Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Disappearance and Murder of Heaven LaShae Ross


Heaven LaShae Ross disappeared in Northport, Alabama on August 19th, 2003. The 11-year-old girl left her family's residence that morning to walk to her school bus stop. The young girl, known by her loved ones as Shae, never made it to her destination. 

It did not take long for Shae's family to notice she had vanished. It began pouring rain a few short minutes after she left the house. According to reports, Shae's stepfather Kevin Thompson subsequently decided to drive Shae and her older sister, Alex - who was already at the bus stop - to school instead. When Kevin drove up to the bus stop, he found Alex there alone. Shae had not shown up and was nowhere in sight.

The bus stop is located approximately 50 yards from the family's residence at the Willowbrook Mobile Home Park off of Hunter's Creek Road. Shae left the home that morning at 6:55 AM to make that short walk. The storm erupted a few minutes later; it was 7:01 AM when Kevin went to pick the girls up from the bus stop. Shae seemingly vanished during a 50-yard walk in a span of just 6 minutes. 

Shae's mother and stepfather contacted police very shortly after discovering she was missing. Police spoke to various residents at the mobile home park and learned that a few neighbors had seen Shae walking by herself towards the bus stop that morning. No one reported seeing her with anyone, nor did anyone report seeing her get into a vehicle. As such, Shae's disappearance did not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert to be issued. 

When Shae had not returned by the time school let out that day, the full-scale investigation was finally launched. Over the next several weeks, authorities from both local police and the FBI were involved in the search. Volunteer searches were also conducted. Flyers were passed out and reward money was offered. Unfortunately, none of these efforts led to Shae's whereabouts.

Neighbors, family members, friends, and various persons of interest were interviewed - but nobody was able to account for Shae's whereabouts. As weeks turned into months without any sign of Shae, her case grew cold. Over three years passed without any sign of the young girl. 

Then, on December 19th, 2006, a daunting discovery was made at an abandoned house off Crescent Ridge Road near Holt. A man was collecting cans near the house when his dog ran into the house's crawlspace. The man followed his dog and noticed that, inside the crawlspace, there was a bright pink shirt with the Bratz Doll logo, a pair of leggings, and what appeared to be human skeletal remains.

When police arrived on the scene, they noticed that the clothing in the crawlspace was the same clothing that Shae was wearing when she left her house on the morning of her disappearance. As such, it was immediately suspected that the remains belonged to Shae. Forensic testing confirmed this shortly thereafter.

Shae's remains were badly decomposed, making investigators unable to determine an exact cause of death. However, her manner of death was labeled as a homicide. Shae was found just 8 miles away from the mobile home park where she lived, in a location that is well known for illegal drug activity. The discovery of her body in that area has led to several questions that remain unanswered today - such as: Who killed Shae? How did she end up in that house?

A look into the circumstances surrounding Shae's disappearance has led to a few different theories. 

The morning of Shae's disappearance.

The morning of Shae's disappearance began as a seemingly normal one. As previously noted, Shae left her family's home around 6:55 AM that morning to make the short walk to the bus stop. 

Shae's older sister, Alex, was already at the bus stop at this time. Reports state it was normal for Alex to leave the house a few minutes ahead of Shae, but Shae always eventually caught up to her at the bus stop. It began to storm shortly before 7:00 AM, which prompted their stepfather, Kevin, to go pick up the girls from the bus stop so they would not have to wait for the bus in the rain. 

Given that the family's residence was approximately just 50 yards away from the bus stop, it's reasonable to assume that Shae would have made it there by time Kevin had arrived to pick the girls up at 7:01 AM. According to Alex, though, Shae still had not shown up. It appeared she was not anywhere in the immediate area or along the route to the bus stop either. 

When Shae's mother, Beth, learned that Shae was missing, she immediately called police. However, as noted above, Shae's disappearance did not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert. 

Searching for Shae.

Source: CBS 42

Members of the local community came together in the early stages of Shae's disappearance to assist in the search. A command center was set up where volunteers met up to help with the investigative efforts. Resources were pulled from both the FBI and local investigators. Eventually, money was raised to offer a reward of up to $70,000 in exchange for information leading Shae's whereabouts. 

Over the weeks, the relationship between some members of the command center and Shae's mother, Beth, and stepfather, Kevin, grew sour. At some point Beth accused certain volunteers of stealing $500 that had been donated by a local church. The volunteers adamantly denied any theft had occurred. In fact, the leader of the volunteer group said that all cash donations and checks that they received were handed directly to Beth. 

The volunteers maintained that they wanted to find Shae, while they felt Shae's family members were not actively involved in the search. This led to speculation about Shae's family possibly being involved in her disappearance. Events that followed caused that speculation to grow even stronger.

A suspicious fire.

Approximately five weeks after Shae's disappearance, a fire broke out in her family's home. The fire was contained to Shae's bedroom; investigators concluded it had been an act of arson. According to Navigating Advocacy, "the fire marshal's report said that a small hole in the floor at the foot of the bed and at the foot of a recliner where a cigarette butt and trash was found is where the fire started."

