WRAL Investigates

Arrest gives Edgecombe County families hope

Posted September 2, 2009 5:36 p.m. EDT
Updated September 2, 2009 8:11 p.m. EDT

— Juray Tucker drives around with fliers posted in her car windows that ask for information about her missing daughter, Yolanda Lancaster.

"It has been heart wrenching. It tears me up," Tucker said Tuesday. "Every day the phone rings, I'm scared to pick it up. It's terrible."

Lancaster, 37, is one of three missing Rocky Mount women at the center of a special task force's investigation into the disappearances, as well as six homicides spanning the past four years.

Authorities have yet to identify one of the victims.

Each of the known victims, however, was black, had a history of drug use, prostitution or both and had been reported missing before their bodies were discovered in the same rural area of Edgecombe County.

The map below shows where murder suspect Antwan Pittman lived in Rocky Mount (yellow) and where women's bodies were found (blue) nearby.

Like the known victims, the missing share similarities. Family and friends have also said that many of the women knew one another.

Tucker reported her daughter missing on March 30. The last time she saw her was Feb. 5.

The Tuesday arrest of Antwan Maurice Pittman in the death of one of the slain women, Taraha Nicholson, has Lancaster's family hoping it leads to more information for them.

"We would like this to come to an end, as soon as possible, and bring her home so we can move on with our life," Lancaster's stepfather, Bruce Tucker said.

Life for Corneta Battle hasn't been easy either, and she too is looking for answers.

A farmer discovered the remains of her sister, 50-year-old Ernestine Battle, on March 14, 2008, along Seven Bridges Road.

Corneta Battle reported her sister missing more than a month earlier. She is also optimistic after Tuesday's arrest.

"I'm hoping this is a break in the case, so we can find out who's doing all the murdering," she said. "If he's guilty, he needs to pay. Justice needs to be done."

Authorities, however, have only charged Pittman in Nicholson's death, and citing the sensitivity of their investigation, they won't say whether he is a suspect in any of the other slayings or in the missing persons cases.

"The task force (made up of Rocky Mount police, Edgecombe sheriff's investigators and the State Bureau of Investigation) is still active, and the investigation is still continuing," SBI special agent Renee Robinson said Tuesday. "We're following up on leads as they develop."

Family members have said they will continue to press authorities for information and continue to hope that something more comes out of the arrest.

In the meantime, community leaders have said they will not stop. The grassroots group Murdered or Missing Sisters plans to continue raising awareness with billboards with the women's photos.

"It is a beginning but it's not an end," Rocky Mount City Councilman Andre Knight said.

Knight was among the first to call for federal authorities to get involved in the investigation. Although encouraged by Pittman's arrest, he said the investigation should push forward at full force.

"We're going to continue to rally until the perpetrator who is responsible for all the murders is caught."

And for the women who are still missing – Juray Tucker just hopes for some kind of closure.

"I would be so happy. It has been so hard for me to go through daily life, not knowing one way or the other," she said. "It's a struggle."