The first time I heard the name Carrie Culberson in August 1996, I was in the throws of planning my first wedding. I was too distracted to feel the full impact of what was happening in small-town Blanchester, but over the years questions about what happened to her have haunted me.
I began to take a bigger interest in the case once my own personal drama died down and when the court case dominated the local media in 1997. I related to Culberson. She was only three weeks older than I; we graduated from high school the same year. She was into fashion and tanning and getting her nails done. She fell for the wrong guy. She loved her clunky Doc Martins. Everything I read about her felt familiar, as though we could've hung out in the same circles.
Luckily, we had some differences too -- most notably that I've never been in a physically abusive relationship. Hearing Culberson's story made me realize how fortunate I am in that respect.
Initially, I hoped that the runaway theory would prove true and Culberson would re-appear at her home safe and sound. Once I started to hear the history of her relationship with Vincent Doan, however, I became less optimistic.
When the trial began and the details of Culberson's last night were known, I knew she was dead. When Doan was convicted of her murder in June 1997, I was overjoyed.
In April and May last year, I held my breath and prayed that Culberson's remains would be found underneath the concrete floor of a barn in Clinton County. The search began on April 30 and lasted for two weeks. Culberson wasn't found.
I hoped that the few items taken from the dig site would point the way to her location, but unfortunately no one is any closer to finding her. Seeing the photos in the newspaper of Culberson's mom and sister, with looks of hope and anxiety on their faces, gave me a horrible feeling of heaviness. For a moment, it was almost as though I could feel the burden they carry every day.
Culberson has now been missing for over nine years.
I've wondered from time to time why this case affects me as it does. The first time I read the chronology of events that led up to and after Culberson's disappearance, I couldn't help but sob quietly at the grisly details surrounding her death. The eyewitness account of Doan beating her in a neighbor's front yard provides enough foreshadowing of the violence that ended her life.
The eyewitness testimony of Lori Baker is what makes me nauseous, though, stating that at around 3:45 a.m. Doan and his half-brother Tracey Baker left Baker's residence with garbage bags and a gun. They arrived back at the Baker residence at 6 a.m., covered in blood.
The thought I can't get out of my head -- what did they do to her? Was she dead by the time Doan arrived at his half-brother's house at 3:45 a.m. or was she just beaten unconscious? Or even worse, was she beaten badly enough that she couldn't get help but was still alive and conscious? Did they dispose of her body or kill her after they returned a second time? I try not to dwell on the thoughts too long; it's too horrible to recreate the gruesome possibilities of Culberson's last moments.
I sometimes pass by the sand volleyball place where she spent her last night alive, playing a volleyball game with friends. I can't drive past without thinking of her. I breathe a deep breath and, regardless of what is going on in my life, I am grateful to be alive. Her spirit is a friendly one, one that reminds me that, while her life ended at 22, mine continues at 31. She reminds me of the time I still have left.
I hope at some point, Culberson's remains will be found. Until that time, I pray for her family and hope that at some point, someone's conscience will push them to let Culberson's family have the closure they need. I hope that Culberson haunts those who know what happened to her.