D.C. Mom Laments Stunted Search For Missing Daughter

WASHINGTON (AP) — Caroline Frazier has spent months dreading that her 18-year-old daughter may be buried 70 feet deep in a mammoth landfill. Making matters worse, she says, is that no one is searching for her there.

One of the five people charged with murder in Latisha Frazier’s presumed death told investigators the teen’s body was left in a Washington garbage bin that gets emptied into a landfill outside Richmond, Va.

Yet District of Columbia police and prosecutors who have spent months on the case have opted against a search, saying excavating the landfill would be dangerous, expensive and have minimal chance of success — especially since authorities aren’t even positive her body is there. A judge agreed last month, denying a public defender’s request to order the search.

The decision left an unsettling conclusion for Frazier’s mother, who’s been unable to bury her daughter.

“We can’t do no closure right now,” Caroline Frazier said at the girl’s father’s home in Laurel, Md., wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with bittersweet images — one of her daughter as a young girl, beaming radiantly while perched on her father’s lap; another of her as an adolescent, posing confidently with hands on hips.

“It means a lot to have my baby,” she said.

Though Washington police reject the comparisons, the public defender, Eugene Ohm, has drawn stinging contrasts between the department’s handling of the Frazier investigation and the case of Chandra Levy, the D.C. intern whose 2001 disappearance attracted worldwide attention and a search that spanned more than a year.

Police say there are numerous critical differences in the cases, not least the locations of the women’s bodies — Levy’s was eventually discovered by a passerby walking his dog in a wooded park in the heart of Washington.

“There was never any landfill associated with that case in any way, shape or form,” said Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham. “You don’t have a fair comparison.”

Experts say the decision not to excavate is unusual in a profession conditioned to do all it can to recover victims’ bodies, but they also said it reflects the long odds of success the police felt they faced and the tricky calculus involved in any missing person case.

Frazier’s father, Barry Campbell, says he’s accepted that there won’t be a search but has nagging thoughts that the case might have been treated with more urgency if his daughter were in the “big world.” Police say that’s completely false.

“Then you have the Latisha Fraziers, that’s the small world — helping people at McDonald’s or working the Metro. The blue-collar workers, the blue-collar people,” Campbell said.

Frazier’s parents recall her as a tomboyish young girl who schooled her dad on the computer, joined neighborhood boys in sports games and who, as she grew older, shed her childhood nickname of “Pooh” in favor of the more mature “Tish.”

She moved out of her mother’s home when she turned 18 and was working at McDonald’s, raising her daughter, Diamond, and planning a cooking career. She valued family, spending the day before her disappearance with relatives at Chuck E. Cheese’s and often riding along in her father’s ice cream truck.

“She never ran away from home. She had no reason to run away from home,” Campbell said.

Frazier vanished Aug. 2 from southeast Washington. Her family canvassed the neighborhood for months as police searched for suspects.

The big break came in January, when Brian Gaither was picked up on an unrelated charge. Though he initially denied wrongdoing, detectives say in court papers that he eventually admitted being part of a group that had invited Frazier to an apartment and then beaten her because they believed she had stolen money from one of them.

Gaither admitted placing Frazier in a stranglehold, prosecutors say, stashing the body in bag and disposing of it in a trash bin outside.

Authorities say the container most likely would have been emptied into a landfill in Chesterfield County, Va. But if Gaither is lying about his involvement, or incorrectly recalling the date of Frazier’s death or the trash bin where the body was placed, then the corpse might be in a different location altogether.

Ohm, Gaither’s public defender, tried to force police to find the body, arguing the recovery could shed light on the cause of death and possibly bolster his defense.

Police and prosecutors said the search would have exposed officers to toxic levels of methane, needles and other dangerous refuse and would have cost millions of dollars and taken at least six months. They say officers would have had to dig through 500,000 cubic yards of trash just to reach the search area — Frazier’s remains are believed to be 60 to 70 feet below the surface — and that even if they found them, it wouldn’t greatly aid their prosecution.

“Tragically, if the decedent’s body was present under these conditions, the potential forensic value of the body would be compromised,” prosecutors wrote in court papers.

Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York police officer and prosecutor who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that while detectives have to be wary of a defendant’s statements, it is unusual for police to abandon efforts to recover a victim’s body.

“The police took great risks and spared no expense and literally people got injured while they stood on a pile in Fresh Kills Landfill” on Staten Island, N.Y., searching for remains of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, O’Donnell said.

The Frazier decision followed the recommendation of experts from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has assisted in other landfill excavations but in this case said the risk of chemical poisoning coupled with the sheer enormity of the Shoosmith Landfill in Chester, Va. — about 800 acres in surface area and roughly 100 feet deep — made the undertaking all but impossible.

It was a tough decision to make, said center director Ernie Allen.

“In these kinds of situations, at least they have the opportunity to bury their child. They get some sense of closure or justice and that’s what’s painful about Latisha Frazier,” he said. “We don’t ever want to give up searching for these kids.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


    mrs frazier the police arn’t going to give you much hope…reason being your
    daughter isn’t considered a high prfile case..if a wealthy white person had
    this happen to them..you can be asured that everything possible would be
    done to find their child….DOUBLE STANDARDS IN THIS CORRUPT COUNTRY

  • bonnie

    I myself am white and honestly agree that if this was a wealthy white family this was happening to, the police would have been at that landfill when they got the break in January. I feel for your family and will keep you in prayer & hope that soon you will know what happened to your daughter and have some sort of closure.

  • cms827

    Does not matter if black or white,,,,,if they were wealthy it would be different,,,money talks.

    • indago

      Exactly. The wealthy people could’ve paid the police themselves to perform the search.

  • susan

    When a person goes missing the police should cover all angles or tips even if it means going to a landfill, because it has been known that is where the killers put their victims body. To all the above comments, you are right it shouldn’t matter if you are black white or any other race or poor or rich the same amount of time and effort should be applied to finding the missing. I am praying for the family so that they may have some peace and hopefully real soon that they find her and send her home to her family.

  • VWGirl

    u all r racist. get a clue. I guess you never heard of phylicia barnes. Perhaps I was looking at the wrong pics. Cause she definately didnt look like a rich white girl. They spent months and months looking for that girl. They didnt find her alive….but they were persistant upon finding her. U bunch of ungrateful B@$t@rds! Go back where you came from. Im sick of all of you! so is everyone else. Stop making excuses for your pathetic selves. Get a job! Get a life!!!! That way you wont be part of the stereotype! You think educated black people, who work hard and make an honest living would agree with what you are saying? ABSOLUTELY NOT! It is rediculous! They dont want to be associated with YOU as much as anyone else doesnt. Its an embarrassment and you should be ashamed of yourselves. It people like you that keep the stereotype alive. Im guessing you dress al ghetto flashy and talk with ebonics too right. Hmmmmmm? Wonder why we all think your dumb!!!! Maybe its cause you think it makes you look “hard” or “cool”. All it does is make you look uneducated aka: STUPID!

    Do dat make sense to y’all?

  • VWGirl

    additonally, I am not syaing that it is right that they arent going to search the landfill. I think they should. However, I do not think that it ahs anything to do with the fact that the girl is black. I am not racist. I am so tired of racism being such a big part of our culture and its mostly blacks against whites these days. I dont get it. Please do yourselves a favor and stop this nonsense. It makes you look stupid!

  • VWGirl

    and bonnie…..get a grip. Really?!?! Your helping….definately. keep your stupid opinions to yourself.

  • marian

    no matter what color, race, sex or anything in between this story sends a really SCARY message to anyone who commits a murder and wonders “where do i put the body? aha i know the nearest landfill because the police won’t search there”. did you all get that? THE POLICE TOLD THE KILLERS WHERE THEY WILL NOT LOOK!!!!

  • Really?

    Oh, so now they can kill people and throw their body in a dumpster and call it a day? They will never have to suffer the repercussions of their actions bc the gov’t isn’t willing to recover the body EVEN THOUGH they have been told how the body was disposed of. What a corrupt world we live in today. This is outrageous.

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