NEW MADRID COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - Fifty-year-old Monica Keenlance of central Illinois was constantly on the run.
Her family says she suffered from severe paranoia. She lived out of her car, driving from state to state.
She often stayed at rest areas waiting for her monthly check.
“Hundreds of people pass through these rest areas on a daily basis from all over the United States," said New Madrid County Sheriff Terry Stevens. “And they’re not all good people.”
And when Keenlance decided to stay at a New Madrid County rest area last October she had no idea she was running out of time.
“We haven’t come across any kind of tie to Southeast Missouri, to anything”, Stevens said. “Why she would even be in this area, much less murdered here.”
The mystery surrounding Monica Keenlance's death seems only to be topped by the mystery surrounding her life.
“Well, certainly it’s a tough case," admitted Missouri Highway Patrol Master Sargent Bud Cooper. “I mean, the rest area is full of transient people that are just stopping for a moment."
Keenlance was one of those travelers.
Her sister, Christy Daly, said Monica had been diagnosed with a mental illness several years ago.
Family tried to help.
Instead, Monica hit the road, traveling state to state, convinced someone was out to get her. Countless notebooks found in her vehicle contain the license plate numbers of vehicles she thought were following her.
Just before noon on Halloween 2018 what seemed to be an irrational fear became reality when Monica Keenlance was shot dead at a New Madrid County rest area.
“Ms. Keenlance’s vehicle was backed into this area," Captain Chris Hensley with the New Madrid County Sheriff’s Office explained at the scene. “And she was laying here with her head facing the curb. And her feet were down here at the rear tire of her vehicle. The witness heard a shot and looked this way and seen a male and a female. And then followed by several other shots and seen the victim fall. And she made her way onto the other side of the rest area there looking for cover."
And you said when he left, he didn't go flying out of the scene, right? He just kind of took off like a normal traveler? I asked.
“That’s right," Hensley responded. “The witness stated that the suspect got into the driver’s side of the vehicle, remained there for several seconds, and then just pulled off calmly”.
The investigation into Keenlance’s killing quickly became hampered by something officers learned they did not have - video of the crime. Missouri rest areas are not equipped with surveillance cameras.
“I just think it’s really ridiculous that a public place, state funded, state operated, doesn’t have better security in place”, said Sheriff Stevens. Forced to think outside the box, they began looking for cases like hers.
“Similar gun calibers," Cooper said. "Stranger on stranger. Homicides that occur at a rest area.”
They also began digging into Keenlance’s life.
“From our subpoenaing her bank records, I think she was waiting on a deposit to hit probably the first of the month,” Cooper said.
Investigators also question why both Keenlance and her killer backed their vehicles into these spots.
“It shows some type of relationship," Cooper said. “And we’re not sure what the relationship was. Why they were both backed in.”
Keenlance’s sister says the family’s torn between thinking Monica’s death came at the hands of a stranger, or someone she may have known.
Investigators do have the bullet that killed Keenlance and surveillance video they believe shows her killer shortly after he left the scene.
It shows a grainy image of a red SUV traveling on Interstate 55.
“The video comes from a business that is first exit south of there, which is only about a mile," Cooper explained. “It’s a camera that shoots out to their front parking lot that just happens to catch part of southbound interstate 55”.
And you believe it’s the suspect’s vehicle? Why? I asked.
“From the description that the eye witness told us. And the time stamp on the video,” Cooper said.
Monica Keenlance lived a life on the run, surrounded by a car full of belongings and a head full of fears.
Now, her death leaves these investigators with a case they fear could turn cold fast if they can’t piece together what happened that rainy Halloween afternoon.
“Somebody may have encountered this woman," Sheriff Stevens said. “Maybe not in southeast Missouri. Maybe somewhere down the road. And they encountered this woman. And interacted with her. Or someone that saw her at the rest area here where the crime occurred. It may be in their mind insignificant, what piece of information they have. But it may be the missing piece that we’re looking for.”
Monica Keenlance's family wants her story shared, hoping it can help other families dealing with a loved one's mental illness.
Authorities hope sharing it can lead to a break in her case.
And again, that break could come from anywhere in the United States.