Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder and former CEO of Nation's Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults.
It was Memorial Day weekend in Arizona when two best friends vanished one evening in Glendale, Arizona. Diana Shawcroft, 20, and her best friend Jennifer “Jenny” Lueth, 19, walked to the corner convenience store on May 26, 1996, and were never seen alive again.
The site where their bodies were found, one lying on top of the other, has been visited by someone. Someone—who remains unidentified—and to this day, remains a lingering mystery for the traumatized families and law enforcement.
Inseparable growing up, both girls went to elementary and junior high school together in Loveland, Colorado. In 1995, Diana had moved to Glendale, Arizona, and living in an apartment with her older sister Tina.
After the move, Diana would call Jenny and tell her how unhappy she was and how she was missing her best friend. Jenny decided to follow Diana and moved to Arizona in February 1996. Jenny did not like the cold and it was freezing in Colorado at that time of year. The warm climate in Arizona would be a nice break for her and Jenny’s parents Deborah and Bob Lueth were excited for their daughter to go on a new life adventure.
Jenny moved in with Diana and Tina and shared a bedroom with her best childhood friend. Imagine the excitement of living on their own for the first time in their lives.
Diana was working at Burger King and shortly after moving to Arizona Jenny landed a job with Discover Card. Things were off to a good start for the young girls who were trying to make their way in a new city.
Jenny was close to her parents and called her mother and father nearly every day.
The Night They Vanished
The evening of their disappearance, Diana told her sister Tina, that they were going to walk up to the local store in the vicinity of 55th Avenue and Camelback Road in Glendale. She said they planned to buy cigarettes and a soda and promised Tina they would come back soon.
That was the last time Tina would ever see her little sister and best friend. They never returned.
Initially, there was no cause for concern. For the girls, life was an adventure and they liked making new friends. It was Memorial Day weekend and anyone that has been to Phoenix knows that is a time when young people like to mingle and party.
However, by the following morning when the two girls did not arrive back home, Tina began to worry because she noticed that the girls had not taken anything with them. Their makeup was left on the bathroom counter in their apartment and that was something neither girls left the home without.
Panic began to set in, and Tina contacted her father Rodger Shawcroft who lived locally and her mother Kathy Shawcroft, who still lived in Colorado. She also contacted Jenny’s parents, both residents of Colorado.
The Police Report
The family reported their disappearance to Glendale Police Department who initially assumed the girls might just be out partying for the weekend or possibly went to Mexico to party for Memorial Day, like thousands of other young Arizonans do.
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Eventually, the department dispatched officers to where the girls were last seen.
According to the convenience store clerk, he saw Diana and Jenny outside the store at approximately 7 p.m. smoking cigarettes and drinking the soda they had bought. He told officers the girls were hanging out there for a considerable amount of time before a man pulled up in a truck. He saw the girls talk to the man for a while in the parking lot, then they got into the vehicle with the man and drove away.
After being interviewed by police, the convenience store clerk helped with a suspect composite of the man he saw driving the truck.
The man was described as a Caucasian in his 30s, with a blonde, mullet hairstyle, and wearing a blue denim jacket.
The truck the man was driving was described as an older model Chevrolet with faded blue paint. The girls talking to a stranger in the parking lot of the convenience store was the last sighting of and only questions remain.
Bob and Deborah Lueth traveled to Arizona and stayed in a hotel while they began searching for their daughter Jenny. Meanwhile, Rodger Shawcroft and his family began desert searches, coordinating 4x4 and off-road vehicles to search popular desert party locations and stretches of the remote desert for any sign of the girls. They even traveled to Mexico to search beach destinations where older teens typically go for the Memorial Day weekend.
The families also reached out to the National Center for Missing Adults in Phoenix who immediately made flyers and helped with ground search efforts.
Thousands of fliers were made, and distributed at popular spots like Bartlett and Pleasant lakes, the Salt River, watering holes, and even the Dunes in nearby California.
A monumental media campaign ensued with the help of all the news stations in Phoenix. Local companies offered space on their trucks to place large full-color vinyl posters to help increase public awareness of the girl’s disappearance. The search for Diana and Jenny became the largest effort in Arizona history.
Rodger Shawcroft and the Lueths tirelessly searched for months for their daughters. Diana’s mother Kathy Shawcroft moved to Phoenix from Colorado to search and the Lueths stayed in a hotel.
Police followed up on leads called in by concerned citizens, people offering help, and even psychics who were adamant they knew where the girls were located.
Days, nights, weeks, then months passed with no credible leads, but no one was ready to give up hope.
Three months after Diana and Jenny’s disappearance, two bowhunters made a gruesome discovery in a remote desert location on Dugas Road in Yavapai County, approximately 100 miles north of Phoenix. The bodies of Diana and Jenny were found on a small rock ridge, hidden out of the sight, along a rugged dirt road.
Hunting is popular off Dugas Road (Forest Road 68). The road is the only way into the isolated area of high desert west, off I-17. The 20-mile rugged trek into the remote desert has little traffic and only accessible by trucks and 4x4 vehicles.
Whatever happened to the girls, occurred in a quiet place, with a 360-degree view of the surrounding area and the vast Verde Valley below. From the murderer’s vantage point, one could spot an approaching car approaching from miles away, especially at night.
Police released the cause of death as a homicide, but due to the deterioration of skeletal remains from the hot Arizona sun and to protect the case, investigators never released details of how the two girls were killed—except that the killer had placed Diana’s body on top of Jenny’s on the ledge.
