Left and Center: Shannon circa, 1986
Right: Age Progressed to age 38
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: October 5, 1986
Missing From: Thorntown, Boone County, Indiana
Classification: Non-Family Abduction
Date Of Birth: August 12, 1980
Age: 6 years old
Height and Weight: 3’0″ and 30 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian Female, Brown hair, Blue eyes, Shannon has a 4-inch scar on her abdomen, both of her ears are pierced, her ears were said to be sensitive at the time of her disappearance
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A white sundress with blue trim on the hem
NCMEC Number: 601901
Details of Disappearance
Shannon was last seen in Thorntown, Indiana on October 5th 1986. She was last seen at her family’s trailer home in the 600 block of Plum Street during the day of her disappearance. According to reports, she was playing a game of hide n seek with approximately ten other children at 1:30 pm. Her mother, Dorothy Sherrill, was in the home and had last seen her daughter when Shannon walked back towards the house after an acquaintance who had been visiting asked the child to move from behind his pickup truck.
According to the children she was playing with, they turned away from Shannon for approximately ten seconds and when they looked back, she was gone. She has never been seen or heard from again. Dorothy had been preparing lunch and went outside to ask Shannon if she wanted any lunch approximately five to ten minutes after last seeing her but couldn’t find her daughter anywhere. She immediately knew something was wrong and called the police to report her disappearance twenty minutes after she was discovered missing.
Following Shannon’s disappearance, a massive search was commenced for her. More than 200 police officers and local people participated in the initial search efforts. They searched day and night for the child. The areas around the trailer home were searched as well. Just a day after her disappearance, a scent tracking dog was used in the search and was able to trace Shannon’s movements. She apparently walked 60-600 yards away from her home to a nearby cemetery and cornfield. This is where the trail stopped.
Investigators initially believed that Shannon had simply wandered away from her home and had gotten lost. Her zigzagging path appeared to support this possibility. Authorities located what initially appeared to be child-sized footprints in the field. It appeared whoever made them was barefoot which is why they initially appeared to be those of Shannon. However, analyzation determined the footprints were too big to be hers. It’s unclear if the prints have anything to do with the case.
After three days, investigators announced they suspected foul play was involved in Shannon’s disappearance. Shannon’s two parents, Dorothy and her father, William Michael “Mike” Sherrill were both subjected to take polygraph exams during the early stages of the investigation. They were both able to account for their whereabouts at the time she went missing and they both passed the exams which showed they were telling the truth in the case. Michael’s first ex-wife also took a test and also passed.
Most close to the case believe Shannon was abducted by a non-family member on the day of her disappearance. Authorities have investigated the case as an abduction since early on. Her disappearance did follow Thorntown’s annual Festival of the Turning Leaves. The festival is described as being likely the biggest thing to occur in the area once a year. Some local people believe a stranger who was in the area during the festival might’ve taken Shannon but this theory has never been substantiated.
According to reports, one of Shannon’s neighbors reported seeing a suspicious red truck speeding through the area on the morning of her disappearance. Several days later, a couple from Lafayette, Indiana reported a possible sighting of Shannon. According to the statement, the couple was traveling on U.S. 52 and were en route to Lafayette from Indianapolis when they saw a red pickup truck with a camper shell on the front speed past them.
The couple stated the truck was being driven by an unidentified man and he appeared to be driving erratically. They described the man as acting crazy. In addition to this, the couple noticed a little girl was also in the vehicle as the mans passenger. The sighting occurred very shortly after Shannon was discovered as missing, possibly about an hour afterwards. It’s unclear the girl was indeed Shannon.
The man who was visiting Shannon’s mother that day and asked the child to move from behind his truck was looked at in the case. The truck he drove was red which would fit with the sighting but it didn’t have a camper shell. According to reports, this man was cleared of involvement in the case and isn’t considered a suspect. Another man who allegedly threatened to kidnap his daughter from the area upon his release from prison was also cleared as a suspect in the case.
Investigators also looked into the possibility that a known child molester in the area might’ve been involved in Shannon’s apparent abduction. The individual in question, however, was ruled out early on in the investigation because he had an airtight alibi for the time she was taken. His house was also searched but investigators found nothing to indicate he was involved in her disappearance.
In April of 1990, almost four years after Shannon went missing, investigators announced they had a possible suspect in her case. The individual was identified as David Ray Moore. Moore, who worked as a factory worker in the Indianapolis area, was charged with kidnapping and raping multiple woman and teenaged girls in a series of attacks that began in 1986. He’s been charged with multiple kidnappings, rapes, and attempted kidnapping in Boone, Hamilton, and Hendricks counties.
The attacks were all unsolved until Moore’s arrest in 1990 and he was dubbed as the “Blazer Rapist” because he drove a vehicle which resembled that of a Chevrolet Blazer. Investigators found a 1986 GMC Jimmy truck at his residence. His victims all stated that he would usually stop them on the road and say he had troubles with his vehicle and needed assistance. He would the abduct them before assaulting them and freeing them afterwards.
