OAK LEVEL, Va. (WGHP) — Monday marks 20 years since someone shot and killed Michael and Mary Short in what investigators called an execution-style murder in Oak Level, Virginia. The remains of their daughter, 9-year-old Jennifer Short, was found six weeks later in a Rockingham County creek.

Even after two long decades, investigators still don’t have solid answers as to what happened on Aug. 15, 2002, but they haven’t given up yet. The Short murders investigation continues to be the Henry County Sheriff’s Office’s longest-running active investigation.

For the last year, a new task force dedicated to solving the Short family murders and catching the family’s killer has been meeting regularly and assessing leads. The team includes representatives of Henry County Sheriff’s Office, Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina, members of the Virginia State Police, the FBI office out of Lynchburg and the U.S. Attorney’s office. 

Capt. Wayne Davis of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office says there have been no developments in the case, but experts will have a chance to re-examine evidence thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. The grant will pay for government or private DNA labs to analyze the evidence, and Davis says there are approximately 1,000 pieces of evidence in this case. While investigators have never established that a sexual assault occurred, Davis says that when a child is abducted it must be ruled out. 

“There’s a part where we want to say we feel we’re close, but there’s being close to actually getting a warrant, but we know the warrant is not the end of it,” Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said after the task force relaunched in 2021.

At the time, FOX8 asked how close investigators are to closing the case and if there is anyone authorities need to hear from.

“We do have people that this is focused around, we’re not at liberty to say who, but yes we do have things that point us in the directions with people and we are working those leads and have worked with them in the past,” Perry said.

According to authorities, Henry County and the Martinsville-Henry County Crimestoppers are offering a reward of $62,500 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the Short family members’ deaths.

If you have any information about this investigation, you are asked to call the Henry County Sheriff’s Office at (276) 638-8751 or Crimestoppers at 63-CRIME (632-7463).

Jennifer Short
Michael, Mary and 9-year-old Jennifer Short
The Short family home
Lt. Curtis Spence, retired member of Henry County Sheriff’s office who helped lead the investigative team
Sheriff Lane Perry, currently serves as Henry County Sheriff, was a patrol member at the time of the murders under former Sheriff Frank Cassell
Carolyn Short, Michael Short’s sister
Linda Sink, Michael Short’s daughter-in-law
Garrison Bowman, the only named material witness in the case
Garrison Bowman

Timeline of events

August 14, 2002: Michael Short and an employee spend the evening working on a truck. Mary Short picks up a late dinner for the family at a nearby fast food restaurant. Investigators have little information about what happened after midnight.

August 15, 2002: Investigators arrive to the Short family’s home off U.S. 220 in Oak Level, Virginia, before 9 a.m. One of Michael Short’s employees found the couple dead in their home, both killed by a single gunshot wound to the head.

An Amber Alert is issued for 9-year-old Jennifer Short, and the search for the little girl begins. Investigators spend at least two weeks in the home collecting evidence.

August 23, 2002: Funeral is held for Michael and Mary Short. Investigators film the church service for any red flags or odd behavior, but find none.

September 4, 2002: Michael Short’s body is exhumed for further testing.

September 25, 2002: Remains are found on private property in Stoneville, N.C., in Rockingham County by the Albert family. Officials send samples for identification.

October 4, 2002: Remains are positively identified as those of Jennifer Short.

October 15, 2002: Investigators announce they traveled to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada to find a “material witness,” 60-year-old Garrison Bowman from Madison, N.C.

October 7, 2002: Bowman appears in court in Canada for charges claiming he violated immigration laws.

October 11, 2002: Bowman is deported from Canada, and returns to the U.S. by October 22.

October 30, 2002: Bowman appears in court in Roanoke, Va., is released from custody.

November 12, 2002: Bowman appears before a grand jury in Roanoke. That grand jury never returned an indictment.

December 7, 2002: Short family home is auctioned off.

September 30, 2003: Medical examiners exhumed Jennifer’s remains for “forensic purposes.” No one ever said if the exhumation revealed more evidence.

March 18, 2009: FBI releases composite sketch of a man possibly seen near the home during the time of the murders. The suspect is described as a man in his 40s with a “weathered” complexion.

May 7, 2010: Federal agents visit several South Carolina cities to talk to people about the case; FBI agents make stops in Bennettsville, Conway, Florence and Myrtle Beach. Michael Short had made several trips to those cities in the months before he and his family died, and had considered moving to the state.

February 20, 2019: Short family home burns down.