A Trip to The Grocery Store
The late winter in Texas is a mild time usually, with steady wind and a biting chill in the air. The season is one of change, the life force of the previous year is fading away to succumb to a newness imbued by the heat of the Spring and Summer. January 12th, 1996 in Arlington, Texas was no different, the sun was shining, the wind was steady, and the temperature hovered around the mid-sixties. On this day Donna Whitson and her two children, nine-year-old Amber and five-year-old Ricky Hagerman were in Arlington visiting Donna’s parents, Glenda and Jimmie Whitson. The family arrived at their destination around 3pm and upon disembarking Donna’s car the kids asked to ride their bikes, the ones that Donna had her parents keep at their home for them. Donna, without a second thought, assented to the request with the limitation that the kids stay within a block of their grandparents’ home. She wanted them to be safe.
Once astride their bicycles and away from nagging adults, Amber disregarded the boundary set upon her and her brother. Amber led Ricky to the local neighborhood play spot, a shuttered Winn-Dixie grocery store and after approximately 15 minutes of riding around the parking lot and loading dock the younger Ricky was ready to turn back home, whether out of fear of being beyond their boundary or being tired is unknown. What is known is that Amber had elected to stay and ride her bike around the parking lot of the store on her own for a while longer, that Ricky went home alone, and that in the intervening time something horrible would happen to Amber that would shape substance and conscious of the her family forever.
On January 12th, Mr. Jim Kevil was sitting on his back porch looking out over his yard and fence, a view that happened to encompass the next-door Winn-Dixie store’s loading dock and the street it was on. Around 3:15 pm Mr. Kevil saw a lone young girl riding a colorful bike around the grocery store loading dock when a dark colored truck quickly pulled into the parking lot. Jim Kevil would later state that the driver of the truck was either white or Hispanic and between the ages of 25-40, this unknown subject grabbed Amber, who let out a scream and began kicking her abductor. The driver then put Amber in his vehicle before he sped off West bound down Abrams Road. Not just a passive witness, Mr. Kevil called 911 to report the incident to the police and to try to aid in the capture of the kidnapper and the return of the little girl. This would be the last time that anyone would see Amber Hagerman alive.
After arriving home alone five-year-old Ricky Hagerman was sent by his family back to the Winn-Dixie to retrieve his sister. Turning his bike around Ricky did as requested, only to return to an empty parking lot. Only a brief eight minutes had elapsed since he had last seen his sister, but it was too late; Amber was gone. Ricky once again arrived alone to the Whitson home prompting Grandfather Jimmie Whitson to race to the store in his car to search for Amber himself. Jimmie would arrive at the store at about the same time as an Arlington police officer, summoned by Jim Kevil’s 911 call did; the only remnant of Amber was her abandoned bicycle.
Law Enforcement, including the local police and the FBI (involved as a result of the pleas of Amber’s distraught family), coupled with a mass of volunteers began a wide net search for the missing girl, but came up empty. Amber had vanished. Discovery
January 16, 1996 is a day that Amber’s family will never forget. Four days after she had been taken by an unidentified male from that Winn-Dixie parking lot, Amber Hagerman’s body was discovered in the early morning hours by an anonymous man walking his dog near the Forest Hills Apartment Complex in Arlington, Texas. Her body was found face down in a creek approximately 4 miles from her abduction site. Prior to this, apartment maintenance workers had been in that area and seen nothing, suggesting that the remains were either placed there after the workers had left or moved down stream by a torrential rainstorm that had just occurred. Amber’s family was informed shortly after the discovery, shocked they initially refused to believe the news with her father quoted in a New York Times article written at the time as saying, “She’s still alive” to the reporters covering the case and camped outside the Whitson home.
Amber was discovered wearing nothing but a single sock and the medical examiner would later confirm investigators suspicions, there was evidence of sexual assault and physical abuse, the cause of death: lacerations to the neck and throat. Additionally, the medical examiner stated that there was evidence that Amber had been kept alive for at least two days after her abduction before she was murdered, and her body disposed of. Investigation Still Ongoing
More than 20 years later the investigation is still technically ongoing, to date the Arlington Police Department (APD) has not formally announced that they have any suspects or persons of interest. APD Detective Ben Lopez stated in a recent interview that the APD still receives tips regularly regarding the case and the department thoroughly investigates each one like it could be the piece of the puzzle that finally gives Amber’s family closure and justice.
An explanation of this unsolved murder most likely lies in the fact that Amber’s body was left in running water for an indeterminate amount of time, coupled with the storm that raised the creek level and most likely moved the body from the dump site, forensic evidence would have been all but erased and any physical evidence diluted or washed away. Not helping the investigation is the fact that there is only one witness to the crime: Jim Kevil was the sole person to come forward with information regarding the abduction, despite the fact that Amber was taken in broad daylight on a residential street. To date no one else has come forward with evidence or statements to aid in the apprehension of the unknown subject. Some reports assert that this is a result of the immigrant community in the area and the traditional apprehension of this population in talking to law enforcement thought that remains unsubstantiated speculation.
