ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Even after 35 years, with the odds overwhelmingly stacked against her, Denise Frazier-Daniel still believes she’ll find her daughter.
All she has left of Olisa Williams, last seen as an infant in 1982, are a few photos kept among documents and newspaper clippings related to the disappearance, and her belief that police are wrong — that her child is still alive.
The primary person of interest in the child’s disappearance, Frazier-Daniel’s ex-husband, claims a car crash left him with no memory from the timeframe of his connection with the girl.
His changing stories and claims of amnesia have thwarted authorities for decades in their ongoing efforts to find out what happened to the child, according to investigators and a far-flung array of police reports, court records and family services documents.
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But Ann Arbor police also still hold out hope for justice in the child’s disappearance, and are asking anyone with information to come forward.
“I still have hope that she can be found,” Frazier-Daniel told The Ann Arbor News . “I can’t give up.”
Olisa Williams was born on Aug. 10, 1981 amid a tumultuous relationship between Frazier-Daniel and her ex-husband, Isiah Williams.
Frazier-Daniel, now 63, met Isiah Williams, about 10 years her senior, when he lived next door to her family home in Ann Arbor. She fell in love, and in January 1979, they drove to Toledo, Ohio, to get a quick marriage.
But all was not well with the newlyweds.
“I was in love,” Frazier-Daniel said. “He claims that he loved me. In the beginning, he was attentive and loving. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Two years into the relationship, while still dating, the abuse began with a slap, said Frazier-Daniel.
It escalated and continued into marriage, according to police. Less than one month in, Williams was accused of shooting at and beating his new bride with a rifle, said Ann Arbor police Detective Dan Iverson, who has taken over the investigation into Olisa Williams’ disappearance.
Isiah Williams, now 70, declined to speak at length when located in September at a home in Inkster by The Ann Arbor News. He briefly addressed allegations regarding Olisa before he closed his door without answering questions on his history of spousal abuse.
But police reports show a cycle of abuse that frequently left Frazier-Daniel battered and seeking shelter, Iverson said.
“Off and on, after I’d get on my feet and I’m doing good by myself, and then he comes along and woos me back in,” Frazier-Daniel said. “He’s very good at sweet talking. … I guess love can be blind.”
Within months of their marriage, the two were separated, and Frazier-Daniel was seeking divorce, according to a police report.
Williams had previously served time in prison for assault with intent to rob while armed. And during his marriage to Frazier-Daniel, he served time in prison for unlawful taking of a vehicle and resisting or obstructing police. Later, following Olisa’s disappearance, he served a probation sentence for assaulting Frazier-Daniel, and spent 10 years in prison for assault with intent to commit great bodily harm less than murder, this time for beating another ex-wife with an 8-foot board.
Frazier-Daniel said that after Williams’ release from one of his prison stints in early 1981, he showed up at her place of employment, forced her into a vehicle and drove her to Cincinnati.
The relationship began again, and so did the abuse, which Frazier-Daniel said intensified once Williams learned his wife was pregnant with a child from another relationship she had during their separation, while he was incarcerated.
Between late July and early August 1981, as her late-summer due date approached, Frazier-Daniel left Cincinnati and Williams, returning to Ann Arbor to be with family and have her baby.
“I have another girl,” was her first thought when Olisa was born, “to dress up and put her hair in pigtails,” she said.
Holding Olisa for the first time is Frazier-Daniel’s favorite memory of their time together. But she wouldn’t get many more memories to choose from.
Shortly after the child’s birth, Isiah Williams — who is listed on the child’s birth certificate — arrived in town with a wedding ring, Frazier-Daniel said. He’d never given her one before.
The two went back to Cincinnati, and records show that by September, Frazier-Daniel was calling Ohio authorities again for help with domestic violence, Iverson said.
At the end of April 1982, during a period of separation, Frazier-Daniel was staying with a friend in Cincinnati. But she eventually ran into Isiah Williams, got a ride home from him and agreed to go on a date.
Their evening went awry when police stopped Williams’ vehicle and took him into custody; Williams later told family services the arrest was due to traffic warrants.
The stop delayed the couple’s return to Olisa, who was being watched by a friend, and child protective services took custody of the infant the next morning, Frazier-Daniel said.
Frazier-Daniel would get her child back, though briefly, she recalled, tears welling in her eyes as she told the story in an Ann Arbor Police Department conference room.
On April 29, 1982, back with her daughter at the same friend’s home, Frazier-Daniel heard a knock at the door. She answered to find Isiah Williams, upset that she was staying with her friend, she said.
“He hit me in the face and I fall back and that’s when he grabs her and Olisa’s crying,” she said. “He takes her and I run after him and then I came back into the house and called police.”
Isiah Williams was arrested for assaulting Frazier-Daniel, but didn’t have Olisa with him and wouldn’t say where she was, only saying she was with relatives unknown to Frazier-Daniel, she said. Police at the time told Frazier-Daniel that Williams had as much right to Olisa as she did.
Frazier-Daniel tried to find her daughter and sought help from child protective services, but eventually learned Williams had returned to Ann Arbor and followed.
Isiah Williams’ brother later told police he last saw Olisa at a family reunion on July 4, 1982 in Inkster.
