Investigators hope for new clues in double murder cold case

By Ursula Madden - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - It was a girls night out that ended in murder - two Mid-South women, partying on Beale Street, who were killed before they made it home.  But now, there's hope for a new break in the case after somebody got away with cold blooded murder.

With her shift over at a Southland Mall shoe store, Sherlana Burgess, known to family and friends as Penny, went to pick up her cousin Lashonia "Shon" Austin at her North Memphis apartment.

It was just after 10pm on a Saturday in September of 2003, and the girls were going out down their favorite spot on Beale Street.  Penny parked at the garage at Front and Monroe, and though many people say they saw the women that night, what happened when they left Beale isn't so clear.

Around 3:30am, the women were heading back to the parking garage, when someone offered them a ride to their car.  Investigators say it was an acquaintance of Shon's who picked them up and dropped them off, but the women never left the garage in Penny's car.

"She had some sort of car trouble, and we think the transmission went out on the car," said Sgt. Bill Ashton of the Memphis Police Department.

Penny called her boyfriend, whom she shared an apartment with in Southaven, Mississippi.

"He said that he talked to them on the telephone at about 4:00 am Sunday morning," said Captain Cliff Freeman of the Southaven Police Department. "They were at an IHOP in Memphis."

At the time, the women were at the IHOP on Perkins near American Way.  Amy McKinney, a waitress there, remembers serving them that night.

"There was probably about four or five of them, all females, sitting in the back of the restaurant," she said.

It was the last time anyone reported seeing Penny or Shon alive.  By 5:00 p.m. the next day, Penny's boyfriend called Southaven police and reporter her missing when she didn't come home, or show up at work.

But it was too late.  Penny's body had already been discovered, face down in a ditch, alongside a cemetary just west of Elvis Presley Boulevard.

The discovery left Shon's family frantic.  Where was she, and was she still alive?  Friends and family canvassed the city with flyers and prayers, even as police investigators worked to find Shon and her cousin's killer.

But five days into the search, a gruesome discovery was made inside an abandoned house at 758 Cherokee: Shon's body.

"This house was a vacant house, set back up off the road it was kind of overgrown," Ashton said. "I don't think someone who was driving through in the dark would pick it out as being a vacant house.  Someone was familiar with that house."

The house was less than one mile from the cemetery where Penny's body was discovered.  According to the Shelby County Medical Examiner, both women had been shot to death, and investigators suspect the women knew their killer.

"You either have to know these folks and they trust you to get into the car, or there has to be more than one person to be able to coral two people at one time,"  Ashton said. "So I think they were familiar with whoever they accepted a ride from."

What happened in those earlier morning hours seven years ago, from Beale Street and a downtown parking garage, to the IHOP on Perkins and American Way, and finally a cemetery and vacant house in South Memphis? Who murdered Penny and Shon?

"When you commit a crime that is this heinous, you have to tell somebody," Ashton said. "Whoever is involved in this, they've talked about it. They've told people, and we need those people to come forward."

Maybe you can help solve this crime. There are two numbers to call: Crime Stoppers at 528-CASH, or the Memphis Homicide Bureau at 901 545-5300.

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