Authors: Elicia Hyder
Nathan hung his keyring on the nail by the door and glanced around the room. "It's not much."
"That's the understatement of the year," I teased. "You don't even have a dining table. Where do you eat?"
He smiled. "Downtown."
I laughed and dropped my purse on the floor.
He turned toward the hallway. "Follow me."
At the end of the hall, a small bedroom had been converted into an office. It had more stuff crammed into it than the rest of the apartment combined. It was an impressive setup with a desk and a computer, a chair, a pin-board filled with paperwork and photographs, two filing cabinets, and a coffee pot.
On the desk lay the American flag patch I had seen on his ball cap. I looked up at his hat and noticed a different patch was on the front. It had a picture of an assault rifle and the caption 'I Plead the 2nd' below it. I laughed and picked the flag up off the desk. "It's velcro?" I asked.
He nodded and took the flag from my fingers. "The flag is my work patch."
I pointed at his hat. "And the assault rifle?"
He grinned. "I'm off work today."
I laughed and nodded my head. "That's cute."
His face scrunched in disgust. "It's not
It's rugged and funny, not cute."
I rolled my eyes. "Whatever you say, Nate." I walked over and studied the timeline of the murders on the board. "Does Sheriff Davis know you're investigating this?"
He nodded and stepped over behind me. "Yeah. It's part of the reason he hired me," he said. "Raleigh didn't want me to leave because I've put so much time into the case."
I looked at his sister's picture on the board. "Isn't it sort of a conflict of interest, since you are so close to it personally?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose, but I don't think the reason really matters when you put in ten times the hours of any other investigator."
He sat down in the office chair and turned on the computer. I leaned over his shoulder and saw a photo of him and Shannon together on the desk. I reached over him and turned it face-down on the table. He laughed.
"Have a seat," he said.
I looked around the room. "On the floor?"
"Crap. I'm sorry." He stood up and offered me his chair. "I'll get some more furniture before you come over again."
"Already planning the second date, huh?" I joked as I sat down in his chair.
He smiled and knelt down beside me so he could open files on the computer.
The first two disappearances happened fairly close together in 2000. Melissa Jennings, just like Nathan's sister, disappeared after a high school football game. Police and volunteers canvassed the area for weeks, but no sign of her was ever found. She was seventeen. Three weeks later, Nathan's sister Ashley vanished. At the time, police suspected the two cases may have been related, but no evidence to support the theory was ever found.
The next similar disappearance was almost a full year later in 2001. Angela Kearn, a nineteen year old student at Lenoir-Rhyne, went to her morning classes but returned to her dorm to change books for her afternoon classes and wasn't seen again.
Angela's disappearance seemed to be the beginning of a pattern. Each disappearance after Angela happened in an almost calculated timeframe. Every twelve to fifteen months, another girl would go missing from a very public place and never be seen or heard from again.
Many of the cases had gone cold over the years, but the most recent of the victims were still being actively investigated. The face of Joelle Lawson, a twenty-one year old nursing student from Winston-Salem, had been plastered on billboards all along I-40 since she disappeared in 2011. She had been at a fraternity party on October 2nd where she became sick from drinking too much alcohol and decided to call her roommate for a ride home. She was last seen waiting near the curb for her ride. When her roommate arrived, Joelle wasn't to be found. She assumed Joelle had changed her mind and returned to the party. The next day, when she didn't come home, her roommate called Joelle's family, who notified the police.
Colleen Webster, the most recent victim from Statesville, had been the subject of a couple of my press releases for a collaboration effort between our sheriff's office and that of Iredell County. Colleen was twenty-five and last seen on November 21
outside of a sports bar she frequented. She was laughing with the driver of a silver sedan, so no one suspected foul play. Two days later, her car was discovered in the driveway at the house where she lived alone. Her purse, phone, and keys were on the passenger's seat.
All of the victims were close in age, ranging from seventeen to twenty-five, and they were all attractive and from similar backgrounds. From looking at Nathan's map, I could see why he wondered if the next victim might be from Asheville. Like with the timeline, the murders seemed to be located in a pattern along the I-40 route through North Carolina.
I was chewing on a pen cap, staring at his elaborate pin-board. I put my feet up on the desk and reclined back in the office chair. "So, what do we know about the killer?"
He looked around the room. "Hold up," he said. He went to the closet and pulled out a long piece of thick poster board. He rested it on the tray of the pin-board so I could see. It was covered in large, yellow sticky notes.
A few facts were written in thick black marker. He pointed to them. "Here's what the victims say about him: Number one. He blends in well with a crowd and seems to go unnoticed because no one reported seeing anyone remarkable at any of the locations. Number two. He's approachable and not threatening because there were no reports or signs of struggles at any of the crime scenes."
