The Disappearance of Heather Hodges

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EARLY LIFE:

Heather Hodges was born on August 15, 1989. Growing up in Rocky Mount, Virginia, she was close with her family, which consisted of her mother, Paula, and her sister, Crystal. To those closest to her, the young woman was known as “Tink”, due to her love of the Peter Pan character, Tinkerbell.

Heather was described as a bubbly person who was known to stand her ground when she strongly believed in something. She had attended school to become a pharmacy technician, but later switched to studying criminal justice. However, at some point in her life, she was introduced to drugs and began using. In 2008, Heather was found guilty of felony grand larceny, which resulted in a three year sentence with all but six months suspended.

Heather lived in a double-wide mobile home along the Blackwater River, where she regularly kayaked and fished. She lived with her then-boyfriend, 39-year-old Paul R. Jordan II. Known as Scooter to those who knew him, he was a convicted felon who also had misdemeanour convictions. The pair’s relationship was both abusive and controlling, and they regularly suffered problems.

In 2012, Heather was raising her 2-year-old daughter, Serenity. She was unemployed at the time, due to an inheritance she and Crystal had received from a grandmother. Previously, she had worked as a waitress.

On April 5, 2012, Heather’s mother filed a misdemeanour assault and battery charge against Paul, claiming he’d struck her with a chair and various metal objects during an argument, before chasing her off the premise with a baseball bat. As a result, he was charged with misdemeanour assault.

DISAPPEARANCE:

Over Easter in 2012, Heather went to stay with family, as she and Paul were having problems at the time. On April 9, Crystal dropped her sister back home at around 6:30am, before she herself went to an appointment. The pair had planned to reconnect later in the day. However, when Crystal called the home to ask when Heather wanted to be picked up, Paul said she was asleep.

At 10:30pm that night, Paul claims to have left the pair’s home in order to buy Heather a Blizzard from the nearby Dairy Queen located at the corner of US 220 and Wirtz Road. He was gone for a total of 10 minutes, and when he returned he found that Heather was nowhere to be found. Crying, he contacted the family to inform them of this, saying she had left behind her car, cellphone and purse.

On April 11, Paul officially reported Heather as missing. The reason for the delay was due to the fact that Heather was known to leave home for a day or so at a time. However, she had always kept in touch with her family and regularly checked in about her daughter. She had done neither in this instance.

INVESTIGATION:

Upon being notified of Heather’s disappearance, investigators interviewed both friends and family. Crystal, in particular, stated that her sister was a dedicated mother who wouldn’t have taken off without first notifying someone in the family.

A massive search was launched, which included a helicopter from the Virginia State Police, search teams from Franklin County’s Department of Safety, a civilian’s cadaver dog, and the county’s swift Water Rescue Team, which utilized a raft and cadaver dog to search the Blackwater River. A grid search was also conducted of a half-mile radius around Heather’s home, but both searches turned up no evidence.

Police had stated they don’t believe Paula’s allegations to be related to her daughter’s disappearance.

In June 2012, investigators discovered evidence that something violent had occurred in the home Heather and Paul shared, noting the missing woman’s blood was found on a doorknob.

Two months into the investigation, police said they had a person of interest. This person, who has never been publicly identified, had initially been cooperative, but later began to give varying accounts surrounding the circumstances surrounding Heather’s disappearance.

In April 2013, the Hodges family held a fundraising event to help raise money for a reward and awareness about the case. Concluding in a special tribute to Heather, it featured a 50/50 raffle, door prizes, a silent auction, numerous activities for children and a jar where attendees could give donations.

In June 2013, the Franklin County Sheriff announced the case had become a criminal investigation, while also stating it had been investigated as a major crime since day one.

In 2014, court documents revealed Paul’s version of events. However, investigators have not publicly shared whether or not they have been able to confirm his story.

On October 10, 2014, CUE Center for Missing Persons embarked on the On the Road to Remember Tour, which travelled 4,000 miles across eleven states. It highlighted 110 missing persons, unsolved murders and unidentified persons, and aimed to bring in new information about these cases. For the Rocky Mount stop, Paula teamed up with the organization’s Virginia State Director Shawn White to help shed a light on Heather’s disappearance.

