When the five Markley children returned home from school on the afternoon of Friday, December 15, 1995, they were surprised to find that the door was unlocked but the house was empty. Their parents, John and Shelly Markley, had both been at their rural Bristolville, Ohio home when the children left that morning; although John normally would have been at work, his twin sister had died earlier in the week and he had taken a few days off to prepare for her viewing and funeral. The children had expected both of their parents to be at the house, but John’s red and silver pickup truck was not parked in its usual spot in the driveway. Inside, there were signs that the couple had left the house in a hurry, as a coffeepot was still boiling on the stove and Shelly’s purse was in the kitchen.
Shelly, who was a stay-at-home mom, was always at the house when her kids got home from school; on the rare occasion where she had to run out, she would make sure to leave a note on the table detailing where she was and when she would be back. On this particular afternoon, there was no note, indicating that Shelly hadn’t planned on going anywhere.
As the children looked around the house, they noticed a few other things that seemed unusual. Their father never went anywhere without his wristwatch, but it was sitting on a shelf above the stove. Shelly’s cigarettes and lighter were sitting on the kitchen table alongside a half-finished cup of coffee; the children knew their mother would never leave the house without taking her cigarettes with her.
Upstairs in their parents’ bedroom, the children discovered that the door to their father’s gun cabinet had been left open; John always kept the cabinet securely locked so the children couldn’t access his guns. None of the kids even knew how many guns their father owned, so they were unable to tell if any of the guns were missing. A small safe that their parents usually kept locked was also open, and there were birth certificates and other pieces of paper scattered around the master bedroom.
The five children, who ranged in age from 8 to 15, weren’t sure what to make of the situation. It was clear that John and Shelly had been prepared to go to the viewing for John’s sister that evening, as the clothes they planned to wear were carefully laid out on their bed. Somewhat confused, the children called relatives and tried to explain what they found at the house. Their aunt and uncle picked them up and took them to the funeral home for the viewing that evening, assuming that John and Shelly would eventually arrive.
Hours passed and there was no sign of John and Shelly. At first, relatives wondered if the de*ath of his twin sister, Bonnie Donaldson, had simply been too much for John to handle. Bonnie had lost her three-year battle with cancer two days earlier, and John’s other siblings knew that he had been upset and depressed about her dea*th. Perhaps the idea of going to her viewing had been more than John could bear. There was still no sign of them at the house, though, and they hadn’t tried to call anyone. The children’s aunt and uncle spent the night at the home with them, hoping John and Shelly would return.
When John and Shelly failed to show up at Bonnie’s funeral the following afternoon, their relatives knew that something had to be wrong. John’s brother-in-law, Thomas Yeager, noted that the disappearance was so far out of the couple’s character that he was scared; he and his wife, Judy, called the police and reported the couple missing.
John’s siblings admitted to police that John had been extremely upset about Bonnie’s d*eath; from the time she had been diagnosed with breast cancer three years earlier, John had been convinced that she would manage to beat it. He told everyone that he had never prayed so hard about anything in his life, and he believed that God would heal his sister. When her doctor told her that there was nothing else that could be done for her, John had helped raise $15,000 so Bonnie could see a doctor in Mexico about experimental treatment. When it became clear that nothing they did was going to keep Bonnie alive, John told everyone that he had completely lost his faith and was angry at God.
Investigators learned that Bonnie’s d*eath had been the latest in a string of losses for the couple. They had lost their home to a fire in July 1993; a year after that, John’s father had died. A few months later, one of the couple’s nephews had committed suicide. Despite their losses, family members were adamant that the couple never would have willingly abandoned their five children.
Detectives found no signs of forced entry into the home and it didn’t appear that anything had been stolen. John’s 1978 Corvette was still parked in its usual spot in the garage, but the tarps that normally covered it were missing. This was a red flag to his siblings; they told investigators that John would never have left the car uncovered.
Bonnie’s purse, containing her wallet and identification had been left behind, but the couple’s checkbook appeared to be missing. When investigators obtained the couple’s banking records, they learned that they had cashed a personal check for $1,000 at 10:36 am on the day that they disappeared. A teller at the Cortland Bank in North Bloomfield, Ohio recalled that they had used the bank’s drive-thru for the transaction; they had been in John’s red and silver pickup truck and there had been an unidentified male in the truck with them.
