Police investigating Raleigh man's disappearance as homicide
Posted September 14, 2020 6:11 a.m. EDT
Updated September 16, 2020 7:46 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Police said Wednesday that foul play is suspected in the disappearance of a Raleigh man, and they are investigating the case as a homicide.
Andy Banks, 39, who was last seen Saturday afternoon in the Woodburn Road area near Cameron Village. Friends said he was meeting a potential Craigslist buyer outside a closed K&W Cafeteria about his silver 2011 Range Rover Sport.
After not hearing from him for several hours, his family called 911 on Saturday night to report him missing.
His cellphone was found along Interstate 40 in Raleigh on Sunday, and investigators determined the buyer's phone was in Danville, Va.
Danville police found Banks' SUV under a tarp parked behind a vacant building in town on Monday, an application for a search warrant states.
Justin Fernando Merritt, 34, who investigators believe was the SUV buyer, lives a few doors down from where the vehicle was found, according to the warrant application. He was arrested Tuesday and charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, larceny of a motor vehicle and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in connection with the stolen vehicle.
During a search of his home, police seized a handgun, some ammunition, a knife, three phones, a pair of cargo pants and other items, according to the search warrant.
Merritt waived extradition and was returned to Wake County on Wednesday. During an initial court appearance, his bond was raised from $265,000 to $2 million after First Assistant District Attorney Patrick Latour cited his three previous felony convictions, including an assault in January.
Latour also noted that Merritt is a person of interest in an ongoing missing person case, adding that investigators have no evidence that Banks was involved in any criminal activity that led to his disappearance.
"All of these charges relate to a situation that occurred here in Raleigh in which the victim in this case is still unaccounted for," he told District Judge Ned Mangum. "Law enforcement suspects furthering of these charges, [with] foul play involved."
The search for Banks continues.
"Speculation is running wild," Banks' younger brother, Mark, told WRAL News on Monday. "We are letting the proper people work on that, and the family and friends are supplying as much relevant information as we can to lead to the speedy return of my older brother that we all love. Everybody loves Andy, and we desperately want to see him again."
The family declined to comment Tuesday on Merritt's arrest, but his father and brother were in the courtroom Wednesday for Merritt's hearing.
Andy Banks stands about 6 feet tall and was last seen wearing blue Patagonia shorts, a gray shirt with a picture of a mountain on the front and flip flops.
Anyone with information or who sees him is asked to call the Raleigh Police Department at 919-996-3335.