Sherlena “Penny” Burgess (April 22, 1980 – Sept 14, 2003) and La Shonia “Shon” Yvette Austin (Nov 13, 1978 – Sept 19, 2003) were murdered after a night out on Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee. One of my readers alerted me to this case. There is not much online. That’s why this is the Case of the Month for September 2019.
La Shonia “Shon” Yvette Austin (24) from Memphis, Tennessee, died on September 19, 2003. She had been shot. Shon left behind her daughter Shundria Austin, her parents Larry Donell Strong and Deloris Austin, and brothers Rodney D. Fondren and Philip D. Cole, and sister LaQuil Andrew. Shon was an assistant lab technician at the West Clinic in Memphis, a member of Second Concord M.B. Church, an usher, and a choir member.
Sherlena “Penny” Burgess (23) from Southaven, Tennessee, died on September 14, 2003. She had been shot too. She left behind her parents Lorane and Shirley McKinney Burgess and brothers Shedrick McKinney and Lorane Burgess Jr. Penny was the assistant manager for Foot Action at the Southland Mall in Memphis, a member of Second Concord M.B. Church, and a choir member.
On Sept 13, 2003, Burgess picked up her cousin Austin at her North Memphis apartment after she had finished work. They were going out at Beale Street. Burgess was driving her blue Ford Taurus. It was a little after 10pm. Burgess parked her car at the garage at Front and Monroe near the Peabody Hotel.
At approx. 330am on Sept 14, 2003, the cousins started their walk back to the garage. Police said that an acquaintance from Austin offered to drive them back to Burgess’ car. Supposedly this acquaintance dropped them off (note that we do not know where they were dropped off or whether this person was cleared as a suspect) but it is a fact that the cousins never drove away from that garage in Burgess’ car. Police found it there.
“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. Burgess called her boyfriend, with whom she shared an apartment on Southaven, Mississippi. “He said that he talked to them on the telephone at about 400am Sunday morning,” said Captain Cliff Freeman of the Southaven Police Department. They were at the Ihop on Perkins near American Way.
Amy McKinney, a waitress, 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. So the cousins were joined by a few other women. Who were these women? Who was watching this group of women? Do we know anything about the other patrons that were in Ihop at that time?
Around 5pm on Sept 14, 2003, Burgess’ boyfriend reports her missing. She had not come home all day (is that out of character and if so why did he not call earlier?) and had not shown up for work. By this time, Burgess’ remains had already been found. She was face down in a ditch, shot dead, near a cemetery west of Elvis Presley Boulevard.
Police was now frantically searching for Austin. She was found several days later in an abandoned house at 758 Cherokee. Memphis Police Lt. Joe Scott told the Commercial Appeal newspaper that someone “was walking by and noticed the door was open to that residence.” Her body was decomposing. She was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. She had a gunshot wound to the head.
The Shelby County Medical Examiner said that both women had been shot to death. No mention of other trauma, how many gun shots or, sexual assault so I do not know if there is DNA available.
Police believe that the cousins knew their murder(s). They accepted a ride from an acquaintance. What happened to that acquaintance? What happened to these two cousins when they were going from Beale Street back to a downtown parking garage? Did they walk to the Ihop on Perkins and American Way? What else is on the route from that cemetery and vacant house in South Memphis?
The authorities took surveillance tapes from Ihop and other establishments in the downtown area. However, no arrests have been made and the cases remain unsolved.
Rest in peace, Sherlena “Penny” Burgess and La Shonia “Shon” Yvette Austin.
If you have any information about these murders please contact Crime Stoppers at 528-CASH or the Memphis Homicide Bureau at 901 545-5300.
In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight old cold cases. These posts are not an in-depth analysis and of course, often more information can be found online and in newspaper archives.
The goal of these posts is to get the cases back in the spotlights, to get people talking again, and if anything to make sure that we do not forget the victims. Just because their cases are unsolved does not mean that we can forget about them.
If you have any thoughts about this case I encourage you to post them on your own social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. Every time that we mention Sherlena “Penny” Burgess and La Shonia “Shon” Yvette Austin online we enhance their digital footprint.
We must make sure that they keeps their web presence if we ever wish to find answers in their case. You can help by linking to or sharing this post.
Thank you for remembering Sherlena “Penny” Burgess and La Shonia “Shon” Yvette Austin with us.