Mystery of Denise Ramsey's Death Haunts Her Family More Than a Year After Her Body Was Found in Dad's Shed

Denise Scott RamseyDenise Scott Ramsey
Inside Edition

The body of Denise Scott Ramsey was found in her father's shed 17 months after she was last hear from. Her father died of COVID-19 months before Denise's remains were found, potentially taking with him answers to the many questions surrounding her death.

On a cold spring day in a small town along the Maine coast, a mostly decomposed body was discovered in the backyard shed of an unassuming home. By the time it was discovered in May 2021, the body had endured months of harsh northeastern weather and was “partially skeletal and mummified,” the medical examiner said in their report. 

The body belonged to Denise Scott Ramsey. She had been missing for 17 months by the time her body was discovered. The owner of the property, her own father, had died of COVID-19 months before his daughter’s remains were found. 

To date, no one has been charged in Denise’s death. Authorities still have not determined her cause of death. In turn, there’s been no resolution for Denise’s family, who say authorities are not taking her case seriously. The Maine State Police told Inside Edition Digital that the investigation into Denise’s death remains ongoing and that there are no updates. It has been a year and a half since her body was found and nearly three years since family said she seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. 

Some family members believe that Denise’s classification as “homeless and a drug user who sometimes stayed at her father’s house,” as indicated in the medical examiner’s report of her body, explains why there are so few answers in her case. 

“They’re labeling my mother a drug addicted transient,” her daughter Danielle McNaughton told Inside Edition Digital. “[The police] ‘protect and serve’ who? [Because] it ain’t us.” 

How Denise’s body ended up in the shed of that home in Casco remains a mystery. Some family members believe she was murdered well before anyone noticed she had gone missing. 

Denise’s socioeconomic status and history of addiction made it easy for her to fall through the cracks, her loved ones said. The resentments that simmered between her brothers well before her death have escalated and at times clouded their pursuit of justice. And the one man who could potentially shed light on Denise’s last moments – her own father – died before her body was discovered on his property. 

Court documents and interviews with Denise’s loved ones suggest there was infighting among the family members, and showcase the battles waged with authorities for answers in the wake of the discovery of her body. 

What’s been lost in the process, some family members say, is the legacy of Denise, a loving mother, sister, friend and daughter whose history with domestic violence, financial hardships and substance abuse made her a less-than-perfect victim, but one who still deserves justice.  

Tragedy Hit Denise Ramsey Early in Life 

Denise didn’t have the easiest of childhoods. “My mom had it pretty rough,” Danielle said. 

She grew up in Windham, Maine, a 30-minute drive from where her body would go on to be found in Casco, within the limits of Cumberland County. The county, with a population of more than 280,000 and a median income of around $55,000, according to a 2010 census, is considered relatively safe.  

Denise was the youngest of her dad Douglas Scott Sr.’s three children with his first wife. She had two older brothers – Douglas Scott Jr. and Dan Scott. “My mom had a turbulent relationship with them,” Danielle said.

Doug Sr. later had two more sons with his second wife: Travis Scott and Shaun Scott. 

Travis remembered Denise fondly, saying his older sister took him under her wing when they were kids. “My sister was kind of like my mom. She was my best friend. We had the greatest time growing up,” he said. 

Denise’s relationship with her youngest brother, Shaun, who was more than 10 years younger than her, was exceptional. “She would take me everywhere she went when I was just a little baby and she was a teenager,” Shaun, 42, said. “She was technically my half-sister, but we never talked about that. That was never a thing. I was her little brother, and she was my big sister.”

Despite a strong relationship with her two half brothers, Denise never got along with her late stepmother, who died in the summer of 2021. Relatives said her stepmother was at times physically abusive toward Denise.

Denise spent her early life in and out of foster care, and suffered both physical and sexual abuse, those close to her said.  

She met her best friend, Tara Johnson, while in foster care. They remained close for the rest of her life. “She went from foster home to foster home until she landed with my foster mother,” said Tara, who calls herself Denise’s sister. “Her and I were very inseparable.”  

Denise Scott Ramsey and Tara Johnson met in foster care and quickly formed a bond that carried through adulthood. Tara called Denise her sister. - Tara Johnson

Denise ran away from home briefly when she was 13, hitchhiked to Detroit at another period of her life, and eventually made her way to Florida at 17 years old. The following year, she met Danielle’s dad—the first of five marriages she would have in her lifetime—and eventually had Danielle.  

That relationship fell apart shortly after Danielle’s birth, and Denise returned to Maine.  

