On June 15th, 2002, Stephanie Fulford left her home in Glen Carbon, Illinois, with a friend of hers, George Atchison. Stephanie, twenty-three years old, and George Atchison, twenty-one, had been friends for about five years. Stephanie Fulford was the mother of a sixteen-month-old son and had a boyfriend in Glen Carbon. She had been friends with George for a long time, often hanging out together. According to her family. George was friendly enough and spent time with Stephanie’s son that Saturday. When Stephanie never returned home, her family knew something had gone terribly wrong. They were right.
Stephanie Fulford was born December 17th, 1978, in Granite City, Illinois, to Charles and Jean Smart Fulford. Stephanie had a brother and sister who loved her very much. She worked as a certified nursing assistant at Colonial Care Center in Granite City, Illinois. She became a mother to her son, Caleb, sixteen months before her death. Stephanie was a smart, beautiful, kind person who was very loved by her family and friends.
When Stephanie failed to return home on Sunday, June 16th, 2002, her family called the police and reported her missing. Her family later said police in their hometown filed a missing person report but failed to do much else to find Stephanie. Her family started calling Stephanie and her friends, desperate to find the young mother. Someone answered Stephanie’s phone, but it wasn’t Stephanie. A woman answered the phone and stated she found the cell phone along the side of Old Trenton Road in Clinton County. At that moment, her family knew something terrible had happened to Stephanie.
Frustrated with the lack of effort by the police, Stephanie’s family began their own search along Old Trenton Road. The family didn’t find anything on Sunday evening, it was too dark. On Monday morning, the family began searching for Stephanie in rural Clinton County once again. They found Stephanie’s clothes and a pool of blood near where the phone was found. This, of course, was devastating to her family. They contacted the police once again, who increased the efforts to find Stephanie now that there were signs of foul play.
Stephanie had last been seen leaving the Rail Shack bar in Highland, Illinois, in the early morning hours of June 16th, 2002. Police also found a boot and a wallet along the road with two traffic citations belonging to George Atchison inside. Knowing that George was the last person seen with Stephanie and finding evidence that he was in the area where her phone had been found, the police brought him in for questioning on Monday, June 17th. George Atchison admitted to being with Stephanie that night. He eventually admitted to killing the young woman as well and led police to her body.
According to George, he and Stephanie left the Rail Shack bar and headed to Trenton. They stopped along Old Trenton Road, in a rural part of Clinton County. According to George, the two had consensual sex. Stephanie’s family and boyfriend, however, state Stephanie called her boyfriend when leaving the Rail Shack and said she and George were headed to Glen Carbon to meet Stephanie’s boyfriend. George said that as the two started to leave the rural sight, his truck would not start. George claims Stephanie became enraged and started scratching and hitting him. In response to this attack, George said he punched Stephanie in the face.
According to George’s story, after he punched Stephanie in the face she began choking on her own blood. He said that his truck would not start, so he left Stephanie in a ditch alongside Old Trenton Road and covered her body with weeds. Most likely, Stephanie was still alive when she was left along the side of the road to die. This explained the puddle of blood her family later found. George said he then hitchhiked back to his house in Highland.
Sunday afternoon or evening, fifteen hours after Stephanie’s murder, George admitted to getting a ride from a family member back to his vehicle. He fixed the vehicle and put Stephanie’s body back in the car. He then took her remains to a rural area just inside Madison County, leaving her body along a secluded Waffler Road in rural Highland. At the location provided by George Atchison, police found the nude body of Stephanie Fulford.
The autopsy of Stephanie Fulford, performed by Dr. Raj Nanduri, contradicted George’s confession. Stephanie had been severely beaten to the point that her father barely recognized her. Evidence showed she died from ligature strangulation, not choking on her own blood. Stephanie’s blood alcohol level at the time of her death was 0.229%, well above the legal limit of 0.08%. George Atchison was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Stephanie Fulford. Clinton County States Attorney Stan Brandmeyer announced that the state may seek the death penalty against Atchison.
George Atchison was a construction worker living in Highland, Illinois. In 2000, George had been arrested for several burglaries in Clinton, Madison, and Bond counties. He was sentenced to five years in prison but was given the opportunity to spend six months in boot camp instead. He was paroled in late 2000. Had he not been paroled, perhaps Stephanie Fulford would still be alive.
On November 15th, 20002, George Atchison pleaded guilty to first-degree murder as part of a plea deal. He was sentenced to forty years in prison. In exchange, the charges of criminal sexual assault were dropped. As part of the arrangement, George will have to serve 100% of his sentence, followed by three years of mandatory supervised release. George remains incarcerated at Graham Correctional Center. His earliest possible release will be in June of 2042.
Albers, V. (2002). Fulford’s family seeks justice. The Breese Journal. 27 Jun 2002
Aguilar, A. (2002). Date is charged with murdering woman. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 20 Jun 2002
Albers, V. (2002). Former judge named special prosecutor in murder trial. The Breese Journal. 25 Jul 2002
Maddox, T. (2002). Concert will benefit murder victim’s son. The Belleville News Democrat. 13 Jul 2002
Brueggemann, B. (2002). Women’s deaths ruled homicides. The Belleville News Democrat. 18 Jul 2002
Gansmann, B. (2002). Family search made police get involved. The Belleville News Democrat. 20 Jun 2002