South Carolina

DNA evidence links Hilton Head man to a 1988 rape of 60-year-old Bluffton woman, police say

A 55-year-old Hilton Head Island man who is scheduled to be released from prison in 2021 is now facing an additional charge and more years behind bars after DNA evidence has linked him to the rape of a 60-year-old woman he previously admitted to killing in 1988, according to Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office spokesman and cold case investigator Maj. Bob Bromage.

Eckerin Odell Frazier, currently incarcerated at the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina, was charged Thursday with first-degree criminal sexual conduct in the rape of Bertha Neaman.

“The case is an unusual one,” Bromage said Friday evening. “But technology has markedly improved and it continues to improve so it may not be unusual in the future to see a situation like this one again.”

Neaman, of Bluffton, was found dead behind the New Church of Christ on Spanish Wells Road on March 15, 1988. The newspaper carrier was reported missing earlier that morning and was last seen around 3 a.m. at the Mid-Island Plaza on Hilton Head, a sheriff’s office news release said.

After her autopsy, medical experts concluded Neaman was shot to death, the release said. Pathologists’ final autopsy report also said, “Neaman’s sexual assault examination showed that sexual activity had occurred in proximity to her death.”

The FBI examined evidence taken 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.

A news clipping from the March 14, 1999, edition of The Island Packet The Island Packet

“In 1999, this was the first case to be tested in the state of South Carolina with the brand new technology at the time,” Bromage said.

The next year, witness interviews and other evidence led investigators to Frazier, and Beaufort County law enforcement and the solicitor’s office concluded they had enough to charge him in Neaman’s death.

“On June 12, 2000, after discussions with then Solicitor Randolph Murdaugh III, testimony regarding the Bertha Neaman investigation was presented to the Beaufort County Grand Jury, to which it returned a true bill, directly indicting Eckerin Frazier for murder,” the release said.

Almost a year later, Frazier “pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter” in Neaman’s death, the sheriff’s office release stated.

He was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the manslaughter charge and another unrelated armed robbery charge. His DNA was entered into the system at the time, according to the release.

At the time, investigators were unable to identify the source of the semen collected at Neaman’s autopsy.

Earlier this year, however — in an effort to bring closure to Neaman’s family, Bromage said — Sheriff’s Office investigators submitted a request for a DNA analysis of evidence from the case in an attempt to finally identify the source of the semen.

Sheriff’s Office forensic analysts developed a DNA profile from that evidence and sent it to SLED. On April 12, SLED concluded that the DNA profile from the semen matched that of Frazier.

After reviewing the evidence, a judge issued a warrant for Frazier’s arrest.

In lieu of being released from prison, Frazier will be transported to Beaufort County Detention Center where he will receive a bond hearing for the sexual assault charge.

He faces up to 30 years in prison for the charge.

Fewer than six years before Neaman was murdered, Frazier was arrested and convicted in the July 4, 1982, rape of a 65-year-old East German woman who was vacationing with her family on Hilton Head.

The woman was on the beach at Port Royal 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 and pushed her into the dunes, cracking her ribs in the process. He then removed her bathing suit and raped her, according to a report in The Island Packet at the time.

The woman’s daughter caught Frazier in the act and he ran off.

She enlisted the help of beach-goers to follow him. Frazier was chased onto a nearby golf course and hid in the woods for hours before returning home later in the day, reports at the time said.

Deputies arrested him that same day and, after initialing denying the assault, he confessed.

Frazier was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the assault, but he served much less time than that.

Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh Jr., the solicitor at that time, told a Packet reporter in October 1982 that Frazier could be free on parole within six or seven months.

Frazier’s attorney, Roberts Vaux, said at the time, “So the state got a guilty plea, and he got less time.”