Details of Disappearance
Shannon's mother, Rachel Timmerman, was allegedly raped by Marvin Charles Gabrion II six weeks after she gave birth to Shannon in 1996 in Cedar Springs, Michigan. Photos of Timmerman and Gabrion are posted below this case summary. Timmerman reported the attack to law enforcement the next day, in spite of her fears that Gabrion would kill her and her baby. Two months later, Gabrion was charged with rape, but authorities weren't able to locate and arrest him until January 1998. He was released on bond shortly thereafter.
Timmerman was scheduled to testify against Gabrion in court during the summer of 1997. One of the alleged crime's witnesses, Wayne Davis, disappeared in February 1997, days after Gabrion was released from custody. Davis, who had been with Gabrion on the night of the rape, planned to testify on Timmerman's behalf at the upcoming rape trial.
Timmerman was having problems with her family during this time and sent Shannon to live with the infant's paternal grandparents. She began repairing her family relationships during May 1997 and planned to move into her father's home with Shannon during the summer. She took Shannon to her father's residence during the weekend of June 3, 1997 in preparation for the change of custody. Timmerman and Shannon were last seen on June 3, when an unidentified man picked them up from Timmerman's father's house. This was just three days before she was scheduled to testify under oath against Gabrion. Timmerman told her stepmother they planned to return in approximately two hours. She said she was going out to dinner with a young man who had specifically asked that she bring the baby also. Timmerman apparently only brought Shannon's diaper bag with her, as she did not plan to be away from home for an extended period of time.
Timmerman's father received a letter that was supposedly written by his daughter shortly after she and Shannon left the house. It stated that she planned to elope with an unidentified man and would be in contact with her family in about two weeks. Another letter arrived at her father's home two weeks afterwards, which was postmarked from Little Rock, Arkansas. The final note stated that Timmerman and Shannon were doing well and would write again when they located a permanent address in the area. Family members grew very concerned and suspicious, as Timmerman apparently had no plans to marry anyone or travel anywhere.
Timmerman's body was discovered in Oxford Lake in Manistee National Forest on July 5, 1997, over one month after she and Shannon were last seen. Oxford Lake is approximately 70 miles north of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Timmerman's eyes and mouth had been covered with duct tape and she was placed in handcuffs. She was chained to cinder blocks, then thrown into the water alive, where she drowned. Timmerman was 19 years old at the time of her homicide. There was no sign of Shannon at the scene and the child has never been heard from again.
Timmerman's brother told authorities that Gabrion threatened to murder his sister if she testified against him. Investigators determined that Gabrion was in Newago County and the Cedar Springs area prior to Timmerman and Shannon's disappearances in June 1997. Authorities believed that Timmerman's friend, John Weeks, was the unidentified man who picked Timmerman and Shannon up from her father's residence prior to their disappearances. Weeks also vanished in June 1997 and has never been located.
An investigation was launched into Gabrion's background. Authorities discovered that he was collecting Social Security checks under the name "Robert Allen" in 1997. Allen was actually a mentally disabled transient from Grand Rapids and had been missing for some time. Gabrion was arrested and convicted of Social Security fraud in July 1998 and was sentenced to five years in federal prison.
Gabrion was charged with Timmerman's murder in March 2001. The state of Michigan banned the death penalty in 1846, but authorities charged Gabrion in federal court because Timmerman had been murdered on federal land. As a result, prosecutors were able to seek the death penalty as punishment for Gabrion. Authorities stated in the death penalty notice that Gabrion's conduct led to the Shannon's disappearance, but he was not actually charged in her case.
Authorities dredged Oxford Lake in May 2001 in an attempt to recover possible evidence against Gabrion, but nothing was located. Gabiron's trial for Timmerman's homicide began in Grand Rapids, Michigan in Fenruary 2002. Authorities stated that keys found in his residence fit the locks placed on Timmerman's body. Investigators admitted that the locks, chain and handcuffs found with Timmerman had not been checked for fingerprints. Prints were not found on the duct tape which covered her face.
Gabrion was convicted of Timmerman's murder in early March 2002 and sentenced to death shortly thereafter. His death sentence was overturned on a technicality in 2011, but this was reversed and the sentence reinstated in 2013. The appeals court ruled it was "virtually undisputed" that Gabrion had killed Shannon as well as her mother. While in jail awaiting trial for Timmerman's murder Gabrion gave a map of Oxford Lake to another prisoner; he'd written on the map, "Body of 3, 1 found." He allegedly told two other inmates that he "killed the baby because there was nowhere else to put it."
Davis's body was found in a lake less than a mile behind Gabrion's parents' home, five years to the day after Timmerman's was located. Like Timmerman, he had been chained to cinder blocks and thrown in the water alive. Authorities believe Gabrion was responsible for his murder, but he hasn't been charged in that case. John Weeks and Robert Allen have never been found; photographs and information for these men are unavailable. Shannon has never been located. Foul play is suspected in all the disappearances due to the circumstances involved.
Left: Rachel Timmerman and Shannon Verhage, circa 1997;
Right: Marvin Gabrion, circa 1998