Norton Shores, MI

Shanda Vander Ark: Once a successful law clerk, now she's accused of torturing her son to death

Lavinia Thompson

Shanda Vander Ark faces a strange irony as she goes from a law clerk career to accused abuser and murderer of her own son, according to an MLive article.

Vander Ark is charged with first-degree child abuse and open murder for the death of her 15-year-old son, Timothy Ferguson, MLive states. Disturbing details have emerged regarding the abuse Vander Ark and her co-accused son, Paul Ferguson, both inflicted upon Timothy.

Details have also emerged about just who Vander Ark was outside of the home she allegedly turned into a torture chamber for her son. MLive reporters began digging into the Norton Shores, Michigan woman after a judge called into question where Vander Ark actually worked during a hearing last winter.

MLive’s report outlines how Vander Ark earned a bachelor of science degree in paralegal studies in 2016 from Liberty University, citing Vander Ark’s LinkedIn profile.

Indeed, the profile shows that Vander Ark spent 2018-2021 studying at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. There, she claims she was Executive Articles Editor for the WMU-Cooley Law Review and served as interim president for the Phi Delta Phi. MLive states this is the oldest legal organization still operating in the US.

The Cooley Law School website says that Vander Ark is originally from Hayleyville, Alabama. She participated in mock trials, and “served as treasurer, senator, wellness liaison, and Budget Committee leader for the West Michigan Student Bar Association,” while also providing support as a research assistant and teaching assistant. She was also honored with the Leadership Achievement Award.

Paul Ferguson told the court that his mother passed the bar exam on her first try, MLive says.

Vander Ark’s defense attorney said that after graduating in 2021, she became employed as a law clerk for Muskegon County Circuit Judge Annette R. Smedley, according to MLive. Vander Ark’s job was to conduct legal research and prepare memoranda under the direction of the circuit judge for whom she worked.

After that, Vander Ark found employment as a law clerk in Newaygo County, up until she was arrested, MLive says. Reporters obtained a copy of Vander Ark’s law clerk agreement with the county. Working 40 hour weeks, Vander Ark made $19.23 an hour.

At a previous hearing, Muskegon County Assistant Prosecutor Matt Roberts called Vander Ark “an intelligent woman.”
Shanda Vander ArkPhoto byMuskegon County Jail

The two sides of an allegedly sadistic mother

After being a successful law school student, Vander Ark worked as a law clerk, but while doing her job, prosecutors say she watched what Timothy was doing at home via the five cameras she installed in her home, including one in his room, MLive says.

Timothy’s room, it turned out, was nothing more than a tarp in a closet, MLive says. Vander Ark would text Paul while he was home, allegedly directing him on how to discipline Timothy.

“Please make sure you go downstairs regularly to make sure (Timothy is) not asleep before you leave (for work),” one message from her read. “Maybe we should leave the light on? That way it’ll be harder for him to fall asleep. Feel free to dump some cold water on him… I honestly don’t care if you get a little rough with him.”

Text messages between Vander Ark and Paul revealed extensive conversations about what to do to Timothy, MLive states. The amount of time Vander Ark spent watching Timothy disturbed Muskegon County District Judge Maria Ladas Hoopes, who said the mother was “intently watching him to see the suffering that he is enduring.”

CBS previously reported that Vander Ark sent Paul text messages telling him to taunt Timothy with a frozen pizza roll and to pour hot sauce on the boy’s genitals, though Paul refused to do the latter. He did, however, subject Timothy to a four-hour long ice bath the day before he died. Paul told police he only did so because his mother told him to.

Crime scene photos showed Timothy deceased on the basement floor, while Norton Shores Police officers testified that they believe Timothy had been kept inside of a small closet which smelled of urine and feces, and lacking any furniture, leaving Timothy with only a tarp on the floor, WZZM13 says.

Vander Ark told Paul in the texts that Timothy, a special needs child, was “still being stupid” and that he was faking his condition, WZZM13 previously reported.

Paul has been charged with one count of first-degree child abuse. He and his mother are both due in court on Sept. 7, 2023 for a final settlement conference, with their trials expected to start in October, MLive states.

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Long time true crime lover and blogger who has spent years reading and studying criminal psychology. I also write mystery fiction books, and have a diploma in journalism.


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