After her return to her home state, Denise suffered an injury that required foot surgery. 

She came under the care of a podiatrist who would later be sentenced to eight years in federal prison on charges of conspiracy, unlawful distribution of oxycodone and health care fraud in cases that did not involve Denise. Prosecutors said he sold or traded more than 18,000 oxycodone pills between 2009 and 2010. 

Around this time, Denise’s family says she developed an addiction to opiates, which led to the fracturing of her relationship with her younger brother Shaun. “It was too painful to watch,” he said. “You try to help somebody on drugs, and you try and try and try, but they have to want it.”   

How Denise Ramsey Came to Live on the Property Where She Would Be Found Dead 

Before coming to Casco to live with her father at his home at 196 Poland Spring Rd., Denise lived in Sangerville, Maine, a town about two-and-a-half hours away. 

“The house she had been renting was in disrepair,” Danielle said. The home didn’t have a fridge, a stove or heat in the winter. “Wintertime in Maine, it’s rough out here.” 

Unable to stay in her own home, and unable to afford another, Denise decided to move in with her father. He had requested she come live with him, and she obliged, even if it meant ultimately living further away from her beloved daughter and her grandchildren. 

“My grandfather had a tremendous guilt about … the things that had happened to my mom in her childhood,” Danielle said. “He was like, ‘You don’t got to do anything, you just got to come here and be here.’” 

Danielle was worried, especially since her mother and grandfather did not have the best of relationships.

“He had a bit of a temper. He would scream at you,” she said. “Their tempers were so much alike that they’d butt heads. I could see him telling her to pack up and get the f*** out [and] then she’d kind of be stranded.” 

By December 2019, Denise had moved in with her father. Denise spent her days helping the elderly man with cooking, cleaning and repairing parts of the home, Danielle said. 

“My mom helped him, waited on him hand and foot. And my mom was a clean freak so that place was spotless,” she said. “She would cook meals for him. He was a (doomsday) prepper so there was canned goods and frozen stuff to last them into the rapture.” 

The pair also bonded over religion. Danielle explained that her grandfather, Douglas Scott Sr., was very religious, and her mom seemed to be finding God in what turned out to be her last days. 

“He talked your ear off forever about the scripture and all that. He put on this TV program that he would watch for two or three hours at a time every morning and they got their Bibles out,” Danielle said. “My mom was really starting to get into scripture and Bible study and all of that.” 

Doug Sr.’s home was not outfitted with a landline or internet and the property did not get good cell service, but Denise made sure to find spots where her cellphone received service so she could call Danielle. During their chats, it seemed Denise and her father were getting along better than anticipated. 

“They were really working on reconciling their relationship,” she said. “He was enjoying her being there. They were getting along perfectly fine.”  

The last time Danielle spoke to her mom was on Dec. 26, 2019, the day after Christmas. “We talked about the holiday and how everyone was doing,” she said. “That was probably one of the first [Christmases] that [Denise and Doug Sr.] had spent together in a very long time.” 

The Vanishing of Denise Ramsey  

Danielle’s 33rd birthday on Jan. 2, 2020 came and went without any fanfare. That’s when Danielle became suspicious that something may have been wrong. 

“My mom always, always went all out for my birthday,” she said. “She’d send flowers and balloons to my house. I was very surprised when Jan. 2 rolled around and I didn’t have 50 million text messages on my phone and like three missed calls, [voicemails from my mother saying,] ‘Yelle, wake up, Yelle, wake up.’” 

In previous years, Denise would celebrate Danielle’s birthday as if it were her own, often sharing stories about when she was in labor. 

“If she didn’t contact Danielle for her birthday, there was definitely something wrong because Denise never missed a birthday,” Tara said. “She would have gone all out and bought all kinds of stuff for her daughter and the grandbabies. Everybody got a present.” 

But on Danielle’s 33rd birthday, she didn’t hear from her mom at all.  

Then Danielle saw a Facebook account that appeared to belong to her mother had written to her on Jan. 4. Danielle remains skeptical about whether it was actually her mother who was behind the post. 

“It was like a two-paragraph comment of her just saying the most awful s***. Two days after my birthday.” Danielle said. “‘You are a wretched child. I wish I never had you. You ruined my life. All you ever do is talk s***. You are the most ungrateful person on the planet. I hate you.’ All this awful s*** my mom would never, ever f***ing say, let alone write in a public Facebook comment.” 

