Two Arkansas teenagers charged with kidnapping and killing a 72-year-old woman both pleaded not guilty at a hearing on Sept. 4.
Robert Lee Smith Jr., 16, and Tacori Mackrel, 18, were formally charged with capital murder, kidnapping, aggravated robbery and theft of property, filed by the Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Both teens were charged as adults, despite Smith being 16.
The pair were originally arrested on July 16 and charged with kidnapping and theft of property. At a press conference on Sept. 4, Prosecuting Attorney Luke Ferguson and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Carol Crews announced that the capital murder charge had been added in the official filing on Aug. 31, according Faulkner County Sheriff’s Facebook postings.
The teens were arrested after they were seen on surveillance video.
Kidnapped and Killed
Fragstein spent the afternoon of July 7 shopping at a mall in Conway, Arkansas, about 15 miles south of her home in Greenbrier. Security videos showed the 71-year-old grandmother visiting several stores, including a Kroger grocery store, a Starbucks, and finally TJ Maxx.
Video shows Fragstein leaving the TJ Maxx at about 3:43 p.m. Parking lot cameras then recorded Fragstein’s car, a silver 2013 Honda CRV, driving at high speed around the parking lot. Inspection of the video showed a man in a white shirt behind the wheel, with some commotion happening inside the car, according to an affidavit from the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
When his wife didn’t return home from shopping as expected, Helmut Fragstein reported her missing to the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriffs reviewed all the security camera footage and noticed two young men in a blue PT Cruiser driving oddly through the mall parking lot, parking in numerous different spaces, eventually parking near to Fragstein’s Honda.
The investigators shared pictures of the two young men with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office and the Pine Bluff police department. The two were identified as Robert Lee Smith and Tacori Mackrel.
On July 11, a female body was recovered in Jefferson County. On July 13, the body was identified as that of Elvia Fragstein, according to a Sheriff’s Office press release. KATV reported Fragstein had been killed by blunt force trauma to the head and cervical spine as well as strangulation.
The Sheriff’s Office sent out pleas for information through its various social media channels, and two witnesses came forward, saying they had seen the suspects driving the silver CRV. The identified the suspects by name.
The Mysterious Caucasian
Investigator Andy Cook and Lt. Chad Wooley from the Faulkner Sheriff’s Office learned that Tacori Mackrel had been arrested on unrelated charges and was currently housed in the Jefferson County jail. On July 15, the two officers interviewed Mackrel, who admitted to being one of the men in the surveillance video, then demanded legal counsel.
The pair returned the next evening, Mackrel was read his rights, and agreed to discuss the case.
Mackerel claimed that shortly before he and Smith committed the crime, an unknown Caucasian male approached the two teens, threatened them with a .357 caliber revolver, and told them to kidnap Fragstein.
Mackrel claimed that he and Smith jumped into Fragstein’s car after she got in, and bound her with their belts. Then the mysterious white male climbed in and ordered them to drive to Smith’s mother’s home in Pine Bluff. The unidentified man supposedly took the woman away in a truck, returned alone 10 minutes later, and disappeared.
Cook and Wooley swore in the prosecutor’s affidavit that there was no evidence whatsoever of an unidentified white male being involved in the crime.
EXCLUSIVE: Only @KATVNews was there when 16-year-old Robert Lee Smith was arrested today in connection to the Elvia Fragstein case. The 71-year-old woman was found dead along a road in Jefferson Co. #arnews pic.twitter.com/lkcYYaBiWn
— Marine Glisovic KATV (@KATVMarine) July 16, 2018
Robert Smith was arrested on July 16, and a search of his home turned up the clothes he had been wearing in the security video. The affidavit reports that there were bloodstains on the T-shirt and shoes. Smith admitted to being one of the people in the video but denied any involvement in any crime.
If convicted, Mackrel would be eligible for the death penalty. Smith, being under 18, would not.
From Colombia to the United States to Murder Victim
According to her obituary at Arkansas Online, Elvia Fragstein was born in Huila, Colombia, on May 3, 1946. As an adult she owned and operated two alcohol companies in Colombia.
She married Helmut Fragstein in 2000 and moved to the United States first to Wisconsin, and later to Arkansas, to enjoy her retirement.
She is survived by her husband, five children, and seven grandchildren.