By Samantha Joseph
MARTIN COUNTY -- During an interview in the final months of a 20-year stint as Martin County sheriff, Robert Crowder was still haunted by a case nearly two decades old.
"The ones that affect you most emotionally are crimes that involve children as victims," Sheriff Crowder said during an interview last month when he mentioned Andrea Gail Parsons, a 10-year-old who disappeared on July 11, 1993. "I would hope that we could solve that case before I leave office."
A little over a month before his last day in office, Jan. 7, the Martin County's Sheriff Office announced an arrest in the 19-year-old cold case.
On Nov. 29, detectives arrested Chester Duane Price, a 42-year-old convicted felon, and charged him in connection with the girl's disappearance.
Andrea disappeared after she went to buy candy from the neighborhood convenience store.
Her mother, Linda Parsons, called investigators when she returned from work and found her daughter missing.
The girl was last seen walking along southeast Ebbtide Avenue in Port Salerno. According to investigators, witnesses reported seeing Andrea leave her home about 5:45 p.m. Two people said they saw her about 25 minutes later near southeast Commerce Avenue and Seaward Street, after she left the grocery store with candy and a soda.
Last week's arrest was the result of work from dozens of investigators who worked over the years to piece together an account of what happened to the missing girl.
"We have certainty as to what happened and there's not some mystery person out there continuing to do this," Sheriff Crowder said. "That provides some sort of closure for the community and the family."
The latest surge came in 2011, when the sheriff assigned a team of detectives and several "fresh sets of eyes," to begin another review of the stacks of evidence collected over nearly two decades.
Based on their investigation, detectives felt they had enough evidence to present to the Office of the State Attorney for review and prosecution, he said. The state attorney's office then convened a grand jury, which handed down an indictment against Mr. Price.
Officers arrested Mr. Price after he testified before the grand jury. They said the former Stuart resident knew the girl and her family. They charged him with first-degree murder and kidnapping of a child younger than 13.
The sheriff declined to offer details about how Mr. Price became a suspect, whether or not he confessed to the crime and if he is likely to lead investigators to the child's body.
"We've had a lot of cooperation from the community and a lot of people watching this case, praying about it and wanting justice to be done. We appreciate all of that," Sheriff Crowder said.
Investigators said they still have work to do in the pre-trial phase of this case, and are hoping to locate the girl's body or burial site.
But following the arrest, Sheriff Crowder said he welcomed the break in the case.
"I feel good about it, because if we weren't able to do this and I went ahead and entered my retirement, I would be always wondering. It would just be one of the things that would plague you. You go to bed thinking about it," he said. "But of course that's nothing compared to what the little girl's family has been through. That's agonizing."
Mrs. Parsons could not be reached for comment by press time.