Three years ago, a landscaper at Awbury Arboretum in Philadelphia’s Germantown section noticed something strange. A hole he had spotted dug on a trail had been filled. He summoned police. They dug and found the body of a murder victim, stabbed to death.
At about the same time that summer, the family of Rashid Young started receiving text messages from him — instead of visits. The message said their 22-year-old son no longer wished to see them.
The family didn’t believe it. As his disappearance stretched on, they demanded answers from law enforcement and hired a private detective. This week, prosecutors confirmed that the body in the arboretum was their son. And they said Young had been killed by a boyfriend who “took over the victim’s life,” impersonating him on social media, driving his car and siphoning money from his bank account, which held the proceeds from a $2 million lawsuit settlement.
Prosecutors in Montgomery County charged Keshaun Sheffield, 20, with Young’s murder, accusing him of killing Young in August 2019 in Young’s apartment on High Street in Pottstown and then burying his body in the arboretum, not far from Sheffield’s home in East Mount Airy.
District Attorney Kevin Steele, said the murder stemmed from the violent, unstable relationship the men had shared for two years. Steele credited Young’s family for pushing for the case to be solved.
“Since 2019, the family of the victim has been searching for answers about what happened,” Steele said. “We are at the point where the family, who has been grieving for some time, will have the remains of their son and brother back.”
Still, Young’s mother, Kimberly Cyrus, is left with an abiding sadness
“This arrest gives us some closure, but it still hurts that this even had to happen in the first place,” Cyrus said. “My son shouldn’t be dead.”
Sheffield remained in custody, denied bail. His attorney, Marni Jo Snyder, declined to comment Wednesday.
When Sheffield buried his victim, he left an important clue behind, investigators said. Police summoned to the site on Sept. 30, 2019 found a borough-issued recycling bin from Pottstown near the grave. Still, the case only came together in the last few weeks in a rush of forensic work, the words of a new informant and complicated electronic sleuthing into those social media messages.
In an interview Wednesday, Cyrus said she was almost immediately skeptical about the text message purporting to be from her son and never believed those reading “leave me alone” and “I don’t want nothing to do with you or anybody.” The most suspicious, she said, came in a reply to her message saying that Young’s youngest brother had suffered a seizure. The text message back was dismissive, saying Young couldn’t help his family.
“That wasn’t like him, because he would’ve come here first thing to check on his brother,” Cyrus said. “Just getting these messages didn’t sit right with any of us, because we knew wouldn’t send anything like that.”
Cyrus said her son was a caring man who was fiercely protective of his family. A worker for a Pottstown pizzeria when he was killed, Young had studied acting at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York and had dreams of a career in Hollywood, his mother said.
Sheffield allegedly also sent similar text messages to Young’s friends, posing as his victim, according to the arrest affidavit in the case. Simultaneously, Sheffield told the friends he hadn’t had any contact with Young since the time of his disappearance because Young had ended their relationship.
All the time, Sheffield was withdrawing money from Young’s bank account, pocketing payments Young was receiving out of a civil settlement that was paying out in modest installments. They ended when Young’s family froze the account five months after his disappearance.
And Sheffield was driving Young’s 2018 Honda Pilot SUV.
Police in Pottstown had also talked with Sheffield by phone in the summer of 2019, after Young’s landlord provided Sheffield’s number; the landlord had told officers Sheffield and Young had shared Young’s apartment and had left it water damaged. Sheffield told police that Young and he had had a domestic dispute and he was no longer in touch with Young.
In Philadelphia, two days after the body was found in the park, the medical examiner completed an autopsy and determined that the victm had been stabbed multiple times.
A week after that, on Oct. 8, 2019, the Philadelphia Homicide squad contacted Pottstown police to alert them about the bin. Police tracked it to Young’s apartment building on the block where Young lived.
Then progress on the case seemed to come to halt. In December 2019, Sheffield even contacted Pottstown police to report Young missing. Still, it appears police made no further headway in a case that stretched between Philadelphia and Pottstown..
The breakthrough finally came this year, on April 14, when an investigator hired by the Young family contacted Steele’s office. At last, detectives began piecing together the clues.
They learned that cellphone data determined that many of the messages Young allegedly sent to family and friends were sent while the phone was on the Philadelphia block of Sheffield’s mother.
And, crucially, a witness came forward to say that Sheffield, then 17, had confessed to stabbing Young in 2019, according to the affidavit. The witness, whom police did not identify, told detectives on Saturday that Sheffield in August 2019 had told him he killed Young because he “had to” and that he claimed Young had pulled a knife on him first.
The body was transported to the arboretum in the bin, authorities believe.
The witness also told detectives that he helped Sheffield dig the hole for Young’s body, but left before the burial, the affidavit said. The informant, who said he, too, was in a relationship with Sheffield, was not charged.
The following day after the informant’s interview, investigators used dental records to officially identify the body found in the arboretum as Rashid Young.