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Parents say remains found in W.Va. are those of missing son

April 24, 2001

Parents say remains found in W.Va. are those of missing son



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The parents of a Harpers Ferry, W.Va., man say police have told them they believe remains found near the Appalachian Trail are those of their son.

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West Virginia State Police Sgt. S.E. Paugh said Tuesday that although he could not confirm any conversations his department may have had with the couple, it is a "definite possibility" the remains are those of Eric Grant Cheeks, who was 19 years old when he disappeared a year ago.

Donna Cheeks said authorities have told her they believe the remains are those of her son because his wallet, his driver's license, a necklace he owned and his mother's credit card were found at the scene.

Roy Cheeks said he believes his son was slain.

"Either that, or something really bad went wrong," he said.

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Virginia State Police said they were investigating the case as a homicide, pending completion of an autopsy.

Virginia State Police said the skeletal remains were discovered Sunday by a hiker who walked off the Appalachian Trail and got lost.

The remains were about 300 feet off the trail near the West Virginia and Virginia border, Virginia State Police Sgt. Tom Martin said.

Police officers met Sunday evening with the hiker who was to take them to the spot where he had seen the remains, but the search was unsuccessful, Martin said.

They resumed the search at about 8 a.m. Monday and found the remains on a hillside in an area that is not accessible by car, investigators said.

It would be possible to drive within a mile of the site, but only with a four-wheel drive vehicle, Martin said.

The remains were found about two miles from an entrance to the trail that is near the West Virginia and Virginia state line along W.Va. 9 on Blue Ridge Mountain, Martin said.

Four West Virginia State Police troopers, several Virginia State Police officers and a Virginia State Police evidence team searched the area Tuesday for evidence, Paugh said.

Authorities initially were not sure whether the site where the body was found was in Virginia or West Virginia, Martin said. On Tuesday, they determined it was in West Virginia.

The two state police agencies have agreed to have the remains sent to the state Medical Examiner's office in Fairfax, Va., for an autopsy, Martin said.

Cheeks, a 1998 graduate of Jefferson High School, disappeared April 21, 2000, after going to a party with friends on Cave Road near Charles Town, his parents said.

Eric left his parents' house in the Keyes Ferry Acres subdivision on Blue Ridge Mountain to go to the party with a group of friends, his parents said.

There was drinking at the party and something occurred that caused everyone to panic and leave, said Roy Cheeks.

Eric became upset at the party, his parents said.

"They said he had a fifth of vodka. Now how does a 19-year-old get a fifth of vodka?" said Roy Cheeks.

Eric wanted to leave, and got a ride back to his house in a car with four other people, Donna Cheeks said the family was told.

His family says he never made it home.

There are conflicting accounts of what happened that night, including whether Eric wanted out of the car or was forced out, his parents said.

Roy Cheeks said he believes his son was forced out of the car because he supposedly got out about a mile from his house.

Roy Cheeks said Eric did not like to walk, and he had hurt his leg shortly before.

"Booze will do strange things to a person. But I know my son," Cheeks said.

Another account suggests that Eric and four others in a car many have been at a lake in the Shannondale subdivision that night in addition to going to the First Born Church on Hostler Road, his mother said.

After Eric's disappearance, his parents searched Blue Ridge Mountain from Mission Road down to the Shenandoah River and police used dogs to look for him.

After her son's disappearance, a man told Eric's mother that Eric stopped by his Hostler Road house on the night of the party to use the telephone.

Donna Cheeks said she believes Eric was at the man's house because he gave a good description of her son. The man's phone bill, however, didn't reflect that Eric made the call, she said.

On Jan. 8, an e-mail was sent to the West Virginia State Police Web site from someone claiming to have information about the disappearance of Eric Cheeks, his mother said.

The e-mail stated that anyone who wanted to know what happened to Eric should contact a man in Shannondale subdivision, Donna Cheeks said.

Cheeks said police called the man and he told them he saw Eric walking away from his parents' house on W.Va. 9 on the night of the party.

Paugh said he could not confirm whether such an e-mail had been sent.

"I know we've followed up on everything we got," Paugh said.

Like Eric's parents, Paugh said accounts of what happened that night differ.

"I really can't be more specific than that at this point," Paugh said.

Eric Cheeks was working at Creative Urethanes in Purcellville, Va., at the time of his disappearance.

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