In 1972, Michael Steven Akey, 14, was abducted in Burton. When his remains were found in 1978 near Whitehall Plantation on Lady’s Island, the case turned from missing to murdered.
Akey’s is one of 30 unsolved crimes held in the cold case files by the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office. On June 24, the anniversary of Akey’s disappearance, the BCSO sent out a text message on Nixle, a social media platform.
“We use it to generate interest,” said investigator Capt. Bob Bromage. “We publish a notification on the anniversary date of each case. Sometimes, someone who years ago had loyalty to the person responsible may have since changed their mind about that loyalty.”
Solving the 23 homicides and seven missing persons cases is part of the vision Sheriff P.J. Tanner has had for the county agency since he was first elected in 1999, said Bromage, who is the lead administrator of the cold cases.
Tanner created and developed a cold case committee composed of retired law enforcement officers and medical doctors. The all-volunteer group meets monthly to review the cases. When possible, they meet with the original investigators, re-interview witnesses and, as forensic technology has advanced, resubmit evidence for further testing.
Bromage said two cases are closed, thanks to new eyes and advancing science.
“In one case, Bertha Neaman, a newspaper lady on Hilton Head, was abducted in the middle of the night and murdered in 1988,” said Bromage. “The case was reopened in 1999 and as a result Eckerin Frazier was charged in 2000 and convicted in 2001.”
The investigator said it was a matter of going back over the material, re-interviewing witnesses and using DNA evidence.
“There was some information gathered early on in the investigation that identified a suspect but we needed more,” he added. “Frazier was in prison at the time and we found some evidence that kind of linked him to it. It was in his jail cell, as a matter of fact.”
Bromage said investigators need a solid case with good forensic science to bring it to court.
The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which began as an FBI pilot program in 1990, is a database of DNA evidence submitted by law enforcement agencies from crime scenes and individuals involved with the legal system. Eleven of the BCSO’s cold cases took place before 1990. New technology might help further the investigations.
Bromage said that some cases might never be solved and that is reality.
“There are those extremely difficult-to-solve cases where you have a high-risk victim involved in drug dealing, theft. You get less public interest out of those cases. Yes, we want to solve them,” said Bromage. “In those particular cases that are gang-related, drug-related – leads dry up fast. In one case in our files, whoever exacted the revenge for one murder is still out there and so is one of two guns.”
Investigators continue to work on such cases in the hope that someone who has information will contact them. People can also make an anonymous call to CrimeStoppers. Calls that lead to convictions may result in a $2,500 reward, also an anonymous transaction.
“That’s a great way to do it. Whoever is getting the information on our end has no idea where it is coming from,” said Bromage. “And that’s safe. We support CrimeStoppers. You don’t have to be identified and put yourself in danger.”
To register for free notifications of cold cases, and current ones, visit www.Nixle.us. To provide information anonymously, call CrimeStoppers at 888-274-6372 or text TIPSC with a message to CRIMES (274637).
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.