News 12 First at Five, November 5, 2007
ALLENDALE, S.C. -- One year ago an Allendale teenager disappeared.
The mystery of what happened to 17-year-old Erica Bradley still baffles her family and investigators.
There is a primary suspect in the case, her boyfriend Derick Maner, but he has never been charged.
Erica Bradley was a 17-year-old with a bright future. An honor roll student with dreams of college. A young mother to a five-month-old baby boy. The Sheriff and her family agree, Erica Bradley had everything to lose and nothing to gain by leaving town.
"I don't think she would just walk away like that. Something happened to her," says Allendale Sheriff Tom Carter.
After a full year of searching, what exactly happened to Erica is still a mystery.
"Every day is a different day. Everyday the pain is different. The wondering. It's mind-boggling," says Bonnie Myers, Erica's aunt.
Investigators feel the same. "It's a strange case. Ms. Bradley's been missing since last November and we are no closer to finding her body as we was on day one, " adds Sheriff Carter.
Adding to that frustration, Sheriff Carter says there is a prime suspect-Erica's boyfriend and father of her child Derick Maner. News 12 went to his home to talk with him, but there was no answer.
"I believe the suspect is the murderer. I also got 2 outside agencies helping me with this case feel the same," explains Sheriff Carter.
On the night of her disappearance, Erica Bradley was working the closing shift at the Allendale Hardees. Her family says Derick Maner was supposed to pick her up, but he never showed, so she called her cousin to take her home. And on their way, authorities say, they passed Derick Maner and they pulled over in front of the County Courthouse.
Next, investigators say Erica Bradley got in a fight with Derick Maner in front of the courthouse. The time was about 11:30. Her cousin says Erica then got in the car with Maner and left. It would be the last time anyone reported seeing Erica Bradley alive.
Sheriff Carter: "We know for a fact it's her DNA under the car, that's our strongest evidence."
News 12: " What do you think that shows?"
Sheriff Carter: "That she was ran over. At some point in time, she was ran over." He says that DNA includes Erica's blood, tissue, and hair. The Sheriff says that's enough evidence to arrest and charge Derick Maner with Erica's murder.
"When we presented it to our Solicitor, he said that wasn't enough evidence. We needed a body. The case started going downhill from there," Sheriff Carter says.
News 12 called Solicitor Duffie Stone for some answers. "If you're asking if I'm requiring law enforcement to do everything they can to find out what happened to Erica Bradley then yes, I am the hold up," he says. "In Allendale County we have had one murder conviction in the last 30 years. I haven't been the solicitor long, but I've been a prosecuting attorney a long time and i can tell you that is unacceptable."
We asked about the evidence against Maner and if it was enough.
"First of all, I won't even confirm there is a main suspect in this case," says Solicitor Stone.
Stone says ethically, he couldn't discuss evidence with us, but he did say it's what this case boils down to; and that it must be strong enough to get a conviction.
News 12: "Do we hope for a resolution and would you go forward if you had the evidence even though you had no body?"
Stone: "Absolutely. It's rare in South Carolina but if we have the evidence we will go forward. What we need to do is we need to work harder, we need to investigate everything we possibly can and put every bit of effort that we have into it and we're not finished with this yet."
While he asks for patience from the community and her family, those closest to Erica say they still hold out hope she will be coming home alive.
"In my heart, she's not dead. She can't be," says Myers.
"God is telling us to wait and be still. That he is going to bring it to pass. And it shall come to pass." adds Erica's Grandmother Annie Ruth Wright.
And as the wait continues, the other victim in this case, the couple's son Ty Derrius grows older. At 17-months-old, he's walking and talking, and Erica is missing it.
"Derick, you know and first and foremost god know. Bring her to us. Bring her to us right now. It's enough. This is enough," pleads Myers.
"We're still hoping for a conviction in this case. Like I said, as long as I'm the Sheriff here, this case will never go away. I keep this file on my desk as a reminder that I'm still looking for ms. Bradley and I'm going to keep on looking," promises Sheriff Carter.
Maner has full custody of Ty Derrius. Erica's family says they see him about every two to three months. The family says they would like to have more custody, but there is no money for legal fees.
Solicitor Stone and Sheriff Carter both tell News 12 there is new evidence SLED is looking at right now. Stone says it's undergoing testing in Columbia right now. Stay with News 12 for continuing coverage on Erica Bradley's disappearance.