Erica Thompson went to a bank near her home in Brookfield, Illinois around 4:30 pm on the afternoon of Wednesday, September 25, 2019. After depositing some money into her bank account, the 53-year-old left the bank, presumably to go home. Exactly what happened to her after that is unclear; she didn’t go to work the following morning and she was never seen again.
Because Erica lived alone, her disappearance wasn’t immediately noticed. Although her co-workers were concerned when she didn’t show up for work, she wasn’t reported missing until October 1, 2019, nearly a week after she was last seen. Her son, Michael Russo, became worried when he wasn’t able to get a hold of Erica and drove to her house to check on her.
When Michael went to his mother’s house, he found the sliding glass door to her back yard was wide open and her air conditioner was on, but there was no sign of Erica or her vehicle. Although she normally kept her house very neat, there were moldy dishes found in the kitchen and next to Erica’s bed. Her cats had clearly been left unattended for a few days and there was cat vomit in various places.
Erica had surveillance cameras installed outside her home, and Michael checked the surveillance system to see if it could provide any clues about what had happened to his mom. He was surprised to find that someone had deleted all of the surveillance video, making it impossible to determine when Erica had last been at the house.
The only items that appeared to be missing from the home were Erica’s pocketbook, her cell phone, and her keys. Detectives were able to ping Erica’s phone and determined that it had last been active on September 26, 2019; the phone had been in Springfield, Missouri at that time. This was around 500 miles away from Brookfield.
Michael didn’t believe that his mother would have willingly made the eight-hour drive to Springfield as she hated to drive long distances. He also noted that his mother was very fond of her three cats and would never leave them home alone for an extended period of time.
Michael was troubled by the fact that his mother’s back door had been open while her air conditioner was running. “She pays attention to her bills. She’s not one to just carelessly leave windows open.” Erica was very proud of her house and liked to make sure it looked perfect, both inside and out. Michael was certain she wouldn’t have willingly walked away from it and he worried that she had been a victim of foul play.
Michael noted that it was out of character for his mother to go anywhere without letting someone know. “None of this adds up…she barely leaves the house to go to work or to the store. She’s pretty reclusive and sticks to herself and hates traveling…this isn’t like her.”
Detectives canvassed Erica’s neighborhood, knocking on doors and asking residents when they had last seen the missing woman and her vehicle, a dark purple 2014 Nissan Juke. None of her neighbors had seen her since the previous week and no one was able to offer any insight about where she might have gone.
According to the FBI, Erica’s phone was found on October 2, 2019; it was found in a ditch alongside a road in Springfield, Missouri. It was possible it had been thrown out of the window of a passing vehicle. Police conducted an extensive search of the area but were unable to find anything else that belonged to Erica.
In Brookfield, investigators used bloodhounds and other search dogs to see if they could determine which direction Erica might have gone but they were unsuccessful. They reviewed dozens of hours of surveillance footage from homes and businesses in the area, hoping to catch a glimpse of Erica or her vehicle, but the only video they could find of her was taken at her bank on September 25, 2019. She had been captured on film as she deposited money into her bank account and then left the building; it was the last verified sighting of her.
A week after Erica was reported missing, the Brookfield Police Department issued a press release about her disappearance and noted that she was considered endangered. Brookfield Police Chief Edward Petrak asked for anyone who thought they had seen Erica to contact detectives. “The goal right now is to find her and her vehicle. The longer it goes, the more concerned we are.”
As the search for Erica entered its third week, investigators announced that they had reviewed Erica’s cell phone records and determined that it had pinged off cell phone towers in several nearby towns during the early morning hours of September 26, 2019. It appeared Erica — or at least her cell phone — had left Brookfield and driven through the communities of Countryside, Hodgkins, McCook, Forest View, Summit, and Bridgeview. Detectives were trying to find witnesses who had seen Erica or her vehicle in any of those areas after she went missing. They thought it was possible that Erica’s Nissan might still be in one of those communities and asked residents to keep an eye out for it.
Investigators also considered the possibility that Erica’s vehicle had been dumped in one of the waterways near one of the communities where her phone had pinged; they used sonar to search through shipping canals and other bodies of water in the area. They located dozens of submerged vehicles, but none of them were Erica’s missing Nissan.