Danielle said she read the comment, quickly deleted it and tried to put aside how upset she was until she got a chance to talk to her mom. A few days later, she called her mom and left a voicemail when she didn’t pick up. 

She called her grandfather’s cellphone a few days after that and was told by the person on the other end of the line that her mom was running errands. Danielle remains unsure if that person was her grandfather.

“I chalked it up as, ‘She’s mad at me about something. She’s not talking to me right now. I don’t know why,’” Danielle said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the U.S. shortly after, and between panic, shutdowns and juggling her kids’ remote schooling, Danielle didn’t have a chance to chase down her mom. 

“I figured when she got around to it, she would call,” Danielle said. 

Tara, who moved to Arkansas with her husband in 2018, also saw a significant drop-off in contact with her closest friend. Tara said they went from talking several times a day to no contact at all. “She was always worried about my health and how I was doing. Called me several times a day to make sure I took my meds,” she said, explaining that she suffers from lupus.  

The last time Tara had heard from Denise was in early December 2019, when they spoke on the phone shortly after Denise moved to Casco. “I told her as soon as she moves into her dad’s house, I need to know that she is comfortable and she is safe,” Tara said. “She said she was doing fine, and that things were good. She said she was going to call me later, and never did.”

Tara called her cellphone several times after that, but Denise’s phone was always off, and Tara couldn’t reach her. 

Tara assumed that Denise might have missed a cellphone bill payment or run out of call minutes for the month, “because that has happened,” she said she thought at the time. “She could get her minutes and then she’d call me, but she never did. And that’s when I started getting really, really concerned. And Danielle was concerned.” 

Even though Danielle said she was sure her mom was more accountable at the time, she couldn’t shake a feeling that her disappearance might have had something to do with her drug use. “Maybe she fell off the wagon or something, being down that way with all of her ‘friends,’” Danielle said, using air-quotes around that term.  

Tara said she was certain that Denise would confide in her if she had begun using drugs again, as she had done every other time. In those instances, Tara would video-call her and help her get clean, she said. “She would never hide that from me,” Tara said. “She would tell me, and I would say, ‘OK, let’s work on getting back on track.’” 

Tara said she believed Denise hadn’t used drugs in more than a year before she disappeared in January 2020. A new doctor had prescribed Denise suboxone to help with the comedown from the opioids she had been using, but she wasn’t able to get a refill and decided to quit cold turkey, Tara said. 

“She made the decision to quit and that’s what she did,” Tara said.

After several months without hearing from her mother, Danielle said she reached out to her mom’s friends, and even contacted one of Denise’s estranged exes in Florida to see if he could ask around about her. 

No one had seen her. 

“It seemed like all roads [and] activity ended there or around this timeframe,” private investigator Toby Tiner Jr. said of January 2020, noting the only apparent signs of life around that time were the Facebook posts shared from the account that sent Danielle the angry message.   

Tiner has been a licensed private investigator in Maine for more than 25 years, and he specializes in locating missing persons. He learned of Denise’s disappearance in April 2021 while playing in a softball league with Denise’s brother, Shaun. 

Tiner volunteered his services, and what started as an offer to do a quick online search for Denise led to him spending about a month consumed in her case. She “seemed to vanish without a trace,” he said.  

Tiner contacted cell phone companies asking if Denise paid her bills, the Social Security Administration to see if Denise collected her checks and storage unit companies in case Denise stored her belongings. “All indications were that there were no active accounts,” he said. 

He decided to return to what he considered “square one,” Douglas Sr.’s Casco home, and suggested to Shaun that they search the property in the hopes of finding documents like bills or cellphone records. 

On May 8, 2021 at around 1 p.m., Shaun told Tiner over the phone he would text his brother Doug Jr. to let him know they were going to the home at some point in the following days to have a look around, Tiner said, citing his records.  

About two hours later, at 3:26 p.m., a 911 call was made to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department. “The call was made by a family member who was cleaning out their father’s residence,” the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement to Inside Edition Digital. 

Around 4 p.m. Tiner received a call from Shaun saying that Doug Jr. was at the Casco home, and that Doug Jr. had discovered a body in the shed. 

The medical examiner’s report later noted “an empty container of bleach” lay near Denise’s skeletal remains in the shed. Part of the pants her remains had been found wearing had bleach on them, the report stated. 

Shaun also believed bleach may have been used on the ground in the upper level of the home, judging by a large stain he later discovered. “When I say large, I'm talking like, five or six square-foot area or bigger and you can see what's bleached,” Shaun said. “And all around all the bleach stains on the floor, you can clearly see the blood stains.

