By Bob Uphues
Later this month will mark one year since 53-year-old Brookfield resident Erica Thompson went missing.
The last time she was seen alive was on the afternoon of Sept. 25, 2019, when a security camera captured her making a bank deposit in the Eight Corners business district, not too far from her home in the 9200 block of Monroe Avenue.
During the early hours of the following morning, according to police, her cellphone traveled through several neighboring towns, including Countryside, Hodgkins, McCook, Forest View, Summit and Bridgeview.
Early during the investigation, it was revealed that at some point after her disappearance, Thompson's cellphone pinged a tower in Springfield, Missouri.
Other than that, however, there hasn't been a trace of either Thompson or her car, a dark purple 2014 Nissan Juke with Illinois license plate number E27 3380.
"It's just mentally exhausting. With the added stress of the pandemic, it's just amazing how hard it is," said Dana Thompson Kujawski, who is Erica's sister, in a phone interview last week. "We're still hoping that maybe she's somewhere."
The police investigation so far has involved a number of agencies, including two suburban task forces and the FBI, which helped track cellphone data. The FBI's contribution led Brookfield police to hire an organization to help them search waterways in the vicinity of where her phone traveled early on Sept. 26, 2019.
Using a sonar-equipped boat, police searched shipping canals trying to find vehicles matching the dimensions of Thompson's Nissan Juke. Only one of the dozen vehicles they found submerged in those waterways fit the dimensions of Thompson's car, but a diver sent down to investigate confirmed it was not hers.
Brookfield Police Chief Edward Petrak said last week that Brookfield detectives have sought the assistance of police "in other jurisdictions," though he declined to specify where exactly.
"From the beginning this was a case of a missing person with suspicious circumstances," Petrak said. "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."
Petrak said he was unable to provide any further information on whether police have interviewed anyone suspected to have been involved in Thompson's disappearance. He did mention that detectives had written 115 supplemental reports documenting their investigation, indicating they have pursued numerous leads.
Kujawski said she met in person with Brookfield detectives in late August to get an update on the investigation, describing the more than 200-page file on the investigation. But there wasn't much new police could reveal, she said.
"Police didn't tell me a whole lot, so what I gathered is they're still actively working on it," Kujawski said. "We're waiting for somebody to talk, because somebody knows something."
Erica Thompson's son, Michael Russo, who said he's battled anxiety and depression for years, now has the added worry of saving his mother's home.
Russo's aunt pointed him in the direction of an attorney to see if there's a way he can serve as the property's administrator, so he can work with his mother's lender and avoid foreclosure.
Attorney Greg Martucci told the Landmark that he has filed a petition for Letters of Administration to Collect in Cook County Probate Court.
"If her son, Michael J. Russo, my client, is granted Letters of Office, he will have authority to represent his mother's estate in matters pertaining to her property and her creditors," Martucci said.
He and Russo appeared via Zoom before a judge on Aug. 27 and that due to the case's unusual circumstances, the judge took the matter under advisement.
"We are currently monitoring the case to see whether and when the order is entered," Martucci said. "Unfortunately, the Clerk of the Court has been slow to post the orders after they have been signed. But, so far as I can determine, there has not been any legal action filed to date with respect to the mortgage on Erica's home."
Russo said the lender, which at first was willing to communicate with him, has cut off communication. He added that a bank representative indicated to him that the institution likely would seek foreclosure after one year of non-payment.
It's unclear whether the bank will act due to the pandemic, but the property is not out of the woods. The property taxes haven't been paid for the past two installments and are eligible for sale, although the pandemic has delayed the tax sale indefinitely.
He's set up an online fundraiser (gofundme.com/f/save-erica-thompson039s-home-mortgage-relief-fund), setting a goal of $135,000. But the pitch hasn't gained much traction, raising a little more than $800 in the month since it was started.
Russo said he also spoke to police recently but, like his aunt, they didn't have much new information to reveal.
"They're still trying to figure out where the car went and where the phone traveled," Russo said.
This article has changed to correct the number of supplemental reports in the Erica Johnson case file as of Sept. 8. 2020. There are 115.