West Virginia Woman Vanishes After Leaving Karaoke Bar With New Acquaintance
“He can hide, he can run, but we’re eventually going to get him,” police say.
A West Virginia woman spent an evening out at local bars. She was last seen on surveillance video leaving a karaoke lounge with a man she just met. Then, she disappeared.
Gretchen Fleming recently had returned to her hometown from South Carolina, where she had been living with a boyfriend until they ended their yearlong relationship. “She was kind of in a lost place when she moved back to Parkersburg,” recalls David Fleming, Gretchen’s father.
Gretchen decided to live with her paternal grandmother as she took time to figure out her next steps following the breakup. According to Gretchen’s stepmother, Jennifer Fleming, it was common during that time for Gretchen to also stay with friends and be gone from her grandmother’s home for a few days at a time.
At the beginning of December 2022, David was busy with a new job he had just started as a high school wrestling coach, but he reached out to his daughter via text. “She didn’t reply right away,” David says, noting he didn’t think much about it at the time. “I was busy all week with the new job.”
According to David, he and 27-year-old Gretchen always had “an open line of communication” between them, and if she couldn’t respond to him right away, she’d get back to him when she was able. At times, that could be over a week later.
On Dec. 11, 2022, Jennifer says she and David were at home when David’s mother showed up and said she was worried about Gretchen because she hadn’t seen or spoken with her for eight days. The grandmother said she dropped Gretchen off at work on Dec. 3, and Gretchen let her know she wasn’t going home that night because she wanted to hang out with friends.
After learning the troubling news, both Jennifer and David attempted to contact Gretchen, but her phone immediately went to voicemail and there were no responses to their texts.
David and Jennifer jumped into their vehicle and started canvassing Parkersburg’s bars and restaurants. At one of Gretchen’s favorite establishments, Front Row Bar & Grill, David learned from a bartender that Gretchen had been there the previous weekend and one of Gretchen’s friends had just dropped Gretchen’s purse off at the bar.
Inside Gretchen’s purse, David found her phone, identification, credit card and other personal items. “The bartender mentioned that she left with a guy, and I think because I found the purse I’m scared,” he says. “I’m thinking in my head, ‘This just wasn’t a missing persons case.’ Something had happened.”
Gretchen’s friends confirmed to David that Gretchen had left Front Row with a guy to go to another bar called My Way Lounge for karaoke night. The DJ from the establishment revealed to the concerned father that Gretchen was with a man named John. Neither David nor Jennifer knew him.
On Dec. 12, 2022, Parkersburg Police Department Detective James Zimmerman began investigating the case after David and Jennifer reported Gretchen missing. The man Gretchen was with the last night she was seen out, John, told investigators he and Gretchen started their night off at Front Row and then headed to My Way.
According to Detective Zimmerman, John said Gretchen had left her purse in his car and didn’t bring it into My Way. He then claimed he lost track of Gretchen during the evening and wasn’t able to locate her so he eventually went home after looking for her. John said he returned her purse to Front Row since he didn’t know where she lived and her phone was in the purse.
“He was really upset and worried,” Jennifer says, noting John told her and David that Gretchen just disappeared and he didn’t know what happened.
“John, I know he didn’t have anything to do with it,” David says, noting the man fully cooperated with police. “I’ve spoken with him. He was just as freaked out as I am as a father.”
Video surveillance obtained from My Way by officers shows Gretchen at the end of the bar by herself when a man approaches her. “He stands beside her and ends up bringing her a drink,” David says of the footage.
According to David, his daughter and the man then went to the bar’s gambling room for about a 30 to 45 minutes. “They come out of the gambling room, and the man ends up walking out the door and she’s walking right behind him,” he says.
At the time, John had gone to the bathroom, so he never saw Gretchen leave.
Employees at the bar identified the man Gretchen left with as Preston Pierce. Gretchen’s father and stepmother don’t believe Pierce was a friend of Gretchen’s, and they’re not sure why she went with him.
When police spoke with Pierce, a local deliveryman, he confirmed to them that he and Gretchen left together, and he claimed he dropped her off in downtown Parkersburg.
On Dec. 14, detectives had gathered enough surveillance video from the early morning of Dec. 4 to reconstruct Pierce’s movements in his vehicle. Police noted what they believe was his vehicle traveling in the direction of his home, but they say they never found any footage to show whether or not Gretchen was in the car or left the vehicle. “At this point, things aren’t adding up,” Detective Zimmerman says, alleging Pierce’s statements to police were “inconsistent.”
Jennifer did some sleuthing of her own and dug deeper into Pierce’s background. She claims she learned he allegedly used his position as a deliveryman to make contact with women he encountered while on the job. “He knows where people live because he’s delivering food to people’s houses,” Jennifer says. “He’s got their names; he’s got their phone numbers. He’s contacting them after he delivers food to them.”
According to David, Pierce allegedly had “multiple complaints against him for stalking women” and “pursuing underage minors.”
David now says he believes Pierce “thinks he’s above the law” and “untouchable.” The father adds, “I’m really scared for the community, of who’s little girl’s next.”
Investigators executed search warrants on Dec. 15, 2022, on Pierce’s property, including his home, vehicle and a rented storage unit. Zimmerman says that after collecting evidence in the case, he believes Pierce has more information about Gretchen’s disappearance and he remains a person of interest.
“He can hide, he can run, but we’re eventually going to get him,” Zimmerman vows.
The investigation into Gretchen Fleming’s disappearance on Dec. 4, 2022, is active and ongoing. Anyone with information about the case is urged to contact Detective Zimmerman at (304) 424-1072.
For more on this case, stream Disappeared: “Gone with the Night” on Max.
“I know that she’s waiting on us to find her to bring her home,” says the childhood pal of Sheena Gibbs.
28-year-old Davohnte Morgan was last seen on surveillance video walking in Mount Shasta on May 5, 2020, around 10 a.m.