Thursday, November 13, 2008
The Smallest Victims by Robert A. Waters
Here are three unsolved mysteries, three child abductions that brought unimaginable horror to parents, relatives, and communities. As the years pass and merge into decades the murderers may still live among us. Will there ever be justice for the smallest victims?
Amber Hagerman. On Saturday, January 12, 1996, nine-year-old Amber and her brother Ricky rode their bicycles around a quiet neighborhood in Arlington, Texas. As Ricky veered away from Amber to return home, a pickup truck drove up and stopped beside her. A man got out, sprinted directly to Amber, grabbed her, and pushed her into the truck. In seconds, she was gone.
From nearly a football field’s distance away, a neighbor saw it happen. He immediately called 911, then ran to tell Amber’s family. As cops swarmed into the area, her grandfather, Jimmie Whitson, jumped into his car and raced to the spot where the pickup was last seen. The only thing he found was a discarded bicycle, looking oddly out of place with no child around.
Cops and volunteers mounted a massive ground-search while detectives grilled hundreds of workers at a nearby General Motors plant. Known sex offenders were rousted from their homes and jobs and interrogated. Amber’s mother appeared on local television shows to plead for her daughter's safe return. “Please don’t hurt my baby,” Donna Hagerman cried. “She’s just an innocent child. Please, please bring her home safe.”
It was not to be. Four days later, Amber’s body was found in a creek a few miles from her home. Her throat had been slit from ear to ear. Autopsy results indicated that she’d been held captive for two days. The child was a victim of a brutal sexual assault.
Police never developed any real suspects. They believe the abduction was a random, opportunistic crime. The FBI delivered its usual profile that could have fit half the men in Texas. After years of frustration, Amber’s grandmother, Glenda Whitson, told reporters that investigators "really don’t have much to go on. [They just have] a few fibers they found on her body...”
The only good thing to come out the tragedy was the development of the Amber Alert program. Since its inception, the system has been responsible for bringing home nearly 300 abducted children.
Brittany Locklear. On the morning of January 7, 1998, five-year-old Brittany was waiting alone at her school bus stop in rural Hoke County, North Carolina. Her mother usually watched from the porch of her house until her daughter got on the bus. But on this day, she stepped back into the house for a moment. Just that quick, Brittany was gone. Connie Locklear-Chavis will never forget that day. As cops and volunteers launched a desperate search for the girl, Locklear-Chavis fell apart. It got worse the next day when Brittany’s body was found three miles away. She’d been raped, then drowned.
Neighbors had seen a pickup truck in the area, but each witness had a different description of it. It was never found. No real leads were ever developed in the case. In fact, an investigator recently said, “I’m not sure if I know of a magic bullet that will solve this case. Time is our enemy.” Another investigator said, “This thing is eating at someone.”
A guilty conscience or a deathbed confession may be the only hope of ever finding out who murdered Brittany. “She loved everyone,” Locklear-Chavis said. “She didn’t have no faults with anyone. And, Lord, she loved going to church.” A local newspaper recently reported that “ceramic angels surround a vase at the end of her family’s driveway [near where Brittany was abducted]. They smile, hands folded in prayer, reminding Brittany’s family of the angel they’ll never see again.”
Tracy Marie Neef. It’s been 24 years since seven-year-old Tracy walked into Bertha Heid Elementary School in Thornton, Colorado and disappeared. Actually, she never made it into the school. She was dropped off by her mother and walked through the gate leading to her classroom. But she was ten minutes late and the doors to the building had been locked. As she wandered around trying to find a way inside, she was kidnapped.
Later that day, Tracy’s body was found near Barker Reservoir in Boulder County. Her books and other items were scattered beside her. According to a recent article in the Denver Post, Tracy “had a scratch on her right cheek and one above her left eye that appeared to be caused by a fingernail. The marks may have been caused as the kidnapper tried to control Tracy after pulling her into his car. [She had] ligature marks on both wrists indicating she’d been tied with a rope or cord.” She was still dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. She’d been molested but not raped.
All signs indicate that this was a spur-of-the-moment abduction that quickly went bad. Investigators believe the kidnapper tied a coat-strap over Tracy's mouth so tight that it accidently suffocated her. After that, he panicked and drove as fast as he could to a secluded area where he quickly dumped her body.
Unfortunately, much of the evidence police gathered has been lost or contaminated over the years. Her frustrated father, Gary Neef, recently said, “Now with no DNA we’ll never know who did it unless the killer confesses.”
Posted by Robert A. Waters at 12:50 PM