Oxygen Insider Exclusive!

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, breaking news, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up for Free to View
Crime News Killer Relationship With Faith Jenkins

Georgia Man's Disappearance Near Swamp Divides Family and Reveals a Love Affair

Terry Rouse grew up with a tight-knit family, but when the 24-year-old disappeared suspicions that the disappearance could have been caused by one of their own broke the family apart.

By Jill Sederstrom

Family was everything to the tight-knit Thrift and Rouse clans living just off south Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp. 

“Back then about everybody that lived on Swamp Road was kin,” Shannon Rouse told Killer Relationship with Faith Jenkins. “We had a very, very close family coming up, big family.”

But when Shannon’s older brother Terry Rouse mysteriously disappeared after a night of partying in 1991 and suspicion shifted to one of their own, the family was left permanently divided by the betrayal.

Angel Curry, Terry’s younger sister, remembers growing up with her grandparents living just across the street. The large extended family, including cousins and aunts and uncles, often held outdoor fish frys. 

“It was great. It was really great,” Curry said. 

RELATED: Florida Woman's Dogs Hold Key To Her Cold-Blooded Killer

With the nearby swamp practically in their backyard, the wilderness became an idyllic playground for the children in the family.

“We stayed in the swamp a lot because we liked to hunt and fish,” Shannon said of his brothers and cousins. “We’d run wild and come home at dark, you know? If we’re out there in the canoes or boats, those gators they come up to the boat, but all you have to do is just take your paddle or whatever and just tap them on the head and they go on about their business.” 

A photo of Terry Rouse, featured in Killer Relationship With Faith Jenkins 211

Terry and his first cousin Craig Thrift grew up “like brothers.” After high school, they both got jobs at Craig’s dad, Larry Thrift’s, concrete business,

“They was with each other all the time because they worked with each other in the concrete business pouring concrete and hung out together on the weekends,” Shannon recalled. “Two peas in a pod more or less.”

Terry Rouse Goes Missing

On the night of May 10, 1991, Terry went to a friend’s party, stopping at his mom’s house to pick up a jacket on the way. 

“I remember momma telling Terry ‘well, son don’t get in no trouble’ and Terry’s response back to her says 'well, momma you know i’m gonna fight. I love it,'” Curry said. 

The next morning, when a state trooper called to report Terry’s blue Thunderbird was found abandoned at the entrance of the Okefenokee Swamp Park, the family knew something just wasn’t right. 

They thought maybe Terry had gotten into a fight with someone at the party and had stumbled out of his car, injured. The family spent days searching the nearby area. On the third day, investigators were called in to conduct a grid search of the swamp.

 “One of the problems we had was the area was so large, the Okefenokee Swamp is 438,000 acres and that is a huge area to try and cover and a lot of it is inaccessible. You can’t drive in it, the only way you can get in there is either by boat, walk in on foot of fly over it,” Jody Ponsell, a former special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, told the show

Ponsell was tasked with being a liaison to the family because he was a member of the Thrift family as well and had the relationships necessary to make the family comfortable enough to share what they knew about the mysterious case. 

RELATED: This "Cold Blooded" Killer Stabbed a Florida Grandmother to Death in Her Garage

Craig and his wife Rhonda had been at the same party the night Terry disappeared, but they told investigators they left sometime between 10 p.m. and midnight. Terry was spotted by witnesses sitting inside his car outside of the party around 4 a.m.

“Someone actually spoke to Terry as he was leaving the party,” Dale Wiley, a former special agent with the GBI, said of the last confirmed sighting of the missing 24-year-old. 

The next morning, Terry was supposed to pick Craig up for work, but Craig and Rhonda insisted Terry never arrived. 

In the months that followed, rumors about the disappearance ran rampant. Some speculated that Terry had been killed over a drug debt, but his brother Shannon insisted he only smoked marijuana occasionally and didn’t owe any large sums of money to anyone. 

Terry’s mom, Sarah Thrift, was determined to find out what happened to her son and began doing her own detective work.

“She had like a ‘91 red thunderbird. It had a 5.0 liter engine in it like a Mustang. She’s got a police scanner in it, she has a CB radio in there; she has her little snub nose .38 loaded that sit right there between the console and the seat. She just didn’t care,” Curry said. “People were scared to death of her, I mean, they were because she was crazy.”

