|Mary & Michael Short with their daughter, Jennifer (circa 2002)|
The Shorts were known as a nice, average family. Michael (50) and his wife Mary (36) owned a mobile home moving business and were raising their daughter Jennifer (9) in Bassett, Virginia. The trio was described as a private, but happy family. According to acquaintances, the Short family tended to be on the quieter side, and they were not known to cause drama. Due to all of this, community was incredibly shocked when Michael and Mary were found shot to death at their home on the evening of August 15th, 2002. The police were called that evening after a co-worker who drove by the Short’s home spotted Michael laying in a pool of his blood inside their enclosed carport. One police arrived on the scene, they found Mary shot to death in the couple’s bedroom. Their daughter, Jennifer, was nowhere to be found. An Amber Alert was issued, and a search for the young girl quickly ensued.
All of the searches by professional search teams unfortunately came up empty. Then, over a month later, on September 26th, 2002, a gruesome discovery was made. A man’s dogs found human remains in a creek in Rockingham County, North Carolina. The remains were located approximately 35 miles away from the Short’s home in Virginia. The remains were sent to the lab for forensic testing and were later confirmed to be that of Jennifer Short. She had also been shot in the head. It was clear at this point that the Short family had been executed—but so many questions remain, such as: who would want the Short family dead? Why was Jennifer taken to a different location? Was she held captive for a period of time before she was killed? Perhaps the most haunting question, though, is the motive. Why did someone kill this entire family?
Over 15 years have passed since the Short family murders, and investigators are still baffled and haunted by the unsolved case. Even the experienced investigators working the case have acknowledged that it is quite unusual—which is perhaps why it is so haunting. In October 2018, the world was captivated by the disappearance of 13 year-old Jayme Closs, who went missing from her Barron, Wisconsin home after her parents were shot to death by an intruder. Much like the Short case, the investigators working the Closs case were baffled by the murders of James and Denise Closs and the disappearance of their daughter—and on numerous occasions they also acknowledged that this type of case is very unusual. The world was even more blown away in January 2019, when Jayme was fortunately found alive. She had been held captive by 21 year-old Jake Patterson at his home in Gordon, Wisconsin. After 88 days of captivity, Jayme was bravely able to escape while Patterson was out of the house. Patterson was arrested shortly thereafter and is currently serving a life sentence for killing Jayme's parents and kidnapping her.
|Jayme Closs (left), Jake Patterson (right)|
Once the news about the murders of James and Denise Closs and the disappearance of their daughter began to spread, many comparisons were made between the Closs case and the Short case. As weeks turned into months without any sign of Jayme, many began to fear that she suffered the same fate as Jennifer Short, and would be found under similar circumstances. Statistically, children who are kidnapped and ultimately murdered are usually dead within the first three hours. Since Jennifer was ultimately found murdered, it is a high possibility that she was killed within 3 hours of being taken from her home on August 15th, 2002. If Jayme, too, had been murdered, it would also be a high possibility that she would have been killed within the first 3 hours of being taken from her home. However, Jayme’s case ultimately does not fall under this same statistical category as Jennifer’s, as she did not end up being murdered. Jayme’s case is similarly quite rare, though. According to the Polly Klaas Foundation, “only about 100 children (a fraction of 1%) are kidnapped each year in a stranger abduction. Only about half of these children are found alive.” Children who are missing for longer periods of time are also less likely to be found, which also makes Jayme’s case unique.
Unlike the Closs case, the Short family case does not appear any closer to being solved. Many leads have been followed over the years, yet no arrests have been made and no suspects have been publicly identified. The Bassett community is still haunted by case and investigators are hoping to bring the family to justice. There is a $100,000 reward in place for anyone with information that could lead to the arrest of the person(s) responsible for the deaths of Michael, Mary, and Jennifer. If you have any information that could help the investigation, please contact the Henry County Sheriff’s Office at (276) 656-4200.