The transaction was somewhat puzzling to those who knew John and Shelly. The money that they had withdrawn was part of a $1,500 loan they had recently taken out so John could buy new tires for his semi-truck. They had received the loan several weeks earlier and had deposited the check, but hadn’t yet picked out the tires John wanted. It seemed odd that they would suddenly decide to withdraw $1,000 in cash. The family also wondered who the third person might have been; the teller was only able to recall that Shelly had been seated in between her husband, who was driving, and a slender male.
The children’s various aunts and uncles did what they could to shield the children from the situation, bringing them a Christmas tree to decorate and having the younger children write letters to Santa. John, who was the youngest of the five children and the only boy, had only one thing on his Christmas list. He asked Santa to bring his parents back.
When John’s pickup truck was found abandoned Saturday afternoon, investigators admitted that it was starting to look as if foul play might have been involved in the couple’s disappearance. The truck had been found in the parking lot of a market about 10 miles away from the Markley’s home. The keys to the truck were missing, but investigators determined that it was in good working order with no mechanical problems. The couple’s cell phone was found in the cab of the truck, and the truck’s exterior was muddy, as if it had been driven off-road at some point.
John’s relatives pointed out that John never would have left the truck in such a condition. He kept it immaculate and would never have driven it off-road. They worried that someone had ki*lled the couple and then used John’s truck to dispose of their bodies. Oddly, the tarps that had been removed from John’s Corvette were found in the bed of the pickup truck.
More than 100 friends and neighbors gathered on Sunday to search for the missing couple. They combed through hundreds of acres of land surrounding their Bristolville home, but found no clues as to their whereabouts. Helicopters scanned the area from above, covering Bristolville as well as the surrounding communities of Champion, Farmington, and Howland. Nothing was found.
Prior to their disappearance, John and Shelly had appeared to live a completely normal life. They had been married for 16 years and were the parents of four daughters and one son. John worked as a truck driver while Shelly stayed home with their kids; they had a solid marriage and no financial problems. Shelly was known as a doting mother who never had any problems managing the schedules of five children, while John was known for being the more over-protective parent.
For several weeks, relatives of the children tried to assure them that their parents would be back soon. They told them that their father had simply needed to take some time away to come to terms with the d*eath of his twin sister, and he and their mother would be back once he was feeling better. Although the children appeared to believe them at first, by the time the new year arrived, they were all starting to sense that their situation was unlikely to have a happy end. John’s sister, Linda Mason, along with her husband, Gene, moved into the Markley’s home to take care of the five children.
A couple of weeks after John and Shelly vanished, the family received a phone call from a man who claimed that he was holding the couple hostage and would release them once he was paid a $10,000 ransom. Linda Mason, who had taken the phone call, immediately alerted police, and they soon determined that the call had been made by Steven Durst, a former co-worker of John.
Steven had been out of work for a while and had allegedly told people before the couple went missing that John had owed him money, but detectives found nothing to suggest that he had anything to do with the couple’s disappearance. They believed that he had simply tried to take financial advantage of the situation and he was arrested and charged with a felony count of extortion. He was later convicted and sentenced to serve 4 to 10 years in prison.
Family members seemed to think that Steven might have had more to do with the disappearance than police believed; they noted that Steven had been telling people that John owed him $1,000, the same amount that was taken out of the Markley’s checking account on the day they went missing. The bank teller was unable to identify Steven as the man seen in the truck with John and Shelly, though, and authorities found nothing linking him to the couple’s disappearance.
John’s truck was the only piece of physical evidence that was ever recovered in the case. Investigators received few tips about the missing couple and the investigation quickly went cold. Although they have reactivated the case several times over the years — most recently in 2015 — they still lack the information needed to determine what happened to John and Shelly. They believe that they were ki*lled, most likely on the same day that they went missing, but they have never been able to locate their remains.
The family has never given up the hope that John and Shelly will be found. Over the years, they have consulted psychics and been guests on several national talk shows; John and Shelly’s disappearance has also been featured on “Unsolved Mysteries.” Despite their efforts, the family still has no idea what happened to the couple on that December day. They have resigned themselves to the fact that John and Shelly are almost certainly dead, but would like to be able to give them a proper burial.
John Markley was 36 years old when he went missing in 1995. He has green eyes and brown hair, and at the time of his disappearance he was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed approximately 160 pounds. He has a scar on his back and one on his right forearm.
Shelly Markley was 31 years old when she went missing in 1995. She has blue eyes and brown hair and at the time of her disappearance she was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 125 pounds. She was wearing a gold ring with two diamonds and stud earrings. She has freckles and a scar on her right forearm.
If you have any information about John or Shelly Markley, please contact the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Department at 330–675–2540.