After young mother Erica Franolich went missing 35 years ago in Middleburgh, police began investigations into her whereabouts.
“She is believed to have last been seen at approximately 9:00 p.m. on October 13, 1986, in the area of Main Street and Railroad Avenue in the Village of Middleburgh, New York,” said the most recent New York State Police release from early 2020, “It is believed that she may be the victim of foul play.”
Though nearly four decades have passed since Erica’s mysterious disappearance, her siblings are still searching to explain what happened to their sister.
On May 24, Erica’s family and private investigator Greg Overacker put up two billboards on either ends of the town of Cobleskill, located 12 miles Northwest of Middleburgh, in an effort to get more information about Erica’s case. The billboards read: “Missing Person, Last Seen in Middleburgh, NY October 13th, 1986, WhereIsErica.com, Call 315-542-7800.”
The billboards were funded by a GoFundMe page, which raised $3,649 from 50 donors in under a month. Overacker said he hopes that Cobleskill residents will see the billboards when they are driving to the town’s shopping center, and the message will jog memories of the night Erica disappeared.
“We put them up to get some reaction,” said Nada Thompson, Erica’s sister. Some Schoharie County residents know what happened to Erica, but have not come forward, according to her brother, Pete Poprafsky, 65, who lives in Waterford, Michigan. “There’s no way you can not know if you’re living right there,” he said.
In 1986, Erica was living with her husband, Richard Franolich, and two young sons, Chris and Richard Jr., at the time of her disappearance. When the Franolichs moved to Middleburgh, their relationship was rocky, and the only people Erica knew from the region were his family, Poprafsky said.
Attempts to reach Richard Franolich for a comment were unsuccessful.
According to Thompson, she and her siblings began to worry in November and December of 1986, when they had not heard anything from Erica. “I knew something was wrong. She always called on holidays or when she was moving,” Thompson said.
The family was able to get a missing person warrant issued three months later, but Thompson said not much happened after that. “New York wouldn’t do anything and they’re still not doing anything,” she said.
“The New York State police did not do a goddamn thing,” Poprafsky said, “this case should’ve been solved. It was very solvable.”
The State Police Troop in Schoharie County declined to comment on the ongoing investigation of Erica’s disappearance.
For nine years, former State Trooper Bill John worked on the case, from 2003 until his retirement in 2012. John said he spent a number of years in Schoharie County interviewing and re-interviewing people, issuing search warrants, putting up posters, and completing road checks in the community. He said he had extensive contact with Erica’s siblings, while he described the family of Richard Franolich as “uncooperative” with the investigation.
“You need people to cooperate and show you where the remains are. That’s how a lot of those cold cases get solved. People eventually cooperate, or someone who’s in the know comes forward,” John said in a phone interview this past Wednesday.
Following John’s retirement from the State Police in 2012, Thompson said she did not hear anything else about the case until October 2019, when Overacker reached out to resume the investigation as a PI. “[Overacker] has worked on it more than anybody,” said Thompson.
Overacker works for Private Investigations for the Missing, a non-profit organization founded by Bruce Maitland in 2006. Maitland, the father of Brianna Maitland, another unresolved missing person case, created the organization to remove the financial barrier to hiring a private investigator. Overacker said he selected Franolich’s case to investigate because it was relatively close to his hometown of Utica, and there had not been much public investigation of Franolich’s disappearance.
As the years have gone by since Erica’s disappearance, and the case remains unresolved, Poprafsky said he wants to confront the police, ask for their reports from the past 35 years, and try to force them to get statements from more possible witnesses, including Middleburgh residents, and Richard Franolich’s family.
For Thompson, the main priority now is reaching some resolution for her sister. “We want them to find her body so we can bring her back home,” Thompson said.
Anyone with information on Erica Franolich’s disappearance can contact the State Police in Princetown at 518-630-1700.