Tuesday, April 17th, 2007
'Please help me ... I'm still riding in this trunk'
By Margie Wuebker
SIDNEY - Clearly disoriented but in a remarkably calm voice, Victoria "Vicki" Eilerman tells 911 dispatchers she has been taken from her home, placed in the trunk of a car, raped at the assailant's home and then returned to the trunk for a ride that would prove to be her last.
The calls are just one more heartbreaking detail in a 32-hour timeline, which began as a random burglary the afternoon of April 5 and quickly escalated into murder. Suspect Christopher L. Harris, 32, of Sidney, subsequently confessed to aggravated murder, kidnapping and rape and directed authorities to Eilerman's body in exchange for prosecutors dropping the death penalty.
Shelby County Sheriff Kevin O'Leary released tapes and transcripts of the Fort Loramie woman's cell phone calls Monday in the wake of a suit filed by the Dayton Daily News and WHIO-TV in Dayton. He also held a press conference to address remaining questions.
The 84-year-old mother, grandmother and great-grandmother placed six cell phone calls to 911 between 1:46 and 1:56 p.m., including three hangups or lapses in service.
"Some man ... take me for a long ride in the trunk of a car ... Please help me ... I don't know where I'm at ... I'm still riding in this trunk of the car ... He said he would take me home," Eilerman says in the first 911 call.
She identifies herself as Vicki Eilerman of Fort Loramie, but two dispatchers with more than 10 years of experience repeatedly request the caller's identity. The 84-year-old woman continues talking unaware the dispatchers cannot establish two-way communication or pinpoint her location.
"He's going crazy," she says. "He's driving really crazy fast."
In a final call, she states "And I don't know where he's taking me ... he already took me to his house ... Please help me ... I don't know where I'm at."
"OK, who are you?" a dispatcher asks at 1:55 p.m. There is only silence.
Harris entered the Eilerman home, located along state Route 705 east of Fort Loramie, around 12:30 p.m., according to O'Leary. He gained access through an unlocked "people door" in the garage and apparently picked up some kind of tool. The elderly woman, who reportedly had heart problems, startled the intruder by screaming.
Harris swung the tool at the 130-pound woman delivering a blow to the left side of her face with enough force to dent the frames of her glasses. A trail of blood led from the bedroom to the driveway with Harris apparently allowing his victim to grab a red sweater and a pair of gloves at some point. The items were later found at the murder scene - a wooded area along Lochard Road, approximately 7-8 miles from the Eilerman home.
Harris told investigators he heard Eilerman's cell phone ringing as he approached Lochard Road. Records indicate the calls came from a family member as well as a 911 dispatcher trying to re-establish communication. Harris reportedly smashed the phone to pieces upon arriving.
He pulled the victim from the trunk, allowed her to walk a short distance and delivered the fatal blow to the back of the head with a ball- peen hammer. He then hid the body beneath branches and walked to a brother's nearby home for gasoline. Investigators theorize he ran out of gas while repeatedly trying to free the car mired in mud. An empty gasoline can was located in the car.
Harris, who took money and jewelry from the Eilerman house, returned to his Sidney home later that day, only to return around 10 a.m. the following day to retrieve the body in another car and hide it near railroad tracks beneath leaves, branches and trash. He reportedly threw the hammer into the nearby Great Miami River.
"The last place we would have started looking was a mile from the sheriff's office," O'Leary said. "We would not have found her so quickly without his help."
O'Leary lauded the efforts of everyone who played a role in the investigation, noting the sheriff's office as well as the prosecutor's office have come under fire for their handling of the case.
"I can't say enough about the people who helped a bad situation have some type of good resolution," he added. "We could be sitting here today and you could be asking questions of where do you think the body's at, who is a suspect or do you think the case ever will be solved."
Following sentencing May 4 in Shelby County Common Pleas Court, DNA samples will be taken from Harris and compared with DNA in other unsolved cases, including a rape.
