Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

December 23, 2012

Police continue search for evidence in 2002 disappearance, death of McDowell County woman

WELCH — Despite a connection to a crime that made national headlines in 2012, authorities are still looking for answers in the case of a McDowell County woman who disappeared more than a decade ago.

The 2002 disappearance and death of Barbara Jean Flake, 54, of Jenkinjones was brought back into the spotlight in September after David Allen Mitchell, 42, also a native of Jenkinjones was charged in the daylight rape of a 73-year-old birdwatcher in New York City’s Central Park.  

The high-profile rape case lead authorities to take another look at Mitchell as a person of interest in Flake’s disappearance and death in McDowell County. Sgt. C.F. Kane with the West Virginia State Police Welch detachment previously told the Daily Telegraph Mitchell had been considered a person of interest in Flake’s case not long after her disappearance in 2002.

However, McDowell County Prosecuting Attorney Sid Bell said there is still not enough evidence to charge Mitchell — or anyone else — in Flake’s death.

“There just is not enough evidence to charge anyone, including David Mitchell, but we are hoping there will be enough evidence to charge someone soon,” Bell said. “We have people who have reported seeing Mitchell with her or talking about the case, but we still don’t have enough information.”

Bell said troopers with the West Virginia State Police Welch detachment have been talking with several witnesses regarding Flake’s death.

“I have been talking with Sgt. W.C. Tupper, and he is pursuing several leads and talking with several witnesses,” Bell said. “It is something that is just frustrating. It is frustrating when you can’t prove what happened.”

Flake was reported missing by her son on Tuesday, April 9, 2002 after he found Flake was not at her house on No. 6 Mine Road. Police began interviewing neighbors and friends in the community regarding her disappearance the following day and on April 11, 2002 began searching and photographing her home.

Authorities said there was no indication Flake’s residence had been disturbed or robbed before she disappeared. Cpl. C.K. Morton of the West Virginia State Police Welch detachment previously told the Daily Telegraph Flake’s purse was still at her residence. Several local slugde and run-off ponds in the area were dredged for any sign of Flake, but nothing was found.

Nearly two years after Flake had disappeared authorities received a call on March 3, 2004 from a woman who had discovered what appeared to be a human skull in the woods near her home on Trussell Hollow in Jenkinjones.

Morton told the Daily Telegraph remains were collected and sent to the National Museum of Natural History. On April 7, 2004, museum officials positively identified the remains were that of Barbara Flake. It was also determined Flake had died of apparent blunt force trauma, Morton said.

Flake’s disappearance was not the first time Mitchell was charged with a crime against an elderly woman in McDowell County.  The Associated Press previously reported Mitchell, then 18, was charged with the 1989 rape and murder of Annie Parks, 86, of Jenkinjones but was acquitted in February 1990.

Later in 1990, Mitchell was also charged with the rape of a 70-year-old McDowell County woman as well as stealing a firearm and $20 from the woman’s residence. The rape charges were dropped, but Mitchell was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the robbery charges. Mitchell was released in February 2002 after serving his sentence for the robbery charges, months before Barbara Flake disappeared. In December 2002, he was again arrested on grand larceny charges in McDowell County.

In May 2003, Mitchell was arrested on abduction charges in Tazewell County and sentenced to serve eight years in a Virginia jail. He was released after serving his sentence in 2011.

Anyone with any information about Barbara Flake’s disappearance or death is encouraged to contact the West Virginia State Police in Welch at 304-436-2101.

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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