Details of Disappearance
Rothwell was last seen leaving Chili's Restaurant in Clearwater, Florida at 3:38 p.m. on March 21, 2011. She had lunch with a female friend and told her she was going home to tell her boyfriend of three years, David Robert Perry, that she was moving out and wanted to end their relationship.
She lived with Perry in the 2700 block of Gulf Boulevard in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. Her downstairs neighbors heard the sound of her car pulling in that afternoon, but never actually saw her. Shortly afterwards, sometime between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m., the neighbors heard several loud thumps coming from her condominium, followed by the sound of vacuuming in the master bedroom for about fifteen to twenty minutes.
Rothwell had plans to meet friends that night, but she never showed up and has never been heard from again. The day after she disappeared, her green 2007 Subaru Outback with the Florida license plate number DJE4D was found parked on the causeway at 2nd St and 4th Avenue in Indian Rocks Beach, a mile or two from her home. Her purse and wallet were missing. Her best friend reported her missing.
Rothwell was a cadet attending the Pinellas Police Academy at the time she went missing; she was within four weeks for graduating. Perry is a retired New York State corrections officer. A photo of him is posted with this case summary. He was living in New York and in Florida on a visit when they met. Within weeks, he had moved in with her.
Authorities described their relationship as "volatile." According to one of Rothwell's friends, she had described Perry as possessive and controlling and said he had shut down her social media accounts and had been reading her emails. He had reportedly threatened that if she left him he would kill her and hide her body where no one would ever find it.
She also believed he could have been involved in illegal activity, which could have put her planned police career in jeopardy. The couple's downstairs neighbors were afraid of Perry and had once filed a police report against him.
When police checked Perry and Rothwell's condo, they found it in a "pristine, sterile" condition, with the smell of disinfectant. This wasn't altogether surprising since Perry was very strict about cleanliness and cleaned the condo multiple times a day. Some of Rothwell's notes from her police academy classes turned up in the garbage, which is uncharacteristic of her behavior.
Perry packed all his belongings and left town on the night of Rothwell's disappearance, about three hours after she would have arrived home. He drove straight back to his former home in Elmira, New York, about a twenty-hour drive. He arrived at his old house, where his daughter lived, there the next day.
Perry's move to New York may have been planned, because two weeks before Rothwell's disappearance, he had canceled his gym membership, saying he was moving to Hawaii. Shortly after Rothwell disappeared, he began a new relationship with a woman from Hawaii whom he met online. He had, in fact, been in contact with this woman by email and phone even before Rothwell went missing. Within four months they were married. They later divorced.
He had been married before he met Rothwell, and his ex-wife in Elmira stated there was a history of domestic violence in their ten-year marriage, and that the police were often called to to their residence in response to Perry's violence. She said he often choked her and that he had repeatedly threatened to kill her, run her body through a wood chipper, and dump the remains in the Chemung River, so no one would ever find her.
In May 2011, he was arrested and charged with grand larceny and insurance fraud in an unrelated case; he allegedly fabricated an injury on the job in 2003 and claimed workers compensation. Perry was found guilty, then charged with grand larceny again for the retirement benefits he collected after his "injury." He pleaded guilty to this charge as well, and was convicted of assault in connection with a fight with another jail inmate, but he served less than two years in total out of all of his sentences.
Rothwell was raised in Maryland, attended college in Colorado and worked as a human resources employee for a hotel before she joined the police academy. Prior to her disappearance, she had never missed a single day of class. Her loved ones said she was looking forward to the career change and would not have left of her own accord.
In August 2011, Perry was officially identified as a suspect in Rothwell's disappearance. Her case remains unsolved and foul play is suspected.