Update: Major development in this case. Click here for details…
Despite the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office‘s best efforts, a 57-year-old Hilton Head Island, South Carolina man who confessed to killing a 60-year-old woman in 1988 and raping a 65-year-old woman in 1982 is scheduled to be released from prison this month — and the court ordered him to live down the street from the murder scene.
Eckerin Odell Frazier — who was charged with rape in 2019 after DNA evidence linked him to the 1988 crime — will be released from the prison on March 10. He served 20 years for the murder of newspaper carrier Bertha Neaman.
Anticipating Frazier’s scheduled release for the murder charge in March, the convicted killer and rapist appeared in court last week for a bond hearing for the new rape charge.
On Feb. 23, Judge Carmen Mullen set Frazier’s bond at $10,000 with a requirement he pay $1,000 cash.
As a part of the bond agreement, Frazier can’t have any contact with the victim’s family, must follow sex offender registry requirements, and must live with his uncle on Spanish Wells Road, Hilton Head Island — which is the same road where Neaman was found murdered in 1988.
1982 Rape At the Beach
Less than six years before Neaman was murdered, Frazier was arrested and convicted in the July 4, 1982, rape of a 65-year-old woman who was vacationing with her family on Hilton Head.
The crime was horrific and unforgettable for longtime Hilton Head islanders.
The woman was swimming at the Port Royal beach around 7:45 a.m. when she encountered Frazier, who was just 18 at the time.
Frazier hit her on the back of the head, pushed her into the dunes, and raped her — cracking her ribs in the process, according to media reports at the time.
The woman’s daughter caught Frazier in the act, which made him flee the scene.
Beachgoers nearby heard the screams and chased Frazier onto a nearby golf course, where he hid in the woods for hours before he was arrested by deputies, according to media reports at the time.
Frazier confessed to the the sexual assault after he was arrested.
Because he pleaded guilty, the solicitor at the time Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh Jr. — also known as Paul Murdaugh‘s great grandfather — gave him a deal. He ended up serving just a fraction his 10-year sentence.
Bertha Neaman‘s Murder
The home where Frazier will be staying while out on bond is located 1.2 miles from where Neaman’s body was found behind the New Church of Christ on March 15, 1988. The newspaper carrier was reported missing earlier that morning and had last been seen around 3 a.m. at the Mid-Island Plaza on Hilton Head, a sheriff’s office news release said.
Pathologists later determined she was raped and shot to death.
The FBI examined evidence from the autopsy and tested semen found on the victim. However, technology at that time failed to produce any matches.
The case went cold for more than a decade — but Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office investigators didn’t give up.
In 1999, soon after Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner started the cold case initiative to tackle unsolved crimes, detectives submitted forensic evidence to SLED.
It was the first case in South Carolina to use this type of new technology in a murder case.
The next year, witness interviews and other evidence led investigators to Frazier. Beaufort County law enforcement and the solicitor’s office determined they had enough evidence to charge him in Neaman’s death.
Frazier was indicted for murder on June 12, 2000.
At trial in 2001, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter and an unrelated armed robbery. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison and his DNA was submitted to the national database.
Randolph Murdaugh — whose grandson Paul Murdaugh is accused in a high-profile fatal boat crash — prosecuted the case in 2001.
DNA Evidence In Bertha Neaman’s Case
At the time of his sentencing in 2001 for the murder, investigators were unable to identify the source of the semen collected at Neaman’s autopsy.
But as Frazier’s release date got closer and closer, cold case investigators didn’t forget about the case.
So in 2019, sheriff’s office investigators submitted a request for a DNA analysis of evidence using vastly improved DNA technology that simply did not exist 20 years ago to see if it would lead to any suspects.
Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office forensic analysts developed a DNA profile from that evidence and sent it to SLED.
Months later, SLED concluded that the DNA from the semen matched Frazier’s DNA profile.
When Frazier was arrested for first-degree criminal sexual assault in 1982, his bond was $50,000 — five times the amount of the bond he was ordered for the same charge in 2021.
He will likely be released on March 10 until he faces trial for the rape charge.
To be clear, this is not a double-jeopardy charge. Frazier never faced a charge for the rape of Bertha Neaman due to the lack of evidence at the time.
On top of his lengthy criminal past, Frazier’s prison record is also full of offenses. During his 20 years behind bars, Frazier was written up twice for public masturbation — most recently in 2019.Eckerin-O.-Frazier-275410
The case is extremely unique — only made possible because of the advancement of DNA technology.
“The case is unique because technology has improved so much over the years. We continually examine evidence from cold cases to see if new technology will provide answers,” cold case investigator Major Bob Bromage of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office said.
Bromage said the case against Frazier, and others like it, were only made possible because of Sheriff Tanner’s cold case initiative that started in 1999.
“I credit his forward thinking in revisiting unresolved murders to ensure the victims’ families that their loved ones were not forgotten,” Bromage said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to email@example.com.
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to address proactively? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.
SIGN UP …