buchanan became the focus of the investigation.

During the autopsy, authorities determined that the man who sexually assaulted Samota was a “non-secretor,” meaning he did not have blood in his secretions, such as saliva and semen, according to the police report.

Buchanan, police said, was a non-secretor.

It was then that Wysocki first became involved in trying to help police solve her friend’s grisly murder.

Wysocki walked into what she described as an “old, dirty precinct” that was too small and too loud and caught a glimpse of her friend’s file – and a gory crime-scene photo – lying on the detective’s desk.

“I was in shock,” she said. “It felt like a dream.”

She said police asked her questions about Samota, and asked her to talk to others about the case and report back.

Then, she said, the detective asked her to have dinner with Buchanan to see whether “his story matched up.”

“I’m thinking, ‘I’m sitting here having dinner with a murderer – with Angie’s murderer,” she said.

But, Wysocki said, his story seemed solid – Buchanan had told police he had traveled to Houston later that weekend to visit his parents and had not heard about the murder until days later when he returned to Dallas.

He told Wysocki the same thing, she said.

The investigation stalled – police still suspected Buchanan but never obtained the evidence they needed to charge him with the crime. He ended up leaving the country to go to graduate school, Wysocki said.

Wysocki dropped out of school at SMU and never looked back.

“I could not function,” she said, adding: “I just kept thinking, ‘These things just don’t happen.’ They didn’t happen in my world.

“It took my innocence. It took away my view of the world.”

Wysocki said she tried to pick up the pieces and move on.

In 1986, she met her future husband, Charles. The two got married and moved to Tennessee, where they raised their two sons.

‘You still have a world that’s changed’

Still, for the next 20 years Wysocki was haunted by Samota’s death – wondering who killed her friend and whether finding him would even bring peace or justice to those who had lost her so long ago.

In 2004, Wysocki said, she was sitting alone in her home, reading passages in the Book of Daniel for a Bible study when she saw Samota appear to her in a vision.

“And I knew it was time,” Wysocki said.

Wysocki said she picked up the phone and called Dallas police. She kept calling. And calling. She told People magazine that she called some 750 times over the next several years, pleading with police to revive Samota’s investigation.

She got her P.I. license – taking cheating, stalking and cyber-bullying cases before she worked her way up to cold case murders. She said she expected to retire once Samota’s case was solved, but after receiving letters from people desperate for answers in their own loved ones’ deaths, she decided to keep it going – and taking dozens of similar cases over the years.

She now has her own firm called Without Warning Private Investigation.

The break in Samota’s case came in 2006 when Dallas police tasked now-retired Det. Linda Crum. She pulled the DNA evidence from blood, semen and fingernail samples and traced it to a man named Donald Bess.

When the DNA results came back in 2008, the detective called Wysocki.

“She said, ‘We got him,'” Wysocki said. “I thought she meant Russell Buchanan. When she said ‘Donald Bess,’ I was thinking, ‘I can’t place this guy. Who is that?'”

Authorities said Bess was a convicted rapist who was out on parole when he sexually assaulted and murder Samota in 1984, according to the Dallas Morning News.

By the time police had connected him to Samota’s murder, he was serving a life sentence for sexual assault.

Now, he would stand trial for capital murder.

In summer 2010, Wysocki said, she and her oldest son drove some 650 miles from Nashville to Dallas for the trial.

“You couldn’t have kept me away from it,” she said. “To me, I felt like I needed to be there for Angie.”

Wysocki was talking to the prosecutor when she first saw Bess, a man she describes as “the beast” – some 6 feet tall and 350 pounds with “an empty look in his eyes.”

“The door opened and in walked in two attorneys and then he walked in,” she said about Bess. “The only way I can describe it is the entire room lost all oxygen. I thought, ‘This is the last person she saw alive.'”

Wysocki said Samota’s family members, friends and sorority sisters were all there.

Wysocki sat next to her son – day after day – until Bess was convicted for Samota’s murder and sentenced to die. (He remains on death row, but does not have an execution date. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently upheld his death sentence.)

Wysocki wasn’t in court on the day Bess was sentenced to death.

“I didn’t want to be there for the verdict,” she said. “I just couldn’t be there.”

Instead, she waited at home in Tennessee.

Then, the phone started to ring.

Samota’s sorority sister – the same one who had called more than 25 years ago to tell her that Samota had been murdered – was calling again, this time to say that their friend’s killer was going to pay for it.

“I cried,” Wysocki said. “Nothing changes – you still have someone who’s dead, you still have someone who murdered her, you still have a world that’s changed.”