Connect with us


A Small Town Grows Restless Over 9 Women Who Vanished

ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (AP) — They spent their nights jumping in and out of strange cars, trolling otherwise empty streets lined with decaying storefronts and boarded-up homes. Many sold sex to support drug habits or children left in the care of worried, hardworking grandmothers.

Even when they were picked up for drugs or prostitution, nights in jail looming, they called home to let their families know they were O.K. Then, one by one, the calls stopped.

Since 2005, nine women who lived at the edges of the poor community in this small North Carolina city have disappeared. Six bodies were found along rural roads just a few miles outside town, most so decomposed that investigators could not tell how they died. At least one of the women was strangled, and all the deaths have been classified as homicides. Three women are still missing.

The police will not say whether they suspect a serial killer, but people in the community about 60 miles northeast of Raleigh do, and they are impatient with law enforcement efforts to investigate the killings.

After the latest body, that of 31-year-old Jarneice Hargrove, was found in June behind a burned-out house that was once a crack den, local law enforcement and state police formed a task force. In July, the Federal Bureau of Investigation got involved.

But friends and family say it did not happen soon enough.

“We got someone out here that’s snatching up females,” said Stephanie Jones, 28, a nursing student. “I mean, the next person could be your grandmother, it could be me, it could be my mother, it could be my daughter.”

Ms. Jones, who knew two of the victims, has founded a group that is raising money to publicize the killings and search for those still missing. She says the cases are being swept under the rug because of the victims’ lifestyles.

The lead investigator, Sheriff James L. Knight of Edgecombe County, said he could not comment.

Dr. Michael Teague, a forensic psychologist, said that the killings are probably the work of one person.

“You’re talking about a man who didn’t finish high school, probably doesn’t have a regular job, probably not married or in a stable relationship,” Dr. Teague said.

Tynatta James, 64, remembers the day in February 2008 when the family reported Ernestine Battle missing. It had been less than 48 hours since they last heard from the 50-year-old, but she always checked in, even from jail.

“We knew something wasn’t right because she hadn’t called,” Ms. James said.

A month later, a man putting up a wire fence around his property down a rural stretch of road outside town found a badly decomposed body.

In May, a DNA test identified the remains as Ms. Battle’s. The bodies of two other victims were found in the same area in 2007 and 2009.

Ms. Battle was wearing only her underwear, and the police told Ms. James she was probably strangled, but they could not be sure because animals had dragged away a small throat bone that typically breaks when someone is killed that way.

“I’m still frustrated,” Ms. James said. “I didn’t really feel like they were doing all they could.”

Ms. Jones’s group has raised enough money to post billboards with the faces of the missing and slain women. Now she is raising more to organize search teams for those whose bodies have not been found.

Juray Tucker, the mother of 37-year-old Yolanda Lancaster, missing since February, said she wanted to help with fund-raising but did not have much time because she has to care for her daughter’s children.

“Every day, every minute, every hour, I’m worried,” she said.

Copyright © 2020 AMSNBC News