Four and a half years after a 22-year-old pregnant mother from Baltimore vanished before her baby shower, authorities say they know who’s responsible for Akia Eggleston’s sudden disappearance.
Baltimore police and prosecutors say the evidence points to another person absent from the celebration planned for May 7, 2017: The purported father of her unborn child.
Michael Robertson was arrested Tuesday in Michigan and is awaiting proceedings to determine whether he’ll be extradited to Maryland, where he’ll face two counts of first-degree murder for the death of Eggleston and her unborn boy. The second murder charge for the unborn baby stems from a “reasonable likelihood of the fetus’ viability” because Eggleston was eight months pregnant when she vanished, according to charging documents.
Robertson’s case does not yet appear in Maryland’s online court record system, and it’s unclear if he’s being represented by an attorney. The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office did not know if an extradition hearing has been scheduled.
Authorities haven’t found Eggleston’s remains, according to charging documents. But in more than four years since she disappeared, she never contacted her young daughter and none of the dozens of family members, friends and acquaintances who spoke to investigators have heard from her.
“Based on her pattern of life, the time passed, extensive publicity, multiple searches, and monetary reward for information in this case, the fact that Eggleston has not returned to her family or been electronically or physically located overwhelmingly indicates that she is in fact, deceased,” police wrote.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said during a news conference that the case should remind Baltimoreans her office does “not give up on the victims of Baltimore City, ever.” She praised her prosecutors, Baltimore police and the FBI for their collaboration and dedication to an investigation that spanned almost five years.
“I give a special thanks to the family of Akia Eggleston who have never given up in their pursuit of justice for Akia and her unborn child,” Mosby said.
From the time Eggleston disappeared, her family endured constant “pain and anguish,” said Shawn Wilkinson, who described his stepdaughter as a beautiful and talented young woman whose bright future was abruptly interrupted.
The family continued to hold onto hope that the expecting mother and her soon-to-be baby boy were alive, Wilkinson said.
“Every time you close your eyes,” he said, “you’re always thinking about them.”
The arrest was promising, but the pain doesn’t stop. Eggleston left behind a young daughter and siblings.
“They have to live with that moving forward,” Wilkinson said. “This path of destruction didn’t end when he was arrested and hopefully charged to the maximum extent.”
From the outset, Eggleston’s family demanded answers and accountability.
They searched for her in Cherry Hill Park, near the apartment where she last lived, and shared her story on national television. Eventually, her name gained more and more attention as the nation confronted “missing white woman syndrome,” where the disappearance of white women draws broad interest whereas their Black and minority counterparts aren’t given the same coverage when missing.
The podcast Crime Noir, which seeks to make up for disparate media attention, highlighted her case. It was featured in People Magazine and NBC News. Wilkinson spoke up on ABC’s “The View.” The HBO documentary series “Black and Missing” profiled the work of the Black and Missing Foundation, spotlighting Eggleston’s case as an example of the lack of attention for missing women of color. Her family sat for videotaped interviews.
Wilkinson credits their persistence along with the attention brought by the Black and Missing Foundation, a nonprofit organization which raises awareness about missing people of color, and some dogged detective work for bringing about an arrest.
Derrick Butler, who’s on the board of Black and Missing and helped to spread the word about Eggleston’s case, said they were “very happy” to hear of an arrest but expressed concerns about what happened before the case got more extensive attention.
“But for the efforts of ‘Black and Missing,’ the HBO documentary, I do not think that it would have happened because we had no other reason to believe they were doing any active research on this case or investigation because they weren’t returning phone calls,” Butler said.
The missing persons case seemed to dry up within six months of Eggleston going missing, with Baltimore police saying they had exhausted all leads. The FBI announced a $25,000 reward and a special agent on the FBI’s violent crimes task force promised they’d never given up on the case, having put together a “decent time frame” for her disappearance.
Mosby acknowledged the disparity of media attention Eggleston’s case received compared to missing white women and said she hopes Roberston’s arrest brings a measure of hope, “the first phase in our pursuit of justice.”
Shayne Buchwald, an FBI supervisory special agent, called Robertson’s arrest a “long and painful journey.” As Eggleston’s story gained national attention over the past five years, Buchwald said agents remained focused on solving her case, evening hanging a photo of Eggleston in their office as a daily reminder.
Eggleston was last seen alive in the afternoon of May 3, 2017, and that’s around the time all the young woman’s cell phone and social media activity stopped.
Police never found Eggleston’s phone, and Robertson changed his device before Eggleston was reported missing. Still, cellular location data helped them piece together the sequence around her disappearance. Robertson was the only person with the “motive, means, and opportunity to murder Eggleston,” investigators wrote in charging documents.
Robertson was expecting a child with Eggleston while maintaining a relationship with another woman who was the mother to two of his children, police said. Police wrote that Robertson and the other woman he was dating got into a heated argument after the woman saw a photo of Eggleston’s sonogram.
According to charging documents, Robertson was evicted from the other woman’s apartment before staying with Eggleston more frequently. He and Eggleston picked out a place to live together, but investigators found he misled her with blurry photos of a different apartment that required a security deposit far exceeding the amount of money he’d asked her to withdraw.
Robertson allegedly told investigators that he saw Eggleston for the last time a day or two before she disappeared, yet cell phone data showed him in the area of her Cherry Hill apartment the evening she was last seen. After Eggleston’s disappearance made TV news, Robertson googled about trash pickup, dumpsters and landfills in Baltimore 18 times, police said.
There were dumpsters 30 feet from Eggleston’s apartment, and investigators traced the route for trash from her apartment to a Northern Virginia landfill, according to charging documents. Engineers narrowed in on 20 acres of the landfill that were filled with 500,000 tons of compacted municipal waste filled 40-feet deep within the three-month window around her disappearance. Safety regulations prohibited digging more than four feet down.
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Robertson moved with the mother of two of his children to Muskegon, Michigan, within days of being interviewed by police for the third time in October 2017, according to charging documents.
With the last message she sent, Eggleston invited a friend to her baby shower; the woman who Robertson was seeing allegedly told police he spent the weekend of the baby shower at a hotel with her.
When neither expecting parent showed up for the baby shower, Eggleston’s family called police.
Even with Robertson’s arrest, it’s hard to feel any closure.
Wilkinson’s faith makes him believe that until Eggleston comes home, there’s a chance she’s “still with us.”
“Even though this chapter may be finished, there are still other chapters that need to be written...,” he said, “because we still don’t have her or my grandson to properly lay to rest with a proper burial.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Lilly Price contributed to this article.