By Chloe Morrison
Jonathan Wilson, brother-in-law of missing Walker County 911 dispatcher Theresa Parker, said he sometimes looks out a window to see if his missing loved one is coming up the driveway.
"We catch ourselves looking (for Theresa) when we go down every road," he said about his wife and her missing sister.
Mrs. Parker has been missing since March 21 and was last seen that night when she left her sister's house. Mrs. Parker's estranged husband, Sam Parker, is a "person of interest" in the case, said Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials.
Mr. Parker was fired from his job at the LaFayette Police Department after investigators found C4 plastic explosives in his locker at the department while investigating the case. LaFayette Public Safety Director Tommy Freeman stressed that Mr. Parker's dismissal as a sergeant had nothing to do with the disappearance of Mrs. Parker, except that it was the reason for the search.
From the beginning, family members said Mrs. Parker would not have left without contacting them. Mrs. Parker had almost daily contact with her sister, Christina Hall. From the beginning, Mr. Parker has been silent about his wife's disappearance, although his sister Carolyn Wooten gave a statement saying that her brother had nothing to do with the disappearance.
According to the National Crime Information Center, in 2006 there were 838,131 missing persons records entered into its database. Of those, 51,518 were located and 22,915 were identified as involuntarily missing.
A simple Google search turns up Web sites with countless numbers of photos of smiling faces -- all missing people -- much like the picture of Mrs. Parker that is posted in North Georgia.
Mrs. Hall said the she now feels that "something tragic" happened toher sister, who has been missing for more than 50 days.
Person of interest
Dwight Aarons, associate professor of criminal law at the University of Tennessee, said he tells his students, "When you become a person of interest, get a lawyer."
He said "person of interest" is the new "buzzword" in law enforcement that identifies someone as a level below a suspect.
Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said previously he does not think Mr. Parker has an attorney, since law enforcement has not been contacted by one.
"Normally I would think an attorney would have come forward," said Sheriff Wilson, who is not related to Mr. Wilson.
No one else has been identified as a "person of interest" in the case. Mr. Parker's fellow LaFayette Police officer Harbin Chaffin was arrested for lying to investigators who asked him questions during their search for Mrs. Parker.
Silence from authorities
Mrs. Parker's disappearance garnered national attention, with Court TV, Fox News and other television networks covering the case. But since a new district attorney took over the case, authorities have been asked to keep quiet about the investigation.
Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert E. "Buzz" Franklin disqualified himself from prosecuting the case. It's been turned over to Rome Circuit District Attorney Leigh Patterson. In a letter to Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker regarding the "investigation of Samuel Parker," Mr. Franklin cited the close friendship of Mr. Parker with the prosecutor's chief investigator, Johnny Bass.
The district attorney wrote that evidence gathered by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation suggests Mrs. Parker may have been killed, "although no body has been found."
Mr. Aarons said once an investigation becomes more than a search for a missing person, with the possibility of foul play, using the media as a tool may become counterproductive.
Body or "evidence of a crime"
At the beginning of the search for Mrs. Parker investigators said they were looking for either a body or evidence of a crime. Authorities searched the Parker residence and drained a pond near the home. They impounded Mr. and Mrs. Parker's cars, and masses of community members searched the land around the Walker-Chattooga County line.
"It is such a remote area of North Georgia. You could put somebody in a three-by-three place," Mr. Wilson said. "It is just so hard to search every place there is."
As time passes, authorities and family members said the hope of finding Mrs. Parker alive wanes. The family just wants closure, they said.
Some community members have debated whether the case will be solved if Mrs. Parker is never found. Mr. Aarons said, theoretically, it is possible to convict someone of a murder without a body.
"It is not impossible, and it may not even be that hard," he said.
He said members of the public might be convinced, as a result of popular crime television shows, that forensic evidence is needed to convict someone.
"Sometimes just good old thinking through the process ... just by going back and looking at circumstantial evidence (you can find information to convict)," he said.
Mr. Aarons said, though, authorities typically proceed with caution to make sure they are on the right track.
Lt. Tim Carroll, head of the Chattanooga Police Department's major crimes division, said he thinks a body is needed to have a case.
"Best case scenario, you'd like to know the whole story and know the whereabouts of the person," he said. "It really depends on the state statute, if they can move forward (without a body). What if she had a medical problem, walked off on her own free will (and) you are thinking this is foul play.
"It is better to be cautious than to be too ambitious and start doing things too early."
Lt. Carroll pointed to the Elizabeth Smart case to illustrate that there are many possibilities of what happened. Elizabeth is a teen who was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home and found alive seven months later.
"I always thought they would have never found her alive," Lt. Carroll said. "That is one case that gives you hope that they are possibly OK somewhere."
E-mail Chloe Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org