Details of Disappearance
Shirley was last seen at her married officers' quarters on the military base in Quantico, Virginia on March 4, 1989. She had separated from her husband of approximately 18 months, Robert Peter Russell, several weeks beforehand.
The Russells' marriage was described as unhappy, as Robert was allegedly abusive, an alcoholic, and had affairs with other women.
Shirley consulted marriage counselors at least eight times in her 18 months of marriage to Robert. The day before her disappearance, she picked up the final version of the marital settlement agreement and put a down payment on a condominium to live in.
Shirley was a captain in the United States Marines in 1989, and was seen as a good candidate for promotion to the rank of major. Robert had also been an officer, but he was dishonorably discharged shortly before Shirley disappeared. By March 4, Robert had moved off the base and Shirley into bachelor quarters.
The two of them were cleaning out their previous quarters on the day Shirley went missing. Robert stated he last saw Shirley when she left the quarters to walk to a store five miles away to buy a tin of paint. It was approximately 40 degrees outside when she left.
Robert was charged with Shirley's murder after her disappearance. Prosecutors contended that he shot her to death with a .25 caliber pistol while they were in the storage shed next to their quarters, dismembered her body, then dumped the remains in a mine shaft in rural Pennsylvania.
Robert maintained his innocence at his 1991 trial. The case against him was entirely circumstantial. There were no witnesses, no blood was found in the storage shed, and the supposed murder weapon, which Robert purchased days before Shirley's disappearance, was never located.
Produced at trial was a 26-step "recipe for murder" Robert had written prior to Shirley's disappearance; his mother testified that the list was part of the manuscript for a novel which had been thrown away.
One key prosecution witness testified that she had an affair with Robert several months before Shirley disappeared and Robert told her he wanted to murder his wife.
Robert argued that Shirley was still alive and had left of her own accord because she was tired of military life. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His case was the first federal murder trial in which the victim's body had not been recovered.
Shirley's passport and driver's license vanished with her and have not been found. She has not used her credit cards or bank accounts since she was last seen, and all the property she placed in storage has remained there. Foul play is suspected in her disappearance due to the circumstances involved.
The Perfect Murder, a made-for-television movie based on Shirley's case, was aired eight years after her disappearance.