- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Recently, Angela Anderson has been having the same nightmare.
In the dream, a little girl, her face obscured by moonlit shadows, has come to Anderson’s front door. Lost and afraid, all the girl wants to do is go home.
Each time, Anderson invites the girl inside and goes to call the police for help, but when she turns back around, the girl is gone.
It’s no mystery to Anderson where the nightmare comes from. She has been living it for the past year.
“It just breaks my heart because this is my daughter trying to tell me she wants to come home,” Anderson said.
It was a year ago yesterday that Crystal Anderson left her mother’s Landover home with errands to run, people to meet and a promise to return in a couple of days to share some “good news” she had just learned.
But Anderson, 29, didn’t return home as planned, which Angela Anderson thought was out of character for her daughter.
But she didn’t panic until a few days later, when a woman who had been trying to reach Crystal all weekend showed up on Anderson’s doorstep worried that something bad had happened.
Anderson filed a missing person’s report Aug. 2 with the Prince George’s County Police Department and prayed for her daughter’s safety.
“In the beginning it was really hard to understand because I know Crystal and I know anytime she would say, ‘Mom, I’ll be back,’ she was true to her word,” Angela Anderson said. “You go to bed at night and you pray and you get up in the middle of the night and you’re constantly looking out the window, hoping she’ll come back in the middle of the night, always making sure you leave one of your doors unlocked in case she comes back.”
But she never did.
For months, efforts to find Crystal led nowhere, and when a hiker found a partial human skeleton along Riverside Road near Purse State Park in Nanjemoy on Jan. 2, Anderson hoped for the first time that her daughter remained missing.
She and her two brothers drove to the park that evening to see for themselves where the decomposed remains were found.
“I just kept praying that it was not her,” Anderson said.
But a mother’s worst fears were confirmed seven weeks later, when a state medical examiner determined the skeleton was Crystal’s. But the discovery didn’t answer many questions. The cause of death was listed as undetermined.
Suddenly, Anderson’s daughter was not only a missing person; she was dead, unable ever to return home.
Without her daughter or even a body to bury, Anderson was left with only memories and questions.
She isn’t sure what “good news” her daughter had planned to share. She has suspicions — Crystal had intended on returning to college and there was a chance her seasonal job with the Prince George’s County government could turn into a full-time position — but no answers.
“I guess I’ll never know,” Anderson said.
Crystal lived in Indian Head between 1999 and 2004, when she moved back to Prince George’s County to be closer to her ill parents.
She attended Henry E. Lackey High School in 2000, but left the next year to attend the Woodland Job Corps in Laurel. In 2002, she relocated to the Oak Manor neighborhood in Waldorf, where she stayed until fall 2009, when she moved in with her mother in Landover, Anderson said.
Erica Brawner lived a couple of doors down from Crystal in Oak Manor. The two became close friends, and Brawner has been among those helping Anderson first search for Crystal and later, once her remains were identified, for justice. Brawner said the last year has been “devastating.”
“No peace. Constant wondering and just worrying when she was missing,” she said. “And then after we found out that the remains were hers, wondering why? We just want justice.”
Brawner described Crystal as “upbeat, lively, generous. Very generous.”
“Crystal was the type of person that if she had a dollar, she’d give you 50 cents,” Brawner said. “Anything she could do to help you, she was that type of person. She touched a lot of people.”
Alongside Anderson, Brawner has distributed posters, organized a candlelight prayer vigil and canvassed neighborhoods seeking information about Crystal’s death.
Brawner is haunted by the last conversation she ever had with her friend, a day or two before her disappearance.
“She said she was coming to visit me, and she never did,” Brawner said. “She said that she was really in a good mood, happy as usual. She said that she was coming to see me and I never heard from her.
“Crystal was a good-hearted person. She touched everybody that she met. She didn’t deserve what happened to her and we want justice, and we won’t stop until we get it,” she said.
Detectives with the Charles County Sheriff’s Office considered Crystal’s death suspicious and have been investigating the case since the remains were found.
Detective John R. Elliot said he has conducted dozens of interviews regarding Crystal’s disappearance. Most of the tips police have received came either when she went missing or when her remains were identified, he added.
“I am confident the people who are responsible for Crystal Anderson’s death have discussed the issue with their friends and or family members, and the sheriff’s office needs to hear from them,” Elliot wrote in an email via a department spokeswoman.
Anderson said Elliot has “given it his all, and he keeps me informed, which is very nice.”
“I believe they’re making progress,” she said. “I know that some of the weather conditions might have hindered a great deal of the investigation and with the cold [during winter] and then you also have individuals that probably know what happened but don’t come forward the old snitching rule it could be a combination of all of that.”
With Elliot, Anderson recently for the first time walked the area where her daughter’s remains were found — three different spots along a creek that leads into the Potomac River — and came away convinced that her daughter was killed, most likely by someone she met either as a student at Lackey or while living in Oak Manor.
“Given the area and what I saw — there was no street lights so that means it’s extremely dark in that area — I don’t think she would go there and just collapse and that would be it,” she said. “I do believe that it was probably someone she knew and given that area, someone within that area was probably with her and dumped her in that area.
“I saw the skull of an animal and you just wonder, why would someone dump your child in a place like this?” Anderson said. “That’s no way for anyone to die or anyone to be found, so I needed to see this place to keep me moving forward without breaking down. I needed to be there to see just what type of animal this was that harmed my daughter.”
Anderson said investigators aren’t sure if it was animals or the weather that dragged Crystal’s remains to three different spots along the creek, but she called the scene “heartbreaking, because you’re looking at so much garbage, trash and animal remains and again you’re wondering, what would possess someone to just leave a human person there?”
Due to the “sensitivity” of the case, Anderson knows there is only so much authorities can share with her.
Based on what she has been told, Anderson believes “there’s been a great deal of people that have come forward with information” and “it looks like it will be a homicide [and that] they have a person of interest.”
But Anderson also believes there are people who know more about her daughter’s death who have not come forward. She personally has mailed 300 fliers to Nanjemoy residents “hoping that once they receive it that they have a heart or at least pass it on.”
She has passed out car magnets with Crystal’s picture on them to 24 family members and friends and is working on putting up signs with information about the investigation in front of her home and at the site where Crystal’s remains were found.
“I’m hoping that someone will sit back and just close their eyes and picture their loved ones in the same condition as I have had to deal with in mine,” Anderson said. “She didn’t deserve this. She had a long life ahead of her. Her life was her life. No one had the right to take that.”
Staff writer Natalie McGill contributed to this report.