Sunday, June 2, 2019

List Series: No Body Convictions

Many missing persons cases have suspects or persons of interest who do not get charged for their potential involvement for a multitude of reasons. One of the most common reasons that suspects do not get charged in missing persons cases is because the potential victim is classified as 'missing'--rather than 'deceased'--therefore it is difficult to prove that the person is not alive. When investigators do decide to pursue charges without a body, they have to go the extra mile to prove that their suspect is guilty. Below is an example of 10 such cases, where prosecutors have successfully put killers/kidnappers behind bars without locating the victim. 

10. Andrelo Witcher: Convicted for Manslaughter of Heather MacCrossen

26 year-old Heather Ann MacCrossen (pictured left) was in the midst of escaping an abusive relationship when she vanished on August 17th, 2007. In the prior months, Heather was in a relationship with Andrelo Lasuard Witcher (pictured right), who was allegedly very violent and controlling towards her. Witcher is a registered sex offender with a long criminal record. Throughout Heather’s relationship with him, there were many documented instances of domestic violence. Heather finally put her foot down in July 2007, when she decided to leave her home in Newberry, Florida and flee to Michigan, where her family lived. According to her family members, Heather arrived there with two black eyes. She stayed in Michigan for about a month before she had to return to Florida for a court date for a misdemeanor traffic ticket. Heather called her mother from a Greyhound bus stop in Gainesville, Florida on August 17th, 2007 to let her know that she had arrived safely. That was Heather’s last known interaction, and she has never been seen or heard from again. 

Heather’s loved ones immediately thought that Witcher was responsible for her disappearance. Witcher was interviewed numerous times about Heather, but denied having any knowledge of her whereabouts. Witcher continued to get in trouble with the law in the years following Heather's disappearance--in fact, he became a person of interest in the disappearance of another young girl named Kamrie Mitchell during 2012. (A write up on Kamrie's disappearance can be found here. 

Meanwhile, detectives continued to investigate Heather's disappearance and in April 2016, Alachua County investigators announced that they filed manslaughter charges against Witcher for the 2007 death of Heather. During early December 2018, Andrelo went to trial for manslaughter in Heather’s case. It took the jury only five hours of deliberations to find him guilty. There was very little physical evidence presented in the case, however multiple witnesses testified that Witcher was abusive towards Heather. Certain witnesses stated that Witcher repeatedly told Heather that he was going to “kill her and hide her body where her family would never find it.” It appears that Witcher kept his word to this day, as Heather’s body has never been found. In early January 2019, Witcher was sentenced to 30 years in prison. [read more]

9. Randy Allen Taylor: Convicted for the Murder of Alexis Murphy

Alexis Murphy vanished at the age of 17 on August 3rd, 2013. She was last seen at a gas station in Lovingston, Virginia, while en route back to her family's home in Nelson County. Surveillance cameras from the gas station captured Alexis entering the station's convenience store around 7:30pm that evening. When she entered the store, an older man later identified as Randy Allen Taylor held the door for her. It did not appear that the two spoke at the time. Surveillance cameras captured Alexis leaving the store minutes later. She was never seen or heard from by her loved ones again. 

Although it appeared that Alexis and Randy Taylor barely interacted at the gas station, Randy was arrested on kidnapping charges in Alexis' case on August 11th, 2013. Investigators found that Alexis’ final cell phone pings were located close to Taylor’s camper located off US 29 near Lovingston. When investigators first questioned Taylor on August 5th, he denied knowing Alexis and claimed he was elsewhere on the night of the 3rd; the footage from the gas station must’ve simply been mis-marked. The next day, on August 6th, Alexis’ car was found parked in a movie theater in Charlottesville. Surveillance footage shows the car arriving there around 10pm on August 4th, but the images are too dark to make out the driver. However, witnesses said they saw Taylor at a nearby Applebee’s that night. Several people apparently observed him looking for a cab for a ride home. When investigators searched Taylor’s camper several days later, they found the t-shirt Taylor was seen wearing in the surveillance video stuffed under the couch. It was covered in bloodstains, and had long, dark hair extensions and artificial eye lashes wrapped up inside it. DNA tests later proved that the blood belonged to Alexis. At that point, investigators determined that something horrific had happened to Alexis inside the camper. 

Despite Alexis’ body not being found yet, prosecutors charged Taylor with her murder on January 6th, 2014. He pleaded not guilty to both kidnapping and murder and went to trial on May 1st, 2014. Just a little over a week later on May 8th, Taylor was found guilty of murder in the commission of an abduction and abduction with intent to defile by a Nelson County jury. He was sentenced to two life-terms.

