It was around 6:00 pm on Sunday, May 24, 2009, and 5-year-old Nevaeh Buchanan was bored. Hoping to find someone to play with, she asked her mother, Jennifer, if she could go visit one of her friends who lived in the same Monroe, Michigan apartment building. Jennifer, who was watching television at the time, barely looked up as she gave her daughter permission to go over to her friend’s place; the friend lived just seconds away and Nevaeh was always running back and forth between the two apartments.
About 20 minutes after Nevaeh had left, Jennifer heard a knock at the apartment door. When she opened the door, she saw another child who lived in the apartment building. The girl, who Jennifer described as being a tattletale, told her that Nevaeh was riding her scooter in the road, something she knew she wasn’t allowed to do. Jennifer told the child that she would take care of it.
It took Jennifer a few minutes to put on a pair of shoes and make her way down to the back door of the apartment building. She scanned the back parking lot for her daughter, but there was no sign of Nevaeh or her scooter. Intending to put Nevaeh in time-out when she found her, Jennifer then checked the playground at a neighboring school, but the little girl wasn’t there either.
Jennifer assumed that Nevaeh had already gone back inside, and she spent the next 45 minutes knocking on apartment doors trying to find her daughter. It soon became apparent that none of the residents had seen the 5-year-old. Growing worried, Jennifer headed back outside and began walking around the complex. As she rounded a corner of her apartment building, she found Nevaeh’s purple and green scooter, but there was no sign of Nevaeh. Fearing the worst, Jennifer called the Monroe Police Department and reported her daughter missing. She then called her mom, Sherry, who was just finishing work for the night. In a panic, Sherry raced home, managing to beat the police there.
Nevaeh lived in the Charlotte Arms apartment complex with her mother and her grandmother. She hadn’t seen her father, Shane Hinojosa, in years; he lived in Toledo, Ohio, and played no real role in her life. Nevaeh had just graduated from preschool three days earlier and had been looking forward to summer and spending time with her friends.
Neighbors described the little girl as somewhat timid; she tended to stick close to her friends and was not one to wander around on her own. She spoke in a very soft voice and didn’t trust anyone she didn’t know. There was no way she would have willingly gone off with a stranger.
Law enforcement responded immediately to the missing child report. Dozens of officers, along with a small army of volunteers, began combing through the wooded area surrounding the apartment complex while investigators started conducting a door-to-door search of each apartment. As hours went by without any information about Nevaeh’s whereabouts, detectives told reporters that they feared the little girl was in extreme danger.
One resident told police she had been out on her balcony sometime after 6:00 pm and had seen Nevaeh riding her scooter with a couple of other children. She then went inside for a while and when she came back out she saw Nevaeh’s scooter sitting by the side of the building but no sign of Neveah. She didn’t hear anything at all until a short while later, when she heard Jennifer yelling for her daughter. Her account confirmed Jennifer’s timeline of events but did little to help locate the missing child.
The following day was Memorial Day, and hundreds of people postponed their holiday celebrations so they could help in the search for the missing girl. Due to her young age and the fact that she had never been the type of child to stray far from home, officials believed that Nevaeh had been abducted. With this in mind, local police called for assistance from the FBI and the Michigan State Police.
Although Shane Hinojosa hadn’t seen his daughter in years, he was shaken by the news of her disappearance and traveled to Michigan from Ohio to help in the search. He pitched a tent near Nevaeh’s apartment building and told reporters that he intended to stay until his daughter was found.
The search continued throughout Tuesday, and by the end of the day investigators had gone through all 180 apartments in the complex without finding any trace of Nevaeh. Officers and volunteers expanded their search efforts into surrounding neighborhoods, but detectives believed that the person responsible for the little girl’s disappearance might be much closer to home.
During their initial investigation, detectives learned that Jennifer, who was 24, had been dating 39-year-old George Kennedy, a registered se*x offender who was on parole at the time. Under the conditions of his parole, he wasn’t allowed to be alone with or around children; he was also prohibited from having a romantic relationship with anyone associated with a child. On Monday, police arrested him for violating these conditions, though they refrained from calling him a suspect in Nevaeh’s disappearance.
Jennifer was asked to take a polygraph examination on Tuesday and she agreed to do so. She later admitted to reporters that she had failed one question, but blamed this on both a lack of sleep and the fact that she believed police were holding her against her will. “I wanted to be out there trying to find my daughter. I understand they have to look at me but I don’t know where she is.”
