By RACHEL C. DOVE
WILLIAMSON - Connie Rockel, wife of Williamson Police Chief C.D. Rockel, who was formerly employed with the department as an parking enforcement officer, was honored in 2001 by then WV Governor Bob Wise for the vital role she played in the successful capture of a female who had kidnapped a 16 month-old toddler from Chicago, Illinois.
Rockel, along with Roby Pope, who served as the police chief during that time period and West Virginia State Police Sgt. Stuart Harper were credited for the arrest of the defendant and for the reunion of a little girl and her family in a case that began on a cold, snowy Christmas Eve inside a Greyhound Bus Station in Illinois.
This evening at 10 p.m. on the Investigation Discovery Channel (I.D., channel 79 on Suddenlink), the series entitled “FBI Criminal Pursuit Investigations” will tell baby Jasmine’s story, “The woman with the neck tattoos”, and will feature interviews with the three local individuals who were involved.
Rockel sat down for an interview with the Williamson Daily News and explained how the bizarre incident played out.
“I was employed with the city as a meter maid,” began Rockel. “While writing parking tickets one day during the summer of 2001, I was approached by a female that asked me for directions to the tattoo parlor here in town.”
“She was a very talkative, friendly sort of woman who began telling me what she was going to have done at the tattoo shop, as well as other information pertaining to her life including the fact that her boyfriend was getting released from prison.”
“The woman, who identified herself as Shelia Matthews, had a tattoo on her neck with the name “Lee”. She had this retouched to read “Leo”, and also had “Aquarius” tattooed on the opposite side,” explained Rockel, who added that Matthews had tracked her down on the streets of town to show her what the new ink looked like after it was completed.
“She liked to talk,” said Rockel. “I mean she really liked to talk. I had seen her a few times after that over the next few months and would never have imagined how beneficial meeting and speaking with her would turn out to be.”
While manning the phones at the police station the evening of Dec. 27, 2001, Rockel received a phone call from a Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agent, who asked her if any of the police were familiar with the name Shelia Matthews, to which Rockel replied, “I am.” During the agent’s questioning as to how she knew the female, Rockel said that when she told him about the tattoo’s on Matthew’s neck, this was information that they were not aware of and were grateful to receive it.
“They knew she had a tattoo but they didn’t know what type, and definitely didn’t know about the second one that had been done a few months before,” said Rockel. “When I asked why they were searching for Matthews, I was shocked when I was told the reason.”
Two days before Rockel received the call, an incident occurred inside a Greyhound Station in Chicago, Illinois, that is every parent’s nightmare. A female who befriended and offered to help a frazzled mother who was trying to manage a 3 year-old and a 16 month-old toddler had an ulterior motive in mind, and quickly disappeared into the crowd with the toddler in tow after she volunteered to hold her while the mother went to the front desk to ask for a ticket refund.
In the Jan. 14, 2002 edition of People Magazine, the mother, Marcella Anderson from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, told of the unspeakable horror she felt when she turned around and realized the woman and her little girl were nowhere to be found.
The story of the abduction, however; doesn’t begin here. The wheels were set in motion well over 2 years before the kidnapping when Matthews informed her African-American boyfriend, DeWallas Harris, who had been sentenced to prison for robbery that she was pregnant with his child, a fact that was not true. The lie didn’t stop there, but stretched as other untruths were added to the mix that included the birth of a biracial baby girl.
“When Matthews heard that her boyfriend was being released from prison and fully expected to meet his daughter for the first time, she panicked. She had to produce a child or else she would have to own up to her lie,” commented Rockel. “When he was released, she told him that the baby was staying with her mother and that she was scheduled to meet her at the bus station in Chicago to pick her up.”
“It’s really mind-blowing to see the scenes play out in your head that happened that Christmas Eve. Matthews went in the bus station, scoped out a toddler that fit the age of the child she had claimed to birth and befriended the mother, offering to hold her, and then disappeared along with the baby the first chance she had.”
Matthews, who has family in Mingo County, along with Harris and the toddler traveled to Williamson after a short visit with the boyfriend’s mother in Chicago for the Christmas holiday. Shortly after the couple left the Chicago area, the mother seen a picture of a little girl missing on the evening news and contacted the authorities, telling them she was certain the baby they were searching for was with her son and Matthews. Information was obtained from her as to where had stated they were going, and the search for Baby Jasmine turned its attention to Williamson.
“To not draw attention to us or cause Matthews to become suspicious, I agreed to go to the residence on Vinson Street where the baby was thought to be, in a private vehicle”, stated Rockel, who explained that there were no officers available at that time.
“I crawled in the back of the truck with a hand-held police radio and binoculars and kept watch until the federal agents arrived in town.”
Matthews was arrested without incident and Baby Jasmine was found alive and well, although she was suffering from an ear infection. The mother of the child flew to Charleston where a tearful reunion ensued. The grateful mom said she had never lost faith that her daughter would be recovered and returned to her.
The investigative show will reenact this crime, and will feature interviews with Rockel, Harper and Pope that were filmed in Williamson in February of this year.
“I’m just glad that the case ended the way it did and we were able to reunite Jasmine with her family”, stated Rockel. “Matthews was sentence to 12 years in a state correctional facility in Chicago and as far as I know, she hasn’t yet been released.”
Tune into the I.D. Channel show tonight at 10 p.m. to hear these along with additional facts about this case relived by three of Mingo County’s own.