The last person in Rochelle Battle‘s family who heard from her was her mother, LaTarsha Cockey. It was in the early month of March 2009 when the 16-year-old made a call at 10:00 p.m. to tell her mother that she had taken the subway to east Baltimore because she wanted to drop by the Eastpoint Mall. Rochelle assured her mother that she wouldn’t be out late and would be home as soon as she was finished.
However, whether Rochelle was really on her way to go shopping remains a mystery, because the call she made to her mother wasn’t the last call she made that evening. Rochelle rang a friend and told her that she was with a “white friend” of hers, leaving many to believe the mall story was a ruse…and that “white friend” may have been 34-year-old Jason Matthew Gross, a local acquaintance of Rochelle’s.
As it grew later into the night, Rochelle’s mother began to worry. She repeatedly called her daughter, but there was no answer. The first call rang until it went to voicemail, but when she tried again, it was evident that the phone was turned off. Yet, after she was reported missing, authorities were able to track Rochelle’s phone and pinpoint that around 9:00 p.m. she was with Gross, as the two were in the exact same area.
As the investigation developed, there were witnesses who stated that they observed Rochelle exiting an MTA bus. It was ultimately Rochelle’s phone that led her family, and investigators, to Gross’s home.
According to Gross, who has previous convictions for sex offenses and assault, he met Rochelle online in an adult chatroom and solicited her for sex. He said the two agreed to meet at a bar near his rental home but he claims she never showed for the appointment. Detectives believed that Gross wasn’t telling the truth and that Rochelle did meet up with Gross where he had sex with or possibly sexually assaulted the teenager before killing her. Many think that Gross disposed of Rochelle’s body in the industrial incinerator he had behind the home.
In April 2010, Gross was arrested in connection with the disappearance and death of Rochelle Battle. He vehemently denied that he had any involvement with the teenager, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. The father of four was convicted of Rochelle’s murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Gross received an additional 10 years for unrelated sexual offenses against another victim.
LaTarsha was able to address the court, and Gross, when she wrote her victim impact statement, but it was Rochelle’s father, Marvin Battle, who read it aloud. She acknowledged that her daughter had her faults, but her life was taken before she could have remedied her mistakes. She also said that her daughter wanted to one day become a business owner and loved writing poetry and cooking.
Gross’s sister Angela spoke up on her brother’s behalf, as did a longtime family friend, Elizabeth Bennet. They both have been vocal about Gross’s innocence and claim that he is an excellent father and standup citizen.
“I’ve known Jason for 20 years and don’t believe he did this,” Bennett said. “I trust him implicitly. I’ve even let him watch my young niece.”
Rochelle has never been found and her body has never been recovered.
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