25 years after daughter’s disappearance, Hattiesburg family still wants answers
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — When Debra Freeman’s daughter didn’t return home after work one Thursday night, she didn’t worry.
On Wednesday, Angela told her mother she was spending Thursday night with a friend. The women worked different shifts so only had an hour or two together. Angela gave her mother cash for her car payment. They talked and laughed a while before Angela left for work.
“Mama, I love you. I’ll see you Friday,” were the last words Debra remembers her daughter saying as she left for work that day.
It was the last time Debra Freeman would see her daughter. Angela Freeman was 17 years old and four months pregnant. That was Sept. 8, 1993.
Two days later, the car Angela recently bought — a 1984 Honda Accord — was found near the old Mahned bridge in Perry County.
“Whatever happened to her happened between Thursday night and 3:45 p.m. Friday (when her car was discovered),” Debra said.
At the time, Perry County sheriff’s deputies investigated Angela’s disappearance as a missing person. Teenagers are reported missing all the time, but tend to turn up a day or two later, Debra said she was told.
“Back then they didn’t have cellphones,” Debra said.
The deputies let Debra take Angela’s car home.
But the investigation into Angela’s disappearance was about to take a more serious turn.
When Angela didn’t show up for work Saturday, Debra began to worry.
“The last thing on your mind is thinking that your daughter is dead or somewhere,” she said. “Everything is going through your head.”
She and her ex-husband Bill Stewart looked over Angela’s car and found what they thought was blood. They called Petal police.
“They found some stains on the car they thought were suspicious,” said Southern Miss Police Assistant Chief Rusty Keyes, who oversees the Pine Belt’s cold case unit, a unit that was founded in 2006 to assist local law enforcement agencies with cold cases.
“The unit has been fortunate over the years to clear a few cases,” he said. “Of course, this is one I want to clear just as well as all of them.”
Lab results confirmed what Debra feared: It was blood.
What at first appeared to be transmission fluid near Angela’s car also turned out to be Angela’s blood.
Divers and cadaver dogs searched the area around Mahned Bridge and Leaf River for days after Angela’s disappearance, but the only things that were found were her shoes, her mother said.
One shoe was found in tall grass near her car. The other was found on a nearby private road.
“It’s like you were dragging somebody and you were in a hurry to get out of there,” Debra said.
The search for Angela continued in the years following Angela’s disappearance.
Around 1999, DNA testing showed it was Angela’s blood. That’s when the investigation into her disappearance turned into a homicide, Debra said.
Authorities have never released the name of the father of Angela’s child nor said whether he could be a person of interest in her disappearance.
And despite the slayings of a young couple, Robbie Bond and William Hatcher, in May 1995 at Mahned Bridge, authorities say there is no connection between the crimes. Cousins Kenneth and David Moody are serving life in prison for capital murder in the couple’s deaths.
In 2001, human skeletal remains were found along an old logging road in Perry County near New Augusta.
DNA testing showed the remains were not Angela’s. Tests showed the remains had been there more than five years but less than 10 years.
Forensic analysis determined the skeleton most likely was the remains of a woman between the ages of 20 and 35, but the person has never been identified.
Investigators with the Perry County Sheriff’s Office, Petal Police Department, Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the Forrest-Perry County District Attorney’s office have worked on the case over the years and continue to do so, but Keyes took over as lead investigator through the cold case unit in 2006.
“We continue to work on the case and we hope in the near future to have enough information to submit a case to the District Attorney’s office,” Keyes said. “This case is an active case. I believe it’s a very solvable case.
“I hope in the near future that we are able to do just that and bring some resolution to Angela’s family. Angela and her family deserve justice.”
The case is one of several Keyes has been working through the cold case unit. And it is the one that stays with him.
The Freemans are satisfied Keyes is doing what he can to move the investigation forward.
“He’s managed to talk to people that’s never been talked to before,” said Debra’s brother, Roger Freeman.
Angela was last seen around 1 a.m. Friday outside the old Pizza Hut on Central Avenue in Petal, but not much has been made public about what may have happened between the time she left the restaurant and her car was found.
Her body has never been found and no one has ever been charged in connection to her death.
Keyes says the case may be old, but progress is being made.
“Cold case investigations can be a slow process — especially when you’re trying to locate witnesses or trying to develop a time line of an event that happened years ago,” he said.
New leads have been tracked down. The threads are still loose, so Keyes is hoping to soon find that one thing that will tie them all together. He believes they are on the verge of clearing the case.
Keyes said anyone who may have any information, no matter how insignificant they might think it is, should call him — even anonymously — or anyone in law enforcement they trust.
“It could be the one piece of information we need,” he said. “We want resolution, but we need the public’s help to get there. We need people to continue to cooperate with us to make it work.”
Debra would like to see some resolution as well.
“I just wish they would go ahead and bring it forth and give it to the grand jury and let them decide,” she said. “And then go from there.”
A memorial service for Angela was held in January 2002 to help bring closure to her family.
“I’ve got to do it for myself,” her mother said in an earlier story. “I don’t want people to think I’m giving up, I’m not. But it’s been more than eight years and I need to give her something.”
For years Angela’s room remained as she left it, including the new clothes she had bought for the baby she was expecting — a girl her family said she planned to name Christian.
“She had wanted this baby so bad,” Debra said.
“Angela was very excited about becoming a mother,” said her grandmother, Clydell Freeman of Hattiesburg. “Angela and Christian deserve justice and closure for our family and this community.
“We will never stop our search for Angela.”
Angela would have turned 42 in January. Her daughter would be 24 if she had been born. It’s hard to picture what the two would look like today. There are no photographs of Christian and the only photos of Angela as an adult are aged-progressed images of what she might look like today.
She is still listed as missing on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s registry.
“Not knowing is probably the toughest thing,” her brother Nicholas Freeman said in an earlier story. “You can’t rest. It’s like watching a movie and not seeing the ending.”
Nicholas wrote a song called “Angela,” which he played at her memorial service.
He recorded the song with photos of Angela and posted it on YouTube.
Debra said even though nearly 25 years have passed since she last saw her daughter, she is still haunted by her daughter’s disappearance.
“It’s something that never goes away,” she has said. “You wake up thinking about it. You go to bed thinking about it. You have good days and you have bad days.
“The only thing that really keeps you going is that she’s in a better place than we are.”
Angela’s friends still stay in touch with Debra, but she doesn’t know them all, and sometimes forgets they are adults, not teens like they were when her daughter disappeared.
“In a way I think they’re still 17 and these girls are 40-something,” Debra said. “I mean, she’ll always be beautiful.”
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