 Alexis' body was finally found in December 2020. [read more] [also on the 'Cases With a Social Media Trail' list]

8. Tammy Moorer: Convicted for the Kidnapping of Heather Elvis (mistrial for husband Sidney Moorer)
Heather Elvis (left), Tammy Moorer (top right) and Sidney Moorer (bottom right)
Heather Elvis (20) and Sidney Moorer (38) met in 2012 at the Tilted Kilt in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where Heather worked as a server. According to Heather's friends/co-workers, Heather was instantly attracted to Sidney, and it appeared the feeling was mutual. Even though Sidney was married to the mother of his children, Tammy Moorer (42), he and Heather began engaging in a sexual relationship in mid-2013. In the fall of 2013, Tammy found out about the affair. She was absolutely infuriated, especially when rumors began to circulate that Heather was pregnant. 

By December 2013, Heather and Sidney had ended their affair. However, during the early-morning hours of December 18th, 2013, Sidney contacted Heather several times via payphone. At some point, Heather agreed to meet up with him at Peach Tree Landing. Unfortunately, Heather never returned home after that and has never been seen or heard from again. Her car was found abandoned at Peach Tree Landing the following day. 

It is believed that Sidney lured Heather out to Peach Tree Landing that morning so both he and Tammy could confront her. The pair reportedly kidnapped Heather from the parking lot. In February 2014, both Sidney and Tammy were arrested and charged with kidnapping and murdering Heather. The murder charges ended up being dropped in 2016. That same year, Sidney went to trial for the kidnapping charges--but a mistrial was declared. Tammy went to trial in October 2018, and unlike her husband, she was ultimately found guilty. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison, plus an additional 30 years for obstruction of justice in Heather's case. Prosecutors plan to retrial Sidney for the kidnapping charges in the future.

While it is presumed that Heather was murdered at the hands of the Moorers, her body has never been found. Without a body, prosecutors are unable to withhold the murder charges. The Moorers continue to deny involvement in her disappearance. [also on the 'Love Triangles With Tragic Endings' list] [

7. Tricia Abney: Convicted for the Murder of Justin Barnett
Justin Barnett, Tricia Abney
Justin Barnett (23) was murdered in a robbery-gone-bad by Tricia Abney and her boyfriend Jeff Martin. On the evening of June 3rd, 1995, Tricia and Jeff lured Justin to their Birmingham, Alabama apartment with the intention of stealing from him. When things went awry, Tricia and Jeff ended up stabbing Justin to death before dragging his body to their bathroom and dismembering him. In the midst of the dismemberment, Tricia's 18 year-old brother Johnathan Abney entered Tricia and Jeff's apartment and saw Justin's body parts scattered across the bathroom floor. The couple then enlisted Johnathan's help in disposing of the body in Bibb County. 

Justin was reported missing by his loved ones, but his case quickly went cold. Then, in January 2015, Johnathan found himself overcome with guilt. He went to the police and told them that he had a secret he could no longer live with--and it involved a murder that occurred 20 years earlier. Johnathan then explained to police the details of Justin's murder and disposal. He told police where the remains could be found, but unfortunately police were unable to recover them. Due to this, police could not immediately make any arrests for Justin's murder. However, Johnathan continued to work with the police for 5 months before police finally received warrants of Jeff and Tricia's arrests in June 2015. Tricia was taken into custody first, and Jeff shot and killed himself shortly after Tricia's arrest.  Johnathan himself was given immunity due to his cooperation with investigators.

Tricia went to trial in 2017. She was found guilty and given a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. [read more]

6. Jason Gross: Convicted for the Murder of Rochelle Battle

Rochelle Battle vanished at the age of 16 on March 6th, 2009. She last spoke to her mother around 10pm that evening, and she told her mother that she was headed to a mall in Baltimore, Maryland and that she would be home soon. Unfortunately, Rochelle never returned home and have never been seen or heard from again. Once she was reported missing, investigators used cell phone records to determine that Rochelle was in contact with a man named Jason Gross (34) on the evening of her disappearance. When Jason was questioned by police about Rochelle's disappearance, he admitted to knowing Rochelle, but denied involvement in her disappearance. Jason told police that he met Rochelle online after he responded to a prostitution ad. He claimed that the two arranged to meet up at a bar that evening, but Rochelle never showed up. However, the cell phone pings obviously told a different story. The two did not meet up at the bar, but they did meet up at Jason’s home. Investigators searched Jason’s property, but no trace of Rochelle was found. Still, investigators did notice that Jason owned an incinerator that he kept in his backyard.

