"always on my story," Alexis Sharkey promised in her Instagram bio.
The 26-year-old beauty and lifestyle enthusiast—who gave her job description as "Mentor"—made a name for herself amid a sea of personalities angling for their own slice of the social media pie with pure hustle, and that included posting regularly to her Instagram Story, lest any of her 20,000-plus followers (a number that has more than tripled in the past two weeks) miss an update.
"She is attached to her phone," Tanya Ricardo, a close friend who said she spent Thanksgiving with Alexis, told KHOU-11 on Nov. 30. "She is a social media queen. She is an influencer. She works from her phone."
So when 12 hours went by after Tanya last talked to Alexis at around 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 27, to confirm a movie get-together for the 28th, and her friend hadn't posted anything new, and she wasn't responding to texts or calls, loved ones started to worry. Tanya went to the apartment Alexis shared with her husband, Tom Sharkey, 49, and knocked on the door. No one answered, after which Tanya called police and a missing persons report was filed that Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, earlier that morning a city sanitation worker driving along Red Haw Lane, near Houston's North Eldridge Parkway, had spotted what turned out to be Alexis' naked body lying in some bushes by the side of the road, about three miles from her home.
"He said he thought he'd seen a body or a mannequin," supervisor John Richardson told KHOU-11, explaining that one of his employees saw her first from his own truck on Saturday morning and then called him. "He wasn't too sure. He wasn't going to stop because he was scared or whatever the case me be, so he asked me to come out there to check it out."
So they went to look together. "When we were driving, we could see the feet," Richardson continued. "We got out and looked, and there it was. She was laying there deceased, no clothes on. I just got on the phone and I called 911." It's an image, he said, that's "been playing back in my head every day."
A spokesperson for the Houston Police Department told E! News that the investigation into Alexis' death remained active and ongoing as they awaited results from the medical examiner to determine their next course of action. And now they have the results: Alexis was strangled, according to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, and the case is now officially a homicide.
While there were no visible wounds on her body when she was found, police did not rule out the possibility of foul play.
"We always start in these matters casting a wide net as if it's a homicide, because you want to start with a wide net and not play catch-up later on," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told the Houston Chronicle Dec. 2.
Alexis' friends hardly needed convincing.
"I mean, just threw her on the side of the road, naked, like garbage. I just, I don't get it," Tanya, who first met Alexis a few weeks after the beauty maven moved to Houston earlier this year, told KHOU-11. "No one gets away with something like this. No one." Another friend, Lauren Norling-Martin, told the station, "Without a doubt in my mind, foul play was involved, and this was a murder."
Unnamed pals told Houston's ABC 13 that Alexis had confided in them during a weekend getaway to Marfa, Texas, in November (excursions to restaurants and the local Prada—"If you visit, be warned it's not actually in marfa"—were dutifully chronicled) that she feared for her life.
"She confided in me that night...she's petrified," one friend said. "This girl is scared for her life." (One of Alexis' Marfa posts is a selfie with the caption, "When people are rude to you, they reveal who they are, not who you are. Don't take it personally," but otherwise she wasn't in the habit of being particularly cryptic online.)
And Alexis' mother, Stacey Robinault, said that she just knew that someone had hurt her daughter.
"The way in which she was found—my child would never do that to herself," she told KPRC's Click 2 Houston from her home in northwestern Pennsylvania. "That doesn't even make sense. That is absolutely foul play." She continued, "There is nothing to me that suggests that this was an accident. And there's nothing to me that suggests anything else, other than that this was done to her. And I believe that in my mother's gut."
She last spoke to Alexis the day before Thanksgiving, she said, and, not having seen her since last Christmas, they were discussing this year's holiday plans.
Stacey shared that Alexis, the eldest of her three daughters, had been planning to apply to medical school after taking a year off following her college graduation in 2016, but "that year knocked her onto a different path, which happens," she said.
In 2018, the Pennsylvania native moved to Odessa, Texas, where she met Tom, her future husband. A friend who wished to remain unnamed told KHOU-11 that she met Alexis when they both worked at an Odessa restaurant called Twin Peaks, and she remembered Alexis going through a rough time with an ex-fiancé. This friend was around when Alexis met Tom, who was a regular at the eatery. "They clicked," the pal said. "Watching them click, they're laughing, they're smiling and I was like, 'alright.'"
The couple traveled all over the Southwest together, also moving to Colorado for several months in 2019, according to Alexis' friend Lauren.
In a photo from a trip to Cancun, Mexico, posted on Feb. 1, 2019, Alexis wrote to Tom, "You met me at my worst and managed to stick around through the journey to my best. TY for your constant support & being the best travel partner a girl could ask for. Ily! ps. What should we do next year for our bdays?" (Alexis' birthday was Jan. 25, three days after Tom's.)
On June 13, 2019, she flashed her engagement ring, announcing, "You can call me future Mrs. Sharkey," Tom already well-versed in the essential role of photo-snapping Instagram mate.
They got married and moved to Houston together in January, Stacey said, and Alexis' beauty-tastemaker aspirations started to bear fruit.
"She loved what she did," her mom told Click2Houston. "She had been working with an online company and was selling all health-based haircare and body-care products."
Finding out Alexis was dead, the family was "wrecked," Stacey added. "We are completely wrecked. The family is just so devastated—her cousins, her sisters, her 13-year-old sister. It's just so difficult."
