August 29, 2014

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Nancy Eagleson Part 1



Remembering Nancy:

After 40 years, the family of a slain teen still struggles to cope

By Paulding County Progress Staff

Part 1 of a series

Originally published Aug. 2, 2000


It was Sunday, Nov. 13, 1960. It was a typical fall day, and Paulding County seemed at peace. The church bells rang the same as usual, folks were looking forward to Thanksgiving and upcoming holidays. However, before the day would end, there would be a crime committed so horrendous that it would shake Paulding County to its roots.


The crime? Abduction, rape and murder.


The victim? Fourteen-year-old Nancy Lee Eagleson, daughter of Donald and Bettie Eagleson.


Forty years have gone by. Time may erase our recollections of that tragic day, but the survivors, the Eagleson family, have had to go on with only memories of their daughter. They live every day wondering … who, and why?


Since the murder was committed, the family’s lives have profoundly changed. Donald Eagleson is now deceased. Bettie Eagleson, Nancy’s mother, is not well and spends a lot of her time resting in a chair, still being haunted by the gruesome crime which took away part of her life.


Nancy’s sister Sheryl, who was with Nancy when she was abducted, has lived with fears still etched in her memory. She has taken precautions with her own children, constantly being reminded of that fateful night that she witnessed at just 5 years of age.


Bettie Eagleson has said, “Following the murder there was little else talked of in this small community of 2,300. I received over 400 sympathy cards from all over the world. The rest of the school term I walked Sheryl to school. I tried all the time to protect her if at all possible. She seemed to forget everything except Nancy.


“One day in particular,” Bettie recalls, “the wind was blowing extra hard, and she (Sheryl) looked up to the sky and said, ‘Nancy and God, make the wind stop blowing in our faces,’ as it was very hard walking into the wind.” And, Bettie continues, “The wind stopped, just as if I closed a door.”


Bettie relates, “I have always had a very strong faith in God the Almighty. I may not have always followed the road He intended me to go, but I tried. I feel that if your faith is strong enough, it will carry you through anything, come what may.


“Tears, yes, I have shed a lot of them. I find tears when I do or see something that I know she would have loved to see or hear. Then I realized that she does see and hear everything we do or say. She is sort of like God to me telling me which way to go, so that some day in the future, we will all be together once more.


“I knew that if I did not turn sour on the world, and most of all turn away from God, then I would be rewarded some day for being brave. The way I believe I was rewarded was that just 11 months after the last rites of our dear daughter, straight from heaven came a beautiful 6 lb. 10 oz. angel. We gave her the name of Merrill Lon, after a dear friend of Nancy’s. I knew I would never get Nancy back, but God gave me another daughter to raise.”


Merrill herself, even though she never knew her older sister, still has doubts and disbelief. She says, “How have we coped? We haven’t.”


She has been very involved in researching facts about the abduction, rape and murder of her sister.


Donald Eagleson never fully recovered from the shock of the death of his daughter. He became emotionally distraught and was placed under a suicide watch for a period of time. He and Bettie divorced 10 years later, and he went to his grave not knowing who murdered his beloved child.


Sheryl, who hasn’t consented to be interviewed, is still haunted by the memory of the night her sister was abducted just four houses from their home.


Who was the killer? What was the motive? Is the murderer still alive? Was the killer local or someone passing through?


Next: In Part 2 of this series, we will re-live the last day of Nancy Eagleson’s life, and recount the events leading up to her death.