Part Two: July 4, 1999 Disappearance Remains Unsolved
On the evening of July 3, 1999 twenty year old Brooke Leigh Henson hosted a party at her parents' home on Henderson Drive in the city limits of Travelers Rest, South Carolina. Her parents, Martin and Cathy Henson, at the time of the party, were attending a concert in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was the first time Brooke had ever hosted a party without her parents. It would also be the last party ever for Brooke Leigh Henson.
"We got back at about 1 or 2 a.m., (July 4)," Brooke's aunt Christi Metcalf said in an exclusive 2003 interview with The Monitor newspaper. "And when we got there Brooke was sitting on the porch and Ricky Shaun Shirley (Brooke's boyfriend) was inside the house. The last two people from the party, "Bingo" Shirley and his girlfriend were leaving as we arrived."
After leaving the Henson home and going to her Travelers Rest home a short distance away, Christi phoned Cathy Henson. "I guess around 7 a.m., I phoned Cathy and she said she couldn't talk to me at that time. So, later in the day, I went over to the Henson home at about 3 pm. Cathy was very upset and I felt something was very wrong at that time. She said Brooke was not home and had walked out of the house in the wee hours of the morning."
Christi said she told Cathy she should call the police especially since approximately twelve hours had passed. Actually Cathy had to be coaxed into calling the police. After the police were called, officer Hendrix of the Travelers Rest Police Department arrived and wrote an incident report based on Cathy's statements. After arriving home from the concert Brooke was on the front porch after having an argument with her boyfriend Shaun Shirley who was still inside the house. A short time later Brooke announced, 'I'm getting out of here." When Cathy asked, "What?" Brooke replied, "Nothing, I'm just messing with Shaun." Brooke and Shaun went to Brooke's bedroom while Cathy went to sleep on the couch. Another argument developed between Brooke and Shaun and a short time later Brooke told her mother, "I'm going for a walk, to get cigarettes." It was believed to be between 2 and 3 a.m. (Note, in 1999 no stores in Travelers Rest were open past midnight.) Shaun remained in Brooke's room and was believed to be asleep.
After sunrise, Cathy realized Brooke had not returned home. Shaun Shirley was still sleeping. Kathy found a note in Brooke's room reading, "I'm gone walking, follow me if you care." Cathy showed the note to Shaun and he said he hadn't seen the note until just then. At around 9 a.m Shaun received a phone call from someone named Greg. A white pickup truck showed up at the house and Shaun left inside the truck.
Officer Hendrix filed the report and by then over twelve hours had passed since Brooke walked out of the house. Police considered the fact that Brooke was 20 years old and had walked out on her own and therefore believed she was a runaway. Searches for her were not made until between two and three weeks later.
When you see searches being conducted for missing persons on television news or movies you see large groups of fifty or so people participating in a search. There were rarely more than three people searching for Brooke Henson at any given time. And nobody has realized there were no stores selling cigarettes open after midnight in 1999 in Travelers Rest.
"I've always had a feeling about Brooke's relationship with her boy friend," Christi said in the 2003 interview. "And by that I mean it seemed she cared more for him than he cared for her and he seemed to only come around when he needed a girlfriend. I was surprised to see him at the party. And during the party the fight was supposedly about him making a date with someone else that was there."
Shaun Shirley was questioned by TRPD investigators through the years and had numerous arrests for drug related crimes, lynching, criminal sexual conduct and assault and battery. He never did any jail time on any of those charges due to plea deals which resulted in probation sentences on top of more probation sentences (according to court records). Former TRPD investigator Jon Campbell once said, every time he tried to question Shirley, he would lawyer up and refuse to cooperate with the Brooke Henson investigation. He was the main suspect but Travelers Rest police refused to admit it until after his mysterious death in October 2019. At the time of his death, Shirley was facing charges of possession of a stolen vehicle, second offense driving under suspension, driving an uninsured vehicle and an improper vehicle tag violation.
"When Brooke loved someone she really loved them. She had lots of good friends and everyone just adored her. She grew into this beautiful, beautiful girl that didn't have to wear makeup. She had natural beauty," Christi added. "She had started to learn to cook and had gotten a job. She didn't have a license to drive but I think she was starting to work towards that. Even though she was doing these things a little late in life at the age of 20, she was starting to come out on her own. And, she didn't do these things earlier because she didn't have to. She didn't miss out on much and she pretty much got to do what she wanted. That's why the runaway theory by the police didn't make sense. She didn't have to runaway."
Christi and her husband started posting homemade missing person posters around Travelers Rest and Marietta during the time that passed while Travelers Rest police did nothing. Eventually local stores stopped allowing the posters to be displayed. "If they did let us post them, they would come behind us and take the posters down after we left," Christi said.
When TRPD started their investigation, police chief Harold Perry told The Monitor newspaper he had contacted and questioned everyone that was known to have been at Brooke's party. "Nobody has seen her, heard from her or knew anything," he said.
At one point during the Summer of 1999, Travelers Rest police were watching the Henson home. A TRPD officer, Kevin Elder entered the home while the Hensons were away. He did not have a search warrant and was still inside the home when the family returned. Elder, who had a reputation for beating people up, was reprimanded after the Hensons threatened lawsuits. Elder remained at TRPD until the early 2000s when he was asked to resign.