“They (authorities) can’t figure out a cause of death [for Denise], but there was a lot of blood,” Shaun said.  

The Discovery of Denise Ramsey’s Remains 

Doug Jr. was horrified to make the gruesome discovery in his father’s boat shed on May 8, 2021.  

“I practically almost stepped on her. I thought it was a ball at first, but it was her head, sticking out of the blanket,” he told Inside Edition Digital. “She was a skeleton. She had been that way for a while,” 

Her body, which once stood 5 feet, 5 inches tall, and weighed 120 pounds, was “partially skeletal and mummified,” according to the medical examiner’s report.

“She was 120 pounds of spitfire that would never, ever back down. She was a tough girl. Have you seen pictures of her? You’d have to sneak up on her to hurt her,” Shaun said.

Authorities believe Denise died inside the house, where her body was left to decompose for some time before it was moved to the shed. The medical examiner’s report indicated that her ankles had been tied together. 

Based on how much her body decayed, the medical examiner believed she died 26 months before she was discovered, much longer than the 17 months since she had last been heard from.  

The report also noted that the skull had been slightly separated from the spine and the right arm had also been separated from the body – the latter likely due to “small carnivores,” which can be typical in the decomposition process. 

“She was reported to have been homeless and a drug user who sometimes stayed at her father’s house,” the medical examiner’s report said.

“They couldn’t even make sure everything was accurate. They’re labeling my mother a drug-addicted transient,” Danielle said after she reviewed the report. “But if she was some young little 20-something rich girl, you bet your ass they’d be all over it.” 

Denise’s body was discovered two months after the death of her father, Doug Sr, who died from COVID-19. He contracted COVID in early February, and by Valentine's Day he was hospitalized. He died weeks later.  

Danielle said it had been months since she and her grandfather spoke by the time he succumbed to COVID-19. “There were a couple months where I hadn’t talked to him,” she recalled. “I had tried to call him a couple times and it went to voicemail.” 

They spoke a handful of times in late 2020, Danielle said, but “he’d be rambling … it sounded more and more like my grandfather was losing his faculties. Like he had dementia-type stuff,” Danielle recalled. “I’d ask him about mom, and he’d say, ‘I don’t know, she must have taken off or something but all of her stuff is taking up room.’” 

The Scott patriarch’s children spend the days leading up to and following his death fighting. Shaun, Dan and Travis battled Doug Jr. over who got to see their father, who would control his estate, who should benefit from the sale of his home and who deserved recognition for taking care of their father in his last days. Doug Jr., who said his family regards him as “a pariah,” in court documents said he was owed for the work he was doing to his father’s home. One of those projects included tearing down the boat shed in the backyard. “That’s when he found her, when he was tearing the boat shed down,” Shaun said.

What Happened to Denise Ramsey?

Doug Jr. believes his sister was killed by their father, Doug, Sr. 

Doug Jr. said that in November 2020, about 10 or 11 months after anyone last heard from Denise, he had entered his father’s home late one evening after his shift at Home Depot and encountered his dad, who said with a smile, “Your sister’s in the shed.”  

“I was like, ‘You’re full of s***,’” he said he told his father. But he ultimately shrugged off the interaction, he said.

Another time, Doug Jr. recalled seeing his father sitting in front of a window with a rifle in his hand, again saying that his sister was in the shed. He said he later wondered if his dad had wanted to frame him for Denise’s murder, by pressuring him to look in the shed. 

Doug Jr. and other family members said Doug Sr. had a history of violence against Denise. “No one knew his evil side more than I did,” Doug Jr. said.

Doug Jr. said his father at one point also told him Denise had moved out of the house to live in a camper in the woods with “some guy,” he said, but also said the story didn’t make sense to him either as he didn’t believe she would leave her cats and dogs. “The old man killed all the cats and kept the dog,” Doug Jr. said. “I found the bodies of the cats in the spring as I was cleaning the surrounding area.” 

Doug Jr. said he didn’t look in the shed until May 2021, because he, too, had fallen extremely ill from COVID-19. “I was sick as a dog. I couldn't even get near anybody for a month. I couldn't even go to work for a month,” Doug Jr. said.  

Shaun remembered seeing Doug Jr. around his father’s Casco home in March, April and May working on heavy duty projects involving gallons of cleaning supplies. “He was cleaning the house out,” Shaun said.  

