Next week marks the one-year anniversary since the body of 13-year-old Erica Parkson was found in a shallow grave in rural South Carolina.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It has been one year since the remains of Erica Lynn Parsons were found buried in a shallow grave on a dirt road in rural Chesterfield County, South Carolina.
The case surrounding Parsons’ disappearance quickly garnered national headlines, as her adoptive parents made several claims that were refuted by her blood family and local authorities over the course of three years.
Erica Parsons disappeared. Where she went, no one knew.
Parsons' adoptive parents claimed she was with her grandmother in the mountains. Investigators believed they were lying.
Erica Parsons was first reported missing by her older brother James on July 30, 2013. He told investigators he hadn’t seen her since November of 2011 when she was 13 years old. Parsons’ adoptive parents said she went to live with relatives in Asheville, North Carolina. Investigators later proved that claim to be false.
“To me, she’s still not missing,” said her adoptive mother Casey Parsons, claiming her paternal grandmother “Nan” picked her up for an extended Christmas visit. “I liked Nan, I really did. She’s a very sweet lady, we had a mutual agreement she was going to stay there, but I mean, it was not like we couldn’t visit her.”
Two years later, investigators searched the family’s home on Miller Chapel Road in Salisbury, combing for any clues that would lead them to Erica. All the while, Parsons’ adoptive parents continued to claim she was with family in the mountains, with their attorney stating at one point she was simply a “rebellious teenager who didn’t want to come home.”
Surgery complications kept Casey Parsons from visiting Erica she claimed, plus she and her husband Sandy were having trouble with Erica’s older brother James. They said James’ built-up anger over an incident at home and a thirst for revenge led him to report Erica missing to the authorities.
Detectives pressed the couple during their interrogation, with Parsons saying detectives accused them of pushing Erica off on someone else.
“Homicide investigations wanted to know did we sell her,” Casey Parsons said. “They asked us that, they said I had a lot of medical bills and said that they know it probably got hard, so what’d we do, sell her? And we didn’t do nothing (sic) like that, it was just all these different accusations that it was just getting to hard, we gave her away or it was just too much stress on everything. It was just horrible stuff that they would say to us.”
Federal charges filed against the Parsonses
One year after Erica Parsons was reported missing, Sandy and Casey Parsons were arrested on fraud charges.
July 30, 2014 — exactly one year after Erica was reported missing — Sandy and Casey Parsons were arrested on federal fraud charges.
An indictment alleged that from February 2010 to August 2013, Sandy and Casey Parsons committed tax fraud, mail fraud, theft of government funds, identity theft, and engaged in a conspiracy to defraud the government.
Prosecutors accused the Parsonses of receiving government-funded adoption assistanMedicaidicad, Social Security, and food stamps for a dependent that did not live with them and use the mail to commit the fraud. The couple was also accused of using the identities of other persons as dependents when preparing federal tax returns.
Casey Parsons pleaded guilty in federal court to 16 charges and was sentenced to 10 years behind bars. Sandy Parsons chose to go to trial, where he was found guilty of 43 federal charges, leading to an eight-year sentence. Appeals by Casey and Sandy Parsons were rejected by federal courts in July of 2016.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder said he gave them stiffer sentences than the federal guidelines recommended due to testimony that described the couple's heinous treatment of Erica.
"You and your husband did something horrible, horrible with her," Schroeder told Casey Parsons. "I have sentenced close to 1,000 people. I can't think of a case that has troubled me more."
It was time behind bars that led Sandy Parsons to lead investigators to Erica’s remains.
The news no one wanted to receive
After meeting with detectives, Sandy Parsons led them to Erica's remains in rural South Carolina.
As the search for Erica Parsons dragged on for years, her paternal aunt hired a private investigator to help find her niece. Meanwhile, Sandy Parsons wanted to deal.
After meeting with Parsons in August of 2016, detectives said they had a pretty good idea that Erica Parsons was dead. According to a warrant filed on September 27, 2016, Parsons admitted that Erica was dead and described the treatment of her and the disposal of her body. He told police that her body was buried on December 19, 2011, near his mother’s home in Pageland, South Carolina.
Sandy Parsons was then brought to Chesterfield County, where he led investigators down a long dirt road just off Highway 9 that led to an old family-owned farm.
At one point, he stopped and pointed into the woods.
“And it was just as you can see, a little mound of dirt back there just off the road,” said Chesterfield County Sheriff Jay Brooks. “You could tell it has been there for a long, long time.”
Brooks said Parsons then became emotional, breaking down while talking to investigators.
“He was very stressed and when he came back out of the woods and they put him in the car, he was crying,” Brooks said.
After several hours of digging, the remains of Erica Parsons were discovered. About a week later, Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten said he believed she was dead long before she was reported missing.
David Mashburn, the detective hired by Erica Parsons' aunt Teresa Goodman, said he was in the Chesterfield County area about three months before the discovery. He said he informed Rowan County investigators about his suspicions, especially the similarities between the farmhouse and the home Casey Parsons described as where she dropped off Erica in 2011.
"It was horrific they found her the way she was," Mashburn said. "Everybody was thinking that maybe she would be alive, but I knew from day one coming into this the inevitable was going to be there."
Goodman never got to meet her niece.
Carlyle Sherrill, the attorney hired to represent the Parsonses, said he felt a “sense of hypocrisy that they had represented things for so long that evidently were not true.”
Sherrill speculated that Parsons was aiming for a plea deal with investigators. Detectives never acknowledged any possible deal with Parsons.
A funeral was held for Erica in February of 2017 with more than 100 family members, friends, and law enforcement officers in attendance.
"We all loved her. It's obvious," said Auten. "We all feel a love and a special place for this child."
Who killed Erica Parsons and why?
Nearly a year after the discovery of her body, investigators still haven't determined how Erica Lynn Parsons died.
With the one-year anniversary of the discovery of 13-year-old Erica Parsons' body, there are still many questions as to who killed her and how she died.
The 13-year old girl’s disappearance from her home in Salisbury touched the hearts of everyone in the region and drew national attention.
After months of denying any knowledge of what happened to her, her adoptive father, Sandy Parsons led police to her grave.
A year later, many area residents are starting to wonder why no arrest has been made in her case.
The answer lies with the State Medical Examiner’s office that has still not been able to determine how Erica died.
Captain John Sifford from the Rowan County Sheriff’s office said in a statement to NBC Charlotte, “The NC Medical Examiner’s Office has consulted with a number of experts from across the United States and until they return their report, we cannot go forward with filing any kind of charges in this case.”
Carolyn Parsons, Erica’s biological mother, said she is glad Erica was found but wishes the case could move to the next level where she might get some answers about what happened.
Carolyn Parsons gave her infant daughter up for adoption to her family members, Casey and Sandy Parsons.
Sandy and Casey continue to serve lengthy prison sentenced after being found guilty of illegally collecting benefits for Erica even though she was no longer living in their home.
State investigators and the FBI always suspected Casey and Sandy know what happened to Erica and the discovery of the body was supposed to be the clue that would lead to an arrest.
“I get itchy sometimes, wanting answers, wanting charges, but I also have to understand that it takes time,” said Carolyn Parsons who is now living and working in Virginia.
Captain Sifford’s statement went on to say that Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten, “…has asked that the autopsy results be expedited to our office, but as of now, we are still waiting.”
So too is Carolyn Parsons, who said, “I have to be patient.”
Many had grown to believe that Erica’s body would never be found. Now a year after it was located, investigators at the Sheriff’s Office have the same goal — to find the evidence needed to bring charges against those responsible.