Local News

Expert: Killer likely lives near where bodies were found

Posted July 14, 2009 6:20 p.m. EDT
Updated July 16, 2009 4:26 p.m. EDT

— A geographic profiler says he believes the person or people responsible for the unsolved slayings of several women found in rural Edgecombe County could live within as little as 2 miles from where the bodies have been found.

Five women known to have similar backgrounds have turned up dead over the past four years, including three women whose bodies were found in the same field outside the town of Battleboro.



Investigators also recovered the remains of an unidentified sixth woman in the vicinity and are looking at whether that discovery, as well as other missing persons cases, could be related.

Forensic consultant Dr. Maurice Godwin says he has used a geographic-profiling system, developed based upon years of his own research, to identify what he calls an "anchor hit area," a central location to which a possible assailant might have ties.

Godwin, who is not directly involved in the investigation, also uses the locations where the bodies were discovered to identify a "wedge," an area in which he believes the killer could live, work and generally spend most of his or her time.

He thinks investigators should focus their efforts within the wedge. Using his maps, as well as the story of a Rocky Mount woman, who said last week that she encountered a man last summer who threatened her life, he believes investigators will be able to considerably narrow their scope for a suspect.

Godwin said he sent the profile to Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight last week and wants to offer his help.

"I think I can help narrow down their investigative efforts," he said.

Knight said Tuesday afternoon that he was unaware of Godwin's profile and declined to comment further on the investigation.

Godwin has seen success with his profiling system. In 1997, he assisted Raleigh police investigators in a similar case in which the bodies of five prostitutes turned up dead. His work helped police arrest John Williams, who was eventually convicted of killing two women.

"I predicted within a block to a block and a half of where he was actually living," Williams said.

In January 2006, Godwin was hired by the mother of Michelle Bullard, a missing Lee County woman whose body was discovered 11 months later about 100 yards from the area he predicted she might be.

Godwin has also examined other cases, including the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba; missing child Jessica Lunsford, who was found buried near her Florida home; and the slayings of confessed BTK killer Dennis Rader.

Although authorities have said little about the Edgecombe homicide cases, Godwin and psychological profiler Dr. Michael Teague – also not involved in the investigation – have said that, based on the information they've received from news reports, they believe some, if not all, of the bodies could be connected to a serial killer.

Each of the identified victims was a black woman from Rocky Mount who had a history of drugs, prostitution or both and were known to go days or weeks without contact with family members. Many of them knew each other, according to family and friends.

Jackie Nikelia Thorpe, 35, who was reported missing May 8, 2007, was found Aug. 17, 2007, behind a house on Seven Bridges Road between Battleboro and Whitakers.

The body of Ernestine Battle, 50, was found in the same area March 13, 2008, more than a month after she was reported missing on Feb. 2. The skeletal remains of Jarniece Latonya Hargrove, 31, were also found in the area last month. She was reported missing May 2.

Melody LaShae Wiggins, 29, was found May 30, 2005, near Nobles Mill Pond Road, an area south of U.S. Highway 64. She died from blunt force trauma to the head, according to an autopsy report. Wiggins was identified after her boyfriend reported her missing on June 2, 2005.

On March 7, 2009, the remains of Taraha Shenice Nicholson, 28, were found on Marriott Road. Authorities have said she had been strangled. Nicholson had been reported missing on Feb. 22, 2009.

Authorities also found on Feb. 13 skeletal remains of an unidentified black woman along Melton Drive in Rocky Mount. Authorities believe the woman was between 27 to 49 years old.

Teague said the possible lifestyle the women might have led could have made them prime targets for their killer, but that the perpetrator would likely target anyone who is isolated.


View Edgecombe County bodies in a larger map