By: Andrea Cipriano, MAFP
The Charley Project Map and Meaghan Good

Collective Impact is a phrase you’ll see throughout the Uncovered website. It’s plastered all over our mission page, it’s mentioned in nearly all of our visualized cases, and it’s the backbone of our crowdsourcing tools.

Using the community to uncover answers and bring hope to the families of the murdered or missing is something we care immensely about. Being in the true crime space as champions for cold cases, we know this isn’t easy work that can be done alone.

That’s where you come in.

If you know Uncovered, you know we’re a software platform designed to combine data, analytics, and the power of the community to help solve the cold cases of murdered or missing people. Having America’s largest publicly available database of unsolved cases comes with extensive responsibility.

Current estimates say there are roughly 200,000 cold cases in our country alone. That’s 200,000 mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, cousins … each person with a unique story to be told.

What’s more, an additional 5,000+ cases go unsolved every year. 

That’s why we’re committed to ethically supporting families, law enforcement, content creators, media, and our community in the quest for answers. 

By no means do we think we can change the landscape of cold cases in one day, one month, or even one year — but it’s time to start working on something that matters … together. 

We don’t want to do this work alone.

While we’ve been hard at work digitizing nearly 50,000 cases, every now and then, there’s a case that comes across our physical (and digital) desks with the glaring opportunity to do more … the chance to create investigative movement.

Rachael Rosselet, our Head of Case Research & Data, has seen this chance first hand. 

When she’s not leading efforts to research cases, Rachael is organizing and visualizing information about unsolved cases. Little did she know that when she started working with Uncovered in 2021, she would help heat up a cold case that has haunted her family for generations.

To do so, Uncovered had to tap into the wisdom of the community.

Meet Nancy Eagleson

Like many girls her age, Nancy Eagleson, 14, longed to grow up faster than her parents might have wanted. She had recently purchased her first pair of high heels and was delighted to wear them to a movie screening on November 13, 1960. When the movie ended, Nancy and her 5-year-old sister Sheryl began the short walk back home on a quiet country road. 

A suspicious man driving a dark-colored car began trailing the girls. They were only five hundred feet away from their home when the driver suddenly pulled over directly next to the sisters. He got out of the car, beat Sheryl to the ground, and snatched Nancy.

A few hours later, two men raccoon hunting discovered Nancy’s murdered body.

Only a few days later, on November 16, the authorities admitted that the case lacked clues and declared that the investigation was “pretty well at a standstill” — but they had hope for resolution in the future.

The original coroners put together a gold mine of an evidence box, knowing that forensic technology would advance and their successors would have a better chance at justice than they did. The coroners properly collected semen evidence, a bullet fragment from Nancy’s skull, her fingernail clippings, her purse and its contents, her blood-spattered clothing, and her hair taken from a tree branch at the scene. 

For more than 60 years, Nancy’s case file was collecting dust, waiting for fresh eyes. But, with time, police lost the chain of custody, and no one knows where this box of evidence is anymore.

According to the Eagleson family, the gold mine simply vanished in 1985. It was either misplaced or discarded. 

It would feel like this could be the end of the road for justice … but advocates today won’t give up hope so easily. Thanks to modern technology and newfound advocates, Nancy’s case is finally heating up again.

 

Thawing out a Cold Case

“Nancy’s case is very close to my heart, not just because I grew up in Paulding, but because Nancy is family,” Rachael has shared. “I never got to know Nancy — she died nearly 15 years before I was even born — but I do have the privilege of knowing her sisters and their children.” 

Rachael’s grandfather and his brother were involved in the investigation of Nancy’s death, respectively as the Paulding Police Chief and a Deputy Sheriff at the time. She says it’s “it’s a little unnerving” to flip through a murder victim’s case file and to see her family name mentioned over and over. 

When Rachael began working at Uncovered in 2021, her dad called her one night and suggested she get Nancy’s case up in the database.  

This simple suggestion changed the trajectory of this case. 

The Uncovered community sprang into action to start visualizing Nancy’s case by doing a lot of digital research and finding information online. With Rachael’s personal connection to the case, she decided to reach out to Nancy’s sisters.  

“I was so nervous!” Rachael said when talking about first making contact with the Eagleson family. “Even though you know that you’re coming from a good space, not everyone who reaches out to families does.”  

Very quickly, though, Rachael realized she had no reason to be nervous. When she had her first conversation with Merril Miller, one of Nancy’s sisters, she answered the phone by saying to Rachael: “You know we are family, right?”

As the weeks passed, some of Rachael’s conversations with Nancy’s sisters were hard. By doing the good work of visualizing Nancy’s case, they were simultaneously opening up old wounds. 

“There’s a lot of trauma,” Rachael explained. “I am always thankful that [the Eagleson family] took the time to share their story with me.”

Once the Eagleson family was ready to ignite Nancy’s cold case further, the following steps ensured the family had the necessary resources to rekindle the investigation. 