Officials confirmed that Jennifer had failed at least one question on the polygraph but denied that she was being held against her will. They pointed out that she had voluntarily agreed to take the exam; she had known that she was not under arrest and was free to leave at any time. Police also stated that a man who was a convicted s*ex offender had also failed a polygraph; although they declined to provide this man’s identity, it was assumed to be George.
Monroe County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield stated on Wednesday that they hadn’t made any arrests in the case but did have two persons of interest. One was George Kennedy; the other was 48-year-old Roy Smith, another convicted se*x offender who was friends with both Jennifer and George. Both men were being held in jail on parole violations while the investigation into Nevaeh’s disappearance continued.
The fact that Jennifer had allowed two convicted s*ex offenders to be in close contact with her daughter outraged the public and they were quick to blame her for the 5-year-old’s disappearance. Jennifer was unapologetic. She said that she was aware of the fact that George was a registered se*x offender but believed in giving people second chances. She stated that she didn’t think it was a cr*ime to have her daughter around him but claimed she had never left Nevaeh alone with George.
Jennifer and George had met at their parole office in 2007; Jennifer had recently been released from prison after serving 11 months for burglarizing homes to support a drug habit. Her mother, Sherry, had obtained custody of Nevaeh while Jennifer was in prison and was still her legal guardian at the time of her disappearance. Jennifer had made great strides in turning her life around — she was off drugs and determined to never go back to prison — but her taste in men was certainly questionable.
As detectives continued their investigation, they determined that two of Nevaeh’s friends had likely been the last people to see her before she was abducted. The children — ages 6 and 8 — told police that they had been riding their bicycles with Nevaeh in the parking lot of the apartment building around 6:30 pm. Exactly what happened after that was unclear.
The 6-year-old told police that she last saw Nevaeh heading towards the woods to meet “Daddy George” — Nevaeh’s name for George Kennedy. The 8-year-old claimed that Nevaeh had been kidnapped by an unidentified “bad man” who then stabbed her in the stomach with a knife. The child said that he had tried to help Nevaeh but he couldn’t; he was unable to provide any other details and detectives were unsure if the children had actually witnessed anything or were just traumatized over Nevaeh’s disappearance and were imagining what might have happened to her.
On Wednesday, investigators executed a search warrant at the hotel room where George had been staying before his arrest. Several items, including a pair of shorts and a towel stained with blood, were taken into evidence and sent to the cri*me lab for further testing. Investigators also located pictures of a girl who resembled Nevaeh and what appeared to be bloodstains on one of the walls. It was an ominous discovery.
The van George normally drove, which belonged to Roy Smith, was also searched, and a bloodstained multi-tool was found in the glove compartment. This was also submitted to the cri*me lab for analysis.
By Thursday, there had been little progress in locating Nevaeh. Although officials stated that they had no evidence the little girl was dead, the town of Monroe was quickly losing hope that she would be found alive. The physical search was going strong — more than 500 people showed up to assist in the search on Friday — but it was clear that most of them were looking for a body, not a living child.
As Friday came to a close, investigators learned that the blood found in George’s hotel room and on the multi-tool did not belong to Nevaeh. They had mixed emotions about the news. On the one hand, this gave them renewed hope that the missing girl might still be alive, but on the other hand. it weakened the case they had been building against George. They had focused on him from the start; the idea that he might not be involved was a blow to the investigation.
A candlelight vigil was held in the parking lot of the Charlotte Arms apartments on Saturday night, and more than 200 people showed up to pray for Nevaeh. While community members prayed, detectives renewed their efforts to find potential witnesses who could have seen Nevaeh in the minutes before she vanished. Although there had been a few children at the Hollywood Elementary School playground that night, none of them recalled seeing anything unusual.
As the investigation entered its tenth day, it seemed to be in danger of stalling. Detectives had followed up on more than 800 tips without developing any substantial leads. They had interviewed all the residents of the Charlotte Arms apartment complex and everyone who came through the complex regularly, including delivery drivers, ice cream truck companies, and mail carriers. Nothing brought them any closer to finding Nevaeh.
