3 On Your Side Investigates: 1986 disappearance of Shondra May still unsolved

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 7:22 PM CDT
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SCOTT COUNTY, Miss. (WLBT) - Sid Salter was publisher of the Scott County Times in Forest for 18 years. Now Director of the Office of Public Affairs at Mississippi State University, he is still haunted by a story he covered back in February of 1986.

“There was really almost a full-blown panic, particularly among families that had daughters or wives that were traveling for work at night,” he recalls.

Shondra May (Source: Family)
Shondra May (Source: Family)(Family)

That fear set in after the disappearance of Shondra May, 17, a senior at Leake Academy who worked at the McDonald’s in Forest.

Business was slow on the night of February 4, so the manager told Shondra she could leave early. She called her mother to say she was coming home, but she first stopped at the TG&Y, now Burkes Outlet, on Highway 35 to buy a Valentine’s card for her boyfriend. She then headed north on the highway toward her home in the Pea Ridge community south of Walnut Grove.

David Spivey, Shondra’s first cousin who still lives in the house next door, recalls seeing her headlights as she drove toward home that night.

“There was no car behind her,” he recalls. “Just hers.”

But Shondra never made it all the way home. Her car stopped just short of her driveway, about half-way between her home and her cousin’s. Her mother, concerned when Shondra did not arrive after calling to say she was on the way, called Spivey’s house to ask if she had stopped there.

Her mother then stepped outside and saw Shondra’s car near the driveway. All of Shondra’s belongings, including her purse, were still inside. Only her driver’s license was missing. Spivey says the engine was off, but the radio was on, with the volume turned all the way down. He says the driver’s window was open slightly.

There was no sign of Shondra.

Scott County Sheriff Mike Lee was only 16 when Shondra disappeared, but he remembers how so many people searched for her, prayed that she was okay, and offered rewards for information. He says everyone was hopeful that she had gone somewhere with friends and that she would be found.

“When they found the body,” he says, “that’s when it brought fear to small-town Mississippi.”

It was 22 days later. On what would have been Shondra’s eighteenth birthday, an off-duty firefighter who said he was digging for fishing worms found her nude body in Baker’s Creek near Bolton in Hinds County, just south of the Champion Hill Road bridge. She was bound with industrial tape and wrapped in bags.

Recovery of May's body at Baker's Creek
Recovery of May's body at Baker's Creek(WLBT)

An autopsy showed no signs of serious trauma, but she had been sexually assaulted. But who took her? And where had they kept her for three weeks?

There wasn’t much evidence to go on.

“At the scene where the body was found, the tape was removed from her body,” said Sheriff Lee. “We know now that that body would be preserved as-is, taken into a body bag, and everything that would have been a part of where she was found in the water would have been...taken to the crime lab.”

The car wasn’t much use either. Shondra’s cousin and his father, having no idea yet that a crime had been committed, used the car to try and find her.

“There’s no doubt that evidence in the case was flawed,” Lee says.

Over the years, several possible suspects have emerged, some known for using flashing lights to pull people over. But there’s never been enough evidence to bring charges. The sheriff believes that evidence is still out there.

“We will need something physically that links them to Shondra,” he says. “We know that there are items missing from Shondra,” things like her clothing and the driver’s license. “I believe that some of that has been kept as maybe a way for the person to re-live that event.”

Sheriff Lee believes he knows who did it, but he does not yet have the evidence to link that person to the crime.

“There’s not a person here that is not interested in helping get this solved,” he says.

Shondra’s mother, Genell, died in 1994. Her brother, Tim, still lives in the area. Her father, Richard, is still in Mississippi, but he told 3 On Your Side he realizes he may never know what happened to his daughter. He prays he’ll see her again one day, when he can ask her himself.

Shondra May's gravestone
Shondra May's gravestone(WLBT)

Shondra is buried at a small cemetery south of Pea Ridge. Her date of birth is etched in her gravestone, but her date of death is blank. Not knowing exactly when she died or what she endured continues to weigh on her family, even after all these years.

“Every day we live with this nightmare,” Spivey says. “There’s no telling what she went through.”

“I’ve covered a lot of crime over the years, and of all the crimes I covered, this one is certainly the most haunting and the one that was most difficult to cover from a human standpoint,” Sid Salter says. “As a father and as a parent, your heart breaks for these people and what they’re going through.”

Shondra May would be 53 if she were still alive today. Sheriff Lee says there is still some reward money for information that leads to an arrest and conviction.

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