Old Dogs, Fresh Eyes: Retired investigators probing Shondra May mystery
17-year-old’s abduction and death still unsolved
RANKIN COUNTY, Miss. (WLBT) - They’re not in law enforcement anymore, but together, Bill Barnes, Lloyd “Benny” Bennett and Michael Frazier have more than half a century of investigative experience.
Barnes served 20 years with the Jackson Police Department and then other agencies until his retirement in 2017.
Frazier is a former Pearl police officer and Scott County sheriff’s deputy.
Bennett is a former Jackson police officer and a former investigator for the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office. He played himself in the movie “Ghosts of Mississippi” about the conviction of Medgar Evers’ assassin decades after the crime. His late father worked on the original Evers case in the 1960s.
Bennett says he has always been fascinated, stumped, and troubled by the abduction and murder of Shondra May in Scott County back in 1986.
“There’s so many questions about this case,” he says.
After 3 On Your Side’s fresh look at the case back in March 2021, Bennett got the group of friends together to talk about it and what they might be able to do to help the investigation.
“No cop wants to have a case that he can’t close,” Bennett says. “This one hasn’t been closed. It’s about time.”
May was a 17-year-old high-school senior at Leake Academy in 1986. On February 4, she got off early from her job at the McDonald’s in Forest. She stopped at TG&Y, now Burkes Outlet, to buy a card for her boyfriend. She then drove north on Highway 35 toward her home in the Pea Ridge community south of Walnut Grove.
She never got all the way there. May’s family found her car, abandoned, on the gravel road within eyesight of her front door. Her purse was still inside, but her driver’s license was missing.
Three agonizing weeks later, on her 18th birthday, May’s nude body was found in a creek near Bolton in Hinds County.
Frazier believes even with the passage of time, after dozens of people were questioned but none pegged with the crime, the case is still solvable.
“The family deserves closure,” he says. “We’re just running the leads, hoping we get more, and trying to look at old suspects that have been ruled out, maybe something was overlooked, and just try to get the dogs back on the trail, so to speak.”
Frazier says DNA analysis, still in its infancy in ‘86, isn’t much help in this case today, because almost none of the evidence was preserved back then. The tape that bound May’s body and the garbage bags in which she had been wrapped were removed almost immediately by the young deputy who responded.
“I don’t know if police departments back then, especially in this part of the country, understood how to process a crime scene the way it should be done properly,” he says.
This group has heard and read nearly all the theories. They’re trying to take it all in with fresh but experienced eyes in hopes of finding something, or convincing someone to lead them to something, that could finally crack the case.
“They could have been scared back then,” Bennett says of witnesses who may have been reluctant to come forward in the past. “I’ve worked some cold cases, and that was the case. They were just scared and didn’t want to come forward for whatever reason. And since then a lot of people have died. And maybe somebody knows and somebody will come out and tell what they know. It’ll help us get on with this.”
“The information that’s out there is kind of mind-boggling,” says Frazier. “People tend to want to give information of what they feel happened, but not everybody can be guilty. There’s probably 20 suspects that have been named to me, but only three or four that actually stand out to me that I’ve discussed with Benny and Bill, and we’re looking at trying to follow-up.”
They say if they do figure it out, they’ll hand their findings over to the Scott County Sheriff’s Department, which has been investigating the crime since it happened. The retired investigators have more time on their hands to chase leads, however obscure, without the burden of managing other crimes and issues that come up daily for a sheriff’s department.
“You never know,” says Bennett. “One little, small piece of information may be what it takes to bust it wide open. I would encourage anybody, if they know anything, to please come forward and let us know.”
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