Our next step was to find a family advocate for the Eaglesons. We reached out to Jolynn Rice, founder of Cold Case Digital Advocacy, to help the family navigate media and non-profit support. Jolynn has been an integral part of getting this case back in the public eye. She organized letter-writing campaigns to media outlets and applications to non-profit organizations for support.

The next step was reaching out to law enforcement. 

Thankfully, the Paulding County Sheriff is someone Rachael knew from her childhood, and after hearing about the efforts Uncovered was willing to undertake, Uncovered got the green light. 

Sheriff Jason Landers was willing to let members of the Uncovered team head to Paulding, Ohio, so they could organize and digitize thousands of information papers.  

When Rachael and the team arrived, she said it was overwhelming.

“There was so much stuff, and it wasn’t organized,” Rachael recalls. “There were scraps of papers everywhere — things written on the back of matchbooks, on the back of restaurant checks, literally anything. My immediate thought was, ‘How does anyone realistically make sense of all this information?’ It seems impossible. At the same time, it’s also fascinating to get a peek behind the curtain and see real case details.” 

Using an archival scanner, the team spent 8 hours scanning countless sheets of investigative notes, license plate numbers, messages from tipsters, and autopsy reports. Once the in-person labor was finished, the community spent weeks digging in. Everything was converted to searchable PDFs, and reorganized. 

The Sheriff’s file for Nancy Eagleson is now electronically stored and cannot be lost again, thanks to the tireless work of the Uncovered community. This was a momentous win — but there was still more to be done. 

One of the hopes of the Eagleson family was to exhume Nancy’s body and see if there was any DNA evidence that could still be obtained. They hit many roadblocks from experts telling them that it was unlikely and too difficult to raise the substantial sum of money needed for exhumation, testing, and reburial. Sheriff Landers wanted to help, but with experts saying it was unlikely to yield any evidence, he could not justify the expenditure.  

So, with the help of Jolynn, the sisters kicked off a Go Fund Me campaign to try and raise funds to do it themselves.  

Thankfully, in the spring of 2022, Uncovered spoke to representatives at the Porchlight Project, a non-profit in Ohio dedicated to helping support families like the Eaglesons.  

After hearing about their case, the group approved the Eagleson’s request and said they’d help fund Nancy’s exhumation in the fall of 2022. To bolster the effort, the Porchlight Project and the Eagleson Family hosted a fundraiser concert on September 18, 2022 at Branch Christian Fellowship. 

It was finally time to do boots-on-the-ground work. 

From URL to IRL

Rachael attended the benefit concert with her dad, and said driving into Paulding “felt like coming home.” Having her father there was extra special, she added, considering he was the one who got the ball rolling on this journey. 

Rachael said advocating in person was exhilarating.  

“I was able to give our family a hug,” she warmly remembers. “You can’t always communicate your support through words typed on a screen. I felt like I was able to ‘level up the amount of support that I could give people.”

The fundraiser was a testament to the Paulding community’s dedication to Nancy. Local blues legend Paul Joseph Miles performed while raffles, a bake sale, and a 50/50 drawing pulled in the local crowd. 

When advocates and the Eagleson family took turns talking to the crowd in the church, there was not a dry eye in the room.

Nic Edwards, the writer and host of True Crime Garage, and James Renner, investigative journalist and author, both spoke about their work with the Porchlight Project. The Eagleson family spoke about Nancy and detailed how much they deeply miss her.

By the end of the event, the air was full of hope — but nerves lingered. Regardless of the fundraiser event, a judge had yet to rule on whether or not they had the legal ability to go ahead with the exhumation.

Thankfully, it wasn’t long after the event that Judge Michael Wehrkamp granted the team permission to exhume Nancy.

This was a momentous win.

“This exhumation means so much to our family,” Nancy’s surviving sisters, Sheryl Garza and Merrill Miller, told West Bend News. “We have been waiting 62 years for some closure and justice for Nancy. 

Rachael also recalls this moment. “I was so excited for the family. This was everything that they had been hoping for and thought wouldn’t happen.” 

That same excitement was coupled with a healthy dose of fear. Rachael said she was afraid that the family would be let down … again. 

“As an advocate for cold cases, we see how families have been let down so many times that you don’t want to be the next person that does this to them,” she said. 

The small group that knew about the exhumation waited on the edge of their seats for days, waiting to get an email update about how things were going. When that notification popped up, Rachael said it was like finally exhaling with excitement.

While the exhumation did not yield any new DNA evidence, the medical examiner was able to recover a never-before-seen bullet and some fibers that have been sent out for testing. 

Rachael said, “there is still another avenue to investigate for answers,” and that’s all that matters.

Hope remains alive that this killer can be caught.

While Nancy’s case and the subsequent movement may seem like cosmic luck where the stars aligned just right, the purpose of this is to share that it’s not. Instead, it is the hard work and dedication of many, coming together with one goal — to help close a case and give a family the answers they’ve been waiting for way too long.

We can do this for more cases … together.



 


 

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