Eight years ago today, a beautiful, vibrant young woman made a very brave decision. That brave decision was to break up with her controlling, possessive boyfriend of three years, David Perry.
She had made some very big changes in her life; she decided to join the St.Petersburg Police Academy after a long career in Hospitality. She was a month from graduation from that Academy when she left a friend's house, where she had spent part of the weekend, and returned home to her condo in Indian Rocks Beach to break up with Perry. Afterwards, she had plans to meet up with some of the other cadets later that evening and she was looking forward to a fresh start in all aspects of her life.
Kelly Rothwell walked into her condo and was never seen or heard from again.
Later that evening, David Perry took off for his hometown of Elmira, New York, where he had still maintained a home. He arrived at his home on Church Street in Elmira 21 hours later and told his daughter and her husband who had been living in the home, that "they would hear a lot of bad stuff about him, but that it wasn't true"... then Perry took off again, coming back to the home later. He refused to allow N.Y. State Police, who had been contacted by Pinellas County Sheriffs , to search his car and he ran from police when they tried to question him.
Back in Florida, Pinellas County Sheriffs Office started a search for Kelly, and local and National Search and Rescue groups come down from North Carolina and Texas to help in the search for the missing police cadet. But the search was frustratingly brief and Kelly was never found.
David Perry is and always has been the ONLY suspect in her probable murder but has eluded questioning for eight years about what he knows about Kelly's "disappearance." Having been a Corrections officer , Perry knew enough about the law to know what he could get away with. He knew that as long as he kept his mouth shut. he couldn't incriminate himself, so he refused all attempts by police to question him. He refused to give a DNA test.
I believe that David Perry murdered Kelly Rothwell when she walked in the door of the condo that late afternoon. I believe he lay in wait for her, grabbed her from behind and strangled her, throwing her on the floor several times. The downstairs neighbors, Ken and Mary Williamson heard loud thuds and banging on their ceiling, which would have come from Kelly's master bedroom, then a sudden quiet, then repetitive vacuuming. Perry, who had OCD and was known to vacuum several times a day, apparently went into overdrive; the Williamson's heard the vacuum for at least 20 minutes.
What happened next? No one really knows. But I have ALWAY maintained that Perry, who had planned Kelly's murder, had already packed his blue Honda in readiness, took Kelly's body, wrapped in it the plastic shower curtain liner and placed her in his 6 foot kite sail bag, along with her collection of Geodes. Kelly, who had been a Geology major in college, had a large collection of crystal cut rocks, some as heavy as 20 lbs. None of Kelly's geodes were ever found at the condo.
I think Perry put the kite sail bag containing her body and the large rocks in the back of his Honda, disguising it as camping equipment and left Florida, taking her body with him.
Why do I think that? Because Perry knew that the Pinellas Sheriffs would never think to look for Kelly in New York, which had thousands of acres of land and several lakes. One of the lakes, Lake Seneca, was a popular spot that Perry and his friends would frequent in the summer. Several of his friends had boats and it was these friends that I think Perry called when he got to New York. He needed help because Perry's idea was to drop Kelly's body, weighted down with all of her heavy geode rocks, into the depths of Lake Seneca. To this day, I think that's where Kelly's body is.
I think often when we read about violent crimes, we are caught up in the heinous act perpetrated against a victim by someone evil, like David Perry. A domestic abuser, a liar, a fraud, a reported drug runner, Perry was every woman's nightmare, yet he came off as charming and generous. This is how he reeled in women that he became involved with. He left a trail of misery, deceit and pain. Now he's in jail... again.... after violating parole for a second time. He's been able to game the system for a long time and now it's finally catching up to him.
But what about Kelly Rothwell? For Kelly Rothwell's family, there is no closure... the crimes Perry was arrested for, first fraud and grand larceny, then criminal trespass have no bearing on Kelly's case in Florida. New York State detectives and the District Attorney's in two county's ALL believe that he killed Kelly. The problem is the cases are technically unrelated. Without Kelly's body or evidence of a murder, the Rothwell family has no real outlet for closure or anywhere to go with their anger and grief.
What happens to the families of murder victims? How are they supposed to cope? Where can they take their grief?
For Kelly's sister Kristen, coping has been something she's had to relearn.
"I was into a lot of bad stuff... I'm not talking just popping pills. I was into hard drugs, I made really bad choices and I hurt a lot of people,especially my family. Kelly was really upset with my choices and I always felt that I disappointed her the most. We even had words about it on the phone. My last words to my sister were said in anger, which makes me really sad. I had just gotten out of rehab and was in recovery when she was killed. Her death just threw me and I spiraled out of control. There was no way for me to deal with losing her. I felt so guilty; I always thought if anyone would die in our family it would be me, because of my addiction and bad choices. I would have never thought we would lose Kelly."
Kristen said she has what feels like survivors guilt.
"I kept saying it should have been me.. I was the one doing everything wrong, hurting myself, hurting my family.. I alway thought it would be me , that I would be the one to die. And it hurt my Mom so much. Parents shouldn't have to mourn their children."
It took several tries , but Kristen is now clean and sober, she is finishing up a degree in Social Work and Counseling and she works with recovering addicts. She credits it all to Kelly.
"I felt Kelly's spirit with me the whole time when I finally got clean in recovery. I honestly feel that she was watching over me. It made me stronger to know that somehow she was around me. Kelly used to journal and once she told that she saw me working with people, she saw me healthy. That really gave me the strength I needed to see my recovery through. Now I'm a counselor and I help others like me. I'm not ashamed anymore about my past and what I went through.I'm comfortable with who I am now. I feel that Kelly is watching over me. But my biggest regret is that she didn't get to see who I've become in my recovery; I know she would be proud of me. I just wish she was here to see it."
I asked Kristen what would constitute closure for her with Kelly's case, as it seems more and more likely her body will never be found.
"I want the truth from him, I want him to come clean and confess about what he did to my sister.But the reality of it is that the truth may never come out. And that's something I'm learning to deal with."
Kelly's Mom Nancy doesn't think she'll ever really have closure either. She told me this;
"To take away from this Earth such a beautiful, peaceful and compassionate woman, he can only look forward to his dark soul burning in hell. But in the meantime, every day he spends in jail protects other women from this evil being.We will always be deeply grateful for the never-ending love, prayers and support that have been shown to our family. Words cannot adequately convey how appreciative we are, to the wonderful people in New York and those in Florida, Maryland and all over.. My family would like to thank the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department for putting fresh eyes on Kelly's case. We understand there is a new detective, Chris Lyons, who has been assigned to Kelly's case. We're told he is a Cold Case Investigator, which is what Kelly's case needs. Our family would also like to thank the New York State police for keeping such a close eye on Kelly's killer David Perry. He's violated parole twice and is now back in jail for a year. While we know that is not TRUE justice for Kelly at this point we are grateful that he's off the streets and not harming another young woman..
Kelly was a bright light in this world. She wanted to help people which is why she joined the police force. She was kind and funny and her joy was infectious. What that monster did was take away a vibrant, vital young woman who had so much to give to the world.Our family misses Kelly every day. We've planted a tree in a local park in her honor, where her niece and nephews can see it when they play there. She may be gone physically but Kelly's indomitable spirit stays with us... she will forever be in our hearts. "
Kelly Rothwell "disappeared" on March 12, 2011. She was killed by David Perry. One day he WILL answer for his crime.
Meanwhile Kelly Rothwell is STILL MISSING.