By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors has no record of Muffin Shew.
According to her brother, Muffin and her siblings were among the many children temporarily moved to the northern part of England by the British government during the Nazi bombings. The family was reunited after a short time.
Mary Jane married an Englishman named James Davis in 1959 and immigrated to the United States a year later. Details about her early life in this country are sketchy, but, apparently, the couple lived in Southern California. He co-owned a television repair shop. She worked as an accounting clerk and, later, may have worked at the UCLA library.
Mary Jane and James Davis divorced in 1964. In court filings, she alleged that he beat her. Sometime after that, she legally became known as Muffin and told her family that James Davis had died during surgery after a car accident in Mexico. Police detectives are still wading through immigration records to see if Davis is, in fact, dead.
In late 1968, Muffin met Gary Shew in Dallas. Both were there working for a company that sold portraits in department stores across the country.
She was striking, like a young Angie Dickinson, with a dramatic accent and an exciting past. He was a tall, Midwestern-friendly fellow just out of the Air Force.
He went east. She went west. They got back together that Christmas. In January, a Las Vegas minister squeezed them in an hour before their scheduled appointment to get married.
Both Muffin and Gary Shew liked a warm climate and decided to start their life together in Phoenix, where neither had a job.
According to Gary Shew, their home was filled with language books, from which Muffin learned at least enough French, Hebrew, Spanish and Russian to converse in quick phrases. And there were lots of spy novels, which were his.
Muffin was very accomplished. She wrote well, took dance classes, cooked like a professional chef and arranged things inside her house with just the right flair to make an average home interior picture perfect.
Everyone who has ever been inside Muffin's home says it was always immaculate and organized.
Muffin was much more critical of other people than anyone was of her. She liked nice things, whether it was clothing or jewelry or furniture, and would sooner do without than compromise. She despised casual comments that weren't sincere and was harshly critical of people who didn't tell the truth.
Though Muffin had two cars, she took the bus or walked most places she went during the day. It wasn't a hardship and she wasn't afraid. She moved with a no-nonsense walk and held her head high. Common street thugs were not Muffin's concern.
Shew remembers how, without missing a beat, Muffin would turn to face the men who occasionally gave her the look-over. "Pardon me," she would say. "Am I wearing something of yours?"
The couple divorced in 1985 and returned to court sporadically over alimony payments until 1989. Shew thought Muffin had returned to England. Muffin told her family that Shew had been found dead in the desert. They were a bit shocked to meet him after her death.
Those who were handling Muffin's affairs after her death found that her passport had been partially burned, and the birth date altered to make her appear older. At the time of her death, her house was an unkempt mess, which was very out of character.
Muffin Shew began and finished every day in the dark. She took the bus from her home near Paradise Valley Mall to the library on Central and McDowell and got to work promptly at 7:30 a.m.
She worked in the accounting office, processing payments and making sure that the library's vendors were in compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity standards. People who spent their days with Muffin say she was a competent accountant who could handle anyone, anytime.
She took care of projects for the library with a passion. During the Clean Air Campaign, she pressured employees to give up driving their cars by labeling them "polluters" or "nonpolluters."
One year, she directed a Christmas pageant of sorts among the employees, and took the job seriously enough to chastise participants if they showed up even a few minutes late for rehearsals.
Muffin never took a lunch hour and never participated in the office potlucks.
Bruce Gruys, her supervisor at the library, was closer to Muffin than most of her colleagues. He and his family would stop in to see her at Robinson's whenever they were in the mall.
When the woman scheduled to play Mother Goose at his daughter's fourth birthday party canceled, Muffin stepped in. The party became a tea, starring Muffin as Mary Poppins, which was not a stretch. She showed up in a gray suit, carrying an umbrella, and delighted children with a magical afternoon of stories and dancing.
At the library, Muffin was formal and tailored, accessorized with high collars and beautiful brooches. Colleagues say a job applicant once mistook her for the boss.
But she seems to have suffered from the curse of age in a changing workplace. She was a high-speed typist and ten-key user, but less proficient in the computer skills that improved technology made valuable. She could do seemingly anything, but needed the training to learn.