Above: This Exponent collage displays a photo of Natasha Shanes, then 6, as she appeared when she disappeared from her Jackson home in 1985 and age progressions illustrating what she may have looked like in her 20s and 30s. Photo and age progressions provided by the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Local trio have faith that prayer can help missing child case
By Julie Riddle
Police investigations have stalled and tips have dried up in the 38-year-old mystery of a Jackson child who went missing in the middle of the night in 1985.
Maybe God can help, a local trio believes.
Nearly four decades after 6-year-old Natasha Shanes disappeared from her Jackson home, a threesome of local residents has adopted the missing child case, praying daily that detectives might, somehow, learn what happened to the girl so many years ago.
For more than a decade, police have received no new information about the disappearance.
Not, that is, until this spring ― six months after Jackson resident Chuck Greene asked police to name a specific investigation he and two others could include in their daily prayers.
A tip in April led police to dig in a Jackson yard in early May, searching for the child’s remains. They found nothing that furthered the investigation, said Elmer Hitt, director of the Jackson Police Department.
Still, Greene said, after so many years of silence in the case, that tip encourages him to keep praying.
Police welcome whatever help the community might offer in solving the cold case, and that includes heads bowed in prayer, Hitt said.
Determined efforts by police and numerous tips from the community have gone nowhere in explaining the child’s disappearance and bringing closure to those who loved her. Now, equally determined efforts of a trio on their knees might just have a different result, Greene said.
After all, he said, “This is not hard stuff for God.”
A CHILD DISAPPEARS
The idea of praying for a police investigation, specifically and with intention, came to him when he served on a jury some years ago and learned of a piece of evidence revealed to police in an unusual way, Greene said.
“I thought, this is the hand of God,” he said, relating his ensuing offer to pray for other police investigations.
The idea didn’t catch hold at the time, but, when Greene renewed his offer to Hitt last fall, Hitt suggested Greene and two other prayer warriors Greene had enlisted could pray for the search for Natasha. (Continued below)
According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NameUs, police believe Natasha disappeared between 1:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. on May 5, 1985. The child’s mother reported hearing a car door slam outside the family’s Jackson home during the night. The next morning, she discovered Natasha missing and the front door to the home standing open, she told police.
In the years since, police have investigated the disappearance and the community has offered tips, but never have those efforts led to a decisive explanation of the child’s disappearance.
In April, after the case sat idle since at least 2011 according to police records, the Jackson Police Department received a tip that Natasha’s remains might be buried on the grounds of a Jackson residence or hidden inside the home.
After obtaining a search warrant, and with the help of a Michigan State Police unit and heavy digging equipment, Hitt’s officers dug on the property and searched the home. They found nothing identified as human remains, Hitt said.
The officers who first investigated the disappearance have long since left the department, but the case still lingers in the minds of those there now, nagging at them with its lack of closure, Hitt said. He hasn’t worked any other missing child cases, and he wants closure on this one ― and will take help in any form, he said.
“I tell you what,” Hitt said when asked if he values the prayers offered for his detectives. “I’m open to anything that could help us solve a 40-year-old missing child case.”
‘PRAY FOR IT’
Jackson County residents Chuck Greene, left, and Bill Navarre pray for the investigation of missing Jackson child Natasha Shanes at Navarre’s Clarklake home last week.
Two other people invited by Greene form the trio now praying for a resolution to the case, including Bill Navarre, of Clarklake.
“I’ve gotten down on my knees at night and asked God to bless Natasha’s case,” Navarre said, reflecting on the recent addition to his prayer routine at his home last week.
He regularly talks to God about a wide variety of societal needs and concerns, praying daily for the nation’s leaders and those who make and enforce the country’s laws.
Criticizing those in power comes easy, but, “I don’t think you have a right to criticize it unless you pray for it,” Navarre said. “It’s a righteous thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.”
His prayers centering on Natasha don’t demand a specific resolution, only that God give wisdom to the detectives involved and “that righteousness be done,” he said.
God is the only one who knows what the right result looks like, Navarre said. Still, he hopes someone, someday, learns what happened to the child.
“We can’t presume any answer. But there should be an answer,” Navarre said. “There should be some resolution. If there’s foul play, there should be accountability.”
Navarre said God promises to answer prayers and heal sickness, and that includes the sickness of an unresolved missing-child case. He prays regularly, too, for efforts combating drug addiction and believes those prayers, along with similar prayers from a local faith-based workgroup, have helped reduce a glut of opioid prescriptions that led to national and local addiction crises.
Prayer seems small against such an overwhelming societal ill, but, Navarre said, drawing on the biblical story of shepherd boy David and Goliath, the warrior he killed with a slingshot, “nobody would have bet on David.”
For 38 years, Natasha’s case plodded forward, dwindling avenues of investigation making a resolution seem increasingly hopeless.
And then, “six months ago, three people started praying,” Greene said. “And now, something’s happened.”
Police will never declare Natasha’s disappearance a closed case until they know what happened to her, and they will continue to follow every new lead, Hitt said. Maybe no living person knows what happened to the girl, but God does, the men praying for her case said.
Where once Greene asked God to reveal those details to police, lately, his daily prayers prod God with reminders of scriptural promises that whatever his believers ask in his name, he will do, Greene said.
“We do our part. We ask him,” Greene said, his thought completed by Navarre: “The rest is in his hands.”
To report a tip
Anyone with information related to the May 5, 1985 disappearance of Natasha Shanes from a Jackson home may contact Crime Stoppers of Mid Michigan at 517-483-STOP (7867) or Detective Michael Galbreath of the Jackson Police Department at 517-788-4100.
Natasha would be 44 now. Age-progression photos, created by forensic experts in 2009 and 2013, show how she might look in her 20s and 30s.
At the time of her disappearance, the brown-eyed, strawberry blonde child had a scar on her right cheek from a dog bite, a small scar on her forehead from falling into gravel, and a strawberry mark on the back of her neck, according to NameUs.
Missing from Jackson
Other unresolved Jackson County missing person cases, as reported by the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NameUs, a national repository for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases.
* Kelly Harris, last seen Aug. 10, 1984 at her Jackson home when she was 13. Her bike was found the same day, some miles away.
* Kimberly Belcher, of Jackson, last seen in 2000 when she was 44.
* Tonia Stiles, last seen at her Grass Lake home on Nov. 18, 2010 when she was 34. An acquaintance, one of the last people to see Stiles, died by suicide several weeks after he was interviewed by police regarding Stiles’ disappearance.
* Tanja Stuermer, possibly last seen by a neighbor in the hallway of her Jackson apartment building on Dec. 20, 2018 when she was 39.
* Tanova Ross, of Blackman Township, last seen Feb. 2, 2020 when she was 33, exiting a hotel where she had left her belongings behind.
Source: The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System
Visit fbi.gov/news/apps/child-id-app for information about an app designed by the FBI to help parents and other caregivers get photos and identifying information to police quickly if a child goes missing.