Probe continues in eight other Rocky Mount deaths
Posted September 30, 2011 4:18 p.m. EDT
Updated September 30, 2011 6:48 p.m. EDT
Tarboro, N.C. — A day after a jury convicted an Edgecombe County man of strangling a Rocky Mount woman and leaving her body in some woods, authorities say they are still looking into several similar cases to see if they are connected.
"The investigation into all of the other murders will continue, and we are not looking for any other suspects right now," Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight said Friday.
Knight heads a special task force of local, state and federal investigators that is looking into the deaths of nine women and the disappearance of a tenth woman over a span of four years.
All of the women shared similar backgrounds and physical appearances, many knew one another, and many frequented an area of Rocky Mount known for drug activity and prostitution.
Antwan Maurice Pittman, 33, was found guilty of first-degree murder on Thursday in one of the cases. Taraha Shenice Nicholson, 28, was found strangled to death in some woods 5 miles from Pittman's childhood home in rural Edgecombe County.
"I believe Antwan Pittman is responsible for at least some of the others," Knight said. "We are looking for more hard evidence to connect him before we file any more charges."
Investigators have long suspected that Pittman was involved in several of the deaths, and Rocky Mount's former police chief has characterized Pittman as a suspected serial killer.
In Halifax County, the remains of Christine Boone, 43, were found in March 2010 in some woods behind a trailer where Pittman once lived.
Halifax County Sheriff Jeff Frazier said investigators are still trying to gather enough evidence that will allow them to charge Pittman in her death.
In many of the cases, there doesn't appear to be much, if any, viable evidence, which could pose challenges if authorities were to go to trial.
Medical examiners haven't been able to determine how some of the women died, and in other cases, there is little likelihood that physical evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA, could have been recovered.
In Nicholson's case, investigators were, in part, able to link Pittman to the crime through DNA since Nicholson was found days after Pittman admitted to having sex with her. Her body was also in the early stages of decomposition, which allowed conclusive autopsy results.
Some of the other women had been missing for years.
After Pittman's arrest in Nicholson's death, other victims' family members were optimistic that they would get much-needed answers to questions that have troubled them for years.
The lack of further charges has only frustrated and upset them.
"The other girls, we are just left out in space," said Pepita Hargrove, whose sister, Jarniece Hargrove, was found in June 2009. "What's going to happen (with the investigation about) my sister? I do not want it to be a closed-case file on her."
A state trooper arrested Pittman in April 2009 – the same day Hargrove's family last saw her – after finding him asleep in the driver's seat of a parked car about 200 yards from where her body would be found two months later. According to a search warrant, Pittman had mud on his boots, and his pants were unzipped.
"We need to have closure as well," Pepita Hargove said.
The family members all say they take comfort knowing that Nicholson got justice, but they say they will continue to push for answers.
Juray Tucker spent nearly two years searching before her daughter, Yolanda Renee Lancaster, 37, was found in January.
"We've still got a road ahead of us," Tucker said.