Beth and Kevin told police that they had no idea how they fire was started; nor did they know about the hole in the floor. Kevin reportedly told police that he believed that "whoever took Shae may have felt the pressure looming and attempted to get rid of any potential evidence in her room by crawling under the trailer and setting the fire." However, police have been unable to confirm this theory.

By this point, there was already local speculation about Kevin possibly being involved in Shae's disappearance. This speculation was partially driven by an incident that happened three years earlier in which Kevin was charged with harassment during a domestic dispute. According to reports, Kevin grabbed Shae and threw her to the ground during the dispute.

Kevin and Beth both maintained that this was an isolated incident, and that Kevin and Shae had a great relationship. Still, many continued to believe Kevin was involved and that Beth may be covering for him. Eventually, though, both Kevin and Beth took polygraph exams, and both passed. 

Another potential person of interest.

On September 18th, 2003 - about a month after Shae's disappearance - police questioned a 21-year-old man named Evin Ryland. Evin was a friend of Shae's older brother, Blake. He was no stranger to law enforcement; he had gotten in trouble in the past for harboring runaways.

When police went to Evin's residence to question him about Shae, they found that he was actually harboring two 16-year-old runaways at that time. However, there was no sign of Shae, nor was there any evidence that he had been involved in her disappearance. Evin was eventually cleared as a suspect.

A cold case disappearance.

While the community was very involved in the initial stages of the search for Shae, that involvement began to dwindle as weeks turned into months without any progress. The search efforts by professionals and members of the command center had ended unsuccessfully. By the 10-week mark, with no new leads to follow, the command center disbanded.

The investigation into Shae's disappearance grew cold. Shae's loved ones continued to hold vigils and keep hope alive for her return. Unfortunately, no clues were found until her remains were found by chance in December 2006.

December 19th, 2006: remains are found.

As previously stated, a man and his dog found skeletal remains in the crawlspace of an abandoned house off Crescent Ridge Road on December 19th, 2006. Reports state that the land around the house was overgrown, making the house not easily seen from the road. Locals stated that the house "wasn’t easily found unless you knew where you were going."

When police arrived on the scene, they spotted the Bratz doll t-shirt and a backpack near the skeletal remains. This immediately led to the belief that the remains were likely that of Shae Ross.


Once it was confirmed that the remains did, in fact, belong to Shae, the investigation shifted to a homicide case. 

Remaining questions.

The discovery of Shae's body marked the end of a chapter for her loved ones and the community. There was no longer the question of "where is Shae?". Unfortunately, though, everyone was now left with a whole new set of questions, such as: How did Shae end up at that house? Who killed her? How did she die?

It's known that a thunderstorm caused heavy rain after Shae left her house to walk to the bus stop on the morning of her disappearance. Did Shae try to flee from the rain? Did an opportunist predator offer her a ride? No one in the neighborhood reported seeing her get into a vehicle that morning, but it does not appear that there is any sort of footage that confirms that she didn't - so it cannot be completely ruled out.

It's also possible someone - possibly a member of the mobile home park - offered her shelter from the rain inside their residence or other covered property. Did this person also kill Shae and hide her body at the abandoned house?


Many reports state that the abandoned house where Shae was found was a known spot amongst drug users in the area; it's often referred to by locals as a "drug house." This inevitably leads to the question of whether or not drugs were involved in Shae's disappearance and death. Did drugs play a role in a way? Or was she placed in that crawlspace to make it appear that the frequenters of that house were the ones responsible instead of the actual killer?

The house was not a part of the investigation into Shae's disappearance until her remains were found in the crawlspace - even though it's only 8 miles away from Shae's home. It appears investigators may not have gotten any tips that led them to the house, or anyone associated with the house, before her body was found. 

 The family.

Kevin, Beth, and Alex in 2018. (Source: The Tuscaloosa News)

As common in many unsolved missing persons/murder cases, there is still speculation about the family - namely, her stepfather Kevin, being responsible for Shae's death. It's easy to see where this speculation comes from, especially since there is a documented incident of Kevin grabbing and throwing Shae to the floor when she was just 8 or 9 years old. 

The fire in Shae's room five weeks after her disappearance also causes speculation about the family. If the fire was set to destroy evidence, that indicates that something happened to Shae inside her bedroom rather than during her walk to the bus stop. However, three neighbors reported seeing Shae walking to the bus stop that morning. 

Kevin has never been charged with anything related to Shae's disappearance or murder, nor has he ever been publicly labeled as a suspect. Investigators have yet to publicly label any individual as a suspect at this time. 

An unsolved case. 

Source: Facebook

Shae's murder remains unsolved. Investigators and loved ones are still fighting for answers. If you have any information about the murder of Heaven LaShae Ross, please call the Northport Police Department at 205-339-6600 or the Violent Crimes Unit at 205-464-8690. 

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