Murder Conviction; No Body Found09/18/2009
Mr. Schiff: Hello I’m Neal Schiff and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. It doesn’t happen often. A murder case in Georgia ended with a conviction without a body.
Mr. Veazey: “That is the sixth case in the history of the state of Georgia to get a verdict of guilty on a murder case without a body.”
Mr. Schiff: That’s Special Agent Mark Veazey of the FBI’s Atlanta office. He says this is the case of the 2007 disappearance of 41-year-old Theresa Parker and the ultimate arrest and trial of her husband Sam, a former police officer.
Mr. Veazey: “The FBI was contacted by the Walker County Sheriff’s Office in very early April of 2007. The case had been going for just a couple of weeks; Theresa disappeared in the early morning hours of March the 22nd. Law enforcement was contacted by her mother on Saturday, the 24th of March, and it became pretty readily apparent to law enforcement this is going to be a wide-ranging, involved investigation. The FBI already had established a relationship with Walker County and with the GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) from previous investigations, so the sheriff contacted our supervisor here in the Dalton RA (FBI Resident Agency) in the Atlanta Division, on April the 4th asking for our help and our resources.”
Mr. Schiff: It became a team effort with several agencies trying to solve the case.
Mr. Veazey: “The other agencies involved were the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, which is a county here in northwest Georgia, and also the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is a state-level investigative agency. We also had some assistance from the LaFayette City Police Department, which is where Mr. Parker worked prior to being dismissed from that department.”
Mr. Schiff: Veazey says that the husband, Sam Parker, was on law enforcement’s radar screen early in the investigation after Theresa Parker went missing.
Mr. Veazey: “In homicide investigations you normally will start in and work out. You’ll look at spouse, family members, and then branch out to neighbors, co-workers, and then to the outer ring of that would be a stranger or someone that just comes into her world that she doesn’t know. So normally we would start on the inside. However, in this case, we had a history of domestic violence between the two that stretched back years. And there were several instances where sheriff’s deputies had had to respond to their residence that Ms. Parker had called for assistance in domestic disputes.
So, based on that, to begin with, Mr. Parker, we looked at him pretty closely. In addition, two things happened. One was the initial interview of Mr. Parker. He gave a very detailed description of his movements leading up to the time that his wife disappeared. There was also a search done, executed, of the house, the residence, the property, and her vehicle. And during that search we discovered blood on the bumper cargo area of her vehicle. Now at that time of the search, we didn’t know whose blood it was but we did have blood in the area.
So those things coupled with the domestic issues and the history of that, led us to start looking real hard at Mr. Parker. And we took his statement and we dissected it throughout the investigation and there were inconsistencies in his statements that he made to law enforcement. So because of all those things coupled together, we looked real hard at him.”
Mr. Schiff: And where did all this lead the investigators?
Mr. Veazey: “We set up a tip line at the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI did. And we also put up billboards in the community asking for community assistance. And from those tips, we got thousands of tips and information from all over the United States and the world, actually. Now some of those tips were from psychics, some were from people who had dreams, but some of those were legitimate tips and information. Those led us to New York, to the Jacksonville Division, and to Mexico.
And the reason for Mexico was that Mr. Parker gave an interview to Fox 5 News, and during that interview he advised the reporter that he knew where Theresa was, but that he did not want to disturb her, he did not want to bother her. The next day, myself and Agent Harris from the GBI went out to see Mr. Parker. We asked him, ‘If you know where she’s at, tell us and all this will end.’ He said she was in Mexico with Elvis. Now it turned that it wasn’t Elvis the entertainer, it was Elvis, a Mexican national who had worked at one of the resorts in Cancun. So we had to send leads down to our Legat (FBI Legal Attaché) in Mexico for them to canvass the resorts in Cancun showing Theresa’s picture, looking to see if she had been there or was working there, and those proved negative.”
Mr. Schiff: We asked Agent Veazey about key evidence collected that ultimately led to arrest of the husband of the missing woman.
Mr. Veazey: “As I said, early on Mr. Parker was interviewed, and he gave a very detailed description of his movements leading up to Theresa’s disappearance. We took that statement and we, as I said earlier, we dissected that line by line, and we went back and looked at his movements, tracking his movements, either by witnesses or by cell phones, and we were able to show that he was not where he said that he was at the times that he said he was.
And in addition, he had said that he had visited a friend the evening that she went missing and that he was driving his truck all that time. Well, we had witnesses that saw his truck at his home when he said that he was in it. And that was a big red flag for us because it was a blatant lie.
In addition to the blood evidence was the history of domestic violence and also the vehicle that had the blood on it was Theresa’s 4Runner; it was a Toyota 4Runner. In the back of that vehicle it was obvious it had been vacuumed and cleaned; you could see the vacuum marks in it. And further, she had an after-market rubber mat that lined the cargo area of that vehicle, and that was missing. We had several witnesses who had seen that rubber mat. So those became key pieces of evidence that we felt showed that Theresa’s body had been stored and that vehicle had been used for the deposition of her body.”
