Terry Rouse Murder: How Did He Die? Who Killed Him?

ID’s ‘American Monster’ covered the disappearance and assumed murder of Terry Rouse in an episode titled ‘Into the Swamp.’ In August 2023, the same case was also featured in an episode of Oxygen’s ‘Killer Relationship With Faith Jenkins,’ titled ‘Family Feud.’ Terry was last seen in the year 1991, and his friends or family never heard from him again. One person constantly brought Terry up in conversations with other people, that too in a disturbing context. That person was Terry’s first cousin and best friend, Craig Lester Thrift. Curious to know what went down between Terry and Craig that led to Terry’s ultimate fate? Let’s take a closer look at the details of this case.

How Did Terry Rouse Die?

Born on June 14, 1966, Georgia native Terry Eugene Rouse was a part of the well-known Thrift family through his mother, Sara Thrift. In the early morning hours on May 11, 1991, Terry left a party he had been attending at a residence on Swamp Road in Waycross, Ware County. Later in the day, a Georgia state trooper found Terry’s light blue Ford Thunderbird parked near the entrance of Okefenokee Swamp Park, the engine running with the radio playing and a window rolled down. Inside the car were Terry’s clothes and a few other personal effects. Terry himself was nowhere to be found.


When Terry’s mother, Sara, was called regarding the information, she contacted her family members, and everyone started to ask around where he might be. The first person to be contacted about this was none other than Craig Lester Thrift, Terry’s first cousin and best friend. The two worked together at a concrete company under the watch of Larry Thrift, Craig’s father. Apparently, it was a ritual that Terry would pick up Craig from his house, and the two would go to work at the same time.

However, Craig claimed that Terry had not come up to pick him up that day, a statement echoed by his then-wife, Rhonda Thrift. He stated that he and his wife were indeed at the party that Terry had been attending the previous night but had not since him after they seemingly left the party house before him. Given that there was no evidence that Terry had actually passed away, the police were unsure how to proceed, especially since Terry was an adult and a missing person case in such a situation had to keep this factor in mind. Additionally, the various tips regarding the case claimed that Terry had been consuming drugs and was in immense debt because of it. Hence, some thought that he might have either run away to escape paying the money or may have run afoul of some of his debtors.

Craig Thrift’s Conviction

Sometime after Terry’s disappearance, Sara Thrift learned that her son had apparently been involved in an affair with Rhonda Thrift. This particular piece of information established a possible motive for Craig to have harmed Terry. While the members of the Thrift and Rouse families did not think that someone within the family might have been responsible for such a crime, the authorities did not concur with this particular thought process.

When Craig was brought in for questioning regarding, he refused to take the polygraph test. Apparently, Craig told the investigating officers, “Without a body, you don’t have anything, and I’m not taking a test.” Conversely, Rhonda admitted that she had been having an affair with Terry for around eight months and even took a polygraph test to back up her statements. The fact that Craig and Rhonda had started on the path of divorce not long after Terry’s disappearance also pointed toward Craig being responsible for Terry’s death.

However, without conclusive evidence, the case had to be put on the back burner, and Terry was ultimately declared deceased in 2003 by his mother. When a new investigator was assigned to the case years later, in 2009, she noticed that Craig was once again involved in a marital separation issue, this time concerning Robyn Thrift. Hence a call was made to the lady in question, who point blank asked if they wanted to know whether Craiug had killed Terry because he had apparently bragged about the same multiple times.

In fact, as it turns out, Craig had allegedly been quite vocal about having killed Terry, something even his neighbors had heard him saying. This led the police to conduct a search in Craig’s house and the swamp area near Larry Thirft’s workplace. As it turns out, Craig’s then babysitter, who had apparently stayed over on the night of May 10, 1991, had heard Craig and Rhonda fighting on the morning of May 11, 1991, and claimed that Terry had indeed come by to pick his cousin up early in the morning.

The investigators concluded that Terry and Craig had fought, leading the latter to attack his cousin fatally. He apparently then used the tools available at his workplace and Terry’s own car to ensure that no one would find Terry’s body. Despite not being able to find a dead body, the authorities felt that the rest of the evidence they had acquired would make a strong case. In March 2012, 21 years after Terry went missing, the authorities arrested Craig Lester Thrift and charged him with the murder of his first cousin.

When they arrested him and searched his home at 116 Trout Street in Woodbine, the police found marijuana and firearms. Craig was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in the commission of a crime by the Camden County Sheriff’s Office. During the trial, the jury heard conflicting statements from Craig’s current and former wives, Robyn and Rhonda Thrift, respectively. While his ex-wife Rhonda (the one alleged to have had an affair with Terry) claimed that Craig had been partying and drinking with her the entire night and then directly headed to bed in the morning, several other witnesses, including Craig’s then-wife Robyn testified that Craig had told them that he had beaten up, shot, and killed his cousin Terry.

According to Robyn (and many other witnesses), Craig often said to them that he had killed Terry so that he could intimidate them. One witness, Aubrey Taylor, testified that Terry had told him that he was going to skip town to avoid going to court on a DUI charge and also because he was in debt that he couldn’t repay. Without the body, the jury couldn’t be certain about what had happened to Terry. But so many people testified against Craig’s bragging about being the murderer that it was enough to convict him. In 2014, two years after his arrest, Craig Lester Thrift was convicted of felony murder in the disappearance and presumed death of Terry Rouse and got a life sentence with the possibility of parole after seven years (counting the two years he had already spent in jail during his trial).

Read More: Where is Craig Lester Thrift Today?