Disappearance of Shannon Dale Verhage and Murder of Her Mother

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Warning: This article discusses sexual assault.

Shannon Dale Verhage, 11 months old, and her mother, Rachel Timmerman, 19, vanished from Cedar Springs, Michigan, on June 3, 1997. Rachel’s body was found a few weeks later, but Shannon remains missing. Rachel had accused Marvin Charles Gabrion of sexually assaulting her six weeks after Shannon’s birth, and she feared he would kill her and the baby after she reported the rape. Gabrion was convicted of Rachel’s murder in 2001, and the Court found he likely also killed Shannon.

Sexual Assault of Rachel Timmerman

Rachel gave birth to her daughter, Shannon Dale Verhage, on June 15, 1996. Six weeks later, on August 6, Rachel’s sister, Sarah, awoke to commotion inside her trailer. She saw a distraught Rachel facing the entrance door, clutching a hammer and bleeding from a cut on her nose.

Outside the trailer, Marvin Charles Gabrion banged on the door and shouted to Rachel that she would “pay for what she did.” Rachel screamed back at Gabrion to leave the premises.

Gabrion had threatened to kill Rachel and Shannon if she reported the assault to the authorities. However, Rachel reluctantly told Sarah and their brother, Shane, that Gabrion had sexually assaulted her and bitten her on the nose. Her friends and family convinced her to file a police report against Gabrion the following day.

Gabrion’s Version of Events

Once Rachel filed the report, the police attempted to get a statement from Gabrion. He did not meet with them in person. Instead, he sent a fax presenting his version of what happened that night. As expected, it differed significantly from Rachel’s.

Gabrion claimed he was at an acquaintance’s house with Rachel, his nephew Mike, and a man named Wayne Davis. The four left the house in Gabrion’s car.  Gabrion claimed that during the drive, Rachel offered to perform a sexual act on him, so he ordered Mike and Wayne out of the car. He and Rachel drove further down the road and then exited the vehicle.

Gabrion stated that Rachel willingly performed the sexual act on him and then put his seminal fluid in her vagina. She asked for intercourse, but he refused.  

As they were leaving, Gabrion’s car got stuck. Rachel helped him push his car out but hurt herself in the process. He then took her to her trailer. Shortly after that, she began screaming because she realized that she was injured.

It was a far-fetched story and one the authorities did not believe.

Sexual Assault Prosecution

On January 20, 1997, police arrested Gabrion and “served him with a warrant that listed Rachel and others as witnesses to his offense. Newaygo County prosecutor Chrystal Roach charged Gabrion with third-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC). The Newaygo County Circuit Court released Gabrion on bond on February 3 after he waived a preliminary examination.” (Gabrion v. United States)

Meanwhile, the police arrested Rachel “for violating the terms of her probation for a drug offense.”

Wayne Davis Disappears

Wayne Davis was scheduled to appear for a court hearing on February 13, 1997, after the police had charged him with driving under the influence. 

Court documents show Davis’s friend, Darlene Lazo, was supposed to transport him to the hearing. Davis said he intended to purchase a puzzle and cigarettes for jail because he expected to serve a 90-day sentence.

Lazo last saw Davis the day before his hearing at his home with Gabrion. 

On the morning of the hearing, she drove to Davis’s house to pick him up, but he never answered the door. Her phone calls to him went unanswered. Lazo returned to Davis’s home numerous times that day but never found Davis. 

Two days later, Lazo returned to Davis’s house and discovered a note on his door, allegedly signed by Davis. The note said that Davis left for California because he was “scared” of going to jail. Lazo did not believe it. 

She entered Davis’s house and spotted Davi’s Army jacket draped over the back of a chair. Davis always took this coat with him whenever he left home. He was never seen alive again, and the money in his savings account remained untouched. 

A few weeks after Davis disappeared, Gabrion sold Davis’s stereo equipment and microwave to a consignment shop in Mecosta.

Disappearance of Rachel Timmerman and Shannon Dale Verhage

Rachel Timmerman with her baby daughter Shannon Dale Verhage c. 1996

In February or March of 1997, Charles Roddy advertised a vehicle for sale in Big Rapids, Michigan, and Gabrion expressed interest in purchasing it. Calling himself Lance, Gabrion told Roddy he wanted a car to make it to Arkansas. Gabrion would later use Arkansas in a plot to avoid conviction for sexually assaulting Rachel.

Gabrion’s sexual assault case was at a standstill from February to May 1997, mainly because Gabrion changed lawyers several times.

