Similar murders in Edgecombe County prompt calls for federal investigation
Posted July 1, 2009 4:28 p.m. EDT
Updated July 9, 2009 10:39 a.m. EDT
Battleboro, N.C. — A Rocky Mount city councilman called Wednesday for authorities to step up their investigation into the unsolved murders of five women over the past four years. Each of the bodies was found in a rural field outside the city.
The Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office, Rocky Mount police and the State Bureau of Investigation have formed a task force to connect the dots among the cases, Sheriff James Knight told WRAL News.
The sheriff did not say the five cases are linked, but said the task force is working that angle.
Each of the bodies found was of a black woman who lived in Rocky Mount. Each was murdered, Sheriff Knight has said. He said the city and county are comparing the body found Monday with other cases and looking for similarities.
“We should also have someone from the federal level also come in and take a look at it, that's how serious it is,” Councilman Andre Knight said.
“They are primarily young African-American women, and that's a great concern,” added the councilman, who is also the local president of the NAACP.
The latest find, skeletal remains Sheriff Knight said appear to be those of an African-American woman, was made Monday evening in a wooded area off Seven Bridges Road.
On May 30, 2005, the body of Melody Wiggins, 29, was found near Nobles Mill Pond Road, an area south of U.S. Highway 64.
On Aug. 17, 2007, a man told Edgecombe deputies he found a body behind a house on Seven Bridges Road, between Battleboro and Whitakers. Pathologists at Pitt Memorial Hospital identified the victim as 35-year-old Jackie Nikelia Thorpe. Thorpe was reported missing from Rocky Mount on May 8, 2007, police said.
On March 14, 2008, the body of 50-year-old Earnestine Battle, of 619 Branch St. in Rocky Mount, was found in the same area, along Seven Bridges Road, between Battleboro and Whitakers. She had been reported missing more than a month earlier.
On March 7, 2009, people riding all-terrain vehicles on Marriott Road found a body that was later identified as Taraha Shenice Nicholson, 28, of 218 N. Raleigh St. in Rocky Mount.
The individual causes of death have not been released.
Autopsy reports were available in two of the cases. An autopsy is not complete for Nicholson, who died in March. The sheriff said it appears she was strangled. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner had no record of Thorpe.
A pathologist determined that Wiggins died of blunt force trauma to the head and had cuts over much of her body. The autopsy on Battle was inconclusive.
Records show five open cases of African-American women reported missing from Rocky Mount since 2005.
- Wiesha Nicole Parker, 18, was reported missing Oct. 11, 2005.
- Christine Boone, 45, was reported missing on Jan. 16, 2007.
- Jessica Simone Williams, 19, was reported missing June 17, 2007.
- Joyce Renee Durham, 48, was reported missing Aug. 9, 2007.
- Yolanda Renee Lancaster, 36, was reported missing on March 30.
A Tarboro newspaper reported on another missing woman May 29. Jarniece Lotonya Hargrove, sometimes known as "Sunshine," 31, was last seen May 2 in the northern part of Rocky Mount, walking on U.S. Highway 301, Sheriff Knight told the Daily Southerner.
Sheriff Knight said his deputies are close to identifying the most recent victim.
He said Wednesday that area residents should take common-sense precautions. " In certain areas that we have been having disappearances ... I would say you need to be cautious. You need to be aware of your surroundings and you need to know who is in your community."