AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) – An Aiken County mother of two went missing 20 years ago. Now, her family and her best friend hope that the public will help get them answers to what happened.
“I wasn’t frilly, froo froo girl. My daddy owned a body shop. Lisa was Miss Priss,” said Joy Groomes Arangilan of she and her best friend. “So, you know she had me carrying lipstick, putting lipstick and stuff on.”
Growing up in the 1980s in Aiken County, South Carolina, Joy Groomes Arangilan said she and her best friend Lisa Shuttleworth wanted nothing more than the simple life.
“We knew that we wanted to eventually live in these homes, mine across from hers, and raise our families across the street from each other,” Groomes said.
Thick as thieves since about nine or ten years old, Joy recalls Lisa as a fun girl, always smiling with lots of friends and a love for dancing. The Midland Valley High School graduate began working after school and immediately started a family, one that her friend recalls came with challenges.
“Wasn’t a good relationship. He was violent,” Groomes remembered of the situation. “So that took her away from a lot of what we had had. And then we started fighting back. And we got her out.
Lisa Shuttleworth divorced her husband, Jack Shuttleworth, and continued raising her children Krystina and Ryan Shuttleworth. To them, she was the best mother ever.
“She’d tell me supper was ready and she would make a cute little thing with the chicken nuggets or the fish sticks and make a smile and just,” Lisa’s daughter Krystina Shuttleworth told Cold Case Project.
And all they have left are fading memories. For Ryan, the first one of his mom is still tucked away.
“I’d say I was at the beach I think.”
What were y’all doing?
“We were throwing….(gets emotional)…we were throwing a frisbee,” said Ryan Shuttleworth, her son.
The family took many trips to the ocean front with Joy and her sons always right there. Back at home, the mothers cheered on their kids at baseball games and on weekends, held sleepovers. Lisa continued living the life she always wanted to live. And sometimes, that meant working at her father’s business, Jerico’s, on Belvedere Clearwater Road.
“It was a lot of work because it was a private bar, so it was nightly,” Groomes said.
While in between jobs, not much changed for the Suttleworth family. And just like any other weekday, the day she disappeared, her children went to school. Krystina, then a 14 year old freshman at Midland Valley High, had stayed the previous night with her grandparents. Not knowing Thursday, September 4 would be the last time they spoke.
“I called her and I asked if it were ok if I rode home with my best friend Amanda. And she told me yeah and she said call me whenever you get there and I’ll come get you because there were a few things left on my school list that I needed for school,” Krystina recalled of her last conversation with her mother.
Her son added what he remembered about that day.
“It was just like any other morning. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Nothing was mentioned. She was just going to pick me up.”
Ryan, a third grade student at Warrenville Elementary School that day, was dropped of at the bus stop near his Miller Street home, now Fork Bend Street in Beech Island. When the bell rang, he was met with something more alarming.
“The neighbor kid that I played with, he got dropped of at the bus stop too so we just walked up to the house and the door was locked,” he said of that afternoon.
The 9-year-old waited for hours for his mom to return, even watching as Neal Durden, a friend of Lisa’s father Jerry, arrived at the home. The family said he loaned Lisa his vehicle, a green Pontiac Grand AM, when hers broke down. He took Ryan to his grandparents where he later met his sister and his new reality.
“She has never been known to leave her children for a long period of time and not be in contact with them, as well as her mother,” said Aiken County Sheriff’s Office Captain Eric Abdullah.
He told Cold Case Project Lisa’s mother, Lorraine Mabrey, reported her missing a day later, though family members said she called that same day and authorities told her she needed to wait 24 hours. Once the report was on file, the sheriff’s office worked to locate the 34 year old mom.
Capt. Abdullah added, “One of the things is to canvas the area looking for any signs or any witnesses who maybe have seen her.”
Early in the investigation, a small break in the case seemed promising. Camera footage showed Lisa the morning of her disappearance at the gas station. She was seen at what was then called Pit Stop on Pine Log and Storm Branch Roads sitting in Durden’s Pontiac reading the newspaper. Family members told us she later went home, possibly speaking with the last person before calls went unanswered.
“Neal called her,” Lisa’s best friend said. “And she told him what she always, if he called she would always try to put him off.”
That conversation with Durden ended with Lisa telling him that she was expecting a friend, but she did not say who. As weeks turned to months, loved ones searched everywhere and despite dealing with depression due to the deaths of Joy’s sons ages 15, 13 and 11 they said she would never leave. Something evident from what became her last words to her daughter.
“Told her, I said I love you. She said I love you too, have a good day,” Krystina said.
Investigators with Aiken County describe Lisa’s disappearance as suspicious, but no foul play is expected at this time. Her family disagrees and argues more should have been done.
“What investigation? They didn’t fingerprint until everyone had done been there,” Krystina explained.
Ryan added, “People will talk to me more or quicker than for say an investigator knocking at their door.”
Ryan told us he began looking into his mother’s case himself. And after talking with his sister and adopted aunt Joy, they have put together what they think may have happened. They say they recall Lisa’s ex husband, Jack Shuttleworth, threatening her, telling her he would kill her if she filed for child support, something she completed not long before she went missing. But the family also said they strongly believe Lisa’s disappearance is connected to shocking news she discovered and personally delivered to her boyfriend.
“She had found out she was pregnant. She had taken a pregnancy test,” Groomes said with Krystina adding that the tests were found in the home. “So, she had found someone to take her down to where this person was, which happened to be the Bath Pool Hall.”
What should have been excitement, instead, Groomes said, turned into danger.
“They got in his vehicle with a friend of his to take Lisa home. He pulled a gun on her, stuck it to her head and told her he’d kill her,” she said.
Joy told Cold Case Project the boyfriend, whose name we will not reveal, did not want the child born. The sheriff’s office did not confirm any suspects in the case, but loved ones said at least one of them failed a polygraph test and obtained a lawyer.
Later, another break in the case turned into false hope.
“He had a fairly new truck at the time Lisa went missing. And like two weeks later, after she went missing, his truck was gone. I want to say it was Lisa’s mother that told me that they actually after a couple of years tracked the truck down in North Georgia and actually dismantled, took the seats out, sprayed Luminol and that it glowed like a Christmas tree. But that it was too degraded. You couldn’t tell if it was male or female. The DNA was too degraded.”
While investigators listed Lisa in several missing persons databases, the family still wants justice.
“Just her being at peace,” Ryan said. “Her having a proper burial. Somewhere where we can go talk to her. But I also do know that God’s timing is perfect. So, I just hold on to that.”
Lisa Shuttleworth would be 54-years-old today. At the time she went missing, she was 34. She was described then as 5′ 3″ and about 100 pounds, possibly wearing a white t-shirt and gray sweatpants.
Anyone with any information on where Shuttleworth might be should contact Aiken County Sheriff’s Office at 803 – 648 – 6811.
Next time on the Cold Case Project, we take you to the Atlanta area where April Turner was shot and killed while traveling from her Beech Island, South Carolina home to visit her mother in Tennessee. What family and law enforcement need to get justice and close the case.
Photojournalist: Gary Hipps