The blatant racism of these cases is...
Victim's family wants serial investigation expanded
By MIke Hixenbaugh
Rocky Mount Telegram
Thursday, September 03, 2009
The family of a 2003 Rocky Mount murder victim believes there could be more to the story of five women murdered and abandoned in fields the past four years.
Natasha Battle said Thursday she wonders why her sister, Denise Williams, hasn’t been included in a task force investigation looking into the deaths of at least five black women.
Williams, much like the other victims, was found murdered a few miles outside the city in Edgecombe County. A fisherman found her body June 2, 2003, floating in the Cokey swamp a week after her mother reported her missing to police.
Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight almost immediately ruled the death was a homicide, but the case remains unsolved.
Williams – a 21-year-old black female from East Rocky Mount who had an on-again, off-again drug problem – matches the profile of five other Rocky Mount women who have been killed in similar circumstances the past four years. That case has drawn national media attention in recent weeks.
“I think my sister’s murder could be connected, but nobody has contacted us,” Battle said Thursday. “We haven’t heard anything from the sheriff since they found her.”
Rumors of a serial killer stalking poor women have spread through East Rocky Mount the past few months, ever since June when authorities publicly connected the dots between the murders of at least five women from the community. A sixth potential victim found inside city limits has yet to be identified, but that case has not been ruled a homicide.
Family members of the victims and community organizers rallied to raise awareness about the murders Thursday, marching through the East Rocky Mount neighborhoods where the women lived and calling out for anyone with information about the deaths to come forward.
Women like Denise Shae say the story, which broke in local media early this summer, is not new to them.
Shae, who met most of the victims as a prostitute working the streets of East Rocky Mount, said women like her have been going missing for more than a few years, but the stories have rarely spread beyond the neighborhood.
“We’ve been talking about a serial killer for 15 years now,” said Shae, whose name has been changed for confidentiality.
Rocky Mount NAACP President Andre Knight said he is calling on deputies to release a complete list of Rocky Mount women who have been found dead in and around the outskirts of town during the past 20 years.
“I believe there’s more to this,” Andre Knight said. “That 2003 case, Williams, was a classmate of mine. We grew up together. I believe they need to expand this investigation beyond 2005. That should have been done a long time ago.”
Sheriff Knight is leading the task force investigation of FBI profilers, the State Bureau of Investigation and the Rocky Mount Police Department into the murders of the five confirmed victims. Sheriff Knight could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Police Chief John Manley said his department is working with the other agencies to solve the crimes and is willing to speak with any resident who have concerns about the probe.
“There is a lot of emotion around this case,” Manley said. “But the truth is, we’re willing to address any concern that anyone might have. Nobody has been in touch with me or anyone else in my department about expanding this investigation.”
Because all the women have been found dead in Edgecombe County, the sheriff’s department has had jurisdiction over the investigation, as well as Williams’ case.
“We’re still willing to do whatever we can to help these families,” Manley said.
Bodies of all the women – Taraha Nicholson, 28, Jarniece Hargrove, 31, Ernestine Battle, 50, Jackie Nikelia Thorpe, 35, and Melody Wiggins, 29 – were found between 2005 and early this year along the same rural stretch outside the city.
Authorities charged 31-year-old Antwan Pittman this week with Nicholson’s murder and are continuing to investigate to determine if he was involved in any of the other cases.
Police are searching for three other missing women – Yolanda “Snap” Lancaster, 37, Joyce Renee Durham, 46, and Christine Boone, 43 – in connection with the investigation.
Deputies have not said if they had considered Williams’ murder in connection with the other cases. Williams’ mother, Helina Williams, thinks they should.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Helina Williams said. “I do know there are lot of unsolved murders out (in Edgecombe County) that they should be looking at. I wish I could find out who put my girl in that swamp.”