Local News

Forensic scientists help crack cases

Posted October 13, 2009 10:10 p.m. EDT
Updated October 14, 2009 1:26 a.m. EDT

— Rocky Mount police were recently able to identify a set of remains found last February with the help of forensic scientists from North Carolina State University.

“The police department went in and took an initial look at the remains and they realized that they needed some assistance in order to properly recover the remains, and preserve all the evidence that was necessary,” said Dr. Ann Ross, with N.C. State's Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

Ross and her team provided police with a positive identification of the victim, Elizabeth Smallwood, the sixth woman from Rocky Mount found dead over the last four years.

Smallwood, 33, was not reported missing to authorities. Her remains, which were found along Melton Drive at the Nash-Edgecombe county line, could have been there for six months to a year, authorities said.

“We recovered, I believe, almost a complete set of skeletal remains," Ross said. "There was enough information that you could generate a biological profile for the remains, meaning you could determine the age at death."

Ancestral origin and pathological conditions were also determinable. But it was an X-ray of Smallwood's head, taken while she was alive, that made the ID possible.

"These (X-rays) are all unique to every individual. So, with all these points of comparison, we were able to superimpose the remains," Ross said.

A special task force is investigating Smallwood's death along with five murdered women found in the same rural area of Edgecombe County.

Since 2005, authorities have recovered the remains of Jarniece Latonya Hargrove, 31, Taraha Shenice Nicholson, 28, Melody LaShae Wiggins, 29, Ernestine Battle, 50, and Jackie Nikelia Thorpe, 35.

Wiggins was also reported missing from a home on Hill Street.

Three other women with similar descriptions and backgrounds are missing from Rocky Mount. They are: Christine Marie Boone, Renee Joyce Durham and Yolanda Renee Lancaster.

Antwan Maurice Pittman, 31, whose last known address was 219 Anderson St. in Rocky Mount, was charged last month with one-count of first degree murder in the Nicholson’s death.

The Kefalas Pinto Foundation has offered a $10,000 reward in the case. Rocky Mount City Council and Edgecombe County commissioners agreed to match that amount, putting up $5,000 each to bring the reward total to $20,000, for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction or leads to the discovery of the missing women.

Anyone with information on this case should contact Crime Stoppers at 252-977-1111 or the Rocky Mount Police Department at 252-972-1411.