HENRY COUNTY, Va. — It’s a case that has touched countless lives for nearly two decades. Investigators, family members and friends of the Short family say they think about Michael, Mary and 9-year-old Jennifer Short every single day.
“I know how this case touched me. I can’t imagine how the family feels. I just hope that someday we can get closure for them,” said Lt. Curtis Spence, with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office.
Spence, now retired, recalls arriving on scene Aug. 15, 2002, to the home off U.S. 220 in Oak Level, Virginia, around 9 a.m. He said one of Michael Short’s employees found the couple dead in their home, both killed by a single gunshot wound to the head.
Spence said that there was no sign of a struggle inside the home. Jennifer’s mattress had been moved just two inches out of place and her pillow was on the floor.
“The house was up for sale and it looked like a showplace. You could have put it in a magazine, there was nothing out of place inside the house,” he said.
The priority was finding the little girl as soon as possible, but investigators combed through the family’s home for clues in what was at the time a double-homicide case.
“I stayed in that house for over two weeks myself, just collecting evidence. We fingerprinted everything you can think of including the walls,” Spence said.
The phone line to the Short’s home was cut when authorities arrived. Spence said teams collected more than a thousand pieces of evidence. Search warrants show they pulled .22 caliber shell casings, a rifle and shotgun from the home, along with $600 and a blank check.
Linda Sink was Michael’s daughter-in-law at the time of the killings and recalls going back into the home months later to clean the house.
“They say when a person dies they don’t bleed that much if they die instantly,” she said. “They told us Mary died instantly, but when you pulled back the cover the bed was full of blood.”
Eventually, Sink said they had to bring in an auctioneer to finish the work. She said she and her ex-husband, one of Michael’s sons, found it too emotional to be inside.
Family members held the funeral for Michael and Mary without knowing where Jennifer was. Linda said they continued to hold out hope the little girl would return home safely.