In another interview with ABC 13's Eyewitness News, she said of her daughter, "I do believe she was murdered. Yes. From what I've been able to gather as well as a mother's gut."
Alexis' Instagram page shows her and Tom dressed up as Vikings a week ahead of Halloween, the most recent shot of them together, but other than a July 3 couples pic ("I love this man," she wrote) the account is far more devoted in recent months to life's-a-beach poses in front of idyllic backdrops, toasting her girl squad and, of course, beauty products.
And according to friend Tanya, Tom wasn't going to be part of the scene at all for much longer.
"Recently, [Alexis] opened up to us about it and divorce was being filed," she told KHOU-11. "She was a very private person. She didn't share a lot about what was going on at home."
However, Tanya added, "She was always happy, always had a smile on her face. A lot of people looked up to her. She was just very, very positive. I don't know who could have done something like this to her."
Tom, who informed his mother-in-law that Alexis was missing on Saturday, wrote on Facebook after his wife's body was found, "My world! My everything! I'm so lost right now! My one and only!"
But speculation, unfounded or not, spreads like wildfire online, and soon Tom said people were posting all manner of comments, including death threats, on social media. He insisted that he and Alexis had been happily married and were not getting a divorce. Rather, he said, they had enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal together the morning of Thursday, Nov. 26.
"It's horrible. People are talking tons of crap," he told Steve Campion of ABC 13's Eyewitness News in a phone interview Dec. 1. "I'm getting death threats and stuff. None of that bothers me. What bothers me is that world and everybody in it focuses on all of the stuff that doesn't matter...[they] should have been focused on finding my wife. Everybody was still looking for her, and I located her Sunday morning in the coroner's office. They couldn't ID my wife. They didn't know who she was. She was just there." (Alexis was officially identified by a fingerprint, according to detectives, and family was notified Sunday.)
Moreover, Tom said, looks can be deceiving, and Alexis' upbeat social media presence did not tell the whole story.
"She wasn't happy. She was stressed," Tom said. "I would cuddle her to try to make her strong. She was an amazing woman. Sir, my wife was an amazing woman. She really was. There's always other sides to everything. I was the one holding her, cuddling her, and building her back up. I don't need to set the record straight. I'll let it play out the way it is. I know what my life was with my wife."
He indicated without going into further detail that the last time he saw her was at home and he told her she shouldn't drive.
"She understood me. I understood her. We didn't fight when she left," he told Campion. "I just told her she couldn't drive under the influence. She left anyhow. This is where we're at." Wherever Alexis went afterward, she did not take her car.
In the meantime, Tom said, he's fully cooperating with the Houston Police Department and they were going through all of his wife's calls, emails and texts. He was sure that police were "going to find everyone that was involved."
Friend Brittney Pember told KHOU-11 that she met Alexis working for Monat—a multilevel-marketing hair and skin care company whose business practices and products have been the subject of some scrutiny—and that Alexis had "worked her butt off" to become an executive director.
"That's when I first got to meet her," Brittney recalled. "She was just like the light of the room. She was just so smart and so funny."
Alexis' sister Tobi Robinhault told ABC 13's Eyewitness News that her sibling may have had a social media following, but she would've thumbed her nose at the label of "influencer."
"Throw it away," Tobi said. "She actually hated that word. She wasn't an 'influencer.' She was a businesswoman. Honestly, I know it's the way she's being spoken about...that she was an 'influencer,' but I feel like she would have honestly hated that title so much. She wasn't trying to influence anything. She was a smart, savvy, successful businesswoman. That's how I want everyone to remember her."
Opening up about her own feelings regarding what may have happened, Tobi said, "It's a lot of different things. I'm still going through the denial. I know she's gone but it hasn't fully set in yet. A lot of anger that someone took her from us so soon. I have this terrible feeling that it was foul play. It hurts me so much. She was such a fun, happy person. Who had so much anger in them that they could do this to her?"
She continued, "Everybody wants answers. She was found naked, alone, and on the side of the road. Fighting for justice is fighting for the parts that are unknown to become known. We can't get justice for foul play if we don't know if there was foul play or not. Until we know the cause of death...all we can say is that we demand justice because there are just too many unknowns."
Tobi said she had visited her sister and Tom back in the spring, and "they seemed happy."
Alexis' final Instagram post is from Nov. 22, a curated bathroom mirror selfie taken in Tulum, Mexico.
"Good morning," she wrote. "Today I decided I'm moving to tulum for the sinks and overall aesthetic. I've never been so obsessed with the vibe of a town in my life.
"Ps. I've heard from many people it's different now and extremely over crowded. I'm here to confirm the rumors are true. BUT It's still magical."
Art Acevedo, the Houston Police chief, told the Chronicle that they planned to "leave no stone unturned to get to the facts and truth. We can't let social media drive the narrative and we can't let speculation drive the narrative."
So now, Alexis' family waits for answers.
Mom Stacey told KHOU-11 on Dec. 5, "Naturally, it puts us in this terrible state of purgatory, you know, limbo. We're just trapped in the waiting. I talk to the detectives every day, and they assure me that they are working along, and they are reviewing and talking to people, so I know that they're working along. To me, five days feels like eternity. And to them, I'm sure they're just getting rolling."
Anyone with information in this case is asked to contact the Houston Police Department Homicide Division at 713-308-3600 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS (8477).
(Originally published Dec. 8, 2020, at 10:30 a.m. PT)