A West Virginia woman disappeared nearly a month ago after she was seen with a man at a bar, leaving her family desperate for answers – and now police say they have identified a person of interest in the affair.
Musician Gretchen Fleming, 27, was last seen early Dec. 4 at My Way Lounge & Restaurant in Parkersburg, West Virginia, NBC News reported.
Witnesses at the bar claimed she was with an “older man” with white hair, The US Sun reported.
Friends told the outlet that Fleming was “extremely drunk” and lost her purse before disappearing.
Her family did not report her missing to the police until more than a week later, on December 12, because it was not unusual for her not to be in contact with them for several days, said her friend from longtime Jake Grim.
“The investigation, from the start, wasted 10 days,” Grim told “Dateline.” “I’m 28 and I don’t talk to my parents every day, you know? So, I mean, it happens.
Parkersburg Police Chief Matthew Board told the News and Sentinel on Wednesday that investigators had developed a person of interest in the disturbing case.
He said he could not release the person’s name yet, but that investigators had identified “someone she was seen with at My Way Lounge” in late December 3 or early December 4.
Authorities believe the person may have left the watering hole with Fleming, Board added.
He said the person of interest was developed with the help of owners, staff and customers of My Way Lounge & Restaurant.
“Everyone at this location has been extremely cooperative with the police since the start of the investigation,” Board told the outlet.
“Detectives are still working on this around the clock,” the chief said, adding that search warrants were executed about two weeks ago, although no one has been arrested.
Grim told “Dateline” it was unclear what happened at the bar at the time of Fleming’s disappearance.
“We haven’t seen any video footage of anything. She was in several places. You know, the last place she was seen by everyone was the My Way,” he said.
“It looks like she went to several different places that night,” Grim added, but no one knows what she was wearing or how she got from place to place.
Her father, David Fleming, expressed his gratitude to the community and the police for their efforts and support during the ordeal, NBC News reported.
David also told “Dateline” that the family asks people not to speculate about his daughter’s disappearance.
Grim said the speculation had taken its toll.
“You love social media and you hate it,” he told Dateline. “There’s so much that’s been shot and people don’t realize his family is reading that stuff and it breaks my heart because they’re amazing people.”
The young man described Fleming’s eccentric personality.
“She has this way of being. Once you meet her, you kind of fall in love with her because she’s not like everyone else,” he said.
“Gretchen didn’t dress like everyone else. She always made a statement. She’s so creative,” Grim said.
“Music is a big part of who she is. She’s done all these different things. She’s travelled, she expresses herself very well, she’s been a writer and still writes,” he added.
On December 12, Parkersburg police posted a message on Facebook about her disappearance.
“If you have any information on the current whereabouts of Gretchen Fleming, 27 of Vienna, please contact Detective JM Zimmerman,” the department wrote, without providing details of the mystery case.
Grim told “Dateline” he trusted Zimmerman to help locate Fleming.
“I grew up with his wife, who also grew up with me and Gretchen. We all did a student council together,” he said. “I just feel like things happen for a reason and I feel like he’s on this case for a reason.”
Grim said some people in the community had offered to organize search parties, but the family wanted the police to handle the search for now.
“We have to let the police do their job. We don’t want to tamper with future evidence,” he said.
“Dateline” spoke with Gretchen’s father on Friday, the day before Gretchen’s 28th birthday.
“We love her. Something happened to her. I don’t know what to say,” David said. “Tomorrow would be her 28th birthday, which will be tough. She’s an amazing little girl. I just want her come home.
Fleming was described as being between 5 feet and 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 100 to 120 pounds. She has brown hair and brown eyes.