I-Team Unsolved: 20 years later, classmates say Erica Fraysure's disappearance 'ruined their lives'

In our I-Team Unsolved series, WCPO examines cold cases in Greater Cincinnati.

BROOKSVILLE, Ky. -- Erica Fraysure's 12th grade English teacher flips through newspaper clippings, portraits and posters that read "Hope for Erica."

"No, she wasn't sweet," Caroline Miller said of Fraysure. "But she was fun, she was witty. She wasn't a social butterfly. She didn't need to be the center of attention."

Fraysure wasn't Miller's most studious pupil. She wasn't overly involved during her time at Bracken County High School.

"She was much more independent," Miller said. "And I admired that."

Fraysure was 17 when she went missing Oct. 21, 1997. She was last seen at a party in Brooksville with friends at around 9 p.m., investigators said. Her car was found the next morning parked in a field wedged between two large hay bales near Fronks Lake. Her keys were found in the field, but her purse and other belongings were still in the car.

 

"It's like she vanished from the face of the earth," Kentucky State Police Officer Charles Loudermilk said. "Everyone has their ideas, but the ideas change over the years. As far as directions go, there's really nowhere for us to go right now. We truly are stuck."

Miller keeps every scrap that could lead to a break in the case. She keeps in touch with Erica's former classmates -- some of whom remained determined to solve the mystery and others who want to forget that it ever happened.

Caroline Miller was Erica's English teacher.

"Her senior class -- it absolutely splintered," Miller said. "There were parts of the class that wanted to forget it all and move on with their lives. Then, there were almost cliques of students who wanted to keep her memory alive. They didn't care what happened to put Erica in the position to die."

Miller's son was in Fraysure's graduating class, too.

"There were others, including my son, who were very disturbed by the case," she said. "They thought if they pressured the right people they could find out the truth, whatever that may be."

At the senior prom that year, all students were given a keychain displaying Erica's senior photo. She got a page in the yearbook. But Miller said the students never truly felt closure.

"Everyone has figured out by now, but bringing in counseling is cleansing, cathartic," Miller said. "We didn't have that back then."

Miller said she and other teachers feared for their safety at one point, when suspicion and fear was heightened just after Fraysure's disappearance. When she asked for a security guard or police officer to come to the school, her request was ignored.

"All we wanted was an authoritative presence," she said. "No one saw a need. And I guess no one saw a need for counseling, either."

The teen's disappearance has affected the entire community in some way, Miller said.

"They're adults now," Miller said of Fraysure's senior class. "But many say (Fraysure's disappearance) has literally ruined their lives. And, in turn, it's ruining their children's lives. They're helicopter parents; they don't want their children going outside to get the mail."

And because there's no official suspect, nearly everyone in the small town of Brooksville is an unofficial one, Miller said.

"There are some students people who were -- or still -- are suspicious of," Miller said. "There are some who were riding around with her that night until she disappeared. They'd like to move on, too."

Erica's nickname was "Pooh," police said. She was wearing a Winnie the Pooh watch when she went missing.

The case still burdens some of the investigators who worked on it. In 1997, Bracken County Deputy Bob Scott was the lead investigator on the case. 

"Everyone always had a case, the case they couldn't solve, and this is mine. This is my case; it still haunts me," he said.

Early reports of the investigation into Fraysure's disappearance talked about the community's desperation to find answers. It wasn't until later that some admitted that she had "fallen in with a bad crowd," as Miller said.

"She might have made some mistakes," Miller said. "I know sometimes girls fall into traps. Sometimes you fall in with the wrong crowd -- sometimes teenagers will fall into an older crowd."

Over the years, some suspects emerged in the case -- some as official criminal suspects, others as the center of small-town amateur sleuthing.

One suspect named by police was Shane Simcox. Simcox, now 40, said he was the last person to see Fraysure alive.

"She dropped me off at my house around 9, and that was the last time I seen her," he told WCPO in a 1997 interview.

 

Simcox refused to take a lie detector test in 1997 and maintained that he had nothing to do with Fraysure's disappearance. He later served jail time in Kentucky for three separate felonies, according to public records.

In 2015, the Maysville Ledger Independent interviewed detectives about possible connections to convicted criminals. KSP investigator Chris Jaskowiak refuted several theories about killers serving time in surrounding states.

"We are still open to all possibilities, but we are also...looking at putting some persistent rumors to rest," Jaskowiak told the Ledger Independent.

Neither of Fraysure's parents lived to see the mystery of their daughter's disappearance solved: Erica's mother died in 2012 and her father died in 2016.

When Miller and others made a push for investigators to tell Fraysure's mother -- who was dying of cancer -- what they knew about what happened to her daughter, they wouldn't say.

"I always thought, what could have been so horrible, so awful, that you can't tell a grieving mother?" Miller said.

The investigation has changed hands multiple times, Loudermilk said. Now the file is on his desk. He admitted that he didn't know many details in the case off-hand.

"But judging by all the articles, a lot of people cared about her," he said. "And it didn't go away."

 

If you have any information about Erica's disappearance, call Kentucky State Police at 1-800-222-5555.

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