In his more notable cases, Moore raped a 17 year old girl on March 23rd 1988 near Pittsboro. On March 31st 1990, Moore abducted a 41 year old Zionsville woman from her car on Indiana 334 near her hometown in Boone County and raped her. She was forced into his vehicle and was taken to Hamilton County before being assaulted. He was arrested after he tried to take another woman in early April 1990.
Moore was charged with one count of criminal confinement and two counts of attempted confinement in Boone County, Indiana. He was also charged with one rape charge, one criminal deviate conduct charge and one criminal confinement charge in Hendricks County. As for Hamilton County, Moore was charged with one count of rape with a deadly weapon.
According to reports, Moore was charged with attempted confinement and abduction in connection to a case involving an eleven year old girl in Lebanon, Indiana. The girl was walking home from school when Moore approached her and asked her for directions to Fortville. He then pointed a gun at her head and told her to get inside of his truck but she panicked and ran away. She called for help. This attempted abduction occurred on October 17th 1986, just twelve days after Shannon went missing.
The distance between Thorntown and Lebanon is roughly nine miles and it’s only a fourteen minutes drive. According to family members, Moore acted “irrationally” immediately following Shannon’s apparent abduction. His ex-wife recalled how she had clipped a photo of Shannon from a newspaper about her case in their home but it had disappeared some time later.
Investigators have noted how Moore used a weapon such as a knife or gun for purposes of coercion in many of his attacks. Shannon’s parents both stated she would never have gone off with any stranger unless she was forced to. It’s been considered due to this that a weapon was possibly used by whomever abducted the child. Despite the strong possibility that he was involved, he hasn’t been charged in the case and there’s no evidence linking him to the case.
For many years, Shannon’s case grew cold but her case was never forgotten. However, in late July of 2003, her family and police had hope the case would be solved when a woman contacted them and told them she believed she was their long missing daughter. The woman first contacted Dorothy on July 26th and claimed she was Shannon. She then contacted Mike and relayed the same information to him.
The woman claimed she had never really remembered much of her childhood but recovered some memories due to therapy and felt her newly found memories matched up with aspects of Shannon’s life. She also sent photographs of herself from when she was younger and she bore some similarities to Shannon. The woman also contacted the press and media to let the story gain much attention. Many people, including her parents, hoped that Shannon would finally come home after nearly 20 years but this was not her.
It was soon discovered through DNA testing and general analysis that the woman claiming to be Shannon was not her at all. She was identified as Donna Lynette Walker and she was 35 years old in 2003. According to what investigators gathered, Walker used three different names and three different voices in several phone calls in order to make her story seem real. The names she used were later found to be false names or names of people who had no connection to her or Shannon.
Donna has a history of creating hoaxes like this one. Investigators searched her Topeka, Kansas home where she lived but found she had fled and there were no signs of her there. A warrant for her arrest was issued, she was charged with felony identity deception and misdemeanor false reporting. She eventually turned herself into federal custody. In order to defend herself, Walker claimed she only did the hoax in order to bring attention to the case.
In April of 2004, Walker was sentenced to 18 months in prison and four years probation for the charges against her. She struck a deal with prosecutors in order to avoid a trial. Walker could’ve faced four years in prison if she went to trial and was convicted of the charges against her. Ten other charges against her were dropped. Walker served nine months in prison before being released on probation. Her probation ended in 2008.
The hoax was said to have caused a large amount of emotional damage to Shannon’s family, especially her parents who have held out hope for her safe return for many years. Despite this, they continue to hope for some resolution in her disappearance.
In 2007, investigators named David Elliot Penton as a possible suspect in Shannon’s disappearance. He is a convicted child killer who has claimed more than five victims. In November of 1984, David killed his two month old son, Michael James Penton, by violently shaking him. He said he shook the child because he was angered by his non-stop crying. The crime occurred in Bell County, Texas.
David appealed his guilt in the death of his infant son and was free on bond when he fled. The outcome of his appeal was still pending when he evaded law enforcement. It’s believed that while David was on the run, he abducted and murdered several children.
Christi Lynn Meeks was just five years old when she was abducted from outside her mothers apartment complex in Mesquite, Texas on January 19th 1985 while she was playing hide n seek with her older brother. Her brother witnessed a man abduct his sister. Christi’s body was found in Lake Texoma three months after abduction. Meeks was raped and strangled to death.
Christie Diane Proctor was last seen in February of 1986. She was walking to her apartment in Dallas Texas at the time. She was presumably abducted while walking. Her skeletal remains were discovered in a field in Plano, Texas on April 9th 1988. She had been raped and strangled to death. She was ten years old when she vanished.
