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A year later, clues are few in search for Erica Parsons

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/13/17/21/14ROcR.Em.138.jpeg|316
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolyn Parsons is trying to reignite attention in her biological daughter’s disappearance. Just short of a year after Erica Parsons was reported missing, the investigation has yielded no arrests, no charges and no Erica. “This is probably one of the biggest cases in this field that Rowan County has ever had,” Carolyn Parsons said. “I don’t think (investigators) know what they’re doing.”
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/13/17/21/Fhdln.Em.138.jpeg|209
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolyn Parsons has moved back to Rowan County and questions whether police are doing enough to figure out what happened to her biological daughter, Erica Parsons. Erica, now 16, was adopted as a baby by Casey and Sandy Parsons. She was home-schooled, developmentally disabled and isolated. Erica was reported missing on July 30 by her adoptive brother.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/13/17/21/1kQvcw.Em.138.jpeg|401
    - NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN
    An age-progression photo shows how Erica Parsons likely looks today.

SALISBURY

A year after the search for Erica Parsons began, her biological mother, Carolyn Parsons, has moved back to Rowan County. She’s staying with a friend, looking for work and pressuring investigators to do more to find the daughter she gave up for adoption as a baby.

A candlelight vigil is planned for Aug. 1, a year after her daughter’s reported disappearance. The goal: Keep the search alive.

A total of $35,000 in reward money remains unclaimed, and the joint effort of the FBI, the State Bureau of Investigation and private search organizations has yielded no arrests, no charges and no Erica.

The case, which made national headlines, continues to generate interest. A Change.org petition asking the governor to help find Erica has nearly 700 signatures. And thousands subscribe to a Facebook page with updates on the search for Erica.

Erica, who was adopted as a baby, was reported missing July 30, although she hadn’t been seen by anyone outside her family for nearly two years. The search for her by Rowan County, state and federal authorities cast suspicion on her adoptive parents, Casey and Sandy Parsons. Investigators suspect foul play and say Erica was likely abused. No one has been charged in connection with Erica’s disappearance.

Casey and Sandy Parsons did not return messages left on a phone and with their attorney seeking comment.

Carolyn Parsons, who used to be related to Sandy Parsons through marriage, still questions whether police are doing enough to figure out what happened.

“This is probably one of the biggest cases in this field that Rowan County has ever had,” she told the Observer in an interview last week. “I don’t think (investigators) know what they’re doing.”

In a statement, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office said investigators are working with the FBI and SBI to find Erica. “Work by all of the law enforcement partners continues on this case at many different levels,” the statement said.

Sandy and Casey Parsons have never been named as suspects in Erica’s disappearance. Authorities have questioned them several times – including at least twice since they moved to Fayetteville to avoid publicity and death threats, their attorney said.

The Parsonses are also fighting to regain custody of their two youngest children, who were taken away by the Department of Social Services days after Erica was reported missing. Casey and Sandy Parsons make a weekly drive 300 miles roundtrip to see them. One condition of getting their kids back: progress in Erica’s case.

Their old home on Miller Chapel Road, once videotaped by television news helicopters and dissected by forensic investigators, has been remodeled and is up for sale. It has a new tin roof and fresh coats of paint.

Julie Parsons, the listing agent and Sandy Parsons’ sister-in-law, said new owners should close by the end of July.

Adopted as a baby

Erica, now 16, was adopted as a baby by Casey and Sandy Parsons. She was home-schooled, developmentally disabled and isolated – a teenager who never sent a Tweet or liked a photo on Facebook.

She was reported missing by her adoptive brother following his fight with the Parsonses.

The spotlight immediately turned to Erica’s adoptive parents. They initially said they’d sent Erica to live with a woman named Irene “Nan” Goodman, who they claimed was Erica’s biological grandmother. The couple said Nan had contacted Casey Parsons on Facebook and ultimately invited Erica to stay with her.

Later, they backtracked on that story, saying they were swindled, says their attorney, Carlyle Sherrill.

The developments unfolded on national television. The Parsonses went on the “Dr. Phil” show, claiming their innocence. During a lie detector test, an expert said Sandy Parsons was “deceptive” about Erica’s disappearance.

Casey Parsons did not take the polygraph exam because she described herself as being in severe pain, and the show’s polygraph expert said he opted not to give her the test because the body’s response to pain can be confused with deception.

Investigators have said they’ve found no evidence Goodman ever existed. They have searched the Parsonses’ home outside Salisbury and the property of Sandy Parsons’ father in China Grove, where the Parsonses kept a storage shed.

Investigators still seek out the Parsonses, even though they’ve moved. In December, Casey Parsons was in the hospital for a surgical procedure, Sherrill said. Detectives tried to question her then, but they were met by hospital security officers and left without talking to her.

They also cornered Sandy Parsons at his job in April. (Sherrill won’t say where Sandy Parsons works or what he does. Sandy Parsons used to be a butcher.)

“Two or three FBI agents came to his employer and talked to him there, and tried to get him to change what he’s been saying,” Sherrill said.

Investigation continues

The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office says it continues to actively investigate the Erica Parsons case, despite the departure of a key investigator.

Clint Mauldin, one of the lead investigators, stepped down after taking a job in the banking industry that nearly doubled his salary, according to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. John Sifford.

Mauldin remains a reserve officer in the Sheriff’s Office and is available to investigators, who say the department has ample resources to investigate Erica’s disappearance, including the other detectives.

“Lt. Chad Moose and Investigator Sara Benfield have worked hand-in-hand with Investigator Mauldin from the first day that the investigation into Erica’s disappearance began,” according to a statement from the Rowan Sheriff’s Office. “Their firsthand knowledge of this case will allow the investigation to proceed in a seamless manner.”

Joan Scanlon-Petruski, the founder of the Kristen Foundation for Missing Adults, said there are cases of people being found after being missing for years. The Ariel Castro case in Cleveland, for example, made national headlines. Castro kidnapped three women and held them prisoner in Cleveland, Ohio, for years. The women were rescued in May 2013. Castro was convicted and committed suicide in prison.

Still, Scanlon-Petruski said, the investigation becomes more difficult as time passes – for investigators and for families trying to cope.

“I think it is very hard after a year,” Scanlon-Petruski said. “It’s hard after 72 hours. But after a year’s time goes by, stories change, people change.”

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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