Terry Rouse's Affair Is Revealed

In late July 1991, Sarah stumbled upon a telling clue. She learned that before his disappearance, Terry had been having an affair with Craig’s wife, Rhonda.

Terry and Rhonda had their own history together. The pair dated in high school and, just months after breaking up, Rhonda began dating his cousin and best friend, Craig.

“When they got married, I just remember Terry being upset about that, but yet still, Terry and Craig were still close,” Curry said. “I’m assuming at some point Terry and Rhonda picked back up where they left off, you know, while she was still married to Craig.”

When investigators brought the couple in for questioning, Rhonda admitted that the affair had started about 8 months before the disappearance and agreed to take a lie detector test. 

A photo of Craig Thrift and Terry Rouse, featured in Killer Relationship With Faith Jenkins 211

But when Craig was asked to take a lie detector test, he refused. 

“He made a very flippant statement and that would be, ‘do you have a body? If you don’t have a body, I’m not taking the test,’” Ponsell recalled. “This is your first cousin, he’s missing, you work with him each and every day. Not only are you coworkers, but you’re best of friends and now you’re not willing to cooperate with law enforcement when they are trying to exclude you as a suspect, so that they can move on and try and find what happened?”

Ponsell called the refusal a “red flag for law enforcement.” 

It also drove a wedge between the close-knit family. While Terry’s immediate family believed Craig knew more than he was letting on, others supported Craig. 

“When Craig actually refused to take a polygraph that really started raising everyone’s suspicions a lot more,” Shannon said. “He’s got motive, he’s got means, he had the ability. I mean, everything just added up.”

Craig and his dad, Larry, eventually moved to another county 60 miles away. Without any hard evidence to tie him to the case, it eventually went cold and Terry’s devastated family was left without justice. It was especially difficult for his mom, Sarah.

“I believe that my brother going missing and everything my mom suffered through, I believe it drove her crazy,” Curry said. “Her emotions were back and forth. She could be happy one minute, crying the next and then angry the next. She was a completely different person. I mean, that forever changed her.”

A Break in the Case

Then in 2009, a new detective was assigned to take a look at the case. 

Rebecca Williams, a former investigator with the Ware County Sheriff’s Office, spent three years poring over the case and reached the same conclusion that the investigators had before her — that Craig was likely involved in the death of his best friend. 

She still didn’t have any direct evidence, however, until she learned that Craig — now divorced from Rhonda — was going through a separation with his current wife. 

“In my experience a mad woman will tell on you,” Williams said.

It turned out she was right. During a phone call with Craig’s estranged wife, the woman admitted that Craig had confessed to killing Terry “many times,” during their relationship. 

RELATED: Florida Mom’s Killer Is Caught After His Voice Is Captured On 911 Call

A marital privilege law prevented her from having to testify against him in court, but the story gave investigators enough information to go back and re-interview past witnesses. 

They discovered that, on the night of the party decades earlier, Rhonda and Craig had hired a babysitter to watch their children. The babysitter, who spent the night on the couch, remembered the couple having a big fight the next morning and recalled seeing Terry arrive to pick Craig up for work.

Williams also tracked down another woman who had briefly dated Craig after his divorce from Rhonda.

“In her interview with me, she said Craig told her that he killed Terry and cut him up with his tools at Craig’s dad’s workshop,” Williams said.

Craig Thrift Is Arrested

They searched the old construction company where both men worked for any evidence, but were unable to find anything. Even without the physical evidence, authorities had enough circumstantial evidence against Craig, who was finally indicted in April of 2012. 

Williams believes on the morning of May 11, 1991, Terry had arrived to pick Craig up just as he did every other morning. Once they got to work, she theorized, they had a confrontation and Craig killed Terry in a jealous rage, hiding his body until he could come back later to dispose of it and then dropped his car at the entrance to the park before running back to his nearby workplace. 

Craig was convicted of felony murder in 2014. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after seven years. Today, he remains incarcerated at a Georgia prison. 

For Terry’s family, the conviction was some measure of justice. 

“His body has never been recovered, he’s been murdered, his cousin killed him. And then when we finally got a conviction, my mother’s health was so bad. I don’t even think she understood when I told her that Craig was convicted for the murder of Terry, but I hope somewhere down inside her, she heard me and understood,” Shannon said.

To watch more Killer Relationship with Faith Jenkins, tune in to Oxygen Sundays at 7/6c.