Local News

Murder of Chapel Hill activist still unsolved 20 years later

Posted February 19, 2011 11:05 p.m. EST
Updated February 19, 2011 11:12 p.m. EST

— Twenty years ago, Americans were at odds over war in the Persian Gulf. All across the nation, demonstrations of protest and patriotism grew as troops departed by the thousand to fight overseas.

Here in the Triangle, Bob Sheldon's voice could be heard loud and clear protesting the war. He owned the Internationalist Bookstore on Rosemary Street and was well known in the area for his activism.

Shortly before he was murdered inside the store on Feb. 21, 1991, Sheldon sat down with WRAL News for an interview about his anti-war stance.

"I never felt a little bit guilty because I felt my country was totally wrong in what it was doing," Sheldon said.

His friends believe his outspoken criticism of the war may have led to his murder.

"To come here and shoot this person, in this context, just sounds to me like there might be a connection to what the store stands for," said Sheldon's friend, who asked not to be identified, in 1991.

Former Chapel Hill detective Dan Hunter volunteered to take over the case, years after it had gone cold.

"I just felt like something should be done," Hunter said. "Nobody's worked on it for such a long time."

Sheldon was supposed to meet a friend after closing the store that night. His friend found him lying on the floor in a pool of blood. He had been shot in the head with a small caliber weapon.

Employees at the bookstore said a cash box was missing, but investigators questions whether this was a typical robbery.

Hunter said that Sheldon rarely kept large quantities of cash in the box at the store.

A promising lead came when two female witnesses said they saw Sheldon talking to two men on the porch of the story within an hour of the shooting. They were both white males, one with dark brown hair and one with strawberry blonde hair, Hunter said.

"I could be wrong, but it doesn't look to me that it was someone who was lying in wait to do this to him," she said.

In 1994, the book store moved from Rosemary Street to its current location on West Franklin. Sheldon's legacy remains alive there, friends said.

"His death affected so many people, and even though he had certain political beliefs, he was well-liked in the community by many people," Hunter said.

A vigil was planned for Sheldon at the Internationalist at 6:30 p.m. Monday, the 20-year anniversary of his death.

Anyone with information about the murder of Bob Sheldon can call NC Wanted's tipline at 1-866-439-2683 or .