DeKalb County: Lauren Agee

Apr 16, 2018 at 12:00 pm by Michelle Willard

Lauren Agee

Lauren Agee thought her weekend would be filled with wakeboarding, cliff diving and partying. But it ended with her floating facedown in Center Hill Lake.

Agee was camping with her friend Hannah Palmer, Palmer's boyfriend Aaron Lilly and his friend Christopher Stout at WakeFest 2015 on a bluff on Center Hill Lake in DeKalb County.

On the morning of July 26, 2015, she was found dead in the lake.

Local police ruled her death an accident but her family and others disagree.

The Victim

Lauren Taylor Agee was 21 years old when she died Sunday, July 26, 2015, in a lake outside of Smithville, Tenn.

Agee was born on Aug. 19, 1993, in Biloxi, Miss., according to her obituary. Her family described her as "full of sugar and a little bit of spice, she lit up every room she entered with her sweet spirit, infectious energy, enchanting smile and disarming dimples. Simply put, she was beautiful and hilarious."

Friends and family described her as having a "bubbly personality and hysterically quick wit," as well as loving to "laugh and sing and dance and then laugh some more."

"Lauren was a very, very outgoing child," Agee's mother Sherry Smith told Crime Watch Daily. "She had all the first-place ribbons, she was just really, really good as far as sports and dance."

She performed with the Golden Girls & Co. dance team for four years at Hendersonville High School even received a dance scholarship to Bethel University.

At the time of her death, she had recently transferred to Vol State in Gallatin to study criminal justice.

Smith said Agee was doing well in school, had a boyfriend and seemed to have her life on track.

But that all changed with her decision to go to WakeFest in 2015.

Her Death

Palmer asked Agee to go to WakeFest, an annual wakeboarding tournament held every summer at Center Hill Lake in Smithville. Agee agreed to accompany her friend, along with Palmer's boyfriend (now husband) Lilly, and his friend Stout, who Agee had just met.

The weekend was going well with Agee and Palmer documenting the lake party on social media and Lilly and Stout wakeboarding.

On Saturday night, July 25, off-duty police officer and event security guard Chris Yarchuk told ABC's 20/20 he saw Agee with her companions drinking at a bar and that they left around 2 a.m. to return to their campsite.

Another witness said there may have been a fight in the parking lot between Palmer and Lilly.

But the foursome made it back to their camp on an outcropping over the lake. The bluff has a 35-foot slope one side and 90-foot slope into the lake on the other.

Sitting opposite the Pate's Ford Marina, it was only accessible by boat.

According to police, Palmer, Stout and Lilly said they were drunk when they got back to the site. Palmer and Lilly slept together in a tent while Agee and Stout slept together in a hammock near the cliff.

When Palmer woke up, she wasn't worried because Agee's belongings, her flip-flops, purse and phone, were all at the site, she told police. Despite that, she and Stout said they thought Agee might have gone off on her own.

"I woke up and I woke him [Stout] up and I said, 'Where is Lauren?'" Palmer said during police questioning according to 20/20. "And he said, 'She got up a while ago, but I didn't feel her.' … And I said, 'How long?' And he said he didn't know."

Stout said they waited for Agee to return.

Lauren Agee and Christopher Stout sit in the hammocks they shared at WakeFest 2015, held in July 2015 at Center Hill Lake. This is believed to be the last photo of Agee taken before her death.


But she didn't.

Agee was found Sunday afternoon, July 26, 2015, by local residents Lynn and Dylan Blair who were fishing on the lake from their boat.

Lynn Blair told 20/20 he saw a pair of hot pink shorts in the water near the outcropping. It wasn't until the father-son pair got closer that they realized it was a body floating facedown in the water.

The Investigation

Agee's death was investigated by the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department, which ruled she fell to her death from the campsite and possibly drowned in the lake.

