Saturday, October 24, 2020

List Series: Solved with Surveillance

A list of eight disappearances/murders that were solved with the assistance of surveillance cameras. Each of these cases contain evidence via surveillance footage that provided investigators with information proven vital to solving the case. Without the evidence provided from the footage, there's a chance these cases would remain unsolved today.

The Disappearance & Murder of Michaela 'Mickey' Shunick
Image source: Daily Mail

Mickey Shunick was only 22 years-old when she vanished during the early-morning hours of May 19th, 2012. She spent the evening of May 18th attending a concert with friends at a venue called the Artmosphere in Lafayette, Louisiana. Afterwards, Mickey rode her bike back to a friend’s residence on Ryan Street. Then, around 1:45am, Mickey began to ride her bike back towards her family’s home. She had plans to attend a sibling’s graduation ceremony the following morning. Unfortunately, Mickey never made it home. After being unable to get ahold of her, Mickey’s parents reported her missing around 5pm that evening. 

Throughout the investigation, detectives obtained surveillance footage from cameras of businesses along Mickey’s route home. Around 1:48am on the morning of May 19th, Mickey was captured riding her bike on St. Landry Street. A white truck was also spotted driving in the camera’s frame as well. From that point forward, police worked to identify the owner of said truck. Weeks later, they learned his name: Brandon Scott Lavergne,  a 33 year-old registered sex offender. On July 5th, 2012, police obtained a warrant for Lavergne's arrest for failing to reenter his name in the sex offender registry. Once they apprehended him, they also charged him with kidnapping and murdering Mickey--despite the fact that Mickey had not yet been found. He was identified as the prime suspect in the 1999 murder of Lisa Pate. Lavergne was later indicted on murder charges for both women.

Lavergne pleaded not guilty to both murder charges, and the search for Mickey continued. Then, on August 7th, 2012, Mickey's remains were found buried on a property off Louisiana Highway 10 in Evangeline Parish.  Lavergne's next court date was just ten days after the discovery of Mickey's remains. Prosecutors originally planned to seek the death penalty against him--however on August 17th, 2012, Lavergne decided to plead guilty to both murders in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole. 

The surveillance footage from St. Landry Street was critical in this case, because it ultimately lead investigators to Lavergne. Even if he had eventually been arrested for failing to re-register as a sex offender, there's a chance he would not have ever come up on the police radar in Mickey's case if it had not been for the footage. [read more]

The Murder of Michaela MacVilla

Michaela MacVilla (21) vanished after leaving her job at Stewart's Shop in St. Johnsville, New York during the early morning hours of September 25th, 2018. Two days later, her cell phone was found on the ground on Mill Road. Her final phone call was made to a man named Daniel Nellis (45). When investigators initially spoke to Daniel, he denied knowledge of Michaela's whereabouts. He explained that he picked Michaela up on the morning of her disappearance. Daniel admitted to bringing Michaela to his home in Oppenheim that morning. He said that when he was driving her back home later that day, they got into an argument and Michaela asked to be let out of the car. He claims that he never saw her again after that. 

On October 2nd, 2018, Michaela's body was found under some brush on an access road near Kringsbush Road in Oppenheim. She had been shot to death. Daniel was arrested and charged with her murder just a few weeks later. At the trial, it was revealed that both surveillance footage and data from Michaela's FitBit helped to prove Daniel's guilt. Cameras near Daniel's home in Oppenheim captured Michaela and Daniel entering his house around 12:45am on the morning of September 25th. Approximately 12 hours later, they are captured leaving the house together. Data from Michaela's FitBit showed that Michaela's heart-rate spiked at 12:24pm before stopping altogether six minutes later. Just minutes later, surveillance cameras captured Daniel's car driving down the access road where Michaela's body was later found. 

Daniel was found guilty by the jury in June 2019. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison. [read more]

The Abduction & Murder of Alexis Murphy

Alexis Murphy (17) was last seen by her family and friends on August 3rd, 2013. That day, Alexis left her family’s home in Nelson County, Virginia, to head to the town of Lynchburg for a hair appointment she had planned in preparation for her upcoming senior portraits. The last known sighting of her occurred around 7:15 that evening at a gas station in Lovingston, Virginia. She disappeared shortly thereafter. Alexis' family reported her missing later that evening when she did not return home. The FBI joined the case two days later.