It is believed that Amber’s abductor and murderer was a stranger to her given that he took her by force and did not attempt to talk her into his vehicle. With this, I agree with the official narrative. Where I differ is on why Amber was taken. Based on the speed at which the abduction occurred it suggests to me that Amber may have been watched for some time before being taken. As stated previously Amber Hagerman was abducted in a window of approximately 8 minutes from when her brother left and then returned to bring her home. The official narrative is that this was an act of extreme opportunity when the perpetrator just happened to be driving by when he saw her alone. This would suggest that there was an event that triggered sporadic actions in the perpetrator, to quote a popular television show there must have been a stressor that induced this action.
Regardless of the why, the fact of the matter is that Amber Hagerman’s killer is still at large. He has gone unpunished for his heinous actions against this innocent little girl and by extension her family. As a result of chance and a fluke of nature no evidence or additional witnesses remain of what happened on that fateful winter day. Amber’s killer is nameless, and her family is left with no closure or answers, only questions and heartache. Possible Suspects Richard Lee Franks
Richard Lee Franks was charged on March 16, 2000 with the aggravated kidnapping of Opal Jo Jennings from Saginaw, a town a few miles north of Fort Worth. On March 26, 1999 6-year-old Opal was playing with her 3-year-old cousin in a vacant lot next to her grandparent’s house when Franks pulled up to the lot in his black Mercury Cougar. He then exited his vehicle and approached the kids feigning conversation with them. When Franks was close enough, he plucked Opal off the ground, punched her in the chest and put her in his car. What happened next was not unlike in Amber’s case, a large-scale search was launched for Opal led by her family and the local police department, it would not be for five years that Opal would be found. Her remains were discovered in a wooded area while two individuals were riding their horses along a remote trail. As a result of the state in which the remains were found, there was little physical or forensic evidence. What was clear was that the cause of death was most likely the result of a blow to the head. Franks would later be charged with Opal’s kidnapping but not her murder as there was no evidence to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Franks had indeed murdered her. In fact, he claimed that he had driven her to a local store to get a drink and left her there. What lends credence to Franks as a potential suspect is the similarity between Amber and Opal, and the way that they were taken. Both were seemingly impulse driven abductions based on the speed in which they occurred.
This link between Opal and Amber was not solely based on the research of internet sleuths. Mark Simpson, an investigating officer in the Hagerman case in an address to the National Children’s Advocacy Center’s 26 Annual National Symposium on Child Abuse to the fact that Franks had prior criminal history involving children, all young, brown haired girls and that Opal’s kidnaping occurred in the same county as Amber’s. Based on proximity, prior history, and similarity in method at the very least one could expect that APD would investigate Franks as a person of interest however, that has not been the case. Terapon Adhahn
Born in Bangkok, Thailand. Terapon immigrated to the United States as a child when his mother married a U.S. serviceman and he returned to the United States. As he grew older Terapon would become a Buddhist monk as well as follow in his stepfather’s footsteps and join the U.S. Army. Adhahn has been connected to (either directly as the known perpetrator or suspected) multiple offenses, both resolved or unresolved, against children throughout Washington State including rape, kidnapping, and murder. He has also been questioned in connection the Amber Hagerman case by APD though has not been named as an official suspect.
In 1990 Adhahn was charged with sexual assault against a 16-year-old relative. This charge would result in him being forced to register as a sex offender and enter rehabilitation but as a first offense was not enough for him to be deported.
On May 31, 2000 an 11-year-old unnamed (for reasons of privacy) Spanaway County Girl was abducted on her way to school. She was bound and taken to a secluded training field close to the Fort Lewis Military Base where she was repeatedly assaulted over the course of an hour. After the assaults Adhahn left her bound on a road nearby where she would be discovered walking, still bound with her eyes taped over, by a Tacoma City Police Officer.
In December 2005, Adre’anna Jackson would also be abducted on her way to school, she disappeared from Lakewood in Pierce County, Washington and was never seen again. Over a year later, April 2006, skeletal remains were found in a field near her Tillicum neighborhood. Investigators showed pictures of Adhahn to residents who identified him as a known handyman who frequently worked in the area. He is regarded as a person of interest in this case.
On July 4, 2007 Zina Linnik had been watching a firework display with her siblings on a hilltop near her home when her father, Mikhail Linnik, on his back porch presumably also watching the display, heard his daughter cry out. When he arrived at the spot that Zina was taken all that was left was a single shoe she had been wearing, Mikhail also saw a gray Chevy Astro van speeding away and he was able to partially make out the license plate. Four days alter Terapon Adhahn was arrested for the kidnapping of Zina. However, this speedy apprehension was not enough, on condition of prosecution not seeking the death penalty, Adhahn led investigators to the remains of young Zina Linnik. She had been strangled with a zip tie though Adhahn would claim that her death had been an accident.
