LARGO — The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office announced a $50,000 reward Monday for information leading to the whereabouts of missing Indian Rocks Beach police cadet Kelly Rothwell.
The reward was unveiled on the one-year anniversary of Rothwell's disappearance.
Rothwell, 35, was last seen March 12, 2011, the day she told a friend she was going to end her relationship with David R. Perry, her longtime, live-in boyfriend. She was reported missing the next day.
In June, detectives named Perry the prime suspect. He left for Elmira, N.Y., the night Rothwell was reported missing, detectives said. The 47-year-old retired New York corrections officer has repeatedly ignored their requests to interview him.
Detectives and loved ones believe Rothwell is deceased.
"Kelly Rothwell is dead and her body is out there, dumped like a piece of trash. She doesn't deserve that," a tearful Donna Scharrett, Rothwell's best friend and the last person known to have seen her alive, said during a news conference Monday at the sheriff's administration building in Largo.
"The only thing I hope for — from Day 1 — is that we find Kelly's remains and get them back to her mother," she said. "I know justice will be done."
Case leads have waned, and Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he hoped Monday's news conference would jog people's memories or lead someone who may have been holding back information to come forward.
"It's usually a piece of information someone thinks means nothing that turns out to be something valuable to us," Gualtieri said.
Flanked by photos of Rothwell, Perry and their vehicles, Gualtieri ran through the case time line, highlighting actions by Perry that have fueled investigators' suspicions.
The day before Rothwell's disappearance, for example, Perry told people at Get Fitness Club in Largo that he and Rothwell were canceling their memberships and moving to Hawaii, Gualtieri said.
Scharrett last saw Rothwell about 3:30 p.m. March 12. Rothwell had made arrangements for a new apartment and was supposed to pick up keys at 6:30 p.m. then meet friends that night. Rothwell was a no-show for both appointments.
Scharrett received several text messages from Rothwell around 5:20 p.m. However, based on the odd wording, Scharrett and detectives do not believe Rothwell sent the messages.
When contacted by detectives the next day, Perry said little except that police should check with Rothwell's police academy friends, one of whom he claimed was a "love interest" he believed Rothwell was cheating with, Gualtieri said.
Investigators found her police academy binder and notes in the condominium's Dumpster.
Neither an interview with Perry's ex-wife, whom he married in Hawaii in August then divorced in December, nor a search of Rothwell's laptop have yielded information about Rothwell's whereabouts.
A search of State Road 52 and Interstate 75 in north Pasco County, where cell towers placed Perry's phone the day after Rothwell disappeared, turned up no evidence, Gualtieri said. Detectives say Perry also traveled to Oklahoma and Ohio shortly after he arrived in New York.
"Kelly's remains could be anywhere from Indian Rocks Beach to New York," Gualtieri said. "It really is looking for a needle in a haystack. That's why we need some information."
Half of the reward is being offered by Rothwell's family. The remaining $25,000 is from seized drug money, Gualtieri said. The money will be awarded for information that leads to the discovery of Rothwell alive — or her remains.
"It's so important to her family and friends that there be some kind of resolution," Gualtieri said. "We want closure for the family."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.