On March 15, 1988, at 8 a.m., a newspaper carrier, 60-year-old Bertha Neaman, was reported missing by her employer. She was last seen at 3 a.m. at the Mid-Island Plaza on Hilton Head Island. A short time after Bertha Neaman was reported missing, her Ford van was found abandoned off of Marshland Road. She was found deceased behind the New Church of Christ on Spanish Wells Road on Hilton Head Island.
An autopsy later revealed Neaman died as a result of gunshot wounds and her death was ruled a homicide. Tests also revealed sexual assault.
In 1988, the Federal Bureau of Investigation examined evidence collected at Bertha Neaman’s autopsy and from the crime scene at its laboratory in Quantico, Virginia. Analysis of evidence revealed the presence of semen, but the blood type/group technology of the time failed to yield any information that would conclusively identify the source of the semen.
From 1999 into 2000, blood/saliva standards from numerous persons of interest, to include Eckerin Frazier, were collected by Sheriff’s Office investigators and submitted to SLED for comparison with evidence from this case. According to SLED DNA analysts, none of the persons of interest were identified through DNA analysis.
In 2000, and after several interviews with witnesses, probable cause was developed to charge Eckerin Frazier in the death of Bertha Neaman. 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. On May 23, 2001, Frazier entered into a plea agreement through his attorney and pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for Bertha Neaman’s killing. Frazier received a sentence of 25 years for the voluntary manslaughter and an unrelated armed robbery charge. Frazier’s DNA profile was entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and he is currently incarcerated at the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina.
As DNA technology and its sensitivity had markedly improved, and since the source of the semen detected at Bertha Neaman’s autopsy had not been identified, Sheriff’s Office investigators discussed re-examining the evidence with analysts of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Services Laboratory. On January 22, 2019, a forensic request was submitted by investigators to perform DNA analysis on items of evidence from this case.
The male profile found on the evidence collected at Bertha Neaman’s autopsy was matched with Eckerin Frazier.
The arrest warrant was entered into the National Crime Information Center and the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) was notified to put a detainer on 55-year-old Eckerin Frazier, who is scheduled for release in 2021. Arrangements will be made to transport Frazier from SCDC to Beaufort County, where he will be served with the arrest warrant and receive a bond hearing for the charge.