Rocky Mount women's families have few answers
Posted September 9, 2010 6:10 p.m. EDT
Updated January 14, 2011 8:10 p.m. EST
Rocky Mount, N.C. — Juray Tucker wears a yellow ribbon on her shirt, not as a personal reminder that her only daughter has been missing for more than a year but as a reminder for everyone else.
“I’ll never stop wearing it until she comes home,” Tucker, a home-care nurse and grandmother of two, says. “I don’t want it to get old. I don’t want anybody to forget about this.”
Yolanda Renee Lancaster, 37, is one of 10 women at the center of a joint investigation by the Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office, the Rocky Mount Police Department, the State Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation into whether their disappearances are related to one another.
All the women share similar backgrounds and physical appearances, and many frequented Holly Street in Rocky Mount, an area known for drug activity and prostitution. Many of the women knew each other, their families say.
Over the past five years, eight have turned up dead – many along Seven Bridges Road, a country road lined with fields, woods and an occasional house that stretches 13 miles between the rural Edgecombe communities of Battleboro and Whitakers.
“We’re still staying hopeful and are going to continue to be hopeful, but I have to be realistic,” Tucker says. “As long as it has been with no word from her, I have to be realistic that there’s a possibility that it can go another way.” (Watch more of Tucker's interview.)
Unlike Lancaster, Diana Nicholson's daughter, Taraha Shenice Nicholson, was found March 7, 2009, less than a month after her father reported her missing. An autopsy found the 28-year-old was likely strangled.
"She was a good girl. Taraha never bothered anyone," her mother says. "What could she have done for him to kill her? I just want to know why." (Watch more of Nicholson's interview.)
The him she's referring to is Antwan Maurice Pittman, whom authorities charged on Sept. 1, 2009, with first-degree murder in Taraha's Nicholson's death.
At the time, five other women's remains had already been discovered, and many of their anxious families had hoped Pittman's arrest would give long-awaited answers to questions of why.
Why were they killed, and why these women? Would Pittman face charges in any of the other cases? Would there be any other arrests?
Since then, investigators have since found the bodies of two other women, including Christine Marie Boone, 46, who was found in March in some woods behind an abandoned Halifax County trailer, where Pittman lived in 2006.
Search warrants later indicated that Pittman lived and worked in locations near where several of the bodies were found, and a DWI arrest on April 25, 2009, places him just 200 yards from where 31-year-old Jarniece Latonya Hargrove was found in June 2009.
A state trooper arrested him after finding him sleeping his car the same day Hargrove's family last saw her.
“I believe it is connected,” Hargrove's mother, Patsy Hargrove, says. "If he did this, not only to my daughter, but those other young ladies, I hope he rots in hell.”
Still, investigators haven’t charged Pittman in any other cases. His trial for Nicholson's death was supposed to begin in May, but a judge continued it indefinitely after prosecutors said they were still reviewing evidence and receiving information from investigators.
The delay and seeming lack of progress in the case has only created more questions for the women’s families.
“The evidence that they do have seems to be steering to one person, but you know, it hasn’t been proven yet,” says Jackie Wiggins. (Watch more of Wiggins' interview.)
Her daughter, Nikki Thorpe, 35, was found behind an abandoned house on Seven Bridges Road on Aug. 17, 2007. Search warrants have suggested Pittman could be linked to her death, although they don’t specify exactly how.
“Why not go ahead and solve Tahara’s case? At least then we have that much closure for Mrs. Nicholson, at least,” Wiggins says. “That will give us some hope that maybe they can come on with some more evidence.”
Despite the lack of new developments, Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight, who heads the special task force of local, state and federal authorities, says the investigation into Pittman’s possible involvement is very active.
"We're still running leads out there," Knight says. "We have had some information that comes up that would be sort of a connection but nothing we can share at this time."
"We feel good (about the case we do have against him,)" he adds. "The type of DA we have, if it wasn't a good case, we would not have charged him."
“It’s still ongoing. Mr. Pittman is still the suspect in this, no doubt about it,” says Halifax County Sherriff Jeff Frazier, of the investigation into Boone’s death. “You just can’t charge someone because you think they did it. You need to be able to prove it. Right now, we believe he did it, but we need that little piece of the puzzle to prove it.”