August 28, 2022 | by Samuel Romeo
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
As little Erica Cook moved through the house as a toddler, no one heard a thing. She entered stealth mode and seemed to appear out of thin air without a sound.
“You would not hear her, you would not hear a footstep, you would not see her, Stephanie Hollis, Erica’s cousin, said with a chuckle. “You would turn this way and there she was.”
Those precious moments and fond memories changed forever some 30 years later, in 2014, when Erica was killed, and her house set on fire. Her body was found in her home in the Simpsonville area of Texas. She had suffered blunt impact to her head and stab wounds to her neck. Her death was ruled a homicide and remains unsolved.
Erica was only 32 years old when she died. Although she was taken from her family too soon, she left them with everlasting memories – including when little Erica would pop out of nowhere and scare the living daylights out of her family.
“You would be sitting somewhere in the house and the next thing you know Erica was there,” said Stephanie.
Eventually Stephanie and her grandmother had to get Erica a kitten collar with bells because of how quiet she was. Her grandmother would often say, “this girl is going to give me a heart attack!”
So, for everyone’s sake and sanity they made sure Erica wore the bell so she could be a little louder when running through the house.
Erica grew up in Gilmer, Texas and was raised mostly by her mother. Her father died when Erica was very little. Growing up, Erica was cheerful, but she was also very straightforward. Ever since she was young, she was very blunt and direct. If you asked her a question, she would give you the direct answer, whether it was good or bad. She also loved to draw and was very creative.
Stephanie said that Erica’s drawings were always so interesting, and that her favorite and most memorable drawing was of a unicorn. The interesting part about the image was that Erica colored in the horn of the unicorn and nothing else. She left everything else blank.
Erica grew up to be tall and skinny. Most of the time she pulled her hair back in a ponytail and sometimes she would swoop her bangs. She also had freckles and glasses. Although she didn’t wear a lot of makeup, she always wore some fruity perfume or scent.
As Erica got older, her creative outlet turned to makeup instead of drawing. Erica loved to buy makeup, although she did not wear too much of it. She spent a lot of money on makeup to try it on and then afterwards just wiped it off. Stephanie likes to think that with the recent explosion of Tik Tok and YouTube, Erica would have done makeup tutorials and showed others her creative talents.
Despite Stephanie being 10 years older than her cousin, the two would often spend time together at their grandmother’s house. Erica didn’t consider Stephanie to be a cousin. She told Stephanie that she was more like a big sister.
When Erica gave birth to her son, she knew that she wasn’t ready to be a mother. Stephanie stepped up to be his caretaker. Erica would help out when she could, but she knew that her son would be better off with Stephanie. She knew Stephanie was already an experienced mother and raising a daughter of her own. Stephanie officially adopted him in 2020.
Stephanie described him as being just like his mother. He looks like his mom, walks like his mom, and talks like his mom.
Even when he was very young, Erica always called her son her “mini me.” He has those quiet footsteps Erica once had. Stephanie says that sometimes she will be sitting on the couch and he goes out the front door without a peep. Later he will come back in, and Stephanie will be shocked that he even left.
On Sunday, February 9, 2014, Erica was at the home she shared with her boyfriend. Stephanie says Erica was packing up and getting ready to move out of the house. That night, deputies from the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office got a call about a house fire in Gilmer, Texas.
Police discovered Erica’s body in the house with injuries to her head, bruises to the brain, and stab wounds to the ear and to her spinal cord.
The next day an autopsy revealed that she was murdered and that the house fire was not an accident.
Police questioned Erica’s boyfriend multiple times. However, there was no evidence to determine if he was at the house at the time of the fire and murder.
Investigators never made any arrests.
Erica’s son was only 7 years old when she was killed.
It was hard for him to understand the gravity of her death, because in his eyes Erica was his aunt. At that point in his life, he didn’t know Erica was his biological mother. Due to his age and how long he had been with Stephanie, he always believed that Stephanie was his birth mother.
It wasn’t until the start of his freshman year in high school that Stephanie told him he was adopted and that his birth mother was Erica.
Since Erica’s death, things have been hard for Stephanie and other family members. Now a young man, Erica’s son is a constant reminder of her for Stephanie; he reminds her of all the happy and good memories of his mother. He is still her “mini me,” so it is difficult for Stephanie to look at him and not think about Erica.
Erica’s family remembers her as someone who loved hard and wanted to be loved deeply. She put others before herself and often trusted others even if they had hurt her before.
The family remember those days when she would quietly sneak up and scare the daylights out of them. They remember that she just wanted to be known as the smartest little girl around.
Most of all, Erica’s family knows that she is watching over them and is loving them all with all her heart.
If anyone has information regarding this case, please contact the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office at 903-843-2541. To remain anonymous, and possibly be eligible for a reward, call Crime Stoppers at (800) 396-3391 or (903) 843-3131.
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