The search came to a heartbreaking end the following day, when a father and son made a gruesome discovery while fishing on the banks of the River Raisin. One of the men noticed that part of the riverbank seemed to be crumbling under his feet, and when he took a closer look, he noticed that he was standing on a cement-filled hole. He noticed a horrible smell when he poked around in the soil, and was horrified to see what appeared to be human flesh underneath the crumbling concrete. The two men fled and called the police.
Investigators immediately responded to the riverbank and quickly roped the area off as a cri*me scene. It took them nearly 10 hours to excavate the makeshift grave, which was located in Raisinville Township, just 12 miles away from where Nevaeh had last been seen. Although it would take time before the body was officially identified, detectives were certain that Nevaeh had been found. On June 9th, the medical examiner confirmed their fears.
Nevaeh had been b*uried face-down in a shallow grave; after her ki*ller had placed her body in the soil, he had covered her with fast-drying cement mix. The medical examiner determined that she had likely been bu*ried there shortly after she had been abducted and due to decomposition the cause of her dea*th was not immediately apparent. There were no obvious signs of trauma on her body, ruling out gu*nshots or stab wounds. There were also no signs of se*xual assault.
After completing an autopsy, the medical examiner ruled that Nevaeh had died of asphyxiation from inhaling dirt. From the amount of dirt found in her lungs, it was clear that she had not died quickly; she had struggled fiercely for her life. Although it was possible that someone had kil*led her by pressing her face tightly into the dirt and holding it there, the medical examiner believed she had most likely been bu*ried alive. It was a horrific thought.
The entire city of Monroe grieved for the 5-year-old and the brutal way she died, and they came together as a community when it was time for her funeral. Donations poured in, as everyone wanted to give the little girl the best send-off possible. After learning how much Nevaeh had loved motorcycles — she had even named her favorite stuffed dog Harley — someone donated a Harley Davidson hearse to carry her casket. The entire cost of her funeral and burial was covered by donations.
More than 800 people attended Nevaeh’s visitation, where her beloved stuffed beagle was perched on top of her tiny white casket. Motorcycle groups showed up in force to participate in her funeral procession, which was over a mile in length. On the way to the cemetery, the procession detoured to drive past two of Nevaeh’s favorite places to play.
Investigators followed up with all the home improvement and construction supply stores in the area, trying to develop a lead on who might have purchased the cement used to entomb Nevaeh’s body. Unfortunately, they hit a dead end.
Although George Kennedy remained their prime person of interest, detectives were unable to find any evidence linking him to the cri*me. Not wanting to get tunnel vision, they continued to investigate everyone who could have come in contact with Nevaeh on the night she was abducted.
Two months after Nevaeh’s body was found, police executed a search warrant at her apartment building. During the autopsy, several fibers were found under Neveah’s nails. Investigators took samples from several carpets in the building, presumably to see if they were a match for those found by the medical examiner. If they found anything relevant, it was not released to the public.
A few months after the mu*rder, Sherry moved out of the Charlotte Arms apartment complex, opting to relocate to a mobile home with her sister. She couldn’t handle living with all the good memories she had with her granddaughter in that apartment, and struggled to deal with the fact that she was never going to see her again.
The case soon faded from the headlines. Although a reward for information was offered and increased several times, none of the tips that were called in led to any breaks in the case. On the third anniversary of the cri*me, police announced that they were close to making an arrest, but it never materialized. In 2016, a spokesperson for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said that they did have a suspect in the case but declined to identify him. They did say that he was in prison on unrelated charges and therefore he posed no risk to the public while investigators worked on building a case against him.
There have been no significant updates about the case in recent years, but officials insist that it is not a cold case and they continue to actively work on it. In 2021, they submitted evidence from the case to the FBI for further analysis using technology not available at the time of the initial investigation; it’s possible new testing may finally reveal the identity of the kil*ler.
Nevaeh Buchanan was just 5 years old when she was brutally mur*dered in 2009. She was somewhat shy and a bit of a tomboy who loved motorcycles and had a large collection of stuffed animals that covered her bed. She had graduated from preschool just three days before she was ki*lled, and she had excitedly raced across the stage to grab her little diploma when her name was called, a little girl full of promise, hopes, and dreams. Everything was taken away from her by a kil*ler who has managed to evade justice for more than 13 years. Investigators believe that someone out there knows who k*illed Neveah and hope that they will come forward so they can finally obtain justice for Neveah. If you have any information about Nevaeh’s mu*rder, please contact 734–240–7000.