On August 11th, 2013, 48 year old Randy Allen Taylor was arrested on kidnapping charges in Alexis’ case. Investigators were lead to Taylor after they found that he, too, was at that gas station in Lovingston on the evening of August 3rd. In fact, surveillance footage shows Taylor opening the door to the gas station convenience store and Alexis walking in. The footage shows that the two did not speak and it did not appear that they knew each other at the time of this interaction. However, the two obviously did interact at some point before they left the gas station--because authorities later discovered that Alexis' last known cell phone ping was off of a tower near Taylor's camper off of US-29.

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. Despite Alexis’ body not being found, 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.

In December 2020, Alexis' remains were found. They were finally identified in February 2021. Taylor still denies guilt.  [read more]

The Murder of Lisa-Marie Naegle

Lisa-Marie Naegle (36) vanished after leaving a party in Torrance, California during the early morning hours of December 19th, 2016. The young woman attended the party with a man named Jackie Jerome Rogers. Lisa-Marie and Rogers had been having an affair, but Lisa-Marie reportedly wanted to return to a monogamous relationship with her husband. Still, Lisa-Marie attended the party with Rogers and never returned home as planned. Her husband believed she had been at the party with her brother, and had decided to spend the night at his place after drinking too much. 

Lisa-Marie's family members began to worry when they learned she did not show up to work the following day. Her sister was aware of the affair she had been having, and she also knew that she attended the party with Rogers. Lisa-Marie's family members then contacted Rogers himself, who told them that he had driven Lisa-Marie to the party but had left her there when he got tired. Meanwhile, as the Naegle’s continued to question Rogers, a family friend went over to the restaurant in Torrance where the party was held. The friend was able to view the surveillance footage from that night, which revealed that Rogers and Lisa-Marie actually left the party together—even though he told the Naegle's that he left the party alone.

The Naegle’s turned the surveillance footage over to the LAPD, who brought Rogers in for questioning the following day. While there, Rogers cracked and told police where Lisa-Marie’s body could be found. He was then arrested on suspicion of murder as investigators went to said location and recovered Lisa-Marie’s remains. After his arrest, Rogers confessed what happened that night. He told investigators that he struck Lisa-Marie in the head with a hammer repeatedly after she told him that she wanted to break-up and resume a monogamous relationship with her husband.

Rogers went to trial in 2018 and was found guilty.  He was sentenced to 26 years in prison. [read more]

The Murder of Tiffany Ferguson

Tiffany Ferguson was only 22 years old when she was brutally murdered inside her own apartment on February 28th, 2017. She was stabbed several times during the early morning hours of that day by a 24 year-old drifter named Christopher McLawhorn. There was no known personal connection between Tiffany and Christopher before her murder–in fact, it appears the incident was completely random. Police were able to identify Christopher after he was captured on surveillance footage on the morning of the murder. The camera captured him walking around the apartment building, checking for unlocked cars and unlocked apartments. Unfortunately, Tiffany and her roommate left the door to their Nashville, Tennessee apartment unlocked the previous night. As a result, Christopher was able to enter the apartment without force.

Shortly before 6am, Tiffany’s roommate woke up to the sound of Tiffany screaming. When she went to check on her, she found Tiffany fatally injured in her bed, and the door to their apartment left wide open. Christopher had already fled the scene by this point. However, it did not take police long to identify him as a suspect in the case. In addition to the surveillance footage, two other homeless men told police that Christopher had bragged to them about killing someone.

Christopher was eventually arrested in March 2017. He was found guilty in 2018 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. [read more]

The Abduction & Murder of Christina Morris

Christina Morris (23) vanished after a night out with friends on August 30th, 2014. The group of friends spent the evening at various bars in Plano, Texas before heading to apartment to continue hanging out. Eventually, Christina decided to head home around 3:30am. Another person in the group, Enrique Arochi (24) decided to leave at the same time. The two exited the apartment building together to walk to their respective cars 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 and was never seen or heard from again.