After over a year of gathering evidence, police arrested and charged Jason Gross with Rochelle’s murder in April 2010. He pleaded not guilty and went to trial in October 2011. During opening statements, the prosecution stated that GPS tracking from the cell phones prove that Jason “met up with [Rochelle], got her into his house, killed her and burned her body in an incinerator.” The defense claimed that they could not prove that Rochelle was dead without a body. Despite this, the jury ultimately sided with the prosecution and found him guilty of murdering Rochelle. Jason was given the maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. He remains behind bars today [read more]

5. Lewis Bennett: Convicted for Manslaughter of Isabella Hellman (his newlywed bride)
Image result for lewis bennett and isabella hellmann

Isabella Hellman (41) vanished while aboard a catamaran boat belonging to her husband, Lewis Bennett (38) on May 14th, 2017. The newlywed couple were the only two passengers on the boat that evening. According to Lewis, he went below deck to go to bed around 8pm. A few hours later, he claims to have heard the boat colliding with an object, jolting him awake. When he went back on deck, Isabella was apparently nowhere to be found. After sending off emergency signals, Lewis abandoned the catamaran for a life boat and the catamaran eventually sunk. He was rescued a few hours later, without Isabella.

Upon returning to the couple’s shared home in Miami, Florida, Lewis announced that he believed Isabella had fallen overboard and drowned. He did not participate in any searches for her. Instead, he promptly tried to declare Isabella dead before taking their 9 month old daughter to his hometown in England—leaving Isabella and her side of the family completely behind. After months of minimal leads and clues about what happened on that night, police finally announced that they had arrested Lewis and charged him with second degree murder in Isabella’s case on February 20th, 2018. After his arrest, FBI investigators who worked the case said Lewis “falsely claimed that Isabella disappeared after the supposed accident.” Investigators also stated that they had evidence that Lewis purposely sank the boat. In fact, they revealed that damage the boat’s twin hulls appeared to come from the inside, rather than outside.

In November 2018, Lewis accepted a plea deal and ultimately pleaded guilty to an involuntary manslaughter charge in Isabella’s disappearance. This decision comes after a plea deal was arranged between Lewis’s defense and the prosecution. The maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is 8 years. He remains behind bars in a Florida prison. [read more]

4. Antolin-Garcia Torres: Convicted for the Murder of Sierra Lamar

Sierra Lamar was only 15 years-old when she vanished on March 16th, 2012. That morning, Sierra snapped the above selfie (pictured left) on her laptop before leaving her family's Morgan Hill, California home to walk to her bus stop. Unfortunately, she never made it to the bus stop and has never been seen or heard from again. When Sierra's mother returned home from work that evening, she realized Sierra was not home. After contacting friends, she learned that Sierra never boarded the bus or attended school that day. Sierra's mother reported her missing shortly thereafter. Days later, her cell phone was found in a nearby field. Her school bag, with the clothes she had worn that morning folded neatly inside, were found behind a shed in separate nearby location.

In May 2012, two months after Sierra disappeared, authorities arrested Antolin Garcia-Torres for Sierra’s kidnap and murder. Garcia-Torres was 21 years old at the time. Authorities were able to link him to Sierra after finding her fingerprints inside Garcia-Torres’ car, and her hair on a rope found in Garcia-Torres’ trunk. Additionally, Garcia-Torres' semen was found on Sierra's clothes that were found inside her bag.

After years of delays, Garcia-Torres finally went to trial in February 2017. His defense team argued that there was no evidence Sierra had been killed. Prosecutors insisted that the DNA found in Garcia-Torres' car and on Sierra's belongings lined the two together, and they had DNA experts testify to this at trial. The prosecution also stated that Sierra did not have the means to run away and support herself, nor was it likely that Sierra would voluntarily stay out-of-touch with her friends and family. The jury ultimately ended up convicting Garcia-Torres on all charges. He was sentenced to life in prison. To this day, he maintains his innocence and has not revealed the location of Sierra's body. 

3. Enrique Arochi: Convicted for Kidnapping Christina Morris

Christina Morris (23) vanished during the early morning hours of August 30th, 2014. The previous evening, Christina met with some friends in Plano, Texas to go out for drinks. Afterwards, the group went back to Paulina Petrosky’s apartment to continue hanging out. Around 3:30am, Christina and 24 year-old Enrique Arochi left Paulina’s apartment at the same time to walk to their respective cars that were parked in a nearby garage. The two were caught by surveillance cameras walking together towards the parking garage. A couple minutes later, surveillance cameras captured Enrique’s car exiting the garage, but Christina’s remained inside. Christina never made it home after that and has not been seen or heard from since. She was reported missing by her father a few days later on September 2nd, 2014.

When questioned by police, Enrique said that he and Christina walked into separate garages after leaving Paulina’s apartment. However, the surveillance footage proved that was not true. The police interviewed Enrique several times over the next few months, and they brought his vehicle in for forensic testing. Finally, on December 9th, 2014, the test results on his car came back, and it was determined that a significant amount of Christina’s DNA was present on the edge of the vehicle’s trunk opening. Enrique was subsequently arrested and charged with aggravated kidnapping. Prosecutors would later reveal that they believed Enrique had murdered Christina as well, however they decided not to pursue murder charges without a body. 