While detectives were trying to figure out what had happened to Erica, family members tried to make sure her home and cats were taken care of in her absence. Michael, along with his mother’s sister, Dana Thompson Kujawski, started an online fundraiser so they could raise money to pay for Erica’s bills while she was gone. Although they were grateful for the work being done by the Brookfield Police Department, they also wanted to hire a private detective to assist in the investigation.
Michael set the initial goal for the fundraiser at $5,000. “I’ve never had to deal with this before and didn’t know what I needed to ask for. No one is prepared for these kinds of things. It’s uncharted territory.” He wanted to make sure that the mortgage on his mother’s house and her utility bills were paid while she was missing; he was optimistic that Erica would soon be back home where she belonged.
Michael and Dana distributed missing person flyers throughout the communities where Erica’s phone had pinged on September 26, hoping that someone would recall seeing the missing woman. Although detectives received a few tips about potential sightings, none of them could be confirmed. As the investigation entered its second month, both Erica and her vehicle remained missing.
According to family members, Erica’s boyfriend had previously lived with her but had moved out after the two of them broke up. Investigators confirmed that Erica had lived alone since the breakup, but declined to release the name of her ex-boyfriend or if they thought he was a possible suspect in her disappearance. Relatives, however, said that Erica had been afraid of her ex-boyfriend.
In November 2019, former Brookfield resident Ed Marcin reached out to police and offered to have information about Erica’s case featured on billboards in the Chicago suburbs. Ed worked for Clear Channel Outdoor, a company that owned more than 60 billboards in the area; the company was willing to display Erica’s picture and case information at various locations on a rotating basis.
Chief Petrak was grateful for Ed’s offer. “I think it’ll keep the public’s mind on our case.” He hoped that someone with information about what happened to Erica would see one of the billboards and finally decide to call detectives. Erica’s family was also grateful; Dana noted, “It is unimaginable having your sister on a billboard, but [we’ll do] anything we can do to help find her.”
On Saturday, November 30, 2019, Erica’s son and sister, along with other volunteers, conducted a door-to-door canvass in Erica’s Brookfield neighborhood. Although they had canvassed the area before, they wanted to remind people that Erica was still missing; they spent the day handing out missing person flyers and asking residents if they had any information about the disappearance.
Hoping to bring in some new leads for investigators, Crime Stoppers announced that they were offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to Erica’s location. George McDade of the Cook County Crime Stoppers stated, “We need your help. We need your help to tell anything you know about what could’ve or did happen to Erica.” He noted that tips could be called in anonymously and still be eligible for the reward money.
Erica’s family was forced to spend their first holiday season without her, wondering if she were still alive and praying that she would be found. Dana was certain that something horrible had happened to her sister. “She wouldn’t have just left. Right now, all signs point to foul play. But we’re trying to hold on to the hope we have left.”
Dana had been taking care of her sister’s cats and she tried to remain optimistic that Erica would soon be back with her beloved pets. In her heart, however, she seemed to realize that her sister likely wasn’t coming back. “Something happened to her. And someone knows something…the window of hope is getting smaller.”
Months went by without any progress on the case. As the first anniversary of Erica’s disappearance approached, her loved ones struggled to deal with their loss. Dana noted, “It’s just mentally exhausting. With the added stress of the pandemic, it’s just amazing how hard it is. We’re still hoping that maybe she’s somewhere.”
Chief Petrak admitted that detectives had never believed Erica had voluntarily left her home. “From the beginning, this was a case of a missing person with suspicious circumstances. We’ve handled it almost as if it was a homicide case. We’re still hopeful we can find her and we’re going to keep working at this until the case is solved.”
Erica Thompson was 53 years old when she went missing from Brookfield, Illinois in September 2019. Erica was a quiet, friendly woman who worked as a comptroller for a chrome company and preferred to spend her free time at home with her cats. She is missing under suspicious circumstances and detectives believe she was a victim of foul play. Erica has blue eyes and graying blonde hair, and at the time of her disappearance, she was 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 120 pounds. She has a tattoo of a small blue heart on the top of her foot and a pixie on her hip. Her dark purple 2014 Nissan Juke with Illinois license plate E27 3380 is also missing. If you have any information about Erica, please contact the Brookfield Police Department at 708–485–8131.