WRAL Investigates

Man arrested in one of six Edgecombe slayings

Posted September 1, 2009 9:30 a.m. EDT
Updated September 2, 2009 11:22 a.m. EDT

— A special task force of state and local authorities investigating the slayings of six women found in rural Edgecombe County said Tuesday that its probe would continue, despite the arrest of a Rocky Mount man in one of the deaths.

Antwan Maurice Pittman, 31, whose last known address was 219 Anderson St., was charged Tuesday with one count of first-degree murder in the death of Taraha Shenice Nicholson, 29.

Nicholson was reported missing to Rocky Mount police on Feb. 22, and her remains were found March 7 on Marriott Road in a wooded area off Seven Bridges Road. An autopsy found she most likely was strangled.

"While there is a resolution in the death of Taraha Nicholson, we are going to continue our investigative efforts to work on those four unsolved cases in Edgecombe County, as well as the suspicious death case," Rocky Mount Police Chief John Manley said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Those unsolved cases – Jarniece Latonya Hargrove, 31, Ernestine Battle, 50, Jackie Nikelia Thorpe, 35, Melody LaShae Wiggins, 29, and an unidentified female body – stem from discoveries over a four-year period in the same region.

Hargrove, Battle and Thorpe were found in the same area as Nicholson off Seven Bridges and Old Battle roads. Wiggins was found a few miles away near Noble Mill Pond Road, and the unidentified body was found on Melton Road just outside the Rocky Mount city limits.

Citing the sensitivity of their investigation, authorities declined to comment Tuesday on what evidence might have led them to Pittman or whether they were looking at him in any of the other cases.

Pittman, who was already in jail on charges stemming from an Aug. 12 arrest in Nash County, has a criminal record that includes attempted first-degree rape. In 1994, he pleaded guilty in that case to a lesser charge of indecent liberties with a child. The North Carolina Offender Registry says the child was 2 years old.

He was also charged in 2007 with soliciting a prostitute, but that was dropped because the arresting officer left the force.

Each of the known victims had histories of run-ins with police, involving drugs, prostitution or both.

Court records also show Pittman spent the past 15 years in Rocky Mount and the Battleboro community, where several of the victims were found. At some point, he lived within 3½ miles of all the known victims.

He also lived less than a half-mile from Christine Marie Boone, one of three missing women with similar descriptions and backgrounds.

Joyce Durham and Yolanda Renee Lancaster are also missing, and investigators have been looking at their cases, as well, they said Tuesday.

Arrest brings relief, disbelief and hope

News of Pittman's arrest brought mixed reaction Tuesday.

Nicholson's mother, Diana Nicholson, heard about it on the news, as authorities were on their way to her home to let her know.

"I don't have any words to explain it. I'm just happy they got whoever did this to my daughter," she said.

Investigators gave Nicholson no details about Pittman or the circumstances surrounding the arrest, but she said she hopes her questions will be answered as the court process moves forward.

"I would just like to know why he killed my daughter," Nicholson said. "My daughter is such a sweet girl. She wouldn't harm nobody."

Pittman's mother, Gloria Pittman, meanwhile, said she heard of her son's arrest from his girlfriend, who had been visiting with him in Nash County, where he was jailed on charges of driving with a revoked license, driving without an operator's license and failing to register as a sex offender.

"I think deep down in my heart, he's not capable of doing nothing like this," Gloria Pittman said. "I truly believe he did not do what they're saying he did."

Pittman said her son and his girlfriend had been living with her for the past eight months and that he was a "creature of habit" who worked at Perdue Foods in Lewiston and spent his time at home on his computer, writing rap music and watching TV.

Perdue Foods spokeswoman Julie DeYoung said Antwan Pittman worked at the plant from May 13, 2008, until July 14, 2009, when he was fired after not showing up for work for three consecutive days.

"(Authorities) just want to pin (the crime) on somebody," Gloria Pittman said. "(They) take a long time, they ain't found nobody. They just decided they wanted to get him."

For family members of other victims, Antwan Pittman's arrest brought hope.

"My heart reaches out with joy, tears of happiness, because one has been captured," Hargrove's mother, Patsy Hargrove said. "I don't know whether there's any others or not, but hopefully this one did it all. Just tears of joys and happiness, because someone has been arrested for what has been done."

Investigators said the arrest came after more than 6,000 man-hours and follow-ups on more than 300 leads but that they are still seeking the public's help.

"We still need your assistance in these investigations," Manley said.

He urged anyone with information about the cases to contact the Twin County Crime Stoppers at 252-977-1111 or the Edgecombe County Sheriff's Office at 252-641-7911.