Investigators still working to crack Short family murders case 15 years later

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Things like this aren’t supposed to happen in small towns like Martinsville.

It was a typical hot August night in 2002 until someone came into the home of Michael Short and shot him and his wife, Mary, execution style in the head and took their 9-year-old daughter Jennifer. Jennifer was found about six weeks later in a creek in Rockingham County.

“This little girl never got a chance at life. God had plans for her,” Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said.

For 15 years, now, the case has baffled not just local investigators but others, nationwide, who have helped work on it.

“In this case, we've collected, since 2002, about 1,100 pieces of evidence -- actual physical evidence,” says Lt. Curtis Spence, who has done much of that investigating for Henry County. “We've conducted several thousand interviews. We've got thousands and thousands of leads.”

Even though it’s been more than a decade, the sheriff wants to keep the story in front of the public when it’s appropriate.

“We want to get some fresh eyes on it, see if there's something that was missed, see if there's something that can be stirred back up again,” he says. “Because we haven't forgotten the case and the community hasn't forgotten the case.”

“I don't want to leave one stone unturned on this case,” says Spence and then, changing analogies to trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle, he notes: “There's always that one piece that makes the picture perfect. The unfortunate thing is, with the jigsaw puzzle that I have now, we don't even have the box to start with to know which piece we’re missing.”

The fact that whoever committed the crime has never been caught has taken its toll on everyone in the community. Down at the Fieldale Café, a quiet little restaurant with home cooking as good as grandma used to make, the regular ladies aren’t feeling safe anymore.

“We moved here from northern Virginia because it's a quiet area and we really loved it,” says one. “But, right now, if we had to do over, I'd probably still be up there, to tell you the truth about it. So many things have gone on since we moved here -- and that one, especially.”

“Every case tugs at your heartstrings, especially if it's a homicide,” Spence said. “Most of the cases, I never took home and dreamed about it at night. This case, I actually dreamed about it at night. Wanting it solved, wanting something done to bring it to justice.”

See how the Short murders have changed the Martinsville area forever and whether there is something you might be able to tell investigators that can help them solve the case in this edition of the Buckley Report.