HENRY COUNTY, Va. — During the critical search for 9-year-old Jennifer Short, investigators made a shocking announcement. They planned to exhume her father Michael Short’s body to obtain hair samples for a paternity test.
Michael Short had only been buried for 13 days.
“When we found Jennifer, I know there was some question in the past as to whether Mike actually was her father. Well we know for a fact that he was her father,” said Lt. Curtis Spence, now retired from the Henry County Sheriff’s Office.
Searches turned up little and leads began slowing until authorities announced they had a material witness named Garrison Bowman.
The 60-year-old left the country for Canada the day after the murders of Michael and Mary Short and he leased a mobile home about a mile from the spot where Jennifer’s remains were found in Rockingham County.
A judge ordered that Bowman be deported from Canada because he failed to disclose DWI charges when entering the country, not due to his involvement in the investigation.
“I’ve talked to people in the past that have thought that we made an arrest on this case because of the Bowman gentleman,” said Spence, adding that Bowman is now deceased. “A lot of folks thought we arrested him, that is not true, he was never convicted.”
Bowman was kept in custody for weeks and appeared before a grand jury in Roanoke.
Michael Short’s sister Carolyn said she never believed he committed the crime.
“I just don’t see him having anything to do with it. Never have thought that. I always said that if he didn’t do it, he’s gotta forgive everyone that accused him of it. But I never accused him, because I didn’t think that,” she said.
Some of the only clues in the investigation were released seven years after the crime when the FBI revealed sketches of a truck sighted near the home the night before the murders and a man believed to be in his 40s.
Authorities have asked for information about Michael Short’s business as a mobile home mover in the area and the family’s plans to move to South Carolina, but they never released a possible motive for the crime.
“Was it a sexual predator? That (Jennifer) was the target of the crime? And we do believe the house, the way what did happen around the home and the cutting of the phone lines and the things, I do think this is a person that could have been watching for some time,” Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said. “And it is possible they were watching for patterns of behavior.”
In 2006, just four years after the murders, federal investigators charged 13 current and former members of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office in a racketeering case, including the sheriff at the time, Frank Cassell.
Perry worked in patrol at the time the Short family was killed and says he doesn’t believe the former administration jeopardized the case.
“In working with a number of people, no I think the case was given complete integrity. Everyone that came there wanted to help and had the best intentions to see this solved,” he said.
“Because we all wanted to know what happened to this little girl and who could do such a horrific thing to her?” Lisa said.
This is part of our series on Jennifer Short’s disappearance and death.