Additionally, while living in the Tacoma area, Adhahn was responsible for the care of an unnamed (again for the sake of privacy) 12-year-old girl. Her mother allowed the girl to live with Adhahn since she was unable to provide for her daughter, Adhahn only a “friend of her mother’s boyfriend”. Over the course of the next three years Adhahn would subject the young girl to repeated sexual assault, stopping only when she was able to run away after being assaulted at gun point.
Why Terapon Adhahn? It has been reported that, coupled with his extensive and horrendous history with children, Terapon lived for a time with his aunt in the Fort Worth area around 1996. During the investigation, law enforcement noticed striking similarities in the method of kidnapping, assault, and victims in the Adhahn case and with a few officers having been trained in Texas for the Amber Alert System, were familiar with the Hagerman case. Additionally, he used a similar vehicle in the Fort Lewis incident as was seen in Amber’s abduction. Terapon has been question regarding Amber's abduction and murder though not formally named as a suspect or even a person of interest. Similar Cases Heidi Seeman – San Antonio, Texas
On August 4, 1990 11-year-old Heidi Seeman was walking home from a sleep-over at a friend house the previous night. Her unnamed friend walked Heidi a part of the way home, to a midpoint between their houses at the intersection of Stahl road and Willow Run Street. Approaching the intersection Heidi’s friend as well as neighbors in the area reported seeing a red car with dark tinted windows pass by the girls slowly, and the driver watching them intently. Thinking nothing much of it, the girls parted ways and Heidi was never seen again. On August 25th, 1990 her remains were found in Hays County, Texas. No additional details were released regarding her death aside from the fact that a medical examiner ruled her death as a result of homicide. Erica Botello – San Antonio, Texas
Closer in circumstance to Amber Hagerman, 7-year-old Erica Botello was taken on August 23, 1990 from the playground (or road next to depending on source) near her apartment complex. She was not unsupervised or alone the entire time she was playing. Erica was with her Father however he stepped inside for a brief time. When he went back outside, Erica was gone. Her remains would be found on August 25, 1990 in a storm drain about a mile from her home and abduction site. There is little information regarding Erica’s as she was and is eclipsed by the case of Heidi Seeman, a young white girl just a few years older than Erica, a girl of Hispanic dissent, from a wealthier side of San Antonio to the working class area that the Botello family lived in. Any information found on Erica is usually limited to brief sentences and always in tandem to Heidi. Legacy and Aftermath
What happened to Amber Hagerman is not a mystery, it is known. She was taken from her family, held and assaulted over the course of two days, killed, and her body was disposed of in a creek not far from her abduction site. Her killer did all of these things without leaving any evidence, and slipped away. What isn't known is who did those things to her? Was it someone she knew? Had that person been watching her? Was this all really the result of chance and opportunity? One can hope that these questions, and more, will be answered one day but with each passing day the possibility that they never will be becomes all the more real.
It has been 24 years since Amber Hagerman was abducted and murdered yet her legacy lives on.
Amber’s abduction and murder was the impetus for the creation for the AMBER Alert System. This is a coordinated effort between law enforcement, radio, television, and cellphone broadcast systems to alert the general public in the region of an abduction to the incident and any information that law enforcement has on the abduction such as their physical description as well as the description of the vehicle they were last seen with. This system has resulted in the safe return of almost 1,000 children in the United States since its inception as a regional program in 1997, then national (and international) in 2000 however it is also under scrutiny for saving so few and being so annoying as an alert results in an alarm blaring through the device that receives it, and for saving so few. Critics question whether it saving just one life is worth it, is saving so few worth it?
I say yes.
Amber Hagerman Arlington police mum about whether DNA evidence exist in unsolved Amber Hagerman case CRIME HUNTER: Sleep interrupted? Think about Amber Hagerman | Toronto Sun [APD "Missing" flyer for Amber Haggerman, 1996] - Side 1 of 1 - The Portal to Texas History AA28.pdf Gale In Context: Biography - Document - Body of Kidnapped Texas Girl Is Found Body of Girl Who Was Dragged Screaming Off Bicycle Is Found - Los Angeles Times How Were Amber Alerts Created? The Amber Hagerman Cold Case - A&E Child abuse symposium speaker tells of similar abduction/murder cases with different endings - al.com
Richard Lee Franks Medical examiner: Remains are those of missing girl - Plainview Herald Richard Lee Franks | Texas Prison Inmates | The Texas Tribune FRANKS v. STATE | FindLaw Family prepares to bury girl who was abducted five years ago - Midland Reporter-Telegram FBI, Texas Rangers investigating death of 6-year-old girl in Saginaw | Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Terapon Adhahn Adhahn pleads guilty to murder of Tacoma girl, 12 | The Seattle Times Killer of Tacoma child reveals motive in papers | The Seattle Times Terapon Adhahn pleads guilty to rape, murder of Zina Linnik | HeraldNet.com Child abduction-rape investigation widens - seattlepi.com
Heidi Seeman and Erica Botello August marks 30 years since disappearances of Heidi Seeman, Erica Botello 1990 kidnapping, murder of two San Antonio girls still unsolved