ZANESVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) – The owner of a Zanesville shack where Jordan Rivera’s decomposed body sat lifeless for days was sentenced to jail last month for failing to report the 32-year-old’s death. But his family is still searching for answers.

Timothy Norris, 62, pleaded guilty in a Muskingum County courtroom on March 27 to failing to report the death of Rivera, whose three-day-old corpse was left to decay in a shed at the bottom of a hill guarded by a “No Trespassing” sign on Culbertson Road. Detective Brad Shawger of the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office said Norris’ 30-day jail sentence and the absence of other incriminating evidence marked an end to the case.

Jordan’s family, however, said the circumstances surrounding the 32-year-old’s death – and their similarities to a Dresden man’s disappearance – give them a gut feeling that there’s more to the story.

“He was too young to die,” said Ricky Rivera, Jordan’s uncle.

Jordan Rivera’s final days

On Aug. 3, Jordan was last seen leaving his mother’s house in Zanesville, Ricky said. Two days later, his body was found slumped over on a chair in the Culbertson Road shack.

The Licking County Coroner’s Office found “a significant level of ethanol and a less than lethal level of fentanyl” in his system, leading the coroner to believe that the combination of depressants caused Jordan’s death, according to his autopsy report.

From left to right: Jordan Rivera’s grandmother Jeannie Everett, uncle Ricky Rivera and friend Tammy stand before the Culbertson Road shack where the 32-year-old was found dead in August 2022.

Jordan’s family is not so convinced.

“If Jordan was going to take fentanyl, there would’ve been way more in his system,” Ricky said, citing Jordan’s former drug addiction. Until his death, Jordan’s grandmother Jeannie Everett said he was sober for nearly a year – the toll of which weighed heavily.

“He had quit,” Everett said. “And I’m not saying he didn’t in his earlier days because he went to rehab and everything; he had issues, you know. But I’m telling you, he quit. He read his Bible every night. He was scared; for over a year, he was threatened.”

Ricky and other Rivera family members have urged the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office to perform DNA tests in the shack where Jordan’s body was found – along with the 32-year-old’s former car, that’s now in Ricky’s possession. When he opened the car door, Ricky said it “smelled like death.”

But according to Jordan’s autopsy, there was no evidence presented on his body to indicate foul play or a need for additional testing. Besides Norris – who admitted to believing Jordan’s body was in the shack – Shawger said no suspects nor persons of interest have emerged in the case, and a search of Jordan’s phone yielded no relevant information about his death.

“I have no leads on who provided the drugs to him,” Shawger said.

The disappearance of Travis Robbins

Less than a year before law enforcement located Rivera’s body, 29-year-old Travis Robbins, of the neighboring town Philo, was reported missing from the Trinway area in December 2020. 

About five months and dozens of volunteer- and law enforcement-led searches later, mushroom hunters found Robbins’ sparse remains in a covert, wooded area in Dresden, just north of Zanesville, on May 14, 2021, according to the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office.

A wooden cross engraved with Travis Robbins’ name stands on the side of Dresden Road near Zanesville. The 32-year-old’s sparse remains were found deep into the woods.

“The jeans he was wearing were never even found; the rosary around his neck was never found; his wallet was never found,” said Jamie Flowers, Travis’ aunt. “It’s just suspicious.”

Like Jordan, Travis battled a drug addiction at various points in his life. Both men are known to have run with similar crowds in Zanesville – including those that frequented the Culbertson Road shack for drugs, their families said.

The sheriff’s office ruled his death suspicious, but his body was so badly decomposed that the Licking County Coroner’s Office could not determine a cause of death. Small traces of norfentanyl, an inactive metabolite of fentanyl, was detected in his liver, but the presence of fentanyl – and whether that caused Travis’ death – could not be determined, according to his autopsy report.

“Some alternative possibilities for death, in this case, include strangulation, exacerbation of his emphysema, an anaphylactic reaction or possibly even a gunshot or stab wound … which could not be detected at autopsy due to the state of decomposition,” Chief Forensic Pathologist Jeff Lee wrote in Travis’ autopsy report.

Given the absence of any new leads in the investigation of Travis’s death, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said the office has deemed the case inactive.

No one has been criminally charged in relation to Travis’s case, but that hasn’t stopped his mother, Kim Shipley, from seeking out any tip she can get that might unlock the clues to her son’s cause of death.

“Somebody knows something more,” Shipley said, “and they’re just not stepping up.”