Harris remains in isolation at the Shelby County Jail for his own safety. He reportedly has inquired about protection inside prison with the sheriff adding "Even criminals have a code of conduct."
Timeline of Eilerman investigation:
Thursday, April 5
• 12:10 p.m. - Daughter leaves residence after weekly shopping trip.
• 1:10 p.m. - Vicki Eilerman does not show up for scheduled card game.
• 1:20 p.m. - Mary Hoying calls to check on her sister; there is no answer.
• 1:40 p.m. - A brother-in-law goes to check the home; finds trail of blood through house and on the bed; assumes she had a nosebleed and went for help.
• 1:46 p.m. - Six calls placed from Eilerman's phone to 911; the first three are hang ups or loss of service; dispatchers can hear the woman on subsequent calls between 1:54 and 1:55 p.m.
• 2:06 p.m. - Call made to Cingular (since Eilerman's cell phone signal apparently bounced off a Cingular tower on Oak Street in Sidney); Cingular officials refer authorities to TracFone since that was the kind of cell phone used.
• 2:08 p.m. - TracFone identifies purchaser as Eilerman's son residing in rural Fort Loramie.
• 2:16 p.m. - Contact made with son; deputies arrive at scene.
• 2:30 to 3 p.m. - Christopher Lee Harris, later identified as the suspect, calls his girlfriend saying he cannot pick up her children at school because he ran out of gas. Authorities believe Eilerman was killed around this time.
• 2:48 to 3:26 p.m. - Contact made with Eilerman's six sons but authorities are unable to reach the daughter and fear there is more than one victim.
• 4:03 p.m. - TracFone officials advise Eilerman's phone does not have global positioning satellite capabilities.
• 4:30 p.m. - Detectives and representatives from the Miami Valley Crime lab arrive at Eilerman home; begin talking with neighbors.
• 5:30 p.m. - Area resident Karen Hoying reports to authorities at the scene that a man driving an older model, black sports-type car came to her home earlier seeking directions.
• 6 p.m. - Teletype goes out to all law enforcement agencies asking them to be on the lookout for a man in his 20s, 30s or 40s driving a black car.
• 6:30 p.m. - Contact made with Sidney Police Department asking them to pay close attention to any black car that might be parked in a driveway or along the street.
• 7 p.m. - Extra manpower (deputies, police and troopers) brought in to patrol the Fort Loramie and Sidney areas throughout the night; family members asked to come to sheriff's office for briefing.
Friday, April 6
• 9 a.m. - Local art teacher Sylvia Chirakos Dorsey meets with Karen Hoying to draft a composite of the suspect.
• 11:30 a.m. - Confidential informants suggest authorities consider Christopher Lee Harris a suspect and check a wooded area along Lochard Road northeast of Sidney. His family reportedly owned the property at one time.
• Noon - Authorities locate black car at the Lochard Road site buried to axles in mud; begin work on search warrants after learning the car is registered to Harris' girlfriend, Christy Brandenburg.
• 3 p.m. - Sheriff goes to Eilerman family to report suspect's car has been found and to report the victim is likely dead given body trace evidence found at the scene.
• 5:30 p.m. - Sheriff's tactical response team surrounds home on Maywood Place in Sidney where Harris and Brandenburg reside; kick down door and take suspect into custody. Subsequent search of a vehicle parked in the garage shows stains determined to be blood.
• 6:15 p.m. - Authorities begin interviewing Harris.
• 8 p.m. - Harris requests an attorney; negotiations begin with the suspect agreeing to confess to aggravated murder, kidnapping and rape and to reveal location of the body if Shelby County Prosecutor Ralph Bauer does not purse the death penalty; family contacted regarding the proposed agreement and agrees to give up the death penalty in order to get their mother back.
• 9 p.m. - Harris signs confession with formal announcement made at a 9:30 p.m. press conference.
• 10:30 p.m. - Body located off River Road, approximately one mile from sheriff's office.