Finding Brittany Williams: 7-year-old with AIDS still missing after 19 years
RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It’s been 19 years since a 7-year-old girl who was diagnosed with AIDS disappeared in Henrico County.
Nearly two decades later, no one has ever been charged in the disappearance of Brittany Williams.
Brittany’s caretaker at the time, Kim Parker, told authorities she sent Brittany to live with another couple in California. However, Henrico police say that wasn’t true.
Detectives still get calls and tips about Brittany Williams, as recently as within the last 12 months. Brittany’s friends, the few relatives she knew, and police agree that without her caretaker’s cooperation, investigators may never solve Brittany’s disappearance. But to this day, Parker remains silent.
For four years of her life, Brittany Williams lived in a yellow house on Rexford Road, with Parker. The house is still there, but Brittany isn’t, and neither is the woman who remains at the center of her cold case.
“Very sad … kind of a creepy feeling,” Sarah Minter, a childhood friend of Brittany’s, said while looking at the home.
The two girls lived a block away from each other. The girl remembered for her radiant smile was born in 1993.
"She was very sweet,” Minter said, describing Brittany. “She was soft spoken, and had the biggest smile you'd ever want to see."
Brittany Williams’ mother, Rose Marie Thompson, discovered she’d contracted AIDS three months before giving birth and passed the deadly disease to her daughter.
“What I remember is a happy, happy child,” Brenda Martin, Brittany’s aunt, said.
Martin was Thompson’s half-sister. She says Thompson met Kim Parker at the hospital, where she and Brittany went for AIDS treatment.
"She basically just pounced on them,” Martin said. “You know, 'I can do this for you. I can do that for you.’”
Parker operated a charity called Rainbow Kids during the 1990s and ran an independent foster home out of her house. Attorneys say Parker took in as many as 50 kids over the years, many with serious medical issues or developmental disabilities.
As she was dying, Thompson signed over custody of Brittany to Parker in 1996.
“Her Rainbow Kids operation was her entire existence,” said Henrico Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Feinmel, who prosecuted the fraud case ultimately brought against Parker. “The money coming in was how (Parker) was living.”
Feinmel said Parker began collecting Brittany’s Social Security and Medicaid benefits after taking the girl in.
Parker also went on a publicity campaign, soliciting donations for her charity. She started making approximately $18,000 in upgrades on the home, according to court records.
“Kim kept that money,” Martin said. “It didn’t go to the children. It didn’t go to the organization.”
But Martin says most times she visited with Brittany, she remained a vibrant child despite her illness or home life. Brittany also was acutely aware of the potential danger of her disease.
“She was so caring and concerned about things with her AIDS,” recalled Martin. “She dropped a plate and cut her hand. I went to help her and she said ‘No, you can’t do that because of the blood. I’ll take care of it.'”
But Martin said odd signs began to surface. She says the sweet-looking home was much different on the inside.
“It was just a mess. It was not clean,” Martin said.
“There was a couple mornings that I vividly remember (Brittany) was kind of sad getting on the school bus,” Minter said.
Henrico Police cold case detective Lt. Kevin Howdyshell says multiple people who knew Kim Parker called Henrico’s child protective services.
“Concern of potential neglect, concern of potential maltreatment of some of the children,” Howdyshell said.
The findings of social services investigators were marked confidential and have since been destroyed.
In August 2000, Martin received a shocking phone call from Parker.
"Kim called me on a Wednesday and said she couldn’t handle her anymore,” Martin said. “... that (Brittany) was flirting with men who were coming to work on the house.”
“’She's going to be like her mother,’” quoted Martin of the conversation.
Martin said Parker had said that Brittany had lived longer than she thought she was going to live.
“(Parker said) that I needed to take her or she was going to give her to these two women in California," Martin said.
Martin called Parker back two days later to tell her that she’d watch Brittany more often, but wouldn’t be able to adopt her, having three children of her own.
“And she said, ‘Well, you’re too late,'” Martin said.
Martin said Parker told her she’d already sent Brittany to live with the two women in California, but wouldn’t tell her anything else. Parker told police the same story, according to investigators and court records.
“We knocked on the door. I called repeatedly. No response,” Martin said of her attempt to get in contact with Parker.
Court records say when Brittany didn’t show up to school that fall, Parker was arrested for truancy. She told a judge that Brittany had gone to live with relatives. The charge was dismissed.
The next year, Parker was summoned to court again for not bringing Brittany to a paternity test. Parker told the same judge the same story. Records indicate there was no follow up by the court.
Two years later, in 2003, a newspaper reporter aiming to do a follow-up story, alerted social services when Parker told her she no longer lived there. This time, the judge ordered police to open a case.
“Ms. Parker was never cooperative in the investigation,” Howdyshell said.
Parker was jailed for contempt of court for not producing Brittany or telling authorities where she was. Henrico police tracked down the two women in California, who said they never took Brittany.
A nationwide search ensued, with high-profile local news coverage.
“We deserve to know the truth of where she is,” Martin said.
NBC12 tried repeatedly in multiple ways to get in touch with Kim Parker over the past few weeks. So far, we haven’t heard back.
Henrico police took out a search warrant to comb Parker’s house, citing possible murder, abduction and child neglect as the cause. Detectives dug up the yard and even the septic tank.
“Just a lot of dirt,” Minter said.
"There was always the concern that a concrete slab could have contained Brittany’s body,” Feinmel said. “No evidence ever turned up of it. It’s strange.”
Detectives never found Brittany’s body. She is presumed to be dead. Investigators say her critical AIDS medicine hadn’t been filled since Parker said she gave her away.
“I remember just like it was yesterday, the doctor looking at me and saying, ‘She’s not going to live much longer if she’s not getting this medication,’” Feinmel said.
Parker’s attorney at the time defended her record with children, also saying there was no evidence to show any harm had come to Brittany. Investigators soon uncovered that Parker had still received more than $16,000 in Social Security payments meant for Brittany, after she said the child was no longer in her care.
Parker was indicted on 73 counts of fraud, including for donations she received for the care of the children. Parker was also charged for Medicaid fraud. The state still paid $8,000 in insurance premiums for a child who had vanished, said prosecutors, although Parker had never actually received that money for personal use.
Parker took a plea deal, admitting to one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud. She was also convicted of one count of state Medicaid fraud.
She was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a much harsher punishment than recommended in state guidelines. Parker shed tears in the courtroom.
At the time, one of the women in California - Linda Hodges - who Parker claimed took Brittany, said the sentence wasn’t long enough.
“I think she used people ... used their hearts,” Linda Hodges said.
Police now presume Brittany Williams to be dead, but they still don’t know how she went missing.
“We cannot give the family closure. We cannot give her friends closure,” Howdyshell said.
Brittany would have turned 11 when Parker went to prison. Sixteen years later, the girl with the bright smile is still lost, and so is the justice for why she disappeared.
“It’s one of the cases that will always bother me,” Feinmel said.
Martin hopes someone who knew Parker and possibly has information will now come forward so many years later.
“It just breaks my heart, it really does,” Martin said, holding back tears.
“It didn’t really hit me until I got older, and you realize how cruel the world can be,” Minter said. “There needs to be justice for Brittany and what happened to her.”
Henrico Police’s cold case unit stills follows up on every lead they get on Brittany’s case. Anyone with information can call Metro Richmond Crime Stoppers at 804-780-1000. It can be anonymous.
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