Another ex-wife of Williams initially told police she last saw Olisa when Isiah Williams brought the baby to her house on July 9, 1982, according to records kept by Ann Arbor police Sgt. William Canada.
Both said the child was in good health.
But then, on July 9, Isiah Williams was served with a request for separate maintenance — financial support — in what Frazier-Daniel said was an effort to make Williams produce Olisa. He was also served with a summons on a restraining order and a show cause hearing demanding he produce Olisa in court, Iverson said.
Williams’ other ex-wife later told police that he drove away with the baby about 2 or 3 a.m. on July 10, and returned without the infant about 11 a.m., before loading the baby’s belongings into the car and driving the woman to work.
She also told Canada that on July 22 that year, she stayed overnight with Isiah Williams in Detroit and never saw the child, but watched Williams board a bus to Alabama the next day.
An order granting Frazier-Daniel temporary custody of Olisa was later issued, according to police. But Frazier-Daniel never saw her child again.
When brought to court on a restraining order violation in February 1983, Isiah Williams offered to provide information on Olisa’s whereabouts if the case against him was dismissed, a police report shows.
The judge refused and threatened extra jail time if he didn’t cooperate.
That’s when Williams finally told his own account of what happened to the child.
He told authorities he’d been smoking marijuana and drinking while driving with the child in the summer of 1982, when he parked above Island Park in Ann Arbor, fell asleep, and woke to find Olisa gone.
He said he assumed Frazier-Daniel or another relative took the child.
After the court appearance, an attorney for Frazier-Daniel contacted police and reported Olisa missing.
The attorney said Williams had told Frazier-Daniel at various points that he killed Olisa, that she was “across the water,” that she was sick, and that she died at a hospital.
Williams also told his other ex-wife, according to police, that he’d made those claims just to hurt Frazier-Daniel, because he believed she betrayed him in the relationship with Olisa’s biological father.
Police do not suspect the biological father had any involvement in his daughter’s disappearance.
Police have tried and tried again to find Olisa Williams.
Detective Canada interviewed several people after receiving a tip that Isiah Williams gave her to a white couple in Adrian, police reports show.
Other tips led authorities to search the Huron River for Olisa, and police looked elsewhere for her body as well, according to past news stories and police reports.
Police also have re-interviewed Isiah Williams and those that knew him.
Williams told police he no longer has memory of the timeframe of the girl’s disappearance, due to a vehicle accident in 1994.
When contacted by The Ann Arbor News at his Inkster home in September, he said he hasn’t been able to recall events from that timeframe since 1997 — as a result of a brain injury from the crash. He asked, before closing his door, why he would want to discuss something of which he has no memory.
Prosecutors said they could not authorize an abandonment charge against Isiah Williams in 1983, according to a police report.
Homicide charges were denied in the case in January 2015, according to a denial document from the Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
While Olisa may be presumed dead and there may be suspicion of who killed Olisa — that person’s name was omitted from the document — the manner of death, whether accidental or intentional, can’t be determined, prosecutors said.
Police noted repeatedly that Olisa’s disappearance would have initially been considered a custody issue when it first arose in the 1980s.
Frazier-Daniel said she’s thankful for changes in views surrounding domestic violence and custody battles since 1982, as well as the introduction of the Amber Alert. But those changes don’t help her now.
She hounded Cincinnati authorities daily and posted an ad, the words “if anyone knows,” in all capital letters, in the Cincinnati Enquirer in search of Olisa when she was initially taken. After hearing her daughter was in a hospital, she called every hospital in the area.
She also confronted her ex-husband. One attempt, prior to Isiah Williams telling his story in the 1983 court appearance, left her so injured she was in danger of losing an eye, according to a police report.
Newspaper clippings spread across her couch during an interview at her Ann Arbor home served as reminders that she was once asked to look at photos of a deceased child located by authorities in a different state, just in case it might have been Olisa.
Typewritten letters show she begged news stations for years to boost awareness on her daughter, and appeared on television to solicit tips.
She’s continued to work with police and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and offered a DNA sample to the National Missing and Unidentified Person System in hopes for a match.
“I just get frustrated,” she said. “Most of the rage is at myself, because I think if I had done this and if I had done that and gone back to Cincinnati — but I can’t think like that.”
When asked about the possibility that her daughter is dead, Frazier-Daniel said she can’t think that way either. She then changed the subject.
She remembers her daughter as an easygoing “bundle of joy” who rarely cried and loved toys that squeaked.
“I hope wherever she is, that she’s grown up to be a respectable young lady, loving and caring despite of what she’s gone through. … whatever that is,” Frazier-Daniel said. “I just have faith that she’s somewhere and that she doesn’t know that me and her family are still hoping she’ll show up, or that she’ll be found and come to us.”
Police hope that with the passage of time, those with information about Olisa William’s disappearance may now be willing to come forward.
Olisa Williams was less than a year old at the time of her disappearance. She was described as a black female child with brown eyes and hair. Police reports indicate she had a scar on or under her chin and had been measured in July 1982 at 30 inches tall and 27 pounds. She would now be 36.
Information from: The Ann Arbor News, http://www.mlive.com/ann-arbor