For the past eight months, a murder mystery has played out in north central Georgia.
The victim, 25-year-old bank manager and budding entrepreneur Charles Stephen Parker, had no known enemies, according to his family. But in January, after leaving a church service and driving to look at some land where he hoped to set up a new business, he disappeared. His body was found in an abandoned well by a caretaker about a month later. There have been no arrests, but Parker's family is hopeful someone can help root out his killer.
"People's lives have been changed as a result of this horrific situation," Parker's brother, Patrick, told The Huffington Post. "It's been extremely difficult for us -- for the family and my brother's widow. We just want to know who is responsible and why."
Charles Parker lived in Monroe, a city of about 3,000 families situated in the county seat of Walton County, Ga. A graduate of the University of Georgia, Parker was married and worked as an assistant manager at a Bank of America branch in nearby Athens.
But according to his brother, Parker was business minded and anxious to set out on his own. He had dozens of ideas -- a chain of barbershops, recording music, operating a bustling poultry farm -- and the latter of those ideas was well on its way to becoming a full-fledged enterprise when Parker met his untimely fate.
In October 2011, one of Parker's bank customers hit a $20 million Powerball jackpot. The woman knew of Parker's poultry farm idea and decided to invest $475,000 in Parker Poultry Farms. Four others joined her, bringing the total investment to a half-million dollars, and Parker planned to use the funds to secure a $3.2 million loan, his brother said. Things were looking up for him.
On Jan. 15, he delivered Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech at the Anointed Word Evangelistic Tabernacle Church in Lithonia. The speech was a success, according to those present, but unbeknownst to Parker it would be his last. Afterward, Parker said goodbye to his friends at church and set off to inspect some property in Madison County for his new business. En route, Parker picked up Victor Blockum, a man he had named the business' chief financial officer.
What happened next remains a mystery.
"Charles never returned from scouting out the property," Patrick Parker said. "Nobody could find him, so his wife reported him missing early the next morning."
Blockum told deputies from the Oglethorpe County Sheriff's Office who questioned him that he was with Charles Parker on Jan. 15, but said he had not seen him since he was dropped off at his Athens home between 4 and 4:30 p.m.
While Oglethorpe authorities tried to piece together Parker's last movements, they learned his wallet had been recovered the night he disappeared in an area north of downtown Athens. The next day, his gym bag was found in the same area by another person. Two days later an Athens-Clarke police officer made yet another discovery: Parker's black 2010 Chrysler 300 abandoned on College Avenue at Hoyt Street. Athens is about 35 miles from Monroe.
"I am trying to be hopeful – that is all I can do," Parker's wife, Kenisha, told CBS Atlanta at the time. "They have found everything but him. He is the missing piece and all we want is for him to come home."
In an attempt to locate Parker's cell phone, police pinged the phone and triangulated its location to Oglethorpe County's Smithonia community, on the outskirts on Athens. However, despite several searches investigators were unable to locate the device.
On Feb. 7, 23 days after Parker vanished -- investors in his poultry farm filed a lawsuit asking a Walton County judge to order the return of their money. According to the court documents, Blockum had attempted to withdraw the funds from the escrow account where the money was held, just two days after Parker disappeared.
The day after the suit was filed, Blockum's attorney, James Smith, filed a response claiming there was no dubious intent behind his client's actions. "When it was learned that Parker was reported missing, [Blockum] attempted to withdraw funds from the Bank of America for the purpose of restoring money to the plaintiffs," Smith wrote.
Smith did not return a call for comment from The Huffington Post. A phone number HuffPost found for Blockum has been disconnected.
On Feb. 20, the caretaker of a vacant property in Oglethorpe County smelled a foul odor coming from an old well. "I thought it might be a dead animal, but I went to Vietnam, and I know what a dead body smells like," the caretaker, Richard Benton, told the Athens Banner-Herald.
Benton and his nephew peered into the well with a flashlight and binoculars, and were horrified by what they saw.
"We shined a light down in there and you could see a boot that looked like it had a pair of jeans pulled up over the boot," Hoyt Bryant told Fox 5 News.
The men immediately contacted the Oglethorpe sheriff's office.
The remains pulled from the well were ultimately identified as Parker's. Authorities said he had been shot more than once, but will not say how many times. An autopsy indicated Parker was likely dumped in the well the same day he was last seen alive.
"The condition of the body was consistent with the amount of time he'd been missing," Jim Fullington, special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Athens regional office, told the Augusta Chronicle.
A week after Parker's body was found, the Athens Banner-Herald ran a story highlighting Blockum's past legal problems. According to the newspaper, Blockum was convicted for possession with intent to distribute cocaine and possession of tools for the commission of a crime; it also reported arrests for aggravated assault and falsifying identification numbers of stolen vehicles.
Authorities have not commented on Blockum's alleged criminal history, and have not named him a suspect or person of interest in Parker's homicide.
"Our policy is we don't discuss suspects or persons of interest. Everybody's definition of "suspect" is all relative to them and it's all different," Fullington told HuffPost.
He declined to comment on how close authorities are to cracking the case, but did say the investigation is active. "We've done follow-up interviews as recent as this past week on it. We are continuing to follow tips, leads and other information on it," the veteran detective said.Related Resources:
- Black And Missing Foundation
- HuffPost Crime Missing Persons
- The Black And Missing Foundation Aims To Find People Of Color
Patrick Parker, who is a local minister and founder of the non-profit Mentors Inc., an organization that helps young people reach their dreams, is hopeful police will soon bring the person or persons responsible for his brother's death to justice.
"Charles was a great guy. He was young, happy, business minded and trusting," Parker said. "He did not deserve to die this way. We would like to positively find out who is responsible for his murder. We've been waiting seven months for that answer and we continue to wait to get some closure."
Natalie Wilson, co-founder and director of public relations for the Black and Missing Foundation, has helped raise awareness about the case since Parker first disappeared. Wilson hopes that whoever holds the key to solving the case will help the Parker family, she said.
"It is our sincere hope that someone comes forward with information that could provide the Parker family with much needed closure," Wilson told HuffPost. "If you are uncomfortable reporting a tip to law enforcement, you can report it anonymously at www.bamfi.org."
Anyone with information that could help with the investigation can also call GBI's Athens office at 706-552-2309. Parker's family also maintains a Facebook page devoted to the case at Facebook.com/Justice4CharlesParker.