WRAL Investigates

Rocky Mount murder suspect has checkered past

Posted April 1, 2010 4:46 p.m. EDT
Updated April 1, 2010 7:03 p.m. EDT

— The man at the center of an expanding investigation into the deaths of eight Rocky Mount women has a checkered past that includes charges of attempted first-degree rape and soliciting a prostitute.

Antwan Maurice Pittman, 31, was arrested in September and charged with murder in the death of Taraha Nicholson, one of eight women fitting similar descriptions whose remains were found sometimes years after they were last seen.

A special task force of local, state and federal authorities is investigating the deaths, as well as the disappearances of two other women, to see how they might be related.

Authorities have remained relatively quiet about their investigation, but a search warrant returned last month indicates that investigators are looking at him in at least four of the cases.

After an eighth set of skeletal remains were found last week and identified as those of Roberta Williams, investigators are also looking at Pittman in her death, Rocky Mount police Chief John Manley said Wednesday.

"I would say he's a very, very strong person of interest," Manley said.

Pittman was born July 15, 1978, and raised by his mother, Gloria, in Rocky Mount. He was surrounded by relatives and neighbors, including Donnon Simon.

"He was a simple – just a regular child," Simon said. "My kids and his brothers hung out together, so all of them really grew up together."

As a young teenager in the early 1990s, Pittman moved into his grandparents' home in Whitakers, in rural Edgecombe County – several miles from where the remains of Nicholson, Williams, Jackie Thorpe, Ernestine Battle and Jarniece Hargrove have been found since August 2007.

Pittman briefly attended North Edgecombe High School in Tarboro, where he was considered a special-needs student.

In 1994, at age 16, Pittman was charged with attempted first-degree rape of a 2-year-old girl who lived near him, but he pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a minor.

A judge sentenced him to the state Department of Correction's IMPACT Youth Center, a boot camp for teens, but he was kicked out a month later for trying to start fights and threatening others, according to court records.

He was then sent to prison for 15 months after violating probation in the molestation case.

Pittman was released in 1997, and over the next 10 years, he was arrested numerous times on charges ranging from driving while impaired to simple assault to failing to register as a sex offender.

In 2004, he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, but the charge was dismissed because she would not testify against him.

From 2005 to 2009, Pittman lived in several Rocky Mount homes, including one on Columbia Avenue just around the corner from where police found the remains of Elizabeth Smallwood.

In 2006, he briefly lived in a mobile home in Scotland Neck, where a deputy found the remains of Christine Boone in a wooded area behind the home.

In July 2007, police arrested him on loitering for prostitution charges in the same area where all the victims, who were known prostitutes, worked. Those charges were dropped because the officer was deployed to Iraq.

According to a search warrant from last month, a state trooper found Pittman passed out in his car in a ditch on Seven Bridges Road the same day Hargrove was last seen in May 2009. He had mud on his boots. He was arrested for DWI and driving with a revoked license.

Hargrove's body was found more than a month later, about 200 yards away from that spot.

Less than four months later, Pittman was back in court facing first-degree murder charges in Nicholson's death. DNA evidence linked him to her, according to the search warrant.

"I think deep down in my heart, he's not capable of doing nothing like this," Gloria Pittman said after her son's arrest. "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 and spent his time at home on his computer, writing rap music and watching TV.

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