Hope dwindles for last of missing Rocky Mount women
Posted January 17, 2011 6:31 p.m. EST
Updated January 18, 2011 12:17 p.m. EST
Tarboro, N.C. — The discovery last week of the remains of Yolanda Renee Lancaster in some rural Edgecombe County woods brought a brief moment of relief, then a sinking feeling to Winston Kemp.
For years, he’s thought about what has become of his stepdaughter, Joyce Renee Durham, having often gone online, searching for her name and wondering if she’s out there somewhere.
“I felt, before, there was a chance that she’s still alive, wandering around somewhere,” Kemp said Monday. “Now, (finding Lancaster) gives me doubt about Joyce being alive. It’s a hard pill to swallow.”
Durham, who disappeared in June 2007, and Lancaster were the last of 10 women who investigators believe could be connected to a suspected serial killer.
Authorities arrested Antwan Pittman in September 2009 and charged him in one death. Investigators say he is a suspect or person of interest in many of the other cases.
Although she hasn’t been found, Durham matches the physical description of the other women and shares a similar background. Most of their bodies were found in the same vicinity in Edgecombe County.
In April, the North Carolina National Guard helped search for Lancaster and Durham along a stretch of Seven Bridges Road between the Edgecombe communities of Battleboro and Whitakers after someone discovered the remains of another woman in the area.
The search turned up nothing, and for nearly a year since then, Kemp, who lost his wife five years earlier to cancer, had to face the reality that his stepdaughter was dead three times when skeletal remains were found in the area.
Last Monday, hunters found what turned out to be Lancaster off a wooded path several miles away on Battleboro-Leggett Road in Edgecombe County. It’s unclear how long they had been there.
“It was just a little relief,” Kemp said. “It’s like you build yourself up to a point where you’re like, ‘OK, maybe she is still alive. Maybe she is still roaming around.’ Then you find out there’s another body. Your hope sort of dies.”
Kemp says authorities tell him the discovery of Lancaster will likely trigger a new search for Durham.
“They are going to keep on with their search and probably extend beyond where they started,” he said.
For now, Kemp, who lives with Durham’s daughter – a new mother herself –, relies on the family members of the nine other women for support.
Still, he says, it’s different now, being the only one out of the group not knowing.
“It’s a lonely feeling,” he said.