Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from the Parkersburg Police Department.
27-year-old Gretchen Fleming was last seen in the early morning hours of December 4, 2022, at the My Way Lounge & Restaurant in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Dateline spoke with Jake Grim, an old friend of Gretchen’s who has helped the Fleming family organize vigils. “As soon as the story came out, it rattled me,” Jake said. “I'm a true crime lover, I love reading thriller novels, I love to listen to podcasts and then it happens to you and it kind of changes your world.”
Jake told Dateline that it’s still unclear what exactly occurred on the evening of December 3 and into the early morning hours of December 4. “We haven't seen any camera footage of anything. She was at multiple spots. You know, the last place she was seen to everyone was the My Way,” Jake said. “It was so late in the -- you know, it was midmorning, like 3:00 a.m., you know, when the -- those bars are closing and things like that.”
Jake said it’s been frustrating because there’s no timeline of the night yet. “It seems like she was going to multiple different places that night,” he said, but no one knows what she was wearing or how she was getting around.
According to Jake, Gretchen was reported missing to the Parkersburg Police Department by her family on December 12, 2022. “The investigation, right from the start, lost 10 days,” Jake said. He told Dateline that Gretchen wasn’t reported missing for over a week because it wasn’t unusual for her to go a few days without getting in touch with her family. “I'm 28 years old and I don't talk to my parents every day, you know? So, I mean, it happens,” he said.
Jake said that even though he and Gretchen weren’t as close as they had been in high school, he felt compelled to help as soon as he heard she was missing. “She has this way about her. Once you meet her, you're kind of just infatuated with her because she's not like everyone else,” Jake said.
Jake said Gretchen is unique, especially in their small West Virginia town. “Gretchen didn't dress anything like everybody else. She's always made a statement,” he said. “She's so creative. Music is a big part of who she is. She's done all these different things. She's traveled, she's very well spoken, she used to be a writer and still does write.”
In the past few weeks, Jake has been trying to help bring attention to Gretchen’s story. The most recent vigil, which he said he helped organize, was held on Monday, December 19. Jake told Dateline that there were 150 attendees there to support Gretchen’s family. “To be honest, not only did the family need it, the community needed it as well,” Jake said. “It's devastating to the community, to her family. I mean, it's -- it's rattled a lot of people.”
On December 12, the Parkersburg Police Department posted about Gretchen’s disappearance on Facebook stating, “If you have any information on the current whereabouts of Gretchen Fleming, 27 of Vienna please contact Detective J.M. Zimmerman.” They didn’t release any other details about her disappearance at the time.
On December 29, Dateline spoke with Parkersburg Police Chief, Matt Board, who provided an update in Gretchen's case. "We have a person of interest that we believe has information in regard to this case pertaining to Gretchen," Chief Board said. "This person, we know was at the My Way Lounge the evening that Gretchen was there and we have cause to believe Gretchen left with this person."
Chief Board told Dateline that in order to preserve the integrity of the case, the authorities are not releasing the person’s identity at this time.
"We have served multiple search warrants pertaining to this case.” the chief noted. “But once again, kind of restricted in regard to what I can release for the integrity of the case."
The Parkersburg Police Department is urging anyone who was at the My Way Lounge into the early morning hours of December 4, 2022, or frequents the establishment, to reach out if they believe they have information that may help move the case along. "Our investigators are still actively sorting through all of the tips,” Chief Board said. “So I still encourage people if they think they know something, you know, please reach out and we would love to hear from them."
As questions continue to swirl, Gretchen’s loved ones are just hoping for her safe return.
Gretchen’s father, David Fleming, told Dateline that the community has been extremely supportive to their family during this tough time. He is also extremely grateful to Det. Zimmerman, who he says is “working around the clock” on Gretchen’s case. He stressed to Dateline that he just wants to let the Parkersburg Police do their jobs to help find his daughter.
Jake agreed. He told Dateline that he trusts Det. Zimmerman to help find Gretchen. “I grew up with his wife, who also grew up with me and Gretchen. We all did student council together,” Jake said. “I just feel like things happen for a reason and I feel like he's on this case for a reason.” Jake added that he feels like Det. Zimmerman is the “right person for this case.”
“I truly do believe they're doing everything that they can,” Jake said. He said that there are people in the community who want to organize search parties but they’ve decided to let the police handle the searches for now. “We need to let the police do their job,” he said. “We don't want to tamper with any future evidence.”
David Fleming also told Dateline that the family is asking people not to speculate about Gretchen’s disappearance. Gretchen’s friend Jake Grim told Dateline that the speculation has been difficult on everyone. “You love social media and you hate it,” Jake said. “There's so many things that have been spun around and people are not realizing her family is reading this stuff and it breaks my heart because they're amazing people.”
Dateline spoke with Gretchen’s father on Friday, December 23 -- one day before Gretchen’s 28th birthday. “We love her. Something happened to her. I don't know what to say,” David said. “Tomorrow would be her 28th birthday, which will be hard. She's an amazing little girl. I just want her home.”
Gretchen’s loved ones are not giving up hope and say they will continue to organize vigils until they are able to bring her home. “I'm just asking people to do what we can do, which is just to be Gretchen's voice. She doesn't have a voice right now,” Jake said. “We just want the word out there. There has to be someone, there has to be people out there that know things and it's just a matter of getting them to talk,” Jake said. “It's not over, and it won't be over.”
Gretchen is between 5’ and 5’2” tall and weighs 100-120 lbs. She has brown hair and brown eyes. She is now 28 years old.
If you have any information please contact Detective J.M. Zimmerman at (304) 424-1072 or the Parkersburg Police Department directly at (304) 424-8444. Please reference case # P2207164.