Michael and Mary Short Murders: What Led Them to the Tragic End?

In August 2002, the news of a loving couple being murdered and their young daughter going missing sent waves among the Henry County, Virginia, community. In another tragic blow, the little girl was also found slain weeks later. Crime Junkie’s podcast ‘MURDERED: The Short Family’ thus focuses on how Michael and Mary Short were killed in their home, with the authorities believing that their daughter, Jennifer, was abducted and killed later.

How Did Michael and Mary Short Die?

Michael Wayne Short was born in February 1952 and grew up with a brother and two sisters. He met Mary Frances Hall, born in April 1966, and the two eventually tied the knot. The couple only had one daughter, Jennifer, born in July 1993. At the time of the incident, they were both dedicated to a mobile home moving company Michael owned and managed. In the past, Mary had worked factory jobs as well.

Michael and Mary were known to mostly keep to themselves, and their little girl, Jennifer, was considered a close-knit family. The nine-year-old often spent time with her parents and was to soon begin fourth grade at Figsboro Elementary School in Martinsville, Virginia. The Shorts also had a good relationship with Michael’s three adult sons from a previous marriage. But alas, everything changed on the night of August 14, 2002, after the trio was last seen at a local fast food restaurant’s drive-thru at around 11 PM.

Image Credit: WAKG News

The following morning, Michael’s employee, Chris Thompson, arrived at their house in Oak Level, Virginia, since he had plans to travel with him. That’s when he found not just the garage door open but also his 50-year-old boss’ body on the couch. He immediately called 911, who then found 36-year-old Mary’s body in the bedroom. However, there was no sign of Jennifer anywhere, and it appeared she’d been abducted. A local discovered her skeletal remains nearly six weeks later in Stoneville, North Carolina, about 30 miles away from the Shorts’ family home. All three were slain execution-style by a single gunshot wound to the head, fired by a small-caliber weapon.

The Investigation of Short Murders Continues

Once Michael and Mary’s bodies were located, the authorities’ main concern was obviously to find the missing Jennifer. They initially thought the little girl might’ve escaped during the attack, but this theory was discarded when she didn’t turn up. Moreover, there was the fact the attack seemed premeditated, and robbery wasn’t the motive; the phone lines were cut off, and money on the kitchen counter was not taken. The killer/s possibly also knew the family’s routine since the patriarch was known to fall asleep on the garage couch from time to time.

Since there were no signs of struggle around Michael and Mary, detectives felt the couple was murdered in their sleep, especially as they found just one spent shell casing near each body. They then looked into the family’s individual past as well, only to learn that a man used to stalk and harass Mary during the 1990s when she was employed as a seamstress at a factory. Yet, there was no record of a restraining order. Apart from this, they even learned that the family had been planning to move to South Carolina and had put their house on the market.

Therefore, Michael’s trips to South Carolina in the days leading up to the murders made sense. But still, years later, officials visited the cities he’d reportedly traveled to for any information, to no avail. However, we should mention that the initial investigation back then largely centered around Garrison S. “Gary” Bowman. Then, at 66 years old, he was a carpenter who was considered a suspect in the matter after witness statements seemed to implicate him. According to his landlord, he’d once talked about paying a Virginia man to move his mobile home around the area, but once he failed to do so, his tenant admittedly threatened to kill him if he didn’t get his money soon.

The landlord further indicated that on August 15, 2002, he saw Gary with a gun. This, of course, led detectives to become even more suspicious when Gary left for Canada’s Northwest Territories on August 16, and his mobile home was located on a friend’s property roughly a mile from where Jennifer’s body was discovered. As if that’s not enough, they even found a map in Gary’s possession that appeared to have directions to the Short residence.

Composite sketch of the suspect from the FBI

While one of Gary’s friends claimed his trip to Canada was planned long before, he was eventually sent back home for violating immigration laws. Another friend, John Beasley, told officials he’d allowed him to leave the mobile home on his property until the buyer could come to pick it up. Yet Gary remained a person of interest until things changed in 2005. After all, three men were accused of lying to investigators in relation to the Short case, with two of them claiming to have seen Gary leaving the Short residence with a little girl.

In 2007, the police officially announced that Gary was no longer a suspect in the matter. A couple of years later, the FBI released the sketch of a man who was reportedly seen sitting in a white flatbed truck near the Short home during the early morning hours of August 15, 2002. Over the years, they’ve maintained they receive hot leads, but none have ever struck. Unfortunately, in 2019, the family house burned down, but the authorities couldn’t determine whether it was arson. Though, it was indicated the fire didn’t seem to be connected to the murders.

Then, in October 2021, the case was reopened for good, with a multi-agency task force working on it. In mid-2022, it was announced that a grant would help pay for the analysis and examination of several pieces of evidence in the case. Lane Perry, a Henry County sheriff, said, “We do have people that this is focused around; we’re not at liberty to say who, but yes, we do have things that point us in the directions with people, and we are working those leads and have worked with them in the past.” The authorities have since focused on Jennifer’s abduction as a possible motive, and they’re even offering a $62,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the Short family homicide. If you know anything, please do not hesitate to contact the Sheriff’s Office at (276) 638-8751.

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