It’s now been four years since Jennifer Cahill-Shadle was last seen and her disappearance remains a mystery. But police are hoping a new approach to the investigation will finally bring answers.
At 4:51 p.m. on May 15, 2014, Cahill-Shadle was captured on surveillance video walking from the North Atherton Street Walmart across the parking lot toward the Dollar Tree store. She was seen later that cool, rainy night at Simply Tan and, at around 10 p.m., in the vicinity of the former Don Patron Mexican Grill.
Where she has been since then remains unknown. She had no contact with friends or family after that. There has been no activity on her bank account or credit cards. She didn’t have access to a vehicle, and on that night she had no luggage or additional clothing with her.
Ferguson Township Police Chief Chris Albright, who became chief last June following the retirement of Diane Conrad, said that while the case has been active since Cahill-Shadle’s disappearance, he has now formed a ‘cold case team’ that will investigate it. One detective had previously been the primary investigator, but now two different detectives are overseeing it and taking a fresh look.
‘They are going to look at this case… and, for lack of a better term, almost start the investigation from the beginning,’ Albright said.
The investigators will be conducting interviews, evaluating evidence and information and will ‘just come at the investigation from a different set of eyes and a different set of experiences.’
Albright said that in some ways, the move is like a recent one made by the Pennsylvania State Police, which assigned a new detective to oversee the case of missing former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar. A new perspective could help bring together information in a way that would help solve the case, he said.
The cold case team also will take on two other notable unsolved cases. They will oversee the investigation of the murder of Jean Tuggy, who was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in January 2016 in her Pine Grove Mills home. The team also will take a new look into the disappearance of Hyun Jong ‘Cindy’ Song, the 21-year-old Penn State student who was last seen on Nov. 1, 2001.
Albright also is making a renewed push for public awareness about the Cahill-Shadle case in the hopes that someone will come forward with information. He said that after four years, someone who may have had information but was reluctant to speak up may now be willing to do so.
‘Sometimes with these cases time is good and bad,’ he said. ‘Sometimes memory fades, but people can be more willing to share information.’
Some in Cahill-Shadle’s family, including her mother, Johanna Zmuida, have been publicly critical of the police department’s handling of the case. Zmuida, who believes Cahill-Shadle was murdered, said that police waited 30 days before they classified her daughter as missing and she and others have advocated for the FBI to take over the case. (Police have previously said they began looking for Cahill-Shadle the day she was reported missing.)
Zmuida said she spoke to Albright on Monday and is hopeful that the new leadership and approach may yield answers. She said that around the time of Cahill-Shadle’s disappearance, she spoke with Albright, who was not yet chief, and had a positive experience with him.
But she is skeptical about whether anyone will come forward with information.
‘Unfortunately we’re talking four years later, and people forget an awful lot,’ she said. ‘Can you remember May 15 four years ago? Hopefully someone will come forward. [Albright] said sometimes people, after a certain period of time, they feel like, OK, now they can speak. Hopefully something like that will happen.’
Albright said he knows some of Cahill-Shadle’s family felt the department wasn’t doing anything with the investigation, but that wasn’t the case.
‘It’s tough because you want to be forthcoming and open and share all the information you have so they know we’re working on the case,’ he said. ‘At the same time we can’t share everything, because specifically with Jennifer, we don’t know what happened to her. If she was murdered, we don’t know who did it, so if we share information with the wrong person and they talk about it, or they are that person, you could jeopardize the investigation.’
He added that police have spoken with the FBI since early on in the investigation. The FBI is willing to help, but can only take over cases that are within certain parameters, Albright said.
Police worked with former District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, and have met with new DA Bernie Cantorna and his staff several times since January to review the case and see where his office can provide assistance. Albright said police have also met with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office to discuss processes for obtaining information and an informal case review. He hopes to do an in-depth case review with the attorney general’s office in the future.
‘We want answers just as much as anybody else does,’ Albright said. ‘We want to find her and bring closure to the family.’
Cahill-Shadle was 48-years-old at the time of her disappearance. A mother of three, she lived with her husband and children in the Saybrook area of Ferguson Township for several years before, in the midst of a divorce, she moved to Orwigsburg in Schuylkill County to live with her mother and stepfather. But in April 2014 she returned to the State College area to be closer to her children, staying with friends and at local hotels. She was last known to be staying at the Rodeway Inn.
She usually spoke to her children, as well as her mother, every few days. The last time her family heard from her was on the afternoon of May 15 when she called, and was supposed to call back later to arrange a meeting place to pick up some mail. That call never came.
Zmuida and her family have had two private investigators over the years, the most recent a former FBI agent who spent days interviewing people in State College.
‘There are people that know things but wouldn’t speak,’ Zmuida said. ‘I know that there are people that know things and didn’t want to get involved.’
Zmuida said she she has no doubt that her daughter was murdered.
‘I know she did not walk away from State College. I knew it right away. She had no money on her,’ Zmuida said. ‘I definitely feel like harm came to her. Someone murdered her. Jenny would never, ever have… I would have heard from her. There has been foul play, I know it.’
The family has put up missing person posters throughout the area on multiple occasions. Last year they had three billboards around Centre County with Cahill-Shadle’s information. They’ve even spoken with three psychics from different areas, each of whom offered some similar details.
‘They said she is definitely not here and she definitely was murdered,’ Zmuida said. ‘They saw a van. Two of them feel she’s in water.’
Albright, meanwhile, wants anyone who has any information, no matter how small it may seem, to call Ferguson Township police at (800) 479-0050 or email [email protected]. Anonymous tips can be submitted here.
‘Hopefully it will trigger something in somebody that will be willing to come forward and talk,’ he said.
Zmuida hopes she and her family will finally learn what happened to her daughter.
‘I want to bring her home. I can’t say it’s going to bring closure. I want to bring her home and I want to know what happened.’