When questioned by police, Enrique said that he and Christina walked into separate garages after leaving their friend's apartment. However, the surveillance footage obviously proved that was not true. This caused investigators to be quite suspicious of Enrique--and those suspicions continued to build after his co-workers said that Enrique showed up to work on August 30th covered in bruises, as if he had gotten into a fight. Investigators eventually seized his vehicle for forensic testing. On December 9th, 2014, the test results on Enrique's 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.

Meanwhile, Christina remained missing and Enrique denied any knowledge of her whereabouts. He eventually went to trial in 2016, and he was ultimately found guilty. Enrique was sentenced to life in prison, but he continued to maintain his innocence. Nearly two years later, in March 2018, human remains were found in a field in Anna, Texas. The area was close to Christina's final cell phone ping. Days later, it was confirmed that those remains were that of Christina Morris. At this time, Enrique has not been charged with her murder--however he will still remain in prison for the rest of his life. [read more]

The Abduction & Murder of Kelsey Smith

Kelsey Smith (17) was kidnapped while leaving a Target store in Overland Park, Kansas on June 2nd, 2007. Target's surveillance cameras captured the teen shopping in the store that evening, and they also captured a young man who appeared in every aisle that Kelsey walked down while in the store. As exited the store, the cameras over the parking lot captured Kelsey walking towards her car. Then, the cameras captured a person running in the direction towards Kelsey's car. The person eventually catches up with Kelsey and forces her inside her car. The car drives off, and Kelsey is never seen or heard from again.

Kelsey's family reported her missing later that evening after she never returned home. Just hours later, her car was found in a Macy's parking lot, across the street from the Target. Knowing that Kelsey had left her home that evening with the intention of going to Target, investigators decided to look at their surveillance footage for potential evidence. It was then that investigators stumbled upon the footage of Kelsey being abducted in the store's parking lot. From that point forward, investigators launched a massive search for both Kelsey and her kidnapper. 

On June 6th, 2007, investigators learned that Kelsey's cell phone pinged off of a tower near Longview Lake in Grandview, Missouri. The area is located approximately 18-20 miles from where Kelsey was abducted. A team was sent to search the surrounding area, and within 45 minutes, Kelsey's body was found in a wooded area near the lake.  An autopsy revealed that she had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death with her own belt. Around the same time Kelsey's body was found, a man who had seen the footage of the potential suspect at Target recognized this man as his own neighbor. The man called in the tip and identified the suspect as 26 year-old Edwin Roy Hall. On the evening of June 6th, Hall was taken into police custody. The following day, he was charged with aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder. 

Over a year later, on July 23rd, 2008, Hall pleaded guilty to all charges. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. [read more]

The Murder of Hannah Graham

Hannah Graham (18) vanished during the early morning hours of September 13th, 2014. At the time, Hannah was a student at the University of Virginia. Sometime during the night of September 12th, Hannah became separated from her friends while walking to a party. She was last heard from at 1:20am on the 13th, after texting a friend that she was lost. Less than a week later, police released surveillance footage from the university mall from the night of Hannah’s disappearance. In the video, Hannah is shown stumbling through the mall by herself when an older, unidentified man approaches her and puts his arm around her. Police were able to identify that man as Jesse L. Matthew Jr. (32) He was taken into custody on September 24th and charged with kidnapping and intent to defile.

The arrest of Matthew caused a ripple effect that led investigators to solving other unsolved cases throughout Virginia. A few years before Hannah's disappearance, another young woman named Morgan Harrington (20) vanished after being denied re-entry to a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia. Morgan's remains were found a few months later on a farm located ten miles away. DNA on Morgan's shirt matched DNA that investigators already had on file for an unsolved rape case in Fairfax, Virginia that occurred in 2005. Once Jesse Matthew Jr. was arrested for kidnapping Hannah Graham in 2014, they were able to match his DNA to the DNA from the Morgan Harrington case and the 2005 rape case. 

Hannah’s remains were found on October 18th, 2014, on an abandoned property in Albemarle County, Virginia. Matthew was subsequently charged with the kidnapping and rape for the 2005 case and with the murders of both Morgan and Hannah. He pleaded guilty in all 3 cases and will remain incarcerated for the rest of his life.

If it had not been for the surveillance footage that captured Matthew approaching Hannah Graham, there's a chance that all three cases would remain unsolved today. [read more]

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