On Aug. 15, 2002, in the quiet community of Oak Level, Va., someone shot and killed Michael and Mary Short in what investigators called an execution-style murder.
Their daughter, 9-year-old Jennifer Short, was snatched from her bed, setting off a massive search. Heartbreak six weeks later as deputies found her remains 45 minutes away near a North Carolina creek. Here is their story, in words, photos, video and podcasts.
LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE PODCAST SERIES HERE
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 Stonveville, 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.
Lane Perry: Currently serves as Henry County Sheriff, was a patrol member at the time of the murders under former Sheriff Frank Cassell.
Lt. Curtis Spence: Retired member of Henry County Sheriff’s Office who helped lead the investigative team.
FBI special agents: Asked to remain anonymous for safety and security. At least five special agents have been involved with this case since 2002.
Michael and Mary Short: Michael owned and operated a mobile home business in Henry County. Michael’s sister Carolyn said the couple appeared happy, and kept to themselves. According to investigators, Michael had considered moving the family to South Carolina in the months leading up to the murders.
Jennifer Short: 9 years old at the time she was taken from the family’s home. Friends and family described Jennifer as a sweet girl who was close to her parents.
Carolyn Short and Linda Sink: Carolyn Short is Michael’s sister; Linda Sink was married to one of Michael’s older sons. The two have become close friends in the years following the crime. Linda and Carolyn say they are the only two relatives who regularly attend the Jennifer Short Memorial Ride from Martinsville to Rockingham County, NC.
Chris Thompson: One of Michael’s employees. Investigators say Thompson found the couple murdered the morning of August 15, 2002. Officials say he cooperated with their investigation.
Garrison Bowman: The only named material witness in the case, Garrison Bowman was a 60-year-old carpenter from Madison, N.C. Bowman left the country for Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, the day after Michael and Mary were killed and Jennifer was abducted. He leased a mobile home about a mile away from where Jennifer’s remains were found. Bowman was never indicted by a grand jury, and has since passed away.
- Both Michael and Mary are located inside the home, each with a single gunshot wound to the head. Michael was found lying on a couch in the garage where he sometimes watched TV; Mary was in her bed.
- According to Lt. Curtis Spence, the house was up for sale, and looked well-kept. Jennifer’s mattress was moved about two inches, and her pillow was on the floor. Someone had cut the phone line to the house.
- Search warrants show detectives took 66 items from the Shorts’ home including two .22 shell casings found near the bodies of Michael and Mary Short who were each shot once, a .22 caliber shotgun, a rifle and ammunition, and $600 and blank checks.
- Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said DNA evidence was collected inside the home, but has not specified exactly what evidence was located.
- Investigators filmed Michael and Mary Short’s funeral to see if anyone presented odd behavior, but said they found no red flags.
- The FBI released several sketches in 2009. The drawings show a flatbed truck said to be near the home in the early hours the day of the murder, and a man with a ‘weathered’ complexion believed to be inside.
THE ARCHIVES (STORIES AND VIDEO)
Short family murders remains unsolved after 17 years – ‘Who killed Jennifer Short?’ episode 1
The nationwide Amber Alert, desperate search for a missing 9-year-old – ‘Who killed Jennifer Short?’ episode 2
Rockingham County family recalls finding 9-year-old’s remains – ‘Who killed Jennifer Short?’ episode 3
An international investigation, twists and turns in the Short family murder case – ‘Who killed Jennifer Short?’ episode 4
Pressing the FBI for answers – ‘Who killed Jennifer Short?’ episode 5
Memorial ride honors memory of Short family 17 years after unsolved murder – ‘Who killed Jennifer Short?’ episode 6
Sheriff getting new leads on Short family murders – ‘Who killed Jennifer Short?’ episode 7
Reporter – Tess Bargebuhr
Chief Videographer/Editor – Sam Walter
Executive Producer – Kevin Daniels
Digital Content Producer – Stephanie Doyle
Graphic Designer – Kenny Meade
Additional Videography – Chris Weaver
Special Thanks – Linda & Carolyn Short