The Impossible Pursuit of Justice 

Officially, authorities are still investigating Denise’s death. "The circumstances surrounding this death are suspicious,” the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, which had been handling the case before turning it over to the Maine State Police Department, told Inside Edition Digital. 

But Shaun and Danielle aren’t hopeful that justice will be served in their beloved sister and mom’s death. The lead investigator on the case, Det. Corey Pike of the Maine State Police, told Danielle in an August 2021 email, shortly after her mother’s body was identified, “because your grandfather is deceased, we will not be charging anyone with a crime.” 

Danielle McNaughton

“What does my grandfather being deceased have to do with anything? What?” Danielle said.

Doug Sr. was in his 80s at the time of Denise’s death and was disabled. He suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, which is a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. The lung disease makes breathing difficult. He suffered from mobility issues as well, and his family said he was unable to climb the stairs in his home. There was no way he could have killed his daughter on his own, his family said. 

Also upsetting to Danielle is law enforcement’s lack of communication. Danielle said Maine State Police visited her only once. When it was handling the case, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office provided very few updates, as well, she said.

During the phone calls Danielle did have with Det. Pike on the case, Danielle said, “She just kept talking over me … I ended up raising my voice because I was crying. I’m like, ‘You’re not listening to me. Why do you refuse to listen to me? Why do you refuse to let me tell you about my mom?’ 

“And then she says to me, ‘Yelling at me won’t bring your mom back,’” Danielle recalled of the conversation. “I know that, but why would you say that?” 

“They ain’t figure out s***,” Travis said. 

“The state failed my sister,” Doug Jr. said. 

After discovering the body, Doug Jr. said he provided DNA samples and took a polygraph test, which he and each member of the family said he passed. But he said that no one else in the family was asked to take a polygraph test, which leads him to believe that the case was not being as thoroughly investigated as it should have been. 

And before Denise’s body was discovered, Danielle attempted to file a missing person report so Tiner, the private investigator, could get access to documents and bills that could indicate where Denise might have been. When she went to her local police station, she was told she had to report Denise as a missing person within the jurisdiction of her last known address in Cumberland County – hours away by car for Danielle, who didn’t have access to a car. 

Shaun went on her behalf and after much explaining, police filed an All-Points Bulletin, sometimes referred to as a BOLO, or “be on lookout” broadcast, focused on the East Coast, so authorities across the country would know to keep an eye out for Denise. “[It’s] a bulletin to let this person know if you see them that there's a family emergency going on, they need to go home and clear it up,” Danielle said. “They didn't feel like it was a missing person, I don't know why.”

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office would not comment on its interactions with Denise Ramsey’s family. Maine State Police public information officer Shannon Moss told Inside Edition Digital they would not comment nor confirm information surrounding the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

Authorities from both agencies also did not acknowledge Det. Pike’s August correspondence with Danielle, which Danielle took to imply authorities are not pursuing any additional leads in the wake of Doug Sr.’s death. 

What Remains 

Though not hopeful they’ll find them, Denise’s loved ones continue looking for answers. 

“I’m a very angry person, and I want answers,” Travis said.  

The Casco house has been sold, Shaun said, with a buyer offering just under $200,000 for the property. Shaun says he split the profits evenly among his surviving siblings, despite originally intending to withhold Doug Jr.’s share because of damage he allegedly caused to the house. “He can fight it and it will end up costing more,” Shaun said. “Just [want to] wash my hands of it so I never have to deal with it ever again.” 

With his share of the profits, Shaun paid for surgery and cancer treatment. He was diagnosed shortly after his father’s death. “Almost to the dollar amount, it’ll cover it,” he explained. 

Shaun is now more than one year in remission. “Money don’t mean s*** if you’re not there to provide [for], protect your family,” Travis said. “We're family. We’re supposed to be on the same page.”  

Travis broke down as he explained the incredibly difficult time he has had coping with the deaths of his dad, mom and sister, as well as Shaun’s cancer diagnosis. He turned to alcohol to cope. This is not his first battle with alcoholism and he has sought help and counseling for sobriety.  

“I really turned to alcohol … to drown my pain … in the process I've been pushing away people that really love me and that's not fair,” he told Inside Edition Digital. “I just feel like I’m suffocating because of everything that happened.” 

In the months following the discovery of Denise’s body, Danielle has cut ties with her uncles and continues to press Maine State Police for answers.  

Despite hitting roadblock after roadblock, Danielle's commitment to getting justice for her mother has not wavered. It’s all she has left. “I know she ain’t coming back,” Danielle said. “I feel that every single day.” 

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