Police released Rachel from jail on May 5 after she completed her term. Her family and Prosecutor Roach expected her to testify against Gabrion at a June 5, 1997, preliminary examination hearing.

In succeeding weeks, Rachel told others she was terrified that Gabrion would kill her. She also called the sheriff’s office twice “to report that she had seen Gabrion and that she wanted to leave a “trail” in case he followed through on his threat to kill her.” (Gabrion v. United States)

Rachel did not appear in Court to testify on June 5 or anytime afterward. Her family last saw her and Shannon on June 3, 1997, when she and the baby left home for a date with a man named John Weeks, whom Rachel did not know. However, Weeks repeatedly called and persuaded Rachel to go on a date with him. What Rachel did not realize was Weeks was acting on behalf of Gabrion.

A’lliene Wolf, Weeks’ girlfriend, once caught Weeks calling Rachel on the phone. He told Wolf that he was doing it as a favor for Gabrion.

Gabrion waived the preliminary examination hearing twice; a judge scheduled a pre-trial hearing for June 24, 1997. 

John Weeks Vanishes

Wolf last saw Weeks on June 22, 1997, after telling her he was going on a “dope run” to Texas with Gabrion and would be gone for about ten days.

A couple of weeks later, Wolf questioned Gabrion about Weeks. Gabrion told her he had dropped Weeks off in Arizona with friends. Weeks’s family has not heard from him since, and his whereabouts are unknown.

Postal letters stock photo

Within days after Rachel and Shannon vanished, Prosecutor Roach, Rachel’s father, and the judge overseeing the sexual assault case received letters in the mail in Rachel’s handwriting. All four letters were in unusual envelopes branded with a holographic stamp illustrating a space station, similar to the envelopes that Gabrion used in correspondence with his family. Three of the letters were postmarked from Little Rock, Arkansas.

Rachel’s father received two letters.

In the first letter, Rachel wrote that she would be gone for a few weeks because she had met “the man of [her] dreams” and he had asked her to marry him.  

In the second note, she mentioned that she and Shannon were in Little Rock, Arkansas, with a man named Delbert, and she thought that she might stay there for a while. Rachel’s family and friends had never heard of Delbert.

In the letters to the judge and the prosecutor, Rachel asked the state to drop the charges against Gabrion. She claimed that she lied about the sexual assault and gave an account of what allegedly occurred that night. It resembled Gabrion’s account in his faxed statement to the police. However, it differed from the story Rachel told her family and the police.

Rachel wrote that she performed a sexual act on Gabrion. When he refused to have sexual intercourse with her, Rachel decided to “teach him a lesson” by pushing his seminal fluid into her vagina and pinching herself to create a bruise. To explain the cut on her nose, Rachel claimed that Gabrion’s puppy bit her nose. 

Rachel also wrote that she was “madly in love” with an “honest Christian man” and could not “bear the thought of trying to lock up an innocent man.” After receiving one of these letters, the prosecutor dismissed the charges against Gabrion. Nevertheless, authorities believed Gabrion forced Rachel to write them before he killed her.

Witnesses

Several witnesses later testified in court. In early June 1997, some of them saw Gabrion driving his truck near Oxford Lake and pulling a silver boat in the back. Others also saw him in the vehicle with another man and a blond-haired woman resembling Rachel.

On June 6, 1997, Trevor Zylstra, Gabrion’s neighbor, awoke around 4 a.m. to a loud bang. Looking out his window, he noticed Gabrion dragging a metal boat across the gravel in front of Gabrion’s house.

Gabrion set the boat down and removed two life vests, three cinder blocks, and a chain length from inside. He rinsed the inside of the vessel with water and “dragged it into his garage, where he ground off the boat’s registration numbers with an angle grinder. Afterward, Gabrion put the life vests, the cinder blocks, the chain, and the boat into his pick-up truck and left.” (Gabrion v. United States)

Another witness later testified that he saw a boat for sale in Gabrion’s yard later that summer, and that someone had ground off the registration numbers.

Later that week, Gabrion approached campers near the Little Manistee River and asked if he could store his motorcycle at their campsite.  Gabrion again called himself Lance, and a man named John, presumably John Weeks, accompanied him.  

Gabrion said he was camping at Brower Park, which charged money to park a motorcycle. The following day, Gabrion returned to their campsite alone and asked if he could store his boat there. The campers noticed he had a bruise under one eye, scratches on his face, and missing patches of hair. Gabrion claimed that he and a friend got into a physical altercation.

Two to three weeks later, the same campers came across Gabrion again in a different location. His campsite was not in Brower Park, and it had plenty of room to store a boat. They noticed that he was wearing gloves, even though it was summer.