Police were confident the killer knew the area well and possibly even hunted in the vicinity of the dumpsite. The rock ledge where the bodies had been placed was a perfect perch for a hunter who might have glassed for elk, antelope, or mule deer that seek shade during the day and emerge in the early evening.
The buttes and hills offer clear vantage points to see the game but this time, whoever killed Diana and Jenny, were hunting human game. The months between April and July are not peak big game hunting months, so during this time, at this remote location, it is quite possible to never see a passerby, let alone hear someone scream.
Police were certain the killer was extraordinarily strong, or more than one person was involved because it would have been very difficult to subdue them both. Jenny was known as very protective of Diana and described as a “scrapper.” Her family knew she would have aggressively fought for her life. We can only speculate how Diana and Jenny were lured to such a secluded area, but they may have been told they were meeting up with others at a desert party which were very popular activities then.
The evening of the discovery of Diana and Jenny’s badly decomposed bodies, news stations reported the grisly find. Law enforcement made a public plea to anyone who may know about the deaths to come forward.
Glendale Homicide Detective Bruce Foremny secured a $1,000 reward, and further enlisted help from local media to encourage the public to anonymously call SILENT WITNESS.
Diana’s mother Kathy worked at Del Web who offered a $25,000 reward. Thousands of missing person fliers were changed to “Unsolved Homicide” with bold red print and distributed throughout the Valley.
Both families, devastated by the unimaginable loss, remained dedicated to finding out who murdered the two best friends. Their public pleas for help continued, however, the focus was now on seeking justice and helping police get a killer off the streets.
In December 1996, the family planned a memorial at the desert site when Diana and Jenny were found.
Four news stations would accompany the family in their SUV’s and meet them at the Dugas Road exit 268 on I-17.
At the forest road entry, a sign warns “No Services Available” They group organized into eight vehicles with the Shawcroft family leading the way and began their caravan on the long, winding road. Surrounded by miles and miles of desert, it seemed to bring home the fact that this area was not only isolated but insulated. It would be hard for screams to be heard out there, and even harder to survive in the night desert if the girls were scared and running for their lives.
Traveling about 19 miles east, they crossed a quiet creek, passed an abandoned homestead, maneuvered deep ruts, and climbed toward the Verde Rim. At about 6,000 feet elevation, there was a beautiful view of Ponderosa Pines and Alligator Juniper trees overlooking the basin of the Verde Valley.
It was a beautiful place, but an overwhelming sense of dread began to surface as they pulled off the dirt road and parked. They had arrived. It had taken over an hour to get there.
Diana’s family brought Poinsettia plants, candles, and angel bears to sit at the location. Two beautiful redwood cross standing 3 feet tall were hand-engraved with their names and the words “I Love You" were cemented into the ground.
In addition, a wood photo frame encasing the girl’s photographs was placed at the foot of the crosses. The picture frame would later become the focus of the ongoing investigation and continued search for a brutal killer.
Who is Visiting the Site?
In the years following Diana and Jenny’s murder, the police monitored the site where Diana and Jenny’s bodies had been recovered, especially on dates that may have had some significance to the killer such as birthdays, the date they disappeared, the date they were located. They wanted to see if the murderer would return, as many do. Unfortunately, there was no evidence the site had been visited by anyone other than family.
That all changed on September 29, 2000. Police discovered the girl’s photographs had been removed from the sturdy wooden frame and the frame discarded at the foot of the crosses.
Had the killer returned? Quite possibly he had. Was he coming back to relive his crime? Was he taking the pictures as trophies? Was his conscience intact, or could there be a feeling of guilt that led him back? Was there some sense of pride he felt having evaded the police for so many years? Could Diana and Jenny be only two of his victims? Were there more? We can only speculate.
Police are certain there is little chance someone would just happen across the isolated site and take the photographs. For normal people, there is an unspoken respect for the dead and most would leave the site untouched.
Despite extensive media coverage and even a segment on Unsolved Mysteries, the identity of the killer remains unknown.
Continuing to Seek Answers
The mystery of Diana and Jenny’s murders lingers 25 years later, but the hope for answers does not lessen.
Both of Diana’s parents, Rodger and Kathy, have since passed away. Jenny’s father Bob, also died on Memorial Day in 2014, leaving his wife Deborah to carry on the effort to find answers to what happened to their precious daughter.
Imagine for a moment spending 25 years not knowing who killed your daughter.
Deborah still lives in Loveland, Colorado and though she has tried to get answers from law enforcement, they have never been too forthcoming with information. Media no longer covers the story which has been proven to generate leads in homicides case, especially cold cases.
Investigators have retired and the new ones assigned to the case have never reached out to Deborah. Her frustration is clear and understandable, but somehow, she has found the strength to continue.
“I have pictures of Jenny and her older sister Becky on the wall in my living room,” Deborah said. “I look at them and miss her every day.”
When asked how she copes, Deborah said at first, she would research and investigate her daughter’s murder on her own, but it all became too consuming. “Finally,” she said, “I just had to put it all down.”
Deborah says she now focuses on Jenny’s life, “I celebrate her birthdays and the life she lived.”
Still, she has not given up finding out who murdered her baby hoping someone finally comes forward. “Maybe someone will come forward due to guilt, or they have kids, or maybe they get too drunk and tell someone.”
As the 25-year anniversary approaches on August 24, the day her child and best friend were found, she hopes that media will cover the story, and someone comes forward to police.
When it comes down to it, it does not matter why they come forward, just that they do—and finally, bring some peace to an aching mother’s heart.
If you have any information about the murders of Diana Shawcroft and Jennifer Lueth or the removal of their photographs at the memorial site in Yavapai County, please call Glendale Police Department 623–930–3399.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 Kym L Pasqualini