Marion Fye vanished from her Northeast Washington home in November 2003, leaving behind her five children, purse, credit card, car keys and driver's license. Within a few days, close family members suspected foul play.
Although Fye's body has not been found, D.C. police yesterday charged her live-in boyfriend with first-degree murder. Authorities said that he shot the 36-year-old woman after an argument and disposed of her body.
Harold D. Austin, 33, was charged while at the D.C. jail, where he is awaiting trial on armed robbery charges. He also is serving time for a parole violation.
Fye's relatives said that they were relieved an arrest had been made but that they hope Fye's body is found.
"I'm at peace and getting a little closure," said Cecilia Smith, Fye's sister. "Finding her body will help out a lot. We want to know where she's at. We want to have a ceremony, a burial for her."
Austin and Fye met in the summer of 2003 and soon moved in together, living in Fye's house in the first block of V Street NE, according to police and Fye's relatives. The couple lived with several of Fye's children, who range in age from 7 to 18, police said.
On Nov. 28, 2003, the day after Thanksgiving, two of Fye's children heard the couple arguing, family members said. Using Austin's nickname, their mother shouted, "No, Devine, no!" police said.
The two youngsters then heard a single gunshot.
One of the children heard Austin carrying something heavy up the stairs, family members and police said. The children and other family members never saw Fye again.
After a few days, Fye's relatives became suspicious and pressed Austin to file a police report, which he did Dec. 5. A few weeks later, the family urged police homicide detectives to take on the case.
Detective Chris Kauffman and crime laboratory technicians visited the family's house in December 2003 and found bloodstains on the underside of Fye's mattress, police said. The day of the detective's visit, Austin left the house and did not return, police said.
In April 2004, Austin was arrested on armed robbery charges.
Kauffman interviewed witnesses and closely tracked Fye's credit cards and bank accounts but noticed no activity, authorities said.
Last December, more than a year after Fye vanished, Kauffman learned that FBI lab technicians determined that the blood on the mattress belonged to Fye, authorities said. Kauffman also questioned a prison inmate who reported that Austin told him he didn't kill Fye but had helped dump her body, police said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas A. DiBiase, who is handling the case, said detectives have not found any communication between Fye and her children since she disappeared.
Kauffman said the lack of contact was unusual for a mother who often doted on her children.
"The fact that there is no activity on her credit cards or bank accounts, the missed Christmases, the missed birthdays of the little kids, that all lends itself to the fact that she is no longer with us," Kauffman said.