Mr. Schiff: And then came the arrest of Sam Parker.
Mr. Veazey: “We had myself, and Agent Harris with the GBI, this was a total team effort; all of the folks that worked on this, we melded in to a task force that works very, very well together for two and-a-half years. When we decided that we had enough to arrest Mr. Parker, we had consulted with our (FBI) Behavioral Analysis Unit at Quantico to give us tips on how to approach him and how to deal with him. He was very volatile, and because of his extensive law enforcement experience, they took all of the interviews that had been done by us and also by the news media with Mr. Parker, and they examined those. And the decision was made that we were going to do this in a very low-key manner. We didn’t want to go in with a SWAT team or anything that would heighten his sense that he needed to fight back. So the decision was made that myself and Agent Harris from the GBI would go and just knock on his door.
Now, we had been to his residence several times prior for interviews and for searches. We had actually executive five search warrants on the residence, so he knew us very well. And every time that we would go we would always call ahead and say, ‘Sam, we’re coming to see you and so we want you to know we’re coming.’ Now, when we were going to arrest him we didn’t call him to tell him we were going to arrest him, we just called and told him we wanted to come over and talk to him.
Every time prior, he always met us on the front porch. The only moment in this case that gave me reason to be nervous was when we went to arrest him. We called him, he answered the phone, we said, ‘Sam, we’re coming over.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ He wasn’t waiting on the front porch when we got there. We knocked on the door and there was about five minutes before he came to the door. And I was standing—it’s a mobile home and Agent Harris and I were standing on the front porch; at that was the one moment that I got a little bit nervous. But Sam came to the front door and we advised him he was under arrest and we placed handcuffs on him. And the only thing he said was, ‘Can you turn my coffee pot off for me?’ So I did. But there was no struggle or anything like that; it went very smooth. And we followed to the letter what Behavioral Analysis had asked us to do and it worked out great.”
Mr. Schiff: Now investigating a murder case without a body is very challenging.
Mr. Veazey: “Extremely challenging. From the beginning we were very cognizant of the fact that this was probably going to go to trial one day. So every step that we took, we thought about that. Without a body, the jury doesn’t get to see that someone is actually dead. They don’t get to see that, so you have to paint that picture for them. So what we did was, is we went back in time and showed Theresa’s movements and her activities of daily life; how she contacted her family every day, her financial transactions on a daily basis, her telephone activity. And we were able to show that on March the 22nd, all that ceased. And during the two years, two-and-a-half years leading up to the trial, there were no transactions or activities of daily life for her.
In addition to that, we had to show, in a very detailed way, all of her movements and the defendant’s movements, leading up to the arrest. And we were able to do that. And it took a lot of time and a lot of meticulous effort by a lot of folks. The GBI and the Walker County Sheriff’s Office did a magnificent job and we were able to overcome the lack of a body.
And that is the sixth case in the history of the state of Georgia to get a verdict of guilty on a murder case without a body. So we are very proud of that.”
Mr. Schiff: There was a two-week trial, and Agent Veazey talks about one of the most compelling moments.
Mr. Veazey: “We had information that Mr. Parker, as a police officer, had used a certain choke hold during his employment and we demonstrated that choke hold with a witness. During closing arguments we demonstrated it again. And we had photographs of bruises on Mr. Parker’s arms that were in the shape of, like, fingertips. We felt that these were defensive wounds that were left behind by Theresa when we feel that he choked her and killed her in that manner.
So when we demonstrated that—Agent Harris was the one demonstrating—he pulled his arm away, and Lee Patterson, the District Attorney, kept her fingers there. And there was an audible gasp from the crowd when they finally realized that what those bruises meant and the significance of photographs that we put in as evidence.
The jury was out for four days; they deliberated for four days. And it was very interesting that in state court, the judge would ask them where they were with different, on the counts. They would come back and say, ‘We’re 12-0 on this count; we’re 11-1 on this count.’ At one point they were 9-3 on the murder count; they didn’t tell us which way. And then finally on Thursday at about 4:30 in the afternoon, we got word that there was a verdict and we went back over. It seemed like it took forever for them to come back in and everybody to get ready. And when we heard the verdict, we were very excited. It was the end to a lot of work by a lot of folks, and justice was done.”
Mr. Schiff: Sam Parker was found guilty and sentenced to prison for the rest of his life. During the trial, the prosecution presented 71 witnesses and 200 pieces of evidence; the defense brought up six witnesses. Meanwhile, law enforcement continues the search for the body of Theresa Parker. The FBI’s Internet page has a lot of information about how law enforcement agencies work together on all types of cases. Check www.fbi.gov. That concludes our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.