Local News

As City Grows, Number of Random Homicides Does, Too

Posted June 20, 2007 6:06 p.m. EDT
Updated June 22, 2007 8:34 a.m. EDT

— Although life goes on at the State Farmer's Market across the street from where the body of Jenna Nielsen was found last week, it is never far from the minds of people who work there.

"You don't believe that something like this could happen right outside, right there," said Nicolle Chacosky, who sells produce at the Farmer's Market, a place Nielsen visited often.

Raleigh police found the 22-year-old pregnant mother of two early Thursday morning behind the AmeriKing Food Mart on Lake Wheeler Road after a delivery driver reported a suspicious car in front of the store.

Detectives have offered little information about their investigation or how she died. They have said they believe the crime was random and are seeking the public's help in identifying a man in a composite photograph.

Cases like Nielsen's are becoming all too common, according to statistics from the State Bureau of Investigation. In the past year, nearly 15 percent of all homicide victims in the state were killed by strangers.

Although the overall number of homicides in Raleigh has dropped, the SBI numbers reflect a steady increase over the past three years of "stranger" homicides in which the victim did not know his or her killer.

Last August, Cynthia Moreland, a 48-year-old Progress Energy worker, was abducted from a parking garage beneath the utility company's headquarters in Downtown Raleigh. Ten days later, two people found her body behind an abandoned barn in Harnett County.

A week later, police charged Antonio Chance, 29, with kidnapping and murder. Prosecutors have said they plan to seek the death penalty.

And last June, LeRoy Jernigan, 41, was found dead inside the Circus Restaurant on Wake Forest Road. He was working as a cleaning contractor when he was shot to death, police said. Authorities have yet to make any arrests in that case.

"It's a fearful situation for the public, and it's a fearful situation for law enforcement," retired Raleigh police homicide Investigator Chris Morgan said.

Morgan, who headed the Major Crimes Task Force of the Raleigh Police Department until he retired in 2005, said that as the city's population increases, the number of stranger homicides increases. They are harder to investigate because the pool of suspects is so large.

"When you're looking for the offender, it's a daunting task for law enforcement also," Morgan said.