Email led police to victim in Zebulon trafficking case
Posted June 10
Updated June 11
Zebulon, N.C. — Zebulon's police chief said Tuesday that an email from a woman asking her estranged husband in Germany for money helped investigators rescue her from a local warehouse where she was allegedly being held captive for sexual servitude.
Chief Timothy Hayworth told reporters at a news conference that the 34-year-old Russian-born German citizen had been stripped of her money, credit cards and phone since June 4 and that her alleged captor, Robert Edward Whiteside, 45, kept her at arm's length at all times to keep her from escaping.
The woman, however, was able to send an email to her estranged husband and hinted that she couldn't leave.
"The person realized she was being held against her will and contacted us," Hayworth said.
About an hour after receiving the tip Monday morning, Zebulon police detectives met Whiteside at the warehouse, at 511 Mack-Todd Road, where he had been living in a cluttered outbuilding.
The woman, who was with him when Whiteside arrived, then told police that she was strangled and sexually assaulted and was being held against her will.
"Obviously, he didn't believe she was going to say what she did," Hayworth said.
Whiteside was arrested and jailed initially under a $250,000 secured bond on one count of sexual servitude of an adult victim and two counts of assault by strangulation – charges that carry a maximum of 11 years in prison.
During Whiteside's first court appearance Tuesday afternoon, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said more charges were possible.
Whiteside asked for his bond to be reduced so that he could work to pay his bills and find an attorney.
"I'm not a troublemaker-type person," he said during the brief appearance. "This has really become a misunderstanding. I don't have a record of this type of thing."
He interrupted Zellinger who asked that the bond remain the same.
"I've never been in a situation like this before," Whiteside said.
District Judge Vince Rozier lowered the bond to $90,000 and ordered Whiteside be electronically monitored if he posts bond.
The woman, meanwhile, is being held at a safe house and appears to be in good health, Hayworth said.
Investigators spent several hours Monday searching the warehouse, where Whiteside operated a refurbishing business. They found several firearms, ammunition, pornography, computers, digital storage devices, travel documents and what Hayworth described as a secret bedroom behind a closet wall.
The room, he said, did not appear to be designed to keep someone locked inside but could be secured from within to keep someone from getting inside.
Hayworth also said that Whiteside and the woman apparently met on a dating website where he had been advertising for a girlfriend or wife who was from Germany or Russia.
Authorities' initial investigation revealed that he has dated women from other countries and has also traveled to Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Colombia and Peru. But Hayworth said there's currently no evidence to suggest he's committed similar crimes.
A statement he allegedly made to the woman that he had killed women in the past, Hayworth said, likely was a scare tactic. Still, he said, investigators are exploring all possible angles to be sure.
Anyone with information that could help investigators can call Zebulon Crime Stoppers at 919-366-3698 or the Zebulon Police Department at 919-823-1818.