HENDERSON, N.C. — Authorities arrested a Vance County man Friday and charged him with murder after investigators found a body in the ruins of his estranged wife's house, which burned to the ground Thursday.
Robert Sterling Parham Jr. faces charges of first-degree murder and first-degree arson, Sheriff Peter White said in a news release Friday afternoon.
Parham, 36, was in the Vance County jail Friday awaiting arraignment on Monday.
Investigators are waiting for an autopsy to identify the body, but White said they believe it is that of Geneva Guin Brown Parham, 34, who lived at 2569 Allison Cooper Drive with her three children.
Geneva Parham's stepfather and mother, Franklin Dillard and Karen Brown, said Friday that their daughter and her husband had been having marital problems for the past few years and that she was in the process of getting a restraining order against him.
Court records show Robert Parham had filed a domestic violence order against his wife in June, but that it expired in July. Custody papers showed she was the primary caretaker of the children and that he was permitted to visit every two weeks and could not go to the home without permission.
Dillard said, however, Robert Parham frequently showed up at the home and had repeatedly threatened to take the children and kill her.
"He was very controlling, and we were in the processes of trying to get her out of it," Dillard said. "Basically, he just kept her under his thumb by the threat of taking her children away from her."
White said Thursday that the Parhams were fighting that morning in front of the house and that Robert Parham had a wound on his arm that was relevant to the case. But he declined to disclose further details.
The children were at school when the fire occurred around 11:30 a.m. and have been taken into the custody of the Department of Social Services.
"We're going to raise the three boys," Dillard said. "That's all we can do."
Robert Parham and Geneva Parham worked together several years ago as mechanics at East Carolina Tire Shop in Henderson.
David Campbell, the shop's service manager, said he was shocked by her apparent death and his arrest, describing the couple as his "tag team."
"Really, they weren't a tag team, but that's what I called them," Campbell said. "They worked together in the bay, and they got along great."