Sparks remembered; family gets closure

Photo by Brett Dunlap Dawn Brookover, a cousin of Patsy Sparks, looks over a memorial picture board of Sparks set up Sunday at Buckeye Park in Marietta. Friends and family gathered to commemorate what would have been Sparks’ 48th birthday this coming Tuesday.

The friends and family of Patsy Sparks gathered Sunday at Buckeye Park in Marietta to celebrate her life and to turn the page for themselves in moving on now that her killer was brought to justice earlier this year.

Those in attendence gathered to celebrate Sparks’ birthday which will be Tuesday, Aug. 13, when she would have turned 48 years old.

“We wanted to do it last year, but the case was still going through the courts,” said Dawn Brookover, Sparks’ cousin. “We put it off until now.”

Randy Joe Slider, 57, a former Marietta resident, pleaded guilty last December in Noble County Common Pleas Court to first-degree involuntary manslaughter and first-degree kidnapping charges in the cold case of Sparks, a Marietta woman who disappeared in April 1992 after a night in Parkersburg. Her skeletal remains were found two years later in Noble County.

Slider was sentenced in January to 22 years in prison for the death of Sparks. Due to a sentence he is still serving for other crimes, it will be 2064 before he’s eligible for release.

Sparks was last seen leaving the Wheel Club, a former bar in Parkersburg, on April 22, 1992, with Slider. He had long been a person of interest as he was seen with her the night she went missing. Slider was indicted in January 2018 after new evidence, new witnesses and previously identified witnesses deciding to share their accounts came forward to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit which finally led to an indictment and a guilty plea.

Family members who had gone to the various court hearings and to Snider’s sentencing said they feel like a tremendous weight has been lifted from their shoulders.

“We are all now able to move on and this is the final thing we need to do,” Brookover said. “We haven’t been able to come together and celebrate her justice and to just remember her.”

The point of the gathering was to remember Sparks and all of the good things in her life. It is no longer about Slider or their journey going through the courts awaiting justice.

“It is all about her now,” Brookover said.

There was a photo board put together of Sparks’ life that those who were there were able to look through and remember her.

“A lot of the younger ones don’t remember her, it is for her aunts, uncles, cousins and her mom,” Brookover said, adding they are trying to teach the younger ones about her.

“To most of us, she was like a little sister,” she said.

The family members recalled her smile, sense of humor, her “goofiness” and how she liked to dance. She was a typical teenager who could have been so much more to them.

“She just liked life,” Brookover said. “She enjoyed life and liked having friends, being with her family and doing stuff.

“She never got to do what she should have been able to do.”

Her mother, Helen Francis, said her daughter still remains with all of them. For years, they hoped they would be able to get to this point, she said.

“This is about closure,” Francis said. “It is a big relief.”

They never gave up until justice was served, family members said. They kept the case moving forward.

Sparks’ aunt, Juanita Francis of Belpre, recalls always having fun when Sparks came over to her house, dancing and listening to the 1980’s hair metal bands, like Poison, Cinderella, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and others.

For a long time it was hard to listen to those bands, but now it is getting easier, she said.

Sparks would always come to their house and play with her cousins as she was the oldest of them all and was like a sister to them.

Juanita Francis said Sunday was a happy day.

“We got justice for Patsy,” she said. “We can now move on with our lives because we know who did it.

“We are thinking good of her.”

Brookover said they have held gatherings over the years to remember Sparks, but with Slider’s guilty plea and with him in jail many in their family feel like they are finally able to move on.

“We will always have her memory and now after all of these years it has been a release,” she said. “The bad part is over and justice has been served.

“Now maybe she can rest and we can be lifted, go on and remember the good.”

The friends and family conducted a lighted balloon release Sunday evening from Sparks’ graveside in East Lawn Cemetery. They played “Fly” by Celine Dion as they felt it was appropriate as they released the balloons.

Brett Dunlap can be contacted at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com