According to a report by Dennis Ferrier on Fox17, the DCSD's file contains few details and even fewer pictures of the crime scene. In fact, the site "was never treated like a crime a scene," he said.

An autopsy found Agee died from blunt force trauma and possible "dry drowning," because no water was in her lungs. The medical examiner also found her blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit.

Sheriff's Department investigators believed there was no foul play and that Agee "fell from a cliff, landed on rocks and rolled into the lake."

Her death was ruled as accidental and the case was closed.

"There is simply no evidence in this tragic case that will support Agee's death being considered a homicide or foul play," The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department said in a statement to ABC News.

But not everyone was convinced.

The Theories

Two detectives from White County, who were off-duty but at the scene, said they found Agee's death suspicious, saying Lilly and Stout "had the wrong body language."

"When we got them into the pontoon boat with us Aaron told Chris 'shut up! I will tell them the story. Don't say anything,' Officer Ryan Melansen said in an interview with Fox 17. "I mean red flags everywhere."

Yarchuck, the security guard, told ABC News, he felt the same.

"On the way out there, I saw the two boys in a canoe hanging on to a houseboat just waiting, directly looking at where the body was," Yarchuck said in an interview with 20/20. "When we come back, they started screaming 'our friend is missing our friends missing.' It seemed staged."

Despite the doubts, the DeKalb County District Attorney has refused to reopen the case, telling Fox17 "there is no crime scene anymore...All the people involved have lawyers and there is nowhere to go in the case."

In response to the lack of movement from official sources, Agee's mother, Sherry Smith has taken matters into her own hands and hired a private investigator, Sheila Wysocki.

Smith told Fox17 she feels the investigation was sloppy. So she hired Wysocki to look into the incident.

Smith and Wysocki agree that there's more to the story than what local law enforcement have stated.

Wysocki started her own investigation, reviewing crime scene photos and the autopsy, interviewing witnesses.

"When you start looking at the autopsy and the crime scene photos, and you look at her injuries, they weren't adding up," Wysocki said told Fox17

She said the outcropping they camped on isn't a sheer drop to the water. Instead, it's a slope covered in brush, trees, rocks and even a trail. She even tested the fall with a dummy to see if it was possible.

"Police have said she fell off the cliff, but exactly where did they she fell," Wysocki said in an interview with Fox17. "Show me the pictures of the blood on the rocks. Show me the broken twigs."

She also located a new witness who said he saw a white male swimming to and climbing up on the dock. The witness said the man told him he had swum from the outcropping to the marina dock.

The witness said he believes the man was Lilly even though Lilly told police the group was at the camp and in bed by midnight.

Wysocki also believes there were strange bite marks on Agee's breasts and that there were signs of strangulation.

"I do not believe it was an accidental drowning," Wysocki told Crime Watch Daily. "I believe that there was foul play and Lauren was placed where she was found. I think Lauren was dead before she was placed in the water."

The medical examiner and Dr. Jonathan Arden, a forensic pathologist with 20 years experience as a government medical examiner, disagreed.

"To me, the evidence is highly consistent with a fall off a cliff," he told Fox17.

Wysocki's evidence was used in wrongful death suit Smith and her husband Michael brought against Palmer in December 2016. The case was dismissed in March 2017 with the judge ruling there wasn't enough evidence for the case to proceed.

Despite the protests from Agee's family, the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department has never been considered Lilly, Palmer or Stout as suspects or been charged in connection with Agee's death.

And Palmer has consistently denied any role in Agee's death.

"A day will not go by, however, when I do not think about her and the terrible tragedy that occurred. I would like to express my deepest sympathies to Agee's family for their loss and hope that they ultimately find the peace and closure they deserve. I will never stop praying for my beautiful friend Agee, her family, and all who mourn her loss as I do," she said in a statement to ABC News.

Smith said she just wants to know what happened the night her daughter died.

"I'm never going to give up until I find the truth," she said. "My baby was worth it. I'm never going to give up, ever."