Lloyd Westcomb, a paranoid schizophrenic, had known Gabrion for several years. He said he saw Gabrion in a store in White Cloud, Michigan around the second time Gabrion approached the campers. 

Westcomb mentioned to Gabrion that he had broken up with his girlfriend. Gabrion replied that he got rid of his girlfriend “permanently,” by “binding her up with chains and blocks and throwing her into a lake.” 

According to court documents, Gabrion spoke often about this method of killing a person. He once told his nephew that if he ever killed someone, he would “wrap them in chicken wire and chains with bricks on them and put them in the lake.” He also told an acquaintance, Floyd Wismar, that “it’s not hard to get rid of somebody; you just weight ’em down and throw ’em in a lake.”

Body Found

On July 5, 1997, Fishermen found Rachel’s body in Oxford Lake, 50 miles north of Cedar Springs, wrapped in duct tape and chains and weighed down with cinder blocks. Decomposition forced the body to rise to the water’s surface.

Oxford Lake is a remote lake in the Manistee National Forest, accessible by a two-track dirt road. The north half of the lake is private property, and the south half is part of the national forest. Rachel’s body was located in the southern portion of the lake, approximately 200 feet from the border to private property.

To reach her body by boat, the fishermen and the detectives had to row to the far southern edge of the weed mat, where the vegetation was not as thick, and then row north. Also, the lake bottom was so soft that a diver holding 60 pounds (equivalent to the weight of the chains, blocks, and padlocks on Rachel’s body) sunk 12 feet into the mud. Even after Rachel’s body floated to the surface, one of the cinder blocks chained to her body was still partially submerged in the weeds and muck below.

(Gabrion v. United States)

Rachel’s killer had covered her eyes and mouth with the duct tape and placed her in handcuffs. Then, they chained her to cinder blocks and threw her into the water alive, where she drowned. There was no sign of Shannon at the scene.

Murder Investigation 

Detectives scoured the area and discovered some evidence near the boat launch to the lake: a piece of duct tape with hair that matched Rachel’s microscopic characteristics. The tape, however, did not match the tape used on Rachel. 

After the police confirmed Rachel’s identity, two detectives went to Gabrion’s residence to question him and to arrest him under an outstanding warrant for an unrelated assault charge. They knocked on the door, but no one answered. As they left, they saw a pile of rubble in the yard behind the house. Concrete blocks similar to those attached to Rachel’s body were in the rubbish. Forensic analysis later revealed that the tar and paint on some of the cinder blocks chained to Rachel’s body matched the tar and paint on the blocks in Gabrion’s yard.

Four days later, the detectives returned to Gabrion’s home with a search warrant and encountered Gabrion’s brother, David. He had taken some things out of the house and loaded them into his truck. One item was a key that fit the padlocks on Rachel’s body. Investigators found another copy of that key inside the house, stashed in a bowl filled with change and a pill bottle with Gabrion’s name on it. 

Gabrion Flees

Unsurprisingly, the police could not locate Gabrion, but his nephew led them to a campsite Gabrion regularly used near Hungerford Lake, about 10 miles east of Oxford Lake. Detectives found Gabrion’s tent, bolt cutters, a chain length, a receipt with Gabrion’s name, duct tape, a woman’s hair clip, and a package of silicone nipples for a baby bottle.

Investigators learned that around the time they discovered Rachel’s body, Gabrion had called real estate broker Fred Winebarger about selling his Altona home and sent Winebarger a key to the residence. Gabrion also called his friend Floyd Wismar, asking him to help fix the house.

Near the end of July 1997, Gabrion wrote to Wismar, requesting him to distribute a written statement. Gabrion threatened to “expose” Wismar if he did not cooperate by making it look like Wismar was responsible for Shannon’s disappearance. 

Stolen Identity

Around Labor Day 1997, Ronald Lee Strevels saw a “help wanted”  advertisement in a local Indiana newspaper offering carpentry employment. Strevels dialed the number in the ad and reached Gabrion. The two arranged to meet for an interview at a truck stop in Columbus, Indiana, 20 miles from Strevels’ home. 

But the interview was bizarre. Gabrion asked Strevels a series of personal questions and recorded Strevels’ answers on a form. Strevels thought these questions were unusual for a job interview, but Gabrion assured him that the information was necessary for a “new tax form.” Gabrion also photocopied Strevels’s driver’s license and social security card.  

A few days later, Gabrion told Strevels he would not need his services after all. Gabrion subsequently obtained a Virginia driver’s license in Strevels’s name. 

