Indianapolis Star, The (IN)
November 24, 2003
Police aren't doing enough, say kin of missing woman
Author: PAUL BIRD PAUL.BIRD@INDYSTAR.COM
Edition: CITY FINAL
Crime & Justice
Indiana State Police
Estimated printed pages: 4
GREENWOOD, Ind. -- Every time an unidentified woman's body is found in Indiana, Vernon Coleman reaches for his car keys.
Ten years ago, his daughter Lola Katherine Fry, then 28, disappeared. He's been searching for her ever since.
Coleman says police have given up, but he hasn't. The 63-year-old Fortville man has traveled across the state to locations where bodies have been found in case it might be his missing daughter.
"I don't hear nothing from the State Police," he said. "I haven't heard anything from them for years."
Fry was trying to change her life at the time of her disappearance, family members say. She had stopped working as a dancer at a strip club in Indianapolis.
Fry's sister, Darlene Pitts, has tried to convince police to reactivate the case, fearing Fry's past may have caught up with her. But so far, Pitts' cajoling has not worked, she said.
"Where is the advocate from the police to the family?" Pitts asked. "We are not asking for investigators' notes, just what's been done."
Indiana State Police Detective William Vann said he understands the family's frustration. He was assigned the case years after Fry disappeared.
"At times, they have felt I was a great detective, and other times they have . . . raked me over the coals and have caused me to justify my work to the (State Police) superintendent, prosecutor -- the whole nine yards," Vann said.
The detective said the family can bring him leads and he'll evaluate them. But he adds: "I am not going to run around blind and let them lead me by the nose and be their private investigator."
Vann said he hopes publicity about the case will lead to some new leads.
Fry was last seen at a party in November 1993. She had left her car parked at an Eastside restaurant. The car also is missing.
"Somebody had to do something with the car," Vann said. "Short of putting it into water or a storage facility, there's limited things someone could do with a car . . ."
Fry's older sister, LaVerne Barker, reported Fry missing Nov. 18, 1993, four days after she failed to arrive at Barker's home.
"I would say she was murdered," Barker said. "She has never been found, and neither has her car," a 1990 red and black Mitsubishi Eclipse with the license plate LOLA.
Just before she turned up missing, Fry had made a decision to move to Fort Wayne to live with Barker.
She disappeared before that could happen.
When Barker called Indiana State Police in 1999 for an update on the investigation, she was told the case wasn't assigned to a detective. Vann got the case at the end of that year.
Vann said he volunteered for the investigation because he had heard about the case from other investigators years ago.
"I wanted a crack at it," he said.
Barker said Vann moved quickly at first.
"Once we started asking questions, pushing, something happened and I don't know how, but all of a sudden Detective Vann knew a lot in a short time," Barker said.
Vann said investigators use different methods and styles in investigating cases.
"I picked an avenue to proceed, and it panned out, in a lot of ways," he said.
That effort resulted in a search warrant being issued Sept. 25, 2000, for the Greenwood residence of Fry's former boyfriend, John Ryker, now 52. Ryker could not be reached for comment.
The search warrant affidavit said that on Nov. 13, 1993, Fry had been at her hair stylist's Indianapolis apartment with Ryker at a party when she either fell unconscious or died.
One of the men at the party told Vann that Fry had either passed out or overdosed on drugs, according to the affidavit. Vann was told that Ryker and two other men covered Fry with a blanket and carried her out to Ryker's car. Another man present at the party confirmed the story.
No one checked to see whether Fry was dead or alive, the affidavit said. No evidence of foul play was found at Ryker's residence.
Ryker told police he and Fry returned to his home and that he left for work about 7:30 a.m. When he returned an hour later, he said, she and her car were gone.
Pitts and Barker question why no one at the party tried to find out whether their sister was all right or seek medical help for her.
"Why weren't those people held accountable?" Pitts asked. Eighteen months ago, Pitts decided to push police to do more.
She contacted the local and national media. She searched public records and wrote to then-Gov. Frank O'Bannon and President Bush. She contacted the FBI, prosecutors, Marion County grand jury investigators, political candidates and public officials.
Barker warned her that police don't work on old missing persons cases.
"Murder cases, yes, but missing persons, no," Barker said.
Based on a tip, Pitts arranged to have divers from northern Indiana search for Fry and her car in June. They didn't find anything in the gravel pits along Wicker Road in Marion County, west of Ind. 37.
Last winter, Vann received a tip that Fry might have been buried near the former residence of an Outlaws motorcycle gang associate.
Police dug at the site about a month ago but again found nothing.
Vann declined to discuss what he will and will not investigate.
"We are accused of one-way communication," Vann said. "They say, 'We don't get to see what he's got,' and they never will. We don't do that."
Meanwhile, Fry's family continues to prod the investigators.
"Somebody's got to do it," said Daniel Coleman, Fry's younger brother.
Vann believes he is doing all he can.
"I will go where the investigation points, where the investigation leads me," he said. "I will follow any lead until it can't be followed any more."
Call Star reporter Paul Bird at 1-317-444-2709.
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Record Number: ind77858351