Roxann Hope Reyes was abducted near her apartment in Garland, Texas on November 3rd 1987. She was picking wildflowers for her mother when she was taken. Her body was found months later on May 19th 1988 in a vacant lot located in Murphy, Texas. She was raped and strangled to death as well. She was only four years old when she was abducted and slain.
Nydra Ross was reported as missing from her aunts home in Dayton, Ohio on March 31st 1988. She was presumed kidnapped until her remains were found in a dry creek bed in Marion, Ohio eight months later. Much like the other girls, Ross had been raped and strangled to death. She was nine years old at the time of her abduction and murder.
David was a family friend to Nydra and he was known to smoke crack and do other illegal narcotics with her family members. He was specifically acquainted with Ross’s aunt at the time she was taken and killed. He was charged with kidnapping and aggravated murder and was ultimately convicted of the crime years later in 1990. He was sentenced to life in prison for the case.
In June of 2003, Penton was indicted for capital murder in the deaths of Christi Meeks, Christie Proctor, and Roxann Reyes. He ultimately signed a plea deal in relation to the three murders and admitted to killing all three girls. He plead guilty to all three cases in January of 2005 and was sentenced to life in prison. He will remain imprisoned in Ohio until he finishes his sentence for the Ross murder and then he will serve his sentence for the Texas murders.
Investigators believe David is a serial killer and had many more victims besides the four girls and his son that he was convicted in. Multiple police agencies were alerted of David’s criminal history and he’s been named as a suspect in several cases of missing young girls.
David was also named as a person on interest in the case of Amber Nichole Crum. Crum was two years old when she disappeared from Dallas, Texas on December 26th 1983. She was last seen sitting inside the pickup truck of her mother’s boyfriend alone.
David has been named as a strong person of interest in the case of Ara Denise Johnson. Johnson was abducted from her bed in the mobile home she shared with her parents in the 300 block of Boulder Street on April 2nd 1986 in Big Sandy, Texas. She was five years old at the time of her disappearance. Penton was known to be in Texas at the time of her abduction. He allegedly mentioned her case to cellmate which has prompted investigators to look into his possible involvement in her case.
He’s also been named as possible suspect in the case of Angelica Maria Gandara. She was abducted while walking back to her family’s residence located in the 800 block of north 6th Street on July 14th 1985 in Temple, Texas. She has never been seen since and her body has never been recovered. She was eleven years old at the time of her disappearance.
According to a private investigator hired by Shannon’s family, a man identified as Jeffrey L. Sunnycalb, an inmate at the Warren Correctional Institution in Warren, Ohio where Penton is being held, wrote a letter to police and said David was responsible for Shannon’s abduction and presumed murder. In the letter, Sunnycalb was able to describe the vehicle Penton owned. It matched the red truck that was seen speeding through Shannon’s trailer park on the day she disappeared.
The letter also mentioned that Shannon’s body might be hidden in Brown County, Indiana but searches of the area indicated turned up no traces of Shannon. However, Sunnycalb is considered a credible informant as his information led to other indictments against Penton for other child slayings. Sunnycalb was in prison for raping his 14 year old niece and another 12 year old girl. He was serving 10-25 years for the crimes.
In October of 2009, Sunnycalb sent another letter to Shannon’s father which gave more information about David’s alleged involvement in her disappearance. Based on the information gathered from the letters, Shannon was abducted by David and was alive for three days as he drove her to Texas where he possibly murdered her. However, no evidence to substantiate the letter was ever found.
Investigators took blood samples from Shannon’s parents to test against clothing recovered from Penton’s possessions. Dorothy was asked by police to look at four to five photographs of different underwear belonging to young girls. She said most of the styles were ones that Shannon wouldn’t have worn at the time of her 1986 abduction but she did notice one pair that resembled something she would wear. Shannon owned panties that had little blue and purple flowers which resembled a pair of underwear in David’s possession.
Penton was questioned by Indiana police and stated he expected to be charged with kidnapping and murdering Shannon. However, the prosecutor denied any charges against him in the case as there was no clear evidence to say he did it. Penton has stopped cooperating with authorities in all cases but says he will talk before he dies.
At the time of her disappearance, Shannon lived with her mother and younger brother. She was a kindergarten student at Thorntown Elementary School in 1986. Her parents were both divorced by the time she disappeared and Shannon regularly visited her father. Her disappearance remains unsolved and foul play is suspected.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Thorntown Police Department 317-436-7677
Federal Bureau of Investigation 202-324-3000
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Journal and Courier 10/07/1986
The Indianapolis News 10/08/1986
Journal and Courier 10/08/1986
The Indianapolis News 10/11/1986
The Indianapolis News 10/13/1986
The Indianapolis News 10/17/1986
The Indianapolis Star 04/14/1990
The Indianapolis News 04/18/1990
The Indianapolis News 04/23/1990
Journal and Courier 10/07/1991
The South Bend Tribune 09/13/1998
Journal and Courier 07/30/2003
What Happened to Shannon Sherrill