Family is '99% certain' body is that of missing mother
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-- The Medical Examiner hasn't confirmed it yet.
But Sandra Whaley Lowrance and Trisha Whaley are 99 percent certain that the body found in the home of their late grandfather early Sunday afternoon is that of their sister: Erika Whaley, 25, missing since early September.
"The clothing police say they found," Sandra Lowrance says. "She was found in my papaw's bed.
"But Papaw's been gone almost two years---the windows and doors are boarded up, it's just not a place we would have thought to look."
Lowrance and the family had held off looking for months, they say, because the mother of four little boys had disappeared had least twice; to escape trouble with prescription painkillers and other drugs.
And to take breathers from a troubled relationship with her children's father and one-time fiance' James Lee 'Jimmy' Hill, 26.
"Just trying to get it together--trying to decide what to do in life," Lowrance says.
That all changed when police called Sunday.
"The tip didn't come from a family member, the tip I believe came from Crimestoppers," Ofc. Nathan Hartwig says.
It led to Whaley's grandfather's house on Ocoee. And a body.
"Decomposed," Hartwig says. "It has not been positively identified but it's a high probability it is Erika."
Hartwig has declined to speculate how long the body had been there, or how somebody might have gained entry to the locked home.
"I just want to know why, and how," Lowrance says.
The family had worried when Whaley had missed her boys' birthdays.
"October, November, into December," Trisha Whaley says. "She'd always call, but all those--we knew something was wrong.
Worry turned to action December 16.
"They were supposed to be in court," Lowrance says. "And when she didn't show up we went to the Police Department."
The court date was for Hall, facing charges of aggravated kidnapping and domestic assault. Erika Whaley had accused him of hitting her, and speeding so that she couldn't get out of his moving car, her sisters say.
"It's been that way for years. We'd tell them they were poison for each other," Trisha Whaley says.
'They didn't need to be together," Lowrance adds.
Police told them the last person to see Erika was on September 15.
"Getting into a red truck leaving a battered woman's shelter," Hartwig says.
Lowrance and Whaley say Hill has such a red truck.
Eyewitness News tried to reach Hill at his parents' home in Harrison, where he and the couple's children live. Hill's parents are the children's legal guardians.
Nobody answered when we knocked. Hill's new girlfriend tells us his lawyer has advised him not to talk to anybody.
Until an autopsy confirms whether the body found is that of Erika Whaley, police are classifying the discovery as an Undetermined D.O.A. : Dead on Arrival.
"I don't know that there's anything suspicious about it yet," Hartwig says.
That keeps the Whaley case open, and her family anxious.
"I want to hope for our nephews' sake that it's not anything to do with him," Lowrance says.
"That maybe it's something else. But we can't rule anything out."