By the end of 1999 chief Perry and Lt. Arlene Allen resigned from TRPD, "for personal reasons."
At one point during the investigation a security video tape supposedly surfaced. The tape, from a Travelers Rest hotel, supposedly showed Brooke Henson on July 4, 1999 entering the building but never exiting. The tape, according to sources, was turned in to TRPD. Police chief Tim Christy, who replaced Harold Perry, told The Monitor newspaper, "We've heard about that tape but there is nothing to it. We returned the tape and it is supposed to be in the hotel safe."
By 2003 TRPD had accumulated a file which included over 700 pages on the Henson case. Many tips were given but they were always second or third or fourth hand, he said she said typed of information. One TRPD officer said, "It seems like every drunk I pull over on a traffic stop offers Brooke Henson information." In other words, they had so many second handed tips that TRPD failed to take any of them seriously.
Also in 2003 a physic medium offered her help to Christi Metcalf. Two "readings" were conducted, including an email interview with The Monitor newspaper. We felt by publishing that 2003 interview, not only would it keep the disappearance in the public eye but also, just maybe, make guilty parties feel very, very nervous. The first reading follows and is the medium's description of the abductor/murderer of Brooke Henson.
"He is a bearded man. Heavy set. Probably mid 30's red tinted or auburn hair, lots of hair. He has a ruddy complexion, full round face with eyes like slits. Jelly Belly. (The medium thinks this is a term Brooke used often).
He drinks and chews on something - Bar nine? Bar on 9? Route 9? That is where he can be found sitting on his stool, a regular, he shoots occasional pool.
(The medium quoted the spirit of Brooke saying the following) "A bandanna wore or used. I was choked and strangled. Banks, down the banks north of Jimmy's house. Dive. (The medium felt Brooke is near or in water along the banks of a body of water. "She keeps showing me the color red. I don't know if this is a place or a nickname of the abductor. He has a dog. Lady is her name? A dog with a long pointed nose. Brooke is telling me Joli, Joliette or ietta and I don't know if this is a place or a person. She keeps saying the word or name crabtree to me, I don't think she is speaking of an actual tree .... I don't know what it means but it feels important, she is trying to direct me with this word, crabtree. Maybe it is a street or something like that. She also says, 'Sunny here, sublime, not to worry, I made it to Heaven just fine.'").
Several days later a second reading was conducted and was published on June 18, 2003 in The Monitor:
"Brooke says, 'I was walking down the road when along side me he came, offered me a ride and I thought why not, nobody seems to care. He gave me a cigarette, so KOOL. He drove slowly, came upon a river north, swimming spot not far - crabtrees in distant view. Need not say what he did to me. Along the banks I say again NORTH, the crabtree brook. Brooke? IRONY! Two brooks came together. Carmine? Carmeline. You misheard me the first time. Car-mel-line. Sinister-Ray-Ray's Place. Salty bitter tears you all weep, take comfort in knowing Jesus holds me in is ams always. Clearing type of meadow not far from the banks - look there and you will find evidence. Farewell for now, I hope this will help. DANGER - guy is out there and needs to be put out. Righteous is his family, drove him to insanity. Something unusual about his left hand. Left hand man, unlikely choice henchman. Going for now my dear friends and fam - love and live while you can. Earthtime can be short sometimes. He is surrounded by green. Back to bar 9!"
The medium said she feels the person or persons responsible for Brooke Henson's disappearance are still in the area (as of 2003). She also believes Marietta is a key place to the mystery. The medium stopped relaying her readings with Brooke Henson after she learned of Brooke's boyfriend criminal record. She felt too scared to continue.
One week after the second reading was published, someone tried to burn down The Monitor newspaper's office. As of 2021 that arson case has never been solved. Two weeks later Rickey Shaun Shirley's vehicle was stolen and pushed off of the Hart Cut Road bridge in Marietta.
2019 Update - In October 2019 Rickey Shaun Shirley was found dead inside his Dacusville Road home. The cause of his death has never been made public. Travelers Rest police chief Ben Ford revealed his theory on the Brooke Henson case to Fox Carolina News. "I truly believe that on that night (July 4, 1999) she did not live through that night," Ford told Fox Carolina. "And we are trying to pin down exactly who was involved in this."
Chief Ford went on to say he was shocked to learn that Shirley had died on October 1st especially after receiving a phone call one day prior to the death. "On that Monday morning we received a phone call of possible information in the disappearance," Ford told Fox Carolina. "It was Brooke Henson's childhood home. Brooke Henson's brother and his wife still live at the house and they spoke with investigators. A search of the property turned up nothing to break the case. The next morning we got a call from Greenville County which they said Shaun Shirley was found dead. We were shocked at that, we were surprised. We don't think it is a coincidence. When we start digging people start talking. So, based on that theory, did someone call Shirley and say we were over at the house and asking questions, we don't know. We hope to find out soon. People are afraid to talk. I really, truly believe people were afraid of Shaun Shirley or if its someone else that's the suspect, they are afraid of that person. They are afraid of revenge and I really believe that to be the case. I believe there were multiple people at that party that night. I believe at least one or more people know what happened to her more than just her walking away."
People with any information should contact Travelers Rest police, the Greenville County Sheriff's Office or Crime Stoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.