In the summer of 1990, a 14-year-old cheerleader from Elyria disappeared. Her body was later found in a wooded area off West River Road. Seventeen years later, the case remains unsolved.
Seventeen years ago, junior high cheerleader Angela Hicks dropped out of sight. Her best friend, Nicole Smith, immediately knew something was terribly wrong.
The funny, smart-aleck Angela — who liked wine coolers and sneaking smokes — would never run away without telling her soul mate.
Police believed Angela was just another runaway, but Smith and Angela’s mother, Nancy Legg, urged police to look for something more sinister.
Nothing was missing from Angela’s room except a large Army duffel bag in which Angela kept her Barbie dolls. No shoes or clothing were gone — except for underwear and a shirt Angela slept in.
“I knew she didn’t run away,” Smith said. “If she had run away, she would have called me.”
After all, the girls — Angela, 14, and Nicole, then 15 — had traded every secret a friend can tell. Nicole knew that Angela had a crush on a boy and had experimented sexually with him. It was that boy’s name she cut into her skin near her ankle with a razor.
About five weeks after Angela was reported missing, Nicole Smith was proven right.
On Aug. 30, Mormon missionaries stumbled upon Angela’s body — part skeleton and part mummy — in a thicket near a ramshackle barn south of Midway Mall. A shirt and underwear were lying nearby.
While the coroner’s office officially ruled the death undetermined, Smith and police still suspect foul play.
Smith is urging police to revive the cold case and hopes it could be featured on “America’s Most Wanted.”
Lorain County Coroner Paul Matus said the case would be a good fit for a real-life crime show because it has so many interesting forensic aspects.
The coroner’s office even brought in an entomologist — a scientist who studies bugs — to test the bugs on the body to determine if there were poisons or drugs in her system.
Matus’ predecessor, Dr. Robert Thomas, ruled the death “undetermined,” but Matus calls it “a presumed homicide.”
Girls don’t just crawl into a thicket, take their clothes off and die; it must have been a sexual assault or sexual advance gone wrong, he said.
Another possibility is that Angela was killed elsewhere and taken to the woods, Matus said.
A tiny object was found under the body, which was identified as a Barbie horse stirrup belonging to Angela.
As police see it, that’s a pretty good indication that Angela was killed inside her own apartment and carried to the woods in the duffel bag, according to Sgt. Michael Behne, one of the detectives who worked on the case. The tiny Barbie horse stirrup could have fallen out with the body, he said.
Angela had been with her
21-year-old stepfather, Sam Legg, on the evening of July 21 when she disappeared. Legg told police she left the apartment in black shorts, but Angela’s mother later found those shorts in a drawer.
Behne said police looked at a number of individuals as suspects, including Legg.
“Do we believe we know who did it? Sure. Can we prove it? No,” Behne said.
Legg was repeatedly questioned and reportedly took at least one lie detector test. Police declined to discuss the results, which are not admissible in court.
Shortly after her daughter was identified, Nancy Legg divorced Sam Legg.
Nancy Legg, who reportedly lives in Texas, could not be reached for comment for this story. Sam Legg, who reportedly lives in Indiana, also could not be reached.
After Angela’s body was identified, Sam Legg acknowledged in an interview with The Chronicle that his relationship with Angela had been rocky ever since he married her mother 11 months earlier.
Nancy Legg described the relationship the same way, saying that her husband and Angela “didn’t particularly care for one another.”
The difference in the couple’s age also was a sore point, Nancy said, and before Sam turned 21, Angela “would tease him that he couldn’t even buy beer.”
Smith said Sam “would try to boss her around, and Angela said, ‘You’re not my Dad, you’re not even old enough to be my dad.’ ”
Smith also said neither she nor Angela liked Sam, and they suspected he was responsible for the death of a Shih Tzu pup that Angela owned and called Sam. The teens thought it was hilarious when they called out “Sam! Sam!” for the dog, but it made Sam Legg furious, she said.
Smith said there also was friction in Angela’s home that summer over $500 in bills to a phone sex line. She said Sam Legg blamed it on the girls, but Angela ridiculed the claim, asking why girls would want to talk to a woman about sex over the phone.
Smith said perhaps the final straw came on June 20, the last time she saw Angela.
Sam Legg had just lost his job at a driving school, and a representative of the school called to say it wanted some tools returned or the police would be called, according to Smith.
She said Sam Legg stayed home while Nancy Legg and the girls returned the tools. In the meantime, Smith’s mother called the Leggs’ home, and Sam Legg told her he didn’t know where her daughter was, which infuriated Angela, Smith said.
Angela was in tears when they took her home because she thought her friend would get in trouble, Smith said.
The next day, Angela disappeared after Nancy Legg went to her job at a nursing home.
Smith hopes police revive the case because she thinks they’ve made mistakes along the way that hindered the investigation.
First and foremost was the assumption Angela ran away, she said.
Within days of her disappearance, a group called A.P.R.I.L. (Abduction Prevention Reconnaissance and Information League) began looking for Angela, and Smith joined hundreds of people searching by foot, horseback and plane.
But several days later, police shut down the A.P.R.I.L. search and began investigating its fundraising methods.
It all still angers Smith, now 31, who remembers searching the area around the Elyria Wastewater Treatment Plant on the east side of the Black River.
Had the A.P.R.I.L. volunteers continued across the river, they might have found her friend’s body in a wooded thicket where the West River branch of the Elyria Public Library now stands.
And, even after the body was found, it was another two weeks or so before the body was identified as Angela. Again, police made a mistake, she said.
They initially said it couldn’t be Angela because of the advanced state of decomposition. But dental records matched after Kent State University anthropologist C. Owen Lovejoy examined the body and said she was a teenager of American Indian ancestry. Angela was part Cherokee.
Elyria police said the case remains open, but until someone comes forward with new evidence, there is little that can be done.
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or email@example.com.
jason miller / chronicle
Nicole Smith holds a photo from The Chronicle-Telegram archives from 1990, when the body of her friend, Angela Hicks, was found in Elyria. No one was ever arrested in Hicks’ death, which is why Smith is asking that the case be re-examined.