published Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

ID still pending on body found in Chattanooga home

  • photo
    A body believed to be that of missing 25-year-old Erika Whaley is removed Sunday afternoon from a house at 2822 Ocoee St. in Chattanooga.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
    enlarge photo

There were no obvious signs of trauma found on the decomposing body discovered inside a home this weekend, according to Chattanooga police.

The Hamilton County medical examiner's office still is working to identify the remains that police believe belong to 25-year-old Erika Whaley.

Whaley was last seen Sept. 15 getting into a red pickup truck at a domestic violence shelter. Her family did not report her missing to Chattanooga police until Dec. 18.

The body, found Sunday, was located inside a home that belonged to Whaley's late grandfather.

Whaley's sister, Sandra Lowrance, 28, of LaFayette, Ga., said her mother initially called a missing person's hotline several months ago and was told by the person who answered to give it a little time. The hotline was not manned by Chattanooga police.

Whaley previously disappeared four years ago, but later returned home, she said.

"Sometimes she just needed time to herself," Lowrance said.

However, family members became more concerned when Whaley's second son celebrated his birthday on Oct. 30 and no one heard from Whaley at the time.

"We knew something wasn't right," said Lowrance, who made missing-person fliers and created a Facebook page asking for information about Whaley's whereabouts.

However, it was Whaley's drug use that deterred her from contacting authorities immediately, her sister said.

"People tend to stereotype. She has history of drug use," Lowrance said. "I wanted to make sure they were going to make every effort to find my sister."

Last week, police issued information to the public in hopes of locating Whaley.

"There were so many different stories. Some people said she was in Cleveland," said Chattanooga Police Detective Jeff Dean, who works on missing-person cases.

After information on Whaley was released, Dean received a tip through the Crime Stoppers hotline in which someone said they dropped Whaley off at her grandfather's residence. The caller suggested Whaley might be there.

"My PaPaw hasn't lived there in four years," Lowrance said. "Erika was always PaPaw's favorite. They were real close."

After obtaining the address to the residence, police entered into the home and discovered a body. All the windows of the residence were boarded up except a small window where it appears the person entered.

"I'm 99 percent that's my sister," Lowrance said. "But there's still that shadow of doubt."

Authorities hope to have an identity on the body today.

As children, the family moved around the Chattanooga area, Lowrance said, so her sister has "friends all over the place."

Whaley was in a long-term relationship with a 26-year-old Harrison man, with whom she shared four children, police and her sister said. His parents had been granted custody of the couple's children.

However, an arrest report shows that, in August, Whaley's boyfriend was charged with aggravated kidnapping and domestic assault.

At the time, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office received numerous calls of a red Ford pickup with two people fighting inside. The first call came in just after 2 p.m. at Central High School, records show, while the second one came in just over an hour later from a gas station parking lot on state Highway 58. The next call came in about 30 minutes later at Hunter Road where he was following Whaley on foot.

When deputies made contact, Whaley said her boyfriend wouldn't let her get away and told them that he slammed her face into the dashboard and grabbed her by the throat, according to the report. He smashed her cellphone after she tried to get away three to four times, she said.

The report states Whaley had red marks around her throat and scratches to her wrist from the fight.

The boyfriend has a court date set for Feb. 16.

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