In 2015, investigators issued a second search warrant on the cellphone Heather left behind, a black Nokia. With access to technology that wasn’t available in 2012, they hoped to uncover who Heather had been talking to in the lead up to her disappearance and when such contact had occurred. However, they haven’t shared if they were able to find any new information.

To honour Heather, her family had hoped to build a memorial along the Blackwater River, consisting of benches on a 10’x10′ space near the boat pull out on US 220 south, as people had been leaving balloons, cards and flowers near a tree stump in the area. However, due to the missing woman’s 2008 felony conviction, Franklin County prohibited such a memorial from being erected, as outlined in a 2013 law that prevents those convicted of felonies from having a public memorial. When a meeting was held regarding the matter, an unanimous vote upheld the law in this instance.

Undeterred by the county’s ruling, the family eventually set up the memorial, consisting of a bench and garden, on private property along the river, after a local man offered up part of his land. The memorial is not only in memory of Heather, but of another local man, Christopher Douthat, who went missing in 2013.

In December 2013, B.B. Shaver’s SHOPO organization held an event in Lynchburg, Virginia to raise awareness for missing girls in the area. Heather’s family and friends were in attendance.

In June 2014, Help Save the Next Girl set up a booth at the Walmart in South Boston, Virginia to help raise awareness for those who are missing, including Heather. It’s a non-profit organization set up in honour of Morgan Harrington, who went missing in 2009 and was found murdered in Charlottesville, Virginia. Jesse L. Matthew Jr. is currently serving four consecutive life sentences with no chance for parole for her murder and that of Hannah Graham in 2014.

Over the years, different investigators have been assigned to the case, and all those currently working on it have described it as highly suspicious. In 2018, they publicly stated they had a suspect in mind, but had yet to file any charges, as they were still collecting sufficient evidence. They have shared that not having a body has made it harder for them to solve the case, but are utilizing every tool and resource made available to investigate each lead that’s called in.

Due to the active nature of the investigation, police are unable to say too much about the case.

In December 2018, Paul was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in relation to a July 2017 arrest for felony abduction by force/intimidation. He had entered an Alford plea, which meant he had pled guilty while at the same time maintaining his innocence. This arrest is unrelated to Heather’s disappearance.

In April 2019, the Aware Foundation erected four billboards around Roanoke, Virginia, which featured Heather’s image and the words “Never Lose Hope”. Funded by a private donation, these billboards, which were situated on Route 419, Route 220 and Old Cave Spring Road, marked the seventh anniversary of the missing woman’s disappearance.

THEORIES:

1) One theory held in the case is that Paul was somehow involved. This is due to the fact he was the last known person to see Heather alive before she disappeared, as well as the phone call he’d had with Crystal on April 9. Crystal has shared that Heather confided in her two months before her disappearance, saying that if something happened to her to know it wasn’t a suicide and to never stop looking for her.

Paul has not been charged in relation to the case and police have not shared whether he is a suspect or person of interest.

2) A second theory is that an unknown person is involved. However, to what extent is currently up for speculation. It’s unknown if Heather was abducted or if she left of her own accord, given the lack of evidence in the case. However, given the blood found in her and Paul’s home, it’s believed she did not leave of her own free will and that foul play is involved.

AFTERMATH:

On the anniversary of Heather’s disappearance each year, friends and family hold a candlelight vigil in her honour.

The Hodges family holds out hope the police will one day solve the case. They’ve kept in regular contact with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and say they are pleased with the progress made thus far. They acknowledge that Heather is most likely deceased, due to her lack of communication.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Heather Hodges went missing from her Shady Lane residence in Rocky Mount, Virginia on April 9, 2012. She was 22 years old. What she was wearing at the time is currently unknown. At the time of her disappearance, she stood anywhere from 4’10” to 5’2″, and weighed approximately 100 pounds. She has blonde hair and blue eyes, and has the word “TINK” tattooed on her lower back.

Currently, her case is classified as endangered missing. If alive, she would be 30 years old.

If you have information regarding the case, you can contact the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office at 540-263-0845 or 540-483-3000. Tips can also be phoned in anonymously to Crime Line at 540-344-8500.

Image Credit: WSET

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