Casey Parsons had tears in her eyes when she appeared, alongside her husband Sandy, on the Dr Phil show in 2013. They were pleading with the nation for help locating their adopted daughter Erica, who went missing at 13.
The story, as they told it, was bizarre. It was filled with inconsistencies and lies, cleverly hidden behind tears and pleading anguish.
Now, no one is very surprised – especially not Dr Phil McGraw who said at the time “it looks fishy to me” – that the pair have been charged with the first-degree murder of Erica, as well as felony child abuse; felony concealment of death; and felony obstruction of justice.
It’s a heartbreaking end to a truly wretched story.
Watch part of the Dr Phil interview in the video below.
The Parsons’ account to Dr Phil was that they’d sent Erica to stay with a woman who claimed to be her biological grandmother, named Irene Goodman, for a few weeks over Christmas in 2011 – more than two years before the television appearance.
“I knew she was safe and being looked after,” Casey said, when asked why she hadn’t tried to bring Erica home earlier, News Corp reports.
Casey did, however, admit to becoming suspicious after realising Erica had not taken a suitcase with her on the trip. And implied Goodman had a planned to kidnap the girl all along.
She said she heard her daughter in the background during calls to Goodman and, on one occasion, Casey said, Erica could be heard saying: “Tell that bi*ch not to come up here”.
Dr Phil responded by pointing out: No Irene Goodman exists.
“But the police can’t find any Irene Goodman,” McGraw said. “We can’t find any Irene Goodman and we’ve done everything we can. Every ‘Irene Goodman’ we’ve found has no connection to this case whatsoever.”
The interview with McGraw – and the Parsons’ belated acknowledgement that their daughter was missing – came only after Erica’s brother reported her disappearance to the police two years after she was supposedly “sent away”.
Erica lived with the Parsons from 2000 until her disappearance in 2011. By 2016, there was still no sign of Erica and both Casey and Sandy were serving prison terms for fraud charges – they had been claiming thousands of dollars in federal adoption assistance money meant for Erica, even after her disappearance.
Finally, in August 2016 there was a breakthrough. Sandy, still imprisoned, allegedly admitted to police the girl’s body had been “discarded” on December 19, 2011. He said he could help locate Erica’s shallow grave in Pageland, South Carolina.
“That day in South Carolina was tough on all of us,” Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten said in announcing the charges this Tuesday, CBS News reports. “I saw some pretty tough cops take it pretty rough.”
The reason the charges are only being filed now - with both Sandy and Casey indicted by a grand jury this Monday - was because the autopsy report was so difficult to complete and only delivered in January 2018.
The state of the body, which had been left to decay for five years, made determining the exact cause of death impossible. There were also clear signs of abuse, which needed to be deciphered.
The autopsy report, obtained by WBTV and reported by CBS News, found Erica died of "homicidal violence of undetermined means" and said "the possibility of a terminal blunt force injury, suffocation or strangulation" can not be excluded.
Erica was malnourished and, after taking police to her body, Sandy allegedly admitted to giving his daughter "harsh treatment". He allegedly disclosed how he beat her with a belt, bent her fingertips backwards, locked her in a closet, and choked her.
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During the hearing, Erica's adopted brother Jamie made similar claims, saying the whole family - he, his sister Brooke, and their parents - routinely abused Erica, WBTB reports. He said she wasn't allowed to use the bathroom and would be beaten if she relieved herself. That she was often forced to sleep on the floor, and frequently locked in a closet.
"She looked like a zombie," Jamie said of the last time he saw Erica in November, 2011. He told the jury she was standing in the corner being punished and had said to him she "didn't feel good and couldn't breathe too good".
"Shut the f*ck up," Casey allegedly said at the time, Jamie testified. Then, he went to bed.
He never saw his adopted sister again and, when he asked about her whereabouts, he was told by their parents she'd been taken to her grandmother's house. Sandy looked "sick" at the question, Jamie said.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten said the timing of the charges is sadly "fitting".
"It's been a long time coming," he told WBTV. "Her [Erica's] birthday would've been Saturday. She would've been 20 years old."