Local News

Woman wonders if run-in linked to slain Rocky Mount women

Posted July 10, 2009 6:55 p.m. EDT
Updated July 10, 2009 7:26 p.m. EDT

— Corneta Battle waits for answers as a special task force of local and state investigators continue their probe of the unsolved slayings of several Rocky Mount women.

The remains of her sister, Ernestine Battle, were found in March 2008 in a wooded area off Seven Bridges Road between Whitakers and Battleboro.

Battle last saw her sister on Feb. 1 getting into an unknown vehicle with an unknown black man in front of her Branch Street home.

"The next day, when she didn't come home, I knew something was wrong," Battle said Friday.

Ernestine Battle, 50, and three other women – Melody LaShae Wiggins, Jackie Nikelia Thorpe and Jarniece Latonya Hargrove – were found in the same field in the remote area of Edgecombe County within the past four years.

The remains of Taraha Shenice Nicholson and an unidentified woman between 27 and 49 years old were also found in the same region, and now, Edgecombe County sheriff's investigators, Rocky Mount police and agents with the State Bureau of Investigation are working to determine if the cases are linked.

In each case where the victim has been identified, the woman was black and had a record of drugs and prostitution.

"She had her lifestyle and her ways, but she was a loving kind person," Battle said. "It's somebody that has some kind of – they have got something against the ladies with a lifestyle like this."

Investigators plan to meet next week with Lanessa Williams, a former prostitute, who claims she escaped from a man who drove her to a rural area last summer. She wonders if her run-in could be linked to the cases.

Williams said she was working in downtown Rocky Mount when she got into a small black pickup truck with "Chevrolet" painted on the back.

"(The driver) told me that if I didn't do what he wanted me to do that he was going to kill me and put me in the river," Williams said.

She said a tall, thin, dark-skinned, black man with glasses and a mustache – who called himself "Billy" – drove her deep into rural Edgecombe County, refusing to stop along the way.

Williams said when he finally parked, she escaped.

"I just ran, and I got into a ditch, and it was so dark back there I saw his trailer lights three or four times coming back, trying to find me," she said.

Williams says she told a Rocky Mount police officer at a convenience store about the incident but never filed a formal report at the police station. An Edgecombe County detective contacted her Friday and made plans to interview her next week.

Williams said she knew each of the identified women whose remains were found, as well as three other missing women with similar profiles. She even lived with Ernestine Battle a few years ago.

"I was blessed, because it could have been me," she said.

Battle had two sons, including 11-year-old Elijah, who now lives with his aunt. They're all waiting.

"If they could just find out who is really doing it, it would be a big relief to me," Battle said.