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Crime News Cold Cases

Family's Triple Homicide Continues To Haunt Virginia Town 20 Years Later

Michael and Mary Short were found shot to death in their Henry County home. The couple's 9-year-old daughter, Jennifer, was found six weeks later in a North Carolina creek. 

By Jax Miller
A photo of the Short Family

Authorities are holding out hope that they'll find those responsible for killing a Virginia couple before kidnapping and murdering their child in North Carolina two decades ago.

Monday marked 20 years since married couple Michael and Mary Short were found shot to death in their Oak Level, Virginia, home, about 60 miles north of Greensboro, North Carolina, according to Fox affiliate WGHP. At the time, the couple’s 9-year-old child, Jennifer Short, was nowhere to be found.

On Aug. 15, 2002, one of Michael Short’s employees from Short’s mobile home business found Michael dead on a couch in the Short family's garage - where he regularly watched television.

Mary Short was found dead in her bed. Her mattress had been moved two inches and her pillow left on the bedroom floor.

Both were shot once in the head in what investigators referred to as execution-style murders. Investigators told local outlets the phone lines to the house had also been cut.

Six weeks later, Jennifer Short’s skeletal remains were found in Rockingham County, North Carolina, following a massive search, according to Virginia State Police. Residents came upon her body in a Stoneville creek, about 30 miles south of the Short family home.

Members of the Albert family, who lived on the property, told reporters they found the child’s teeth in their driveway, and their dog had gotten a hold of what they initially believed was a turtle shell, but it turned out to be part of Jennifer Short’s skull.

According to the Martinsville Bulletin, the child also suffered from a gunshot wound to the head.

Lt. Kevin Suthard of the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office told Oxygen.com they couldn’t determine a motive for the murders.

Over the years, investigators from both states had followed up on numerous leads, including a 60-year-old “material witness” who left North Carolina for Northwest Territories, Canada, one day after the murders. The line of inquiry did not result in any criminal charges.

Members of the Short family were exhumed at varying points of the investigation, though no concrete developments ensued.

In 2009, the FBI released a composite sketch of a man they believe was near the Short family home shortly before the murders, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. Witnesses said the man, who had a “weathered complexion,” sat in a white single-cab flatbed truck near the Oak Level home on the morning of the murders.

Feds also looked into the Short family’s previous plans to move to South Carolina. Retired Henry County Lt. Curtis Spence told WGHP Short’s home was on the market at the time of the murders.

In 2010, federal authorities visited several South Carolina cities where Mr. Short allegedly visited on work-related trips before the murders, including Bennettsville, Conway, Florence, and Myrtle Beach, according to WGHP. It was believed Michael Short had considered these towns as possible destinations to move his family.

Despite the extensive investigation, the triple murder remained unsolved.

Last year, officials announced the creation of a new task force to reexamine the case, including local law enforcement, state and federal officials, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“I believe we can solve the case,” Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page wrote in a statement e-mailed to Oxygen.com.

On Saturday, hoards of motorcyclists united to make the ride from Henry County, Virginia, to Rockingham County, North Carolina, to help raise awareness of the Short family murders, according to NBC Greensboro affiliate WXII. Proceeds from the annual ride were used for a memorial scholarship in Jennifer Short’s name.

Ray Reynolds, a former neighbor of the Shorts, has organized the ride every year since the triple-homicide, according to the NBC affiliate. He lamented that health issues would prevent him from holding the event in the future.

“I made a promise I’d continue to do this until someone was brought to justice, and it just breaks my heart that this has not been solved,” said Reynolds. “If any of you have kids, love your kids all you can. Just think about what the Short family’s been through. And what happened to that little girl.”

Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said they were recently awarded a grant that might help them use advanced scientific testing on items collected from the 2002 crime scene. Search warrants obtained by WGHP indicated investigators took 66 boxes of items with possible evidentiary value from the Short home, including .22 caliber shell casings, a .22 caliber shotgun, $600, and the couple’s blank checks.

The Shorts’ Oak Level home was destroyed by fire in 2019, according to the Martinsville Bulletin.

“Any advancement that could possibly break something will be done,” said Sheriff Perry.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the FBI tip line at 1-800-225-5324 or Crime Stoppers at 1-276-632-7463.

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