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Sister keeps cold case vigil: 13-year-old unsolved murder leaves family worried, on edge

Posted: Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The first time they spoke, she accused him of murder. Thirteen years later, she considers him a brother. Though they've never met, Sarah Musgrove-Short and Art White are connected by a shared love: a love for Jennifer Rachel White.

Submitted Photo
Submitted Photo
Jennifer Rachel White, is shown in this 1995, drivers licence photo.

It's been 13 years since police found White's skull in a Kasilof driveway. It's been 13 years since the petite, 25-year-old missing woman became a suspected homicide victim. It's been 13 years since investigators first began searching for a potential killer.

"We're looking for anyone who saw her at all since last August -- no matter how trivial the contact," Lt. Randy Crawford told the Peninsula Clarion in 1996.

Thirteen years later, a different investigative team is still searching for the murderer.

"If people out there have thoughts or information, a phone call to any one of us would be handy," Jim Stogsdill, an investigator with the Alaska cold case unit, said recently.

Still, even 13 years later, Stogsdill's unit has a renewed hope of closing the Jennifer Rachel White (Goodwin) murder case.

Musgrove-Short has been trying locate her sister's murderer since investigators identified her remains in 1996. Even during the funeral, Musgrove-Short went around to her sister's friends asking questions. People told her she was acting inappropriately. She didn't care. She didn't know when she'd have the chance again to delve into her sister's private, scattered life.

Musgrove-Short kept asking questions, but it yielded few results. She eventually tracked down a phone number for Art White, Jennifer's estranged husband, in Missouri.

Art White met Jennifer at a bluegrass festival in the late 80s, he remembers. She was 18. He was in his 30s.

"I was not looking for a relationship with a girl that young," White said.

Jenny was a drifter, but she moved in with White. At first, White simply put her up, hoping that he could help her land on her feet. But he quickly fell in love and the two married within a year.

The couple had a pleasant relationship, White recalls. She'd cook for him. They'd talk.

"She did the little things that showed me she cared," White said. And he cared for her, he said.

Musgrove-Short and Jennifer White came from a divided family and lacked the comfort of a traditional family unit growing up, Musgrove-Short said. Still, despite the trouble she saw Jennifer getting into. Musgrove-Short loved her sister.

With White, Jennifer finally had a stable life. The only problem was Jennifer didn't want a stable life.

She left White in 1990 and moved back to Alaska, but the two remained married.

"The main reason she left was because she wanted to party hardy all the time," White said. White couldn't do that. He had a job, responsibilities.

Though White said he wanted to believe that she would eventually return to him, on the night she left he told her, "I have a feeling I'll never see you again."

White called Jennifer's father in Alaska every few months to check in on her. Usually, her father hadn't seen her. Occasionally she would be there and Jennifer and White would talk.

"I remember she was saying it was a bummer not having a place to live," White remembered about one of their final conversations. "I told her you can always live here," he said.

Sometime later, in 1995, White called Alaska again, hoping to speak to Jennifer. Her father told White that she was missing.

"Oh, she's probably dead somewhere," White remembers Jennifer's father saying.

It wasn't until after Jennifer's death had been confirmed that White first heard from Musgrove-Short.

"Sarah calls me up one night and asked me if I knew where her sister was. And the next question out of her mouth was did you kill my sister?" White said.

"That just tore me up. I said I loved her way too much," White said, fighting tears. "I've never even been to Alaska."

Despite the confrontational beginning, the two continued their conversation and talked for nearly an hour that night. It was the start of a 13-year relationship.

The two talk often on the phone -- Musgrove-Short in Alaska and White in Missouri -- and exchange texts and e-mails several times a week. They share memories of Jennifer. They talk about what it is like coping with the unsolved murder.

Sarah talks about things like what she was thinking on Jennifer's birthday. She cried every day that week in October and needed to take a trip out of the state just to get Jennifer off her mind.

"All I could think about was that being on the airplane is the closest I am ever going to get to her," Musgrove-Short said.

White, who remains single and says he talks to his wife in heaven, sends Musgrove-Short videos that he took of Jennifer during their time together. He recently sent videos from the bluegrass festival in the 80s. White, who doesn't consider himself a writer, has even composed a poem about the loss.

"He's the only person I have who has been there 100 percent of the time, and he's thousands of miles away," Musgrove-Short said of White. "I'm grateful to have him as my brother. Everyone else has forgotten, but not Art."

But not everyone has forgotten. Last year, an anonymous caller reminded Stogsdill's unit about the unsolved murder case.

"An anonymous woman said that she had run across a fellow in Washington state who had said something about having some knowledge of the murder of Jennifer White," Stogsdill said last week.

After investigators did some research on the man the caller identified, they "can only say that at the time (Jennifer White) was killed, he was actually living here," Stogsdill said. "He knew some of the family members and beyond that there isn't anything else other than a person pointing him out."

But that's enough to make Musgrove-Short believe that closure is possible.

"Closure is feeling safer knowing my immediate family is not at risk," Musgrove-Short said. "Not only that, but I worry about other families who are out here who might have to go through what I am going through.

"The Kenai Peninsula is a small community. This person, no matter who it is, has some sort of interconnection with many small groups in the community. These people are living among you," she said.

Ilse Knecht, deputy director of public policy with the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington, D.C., said Musgrove-Short's concern for the community is common among crime victims' families.

"They have a larger fear about society," she said. "They know that the person is still out there, still on the street and still a larger concern for everyone."

Knecht said Musgrove-Short's enthusiasm regarding the new lead in the case is also typical.

"Feeling like the system is working to find justice is very inspiring," Knecht said. "Renewed hope gives them the sense that somebody cares."

Stogsdill said the next step in the investigation is to locate the man who supposedly has information on the case. He would encourage anyone with more information -- including the anonymous caller -- to call the cold case unit at 907-260-2716. After Stogsdill locates the man, he will then meet him.

Another meeting is also on the horizon. That's the meeting between White and Musgrove-Short. White says Musgrove-Short always offers to pay for his plane ticket so they can get together in exotic places like Hawaii. But he never accepts. He doesn't want her to pay his way.

White also knows meeting Musgrove-Short will be an overwhelmingly emotional experience, perhaps like seeing Jennifer's ghost. But he wants it to happen. He knows it will happen.

Musgrove-Short says she has plans of meeting White at a bluegrass festival this summer. They'll embrace, cry and laugh. Together they will feel closer to Jennifer than they have in a long while -- closer, perhaps, than when Musgrove-Short was on the plane or when White watched Jennifer walk out the door.

Maybe White will read his poem to Musgrove-Short.

"Home up above, home up above," he'll read, "Where we'll all be together with the ones we love."

"Poem for Jenny"

Hello God

I just called you up to say

That I had a good friend

Of mine come home to stay

Someone that I care about

Someone that I love

Someone came home to you

Home up above.

Tell them that they'll always be

In my heart alive

And I'll see their smiling face

When I close my eyes

Say I'll miss their warm embrace

I'll miss their loving hug

Until we are all home again

Home up above.

Home up above

Home up above

Where we'll all be together

With the ones we love

I'll miss you until the day

I can fly like a dove

Then I'll fly straight home to you

Home up above.

-- Art White

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com.



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