Old Cases, DNA Evidence Help To Solve Mystery Of Nightstalker Cases
Posted May 20, 2002 6:09 a.m. EDT
GOLDSBORO, N.C. — This month, Wayne County prosecutors indicted a man for a 1994 rape and murder. It is the latest crime linked to a suspect accused of terrorizing elderly victims as far back as 1990. Yet, after four rapes and four murders, the suspect remained free for years until investigators found a way to get justice out of old cases.
Some call it Goldsboro's most heinous crime ever. On Oct. 6, 1990, an intruder broke into a home on East Holly Street home, stabbed 78-year-old retired Southern Bell executive Al Bowen, then raped and strangled his 76-year-old wife, Thelma. The killer torched the house and left the community horrified.
Nearly 12 years later, WRAL researched old newspaper articles and sought out family friends still touched by the tragedy. Oliver Toomey served as a longtime executive for the Goldsboro Area Chamber of Commerce.
"I've thought of it many times," Toomey said. "People wanted to know right away who and how it happened and why did it happen?"
"It's just unbelievable. Just sadness and disbelief that anything like that could happen to such a remarkly beautiful couple," retired Goldsboro pastor Dr. Jane McChesney said. "I still get emotional about it."
Back in 1990, Goldsboro detectives linked the Bowen murders to two other crimes. Earlier that year in May, an elderly woman was raped. Less then two months later, 74-year-old Hattie Bonner was found raped and suffocated in her Goldsboro home. Then came the Bowen murders.
The local newspaper called the crime spree, the Nightstalker cases. Police called them unsolved.
"I think people just gave up," Toomey said.
Despite years of no leads, Maj. Tim Bell of the Goldsboro Police Department claims police always held out hope.
"[There's] always a possibility. Never, ever give up," Bell said.
Eleven frustrating years passed, then in 2001, using a federal grant, the State Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab in Raleigh started digging out DNA evidence from old, unsolved cases. They ran the samples from the three Goldsboro cases through their growing DNA database of convicted violent felons. The evidence linked Linwood Forte, then-36 years old, to the crimes.
The Wayne County man, who lived just outside Goldsboro, had never even been questioned in the cases.
"[It's] totally came out of the blue," SBI agent Mark Nelson said. "There was a lot of whooping and hollering that went on up here. Everybody was excited that we finally solved this case after a decade."
Forte had been in and out of jail for crimes like drunken driving and possession of stolen goods, but nothing like murder or rape.
In fact, Forte's DNA never would have been on file had he not been convicted in 1996 of firing a shot into an occupied home. The totally unrelated crime ensured that his blood was drawn and ultimately led to his arrest in connection with the Nightstalker cases.
"There was a great sense of relief and gratitude for the new technology," McChesney said.
"I was so pleased that we finally had closure," Toomey said.
The police investigation did not end there. While Forte sat in Raleigh's Central Prison awaiting trial, detectives kept digging and found evidence that linked him to another unsolved crime.
"Things just started clicking and we knew we were on the right track," Bell said.
This month, prosecutors indicted Forte for the 1994 murder of Dora Ann Thomas in her apartment, 10 blocks from the Bowen killings. Like the other cases, police say Forte raped and strangled his victim. Now, almost 12 years after the Nightstalker first struck, some residents still wonder how someone could get away with so many crimes for so long.
Attorneys for Linwood Forte declined to comment for WRAL's story, nor would they let us contact their client at Central Prison.
At the time of Forte's arrest last year, his mother claimed her son was wrongly accused. WRAL were unable to find her. No trial date has been set.