Brooke Leigh Henson

Henson, circa 1999; Esther Elizabeth Reed; Ricky "Shaun" Shirley in 2005

  • Missing Since 07/04/1999
  • Missing From Travelers Rest, South Carolina
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Date of Birth 04/17/1979 (40)
  • Age 20 years old
  • Height and Weight 5'4, 104 pounds
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description A tan tank top, dark green or brown shorts, black sandals, a silver bracelet on her right wrist, and a silver watch with a velcro band on her left wrist.
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian female. Blonde hair, brown eyes. Henson's ears are pierced and her hair was dyed brown at the time of her disappearance. She smoked Marlboro cigarettes at the time of her 1999 disappearance, and did not normally wear makeup. Her nickname is Brookey.

Details of Disappearance

Henson resided with her family in Travelers Rest, South Carolina in 1999. She hosted a party with several friends during the evening of July 3, 1999. Henson's parents returned from a concert in Charlotte, North Carolina at approximately 2:00 a.m. on July 4. She was sitting on their front porch at the time of their arrival.

Henson said that she and her boyfriend, Ricky "Shaun" Shirley, had a disagreement earlier that night. She told her family members that she planned to walk to a Willis's store on the corner of Hawkins Road and Poinsett Highway to purchase cigarettes.

Henson departed from the house at approximately 2:30 a.m. after another verbal dispute with Shirley, and was last seen walking along Henderson Drive. The store is approximately two blocks from her residence. She left a note for Shirley, saying, "Follow me if you care." Henson never returned home and has not been heard from again.

Shirley had a volatile relationship with Henson, and he and his friends refused to cooperate with the investigation into her disappearance. He had a criminal record for drug-related offenses and assaults, and he is considered a person of interest in Henson's disappearance, but has never been named as a suspect. Many of the people in Henson's life were involved in criminal activity.

In New York City, a woman registered registered for graduate classes at Columbia University's School of General Studies using Henson's name, date of birth and Social Security number. She took criminology and psychology courses for two years before anyone noticed.

The ruse was discovered in June 2006, when the woman applied for a job under Henson's name and her prospective employer did an internet search and found out Henson was missing. Investigators subsequently identified the student as Esther Elizabeth Reed. A photograph of Reed is posted with this case summary.

When authorities confronted Reed, she claimed she was actually Henson and had left her home voluntarily. Investigators doubted her story and arranged for her to take a DNA test, but she never showed up to have the test done; instead, she fled, taking nothing except her cat and her toothbrush, hairbrushes and combs.

Reed has a history of stealing other people's information and using their identities to enroll in colleges and universities. Although she did coursework at reputable colleges under her stolen identities, Reed herself never completed high school. She passed her GED exam and took the SAT test under Henson's name before enrolling at Columbia. She also claimed she was a European chess champion. Reed took out over $100,000 in student loans, ran up credit card debt and obtained a passport under her stolen identities.

Reed was on the run for two and a half years before she was arrested in Chicago, Illinois in February 2008 and charged with mail and wire fraud, possession of false identity documentation, and identity theft. In August, she pleaded guilty to federal fraud and identity theft charges. In February 2009, she was sentenced to four years in prison.

Reed stated she never meant to harm anybody and only took Henson's identity to rise above a painful past. Authorities believe she was an opportunist who didn't actually have anything to do with Henson's disappearance.

Henson's loved ones stated that it is extremely uncharacteristic of her to leave without warning. Her family said that authorities did not begin a search of the area until three weeks after her disappearance.

Investigators reportedly believed that Henson left of her own accord and expected her to return shortly afterwards, but now they suspect foul play. Her family describes her as a fun-loving woman who enjoys hiking and being outdoors. She dropped out of high school in the tenth grade.

Shirley died in September 2019. Investigators stated his death was under investigation and the autopsy results may not be back for months, but there were no indications of foul play at the scene. A photo of him is posted with this case summary.

Investigators believe Henson was murdered and they have a suspect in her disappearance, who has not been publicly named or charged. Her case remains unsolved.

Updated 9 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated October 4, 2019; two pictures added, clothing/jewelry description and details of disappearance updated.