August 18, 2014 12:00 PM

The headlines were as horrifying as they were unfathomable—high school sophomores Rachel Shoaf and Shelia Eddy, dubbed the “BFF Killers” and “Death Clique,” had been charged in the savage murder of Skylar Neese, the third wheel in an inseparable trio of 16-year-old best friends at University High School in Morgantown, W.Va. Now, with Rachel and Shelia—both honors students at the time of their arrest—in prison, journalist Daleen Berry and investigator Geoffrey Fuller are out with a new book, Pretty Little Killers, excerpted here. Drawing on interviews with police and the girls’ classmates, teachers and relatives, the book gets to the heart of the case’s most haunting question, the same one that Neese pleadingly repeated as she died on a dark rural road on July 6, 2012: Why?

Skylar and Shelia, who had known each other since the second grade, met Rachel in their freshman year at University High.

The next thing Skylar knew, wherever she and Shelia were, so was Rachel. This was fine by Skylar, who made friends with everyone. Although Shelia was boy crazy and always on her cell phone, she had connections and could get weed. Despite the three girls’ desire for excitement—or perhaps because of it—their relationship would soon be marked by tension, distrust and one fight after another. During those two years, Skylar either wasn’t bothered by the shifting alliances and two-on-one disputes that can occur between three close friends, or she tolerated the problems for the sake of having fun and partying. It was the worst mistake she ever made.

On Aug. 16, 2011, just before they began their sophomore year, the girls had a sleepover at Rachel’s home.

Sometime after [Rachel’s mom] Patricia fell asleep, the girls began drinking from the bottle of vodka they had somehow gotten their hands on. Before long all three girls were drunk, which is apparently when they started snapping photos of each other and kissing.

For a while now, rumors have floated around that Skylar took pictures—and some students say she even videoed—what happened next. That is, Rachel and Shelia undressed and began having oral sex. Afterward all three girls slept in Rachel’s bed. Or they tried to. Shelia ordered Skylar to “move over, so I can cuddle with Rachel.” Shelia’s request angered Skylar, who began complaining. A loud and rowdy fight ensued between the two girls…. According to one investigator who read Skylar’s diary, she said very little about Shelia and Rachel’s having sex and seemed more upset about the fight she and Shelia had afterward.

After that sleepover, Skylar’s Twitter feed suggested a girl torn between jealousy over her best friend’s new closeness with Rachel and nostalgia for the fun all three shared.

By September, Skylar tweeted what could have been a threat. It is possible the other two girls began to worry that she [intended] to expose their relationship. On Sept. 6 she wrote, “id tell the whole school all the sh-t I have on everyone, which is a lottttt #IfICouldGetAwayWithIt.”

Daniel Hovatter, Skylar’s closest male friend, witnessed the trio’s nastiness escalating.

Daniel said Shelia called Rachel and then added Skylar in a three-way call. Shelia deliberately didn’t tell Skylar that Rachel was listening with her phone muted. Shelia’s plan was to provoke Skylar so she and Rachel would be treated to some of Skylar’s fireworks. Rachel pushed the speaker button and encouraged Daniel to listen when Shelia and Skylar began screaming. “At first [Rachel] was crying [and saying], ‘I can’t believe they’re fighting like this,’ ” Daniel said. Then Rachel’s tears quickly turned to laughter as she listened to her two best friends go at it. “Ha, did you hear what she just said?”

In October 2011, in a biology class they did not share with Skylar, Shelia and Rachel spoke of plans far more sinister.

“Hey, do you know how to dispose of a body?” Shelia asked the student behind her. Nick Tomaski shrugged. “I dunno. That show Breaking Bad has stuff like that on there.” “We want to figure out what to do with Skylar,” Shelia said. Nick just looked at her like she was stupid. “Shhh!” Rachel whispered. “No names.”

“What kind of acid would you dispose of a body in?” Shelia asked the biology teacher.

By May, Rachel was complaining to another friend that she “can’t stand Skylar” but couldn’t just walk away: “She’ll blackmail us and tell all our secrets if we stop being friends with her.” On June 9 Skylar tweeted ominously, “just know I know.” And on June 10 the other two put their plan into action, meeting in the high school parking lot to decide on stabbing as their method. Just after midnight on July 6, they persuaded Skylar to go joy-riding and get high with them.

Neither Shelia nor Rachel mentioned the real reason they invited her to join them on that midnight drive. Nor did they say a word about the paper towels, bleach, Handi Wipes or clean clothes stashed in the trunk of the car … with the shovel Rachel had stolen from her father’s house. Beneath the folds of their hoodies, Shelia and Rachel each carried one of the knives Shelia had brought. The three got out of the car and walked a little ways down the road. Shelia produced the joint, but the lighter she brought didn’t work. Skylar remembered she’d left her lighter in the car.

The minute Skylar’s back was turned, Rachel began counting. At the count of three, she and Shelia began stabbing. With each stab wound, they released their pent-up rage and anger—at the people who had wronged them, at the parents who had disappointed them and at the girl who loved them both but whose jealous temper tantrums had made them despise her.

Stunned and in pain, Skylar tried at first to run. But she didn’t get very far. Rachel chased and tackled her. Skylar was physically stronger and a natural scrapper, though, and because she knew she was fighting for her life, she managed to grab Rachel’s knife. It was Rachel’s turn to shriek when Skylar left a three-inch gash above her right ankle.

Rachel recovered her knife and as they continued stabbing, only one word fell from Skylar’s lips, but she cried it out over and over: “Why?”

Rachel and Shelia hid the body beneath nearby brush and, for months, let the world think Skylar had gone missing, even, in Shelia’s case, crying with Skylar’s parents and helping them search. Then, after suffering a breakdown that left her briefly in a psychiatric hospital, Rachel stunned police with a confession on Jan. 3, 2013. Both girls, sentenced as adults, are in West Virginia’s Lakin Correctional Center prison for women. Rachel will be eligible for parole at age 27 and Shelia at age 33.

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