Later that month, Gabrion approached a man in West Virginia, offering to purchase a remote, 5-acre tract of land, even though the man had not listed it for sale. Gabrion identified himself as Ronald Strevels, claimed that his wife had been killed, and he wanted to “get away from it.”

Gabrion’s Arrest and Conviction for Social Security Fraud

In October 1997, FBI agents arrested Gabrion for social security fraud. He had been using the identity and social security number of Robert Allen, a mentally disabled man, for over two years to receive Allen’s social security benefits.

Gabrion acquired an Indiana driver’s license in Allen’s name in July 1995. He used that license in 1996 to open a bank account in New York where Allen’s benefits could be deposited. Gabrion also used Allen’s identity to open two post office boxes, rent an apartment in Michigan, and book a hotel room in Indiana. He also sold a parcel of land on a land contract in Allen’s name. The buyer paid off the land contract, but Gabrion could not deliver the title to the property.

In 1998, a jury convicted Gabrion of using Allen’s social security number for fraudulent purposes, and the Court sentenced him to 60 months in prison. Allen is believed to be dead. He has not been seen since the spring or summer of 1995.

About a week after Gabrion’s arrest for social security fraud, detectives served him with a subpoena to produce hair samples. Among other things, detectives wanted to compare the pubic hair found on Rachel’s clothing to Gabrion’s pubic hair. However, they could not do so because Gabrion shaved off almost all of his hair, including his pubic hair.  DNA testing later revealed that the hair found on Rachel did not come from Gabrion. (Gabrion v. United States)

Gabrion Confesses in Custody

While in custody, Gabrion told several inmates that he murdered Rachel and Shannon. He informed Nathan Brewster that he killed Rachel because “she screamed rape, and he had to take care of his business.”

He also told Brewster there was another body in Oxford Lake and told Martin Love that he “killed the baby because there was nowhere else to put it.”

Likewise, he told Jason Cross that he “got rid” of the baby because he “didn’t know what to do with it.”

While detained at Newaygo County Jail in August 2001, Gabrion gave an acquaintance, who was also in jail there, a packet of papers about purchasing property at Oxford Lake. John McTaggart became concerned when he opened the packet and viewed the first page—a drawing of Oxford Lake. On the drawing, Gabrion had written “body found 1 of 3,” with a line pointing to three x’s in the middle of the lake.

Murder Trial

Marvin Gabrion photos of him in court and prison

Investigators charged Gabrion with Rachel’s murder in March 2001. According to The Charley Project, “Michigan banned the death penalty in 1846. Authorities charged Gabrion in Federal Court because Rachel was killed on federal land. Therefore, prosecutors were able to seek the death penalty for Gabrion. Authorities stated in the death penalty notice that Gabrion’s conduct led to Shannon’s disappearance, but they had not charged him in her case.” (Good)

In May 2001, investigators scoured Oxford Lake to recover possible evidence against Gabrion but found nothing.

Gabrion’s trial for Rachel’s homicide began in Grand Rapids in February 2002. The evidence against Gabrion in Rachel’s murder was overwhelming, including but not limited to his presence with Rachel at Oxford Lake, the keys in his residence that fit the locks on Rachel’s body, the matching concrete blocks, and the letters to Rachel’s family, the judge, and the prosecutor.

However, investigators admitted in Court that no one had checked the chain, handcuffs, and locks found with Rachel for fingerprints. There were no fingerprints found on the duct tape that covered her face. However, Gabrion had placed her in the lake, and the water likely destroyed any physical evidence.

Nevertheless, a jury convicted Gabrion for Rachel’s murder in early March 2002, and a judge later sentenced him to death. However, the death sentence was overturned on a technicality in 2011 but reversed and reinstated in 2013. The appeals court ruled it was “virtually undisputed” that Gabrion had killed Shannon as well as her mother. (Good)

Gabrion is incarcerated at MCFP Springfield in Missouri. He is now 70 years old. If you want to read something that will make you hurl, I give you this priceless profile. 🤢🤮

Look at these precious photos below to remember the sweet baby girl Gabrion murdered in cold blood. Police never recovered her body.

Shannon Dale Verhage

Sources

Gabrion v. United States, File No. 1:15-cv-447 (W.D. Mich. October 4, 2018) 

Good, Meaghan. “Shannon Dale Verhage.” The Charley Project. https://charleyproject.org/case/shannon-dale-verhage 

“Shannon Dale Verhage.” Online memorial. FindAGrave.com. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/203638840/shannon-dale-verhage 

Images of Rachel, Shannon, Gabrion, Davis, Weeks: FindAGrave, Penacon, and Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

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