Enrique went to trial in September 2016. He was ultimately found guilty of aggravated kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison. After his sentencing, Enrique continued to maintain his innocence and even proclaimed that he hoped Christina was still alive. Then, in March 2018, Christina's remains were found in a field in Anna, Texas--an area close to her final cell phone ping. It was also revealed that Enrique's cell phone pinged in that area around the same time as Christina's. 

At this point, Enrique was already sentenced to life in prison before the body was even found, however he was never charged with Christina's murder. At this point, it is unclear if prosecutors will pursue murder charges. Enrique remains incarcerated on the kidnapping charges. [read more

2. Liam McAtasney & Preston Taylor: Convicted for the Murder of Sarah Stern
From left to right: Preston Taylor, Sarah Stern, Liam McAtasney
Sarah, Liam, and Preston were all childhood friends. They graduated from their high school in Neptune City, New Jersey in 2015 and remained friends after graduation. In 2016, Liam learned that Sarah would be inheriting a large amount of money after the passing of her grandfather. At that point, Liam decided he wanted to get his hands on that money. He began to formulate a plan to steal the money from Sarah. Liam's plans eventually escalated to a plot to murder Sarah in order to pull off the robbery. Liam let Preston know about his plans, and he put the wheels in motion on December 2nd 2016. 

On that day, Sarah and Liam spent the afternoon together. They went to the bank, where Sarah withdrew a large amount of money. The two then returned to Sarah's house. Upon arriving, Liam attacked Sarah from behind and began to strangle her. A slight struggle ensued, but after 30 minutes, Sarah was dead. 

Liam left Sarah's body at the scene to go to work. Later, both Liam and Preston returned to the scene. They placed Sarah's body in her car and drove it to the Belmar Bridge. Their plan was to throw Sarah over the bridge and stage her death as a suicide. However, their plans foiled after a few months when Liam ultimately confessed to his role in Sarah's death--implicating Liam in the process. Both were arrested. Preston pleaded guilty, while Liam pleaded not guilty and finally went to trial in January 2019. The jury ultimately convicted Liam of all charges. He will be sentenced later this year.

Sarah's body has never been found, and at Liam's trial, an expert testified that it was more than likely that Sarah's body was swept out to sea before anybody could find it. [read more]

1. Jeffrey Willis: Convicted for the Murder of Jessica Heeringa
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Jessica Heeringa was a 25 year-old mother-of-one when she vanished on April 26th, 2013. The young woman disappeared while working a shift at an Exxon gas station in Norton Shores, Michigan. Police were called to the station after 10pm that evening, when a customer noticed that the shop was completely open, but there was no employee present. Police searched the store and found blood outside the back door of the building. They also found gun part accessories near the blood. Police immediately had a hunch something sinister had happened to the employee--as it appeared her car and other personal belongings were still at the gas station. That employee was later identified as Jessica. Forensic testing later confirmed that the blood found at the back of the station also belonged to Jessica.

While investigators suspected foul play in Jessica's disappearance from the beginning, they were unable to identify any suspects or make any arrests in her case. Over a year later, as Jessica remained missing, another local young woman became a victim of foul play: 36 year-old Rebekah Bletsch. On June 29th, 2014, Rebekah's body was found on the side of Automobile Road near Riley-Thompson Road in Dalton Township less than a mile from her home. She had been jogging and was shot several times in the head shortly after 6 p.m. 

Years went by, and both Jessica's disappearance and Rebekah's murder remained unsolved. Then, on April 16th, 2016, yet another local girl was kidnapped. Around 9:30am that morning, residents on West River Road in Fruitland Township reported hearing a young girl running towards their home screaming "help! he's got a gun!" Police were called, and the girl stated that she had been kidnapped by a man in a silver Dodge Caravan after he had offered to let her use his phone. At this point, police noticed a pattern: witnesses had reported seeing a silver Dodge Caravan at the gas station the night of Jessica Heeringa's disappearance. Witnesses also reported seeing said car near the area where Rebekah Bletsch's body was found in 2014. 

After about a month of investigating, police arrested and charged Jeffrey Willis--the owner of the Dodge Caravan--with the young girl's kidnapping. With Willis behind bars, detectives were also able to further investigate his potential involvement in Jessica's disappearance and Rebekah's murder. He was subsequently charged with murdering both Jessica and Rebekah as well--despite the fact that Jessica's body has never been found. 

Willis has been found guilty of all charges. He maintains his innocence and has not revealed the location of Jessica's body.  

Jessica's case was featured on ID's 'Disappeared', available here on Amazon. 

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