July 4, 1999 Disappearance Remains Unsolved, Part 1
By - Roger Jewell
On July 4, 1999 twenty year old Brooke Leigh Henson walked away from her parents' Henderson Drive, Travelers Rest home in the wee hours of the morning. Official incident reports state she went walking to buy cigarettes other reports state she went for a walk to clear her head after two arguments with her boyfriend, Shaun Shirley, who was sleeping at the Henson home when Brooke walked away. Whatever the reason might have been, the stone cold truth remains, she was never seen again.
Travelers Rest police responded to the Henson home when they received the missing person's report. The responding officers radioed a BOLO (Be On the Lookout) to area law enforcement agencies but when that BOLO was issued the dispatcher mistakenly added, "possibly a runaway." The fact that Brooke was 20 years old somehow gave the impression that she left on her own accord. They did not consider she might be in danger. The local police did not start an actual search until two weeks later when The Monitor published questions about the disappearance.
During that two week period members of the Henson family made homemade missing person flyers and posted them on store windows and doors across Travelers Rest, Marietta and Cleveland. As a reporter for The Monitor, I saw one of those posters and started asking questions at TRPD. I was given a copy of the incident report. We had a story and we ran with it. We seemed to be the only media outlet providing continued coverage of the case at that time. An area businessman told us he had told TRPD chief Harold Perry, "Many people read that newspaper, and if you don't want to be busted down to a low level officer out there writing traffic tickets, you'd better work with The Monitor." From that point on, solving the disappearance and answering our questions became priority with Perry.
Several days after July 4, 1999. Travelers Rest police officers raided a room at a Travelers Rest motel where Shaun Shirley and others were with two underage girls. Charges of criminal sexual conduct were filed. Perry hoped he could question the boys in deep detail about the Henson case. Shirley made bail quickly and the Greenville County Solicitor's office dropped the charges in exchange for drug related information. Shirley never spend time in jail.
Police scanners at The Monitor were active around the clock during the remainder of the 1999 summer. We knew when Perry was conducting searches whenever he radioed TRPD with statements like, "I'll be out of OJ (our jurisdiction) with Greenville County on special detail." Sometimes he didn't state where he was and other times he would, such as when he and Lt. Arlene Allen searched a pond on Devil's Fork Road in northern Greenville County and another search at Bald Rock in August. Larry Atkins and I drove up to Devil's Fork Road and made pictures where we saw officers in a boat on the pond. Afterwards I asked Perry if they found anything in the pond and he said, "nothing except for a couple of stolen vehicles down in the water." When I heard they were searching Bald Rock, I drove there by myself and arrived just as Perry, Lt. Allen and a DNR officer exiting the woods. They found nothing there that indicated Brooke Henson had been there.
Through the remainder of the summer of 1999 searches were made at Pallafox Drive and the wooded areas between Tugaloo Road and Hawkins Hill Road off of Tugaloo Road. Several GCSO helicopter flyovers were seen and heard over the Tugaloo Road Shirley home. Other searches were conducted at an old well in River Falls.
Since the disappearance developed inside the city limits of Travelers Rest, the Travelers Rest police department had jurisdiction as the lead investigative agency. Even though there were mutual aid agreements with other agencies, TRPD remained as the lead investigative agency. That changed in 2015 when TRPD turned the investigation over to the Greenville County Sheriff's Office cold case unit.
In late 1999, Perry and Lt. Arleen Allen suddenly resigned from TRPD, "for personal reasons." In 2000 Tim Christy became police chief at TRPD. There were big differences between Perry and Christy. Perry, as chief, was an active police officer that actually went out on patrol. Christy immediately changed the structure of the police department and made the position of police chief more as an administrative position. He shared very little about the Henson investigation. However we knew he conducted a lone search of old wells at the current campus of Travelers Rest High School and another on Talley Bridge Road, Marietta.
In 2003 The Monitor published the following article as a three part series on the Henson case including interviews with Brooke Henson's aunt Christi and a psychic medium. CONTINUED DURING THE JULY 4th WEEK.