I raised my hand. "Out of all eleven cases, no one noticed anything out of the ordinary?"
He shook his head. "Not really."
I raised my hand again and held my pen over the pad I was using to take notes.
He leaned toward me. "This isn't a middle school history class. You don't have to raise your hand."
I stuck my tongue out at him. "Give me the ages of the victims in the order in which they were taken."
He straightened up and pointed to the board as he rattled off numbers and I wrote them down. "17, 16, 19, 18, 22, 19, 23, 24, 24, 21, 25."
I tapped my paper with the pen. "He's about their age. He's growing up with his victims."
He frowned at me. "If you would wait, that was point number three."
I put my hands up and bowed my head in apology. "Continue."
He turned back to the board. "I think the killer is likely from the Raleigh area and that he attended one of the metro schools. Both of the football games where my sister and Melissa disappeared were in the same district. The killer probably has some kind of ties to the different areas." He used his pen to point to the different cities on the maps.
I shrugged. "Or, he kidnaps them away from home and drags them back to wherever he comes from."
He nodded. "That's a possibility too."
I squeezed my temples. "How is it even possible for someone to get away with this now with forensics, video surveillance, and crime scene investigation being as robust as they are? This person doesn't leave any evidence? No DNA? Fingerprints? Tire tread marks?" I found the whole thing incredibly implausible.
He almost laughed. "You watch too much television."
"I'm serious! And why hasn't anyone else picked up on these possibly being related?" I asked. "It seems pretty obvious to me and I'm not a cop."
He sat down on the edge of the desk. "The first two happened so close in proximity and time that the police
think they were related. But all the rest have been spread out over the state and over so much time that it was hard to connect them together. There are over 10,000 missing person reports filed each year in the state of North Carolina alone. I've done a lot of eliminating to come up with this list. Imagine if you were looking at it among hundreds of thousands of reports."
I sighed. "I guess so. I just can't believe this is still even possible. You don't hear about serial killers anymore."
"That doesn't mean they don't exist. They just don't get the attention they did back in the days of Bundy and Dahmer. Terrorists and school-shootings are the big media shockers now," he pointed out.
"Have there been any suspects?"
"There have been plenty of suspects." He pulled another file out of the cabinet and handed it to me before sitting back down on the table. "But these are the only serious leads that have been pursued."
I opened it and found a few groupings of paperwork and photos. I pulled all of the stacks out and laid them in front of me. There were photos of four different men. I tapped my finger on the first mugshot of a middle-aged man with a thick brown mustache and a long scar over his right eye. "This guy is creepy, but he doesn't fit your profile at all."
He leaned over the paperwork. "That's Roger Watson," he said. "He was originally brought in for questioning because his prints were on my car when my sister disappeared. He was a teacher at our school and had been on security duty in the parking lot during the football game. He was never charged with anything."
"Then why does he have a mugshot?" I asked.
"Well, because it turns out you're right. He is a creep. He was arrested two years later for the sexual abuse of two boys on the basketball team. He's serving twenty-four years in federal prison," he explained.
"So, he was in prison for most of the murders," I said.
I looked at the other photos. I pointed to the one at the end—a twenty-something-year-old who looked like a Ken doll. "Well, if it's handsome here, then you have nothing to worry about. He's dead."
"I know," Nathan said. "He was killed in a car accident in 2010."
"And the other two?" I was carefully examining the remaining photos.
"These two have only been suspects in the individual disappearances of the respective victims in their areas, but I find them interesting enough that they are being watched." He pointed at the blonde on the left. "Logan Allen was the boyfriend of Christy Dumas who disappeared from her home in Hickory a couple of days after Christmas in 2005. He has two priors for domestic violence and a pretty nasty meth problem. He also has a grandmother in Winston-Salem and a sister who lives in Hendersonville."
I looked at the other guy who appeared to be the right age. He was attractive and obviously strong enough to easily subdue the small-framed victims, but he didn't get the sense that he was a horrible person. "This doesn't feel like a bad guy."
Nathan looked at me. "What do you mean?"
I remembered I hadn't told Nathan everything about my ability. "I have a really keen sense about people. Kind of like how I know if someone is alive or dead by looking at a picture, I sort of have an 'evil radar' that goes off when someone is a rotten human being."
He looked up like he had just solved a great mystery. "That's why you don't like going to the jail."
I shuddered. "That's why I have to take sedatives before going to the jail. I can feel the evil radiating out of that place."
"Can you detect a person's tendencies?" he asked.
I leaned back in the chair. "Not exactly. There are a lot of good people who make really bad decisions. They don't seem evil to me at all, just lost."
"So, you're saying that a person's decisions determine who they are?" he asked.
"I think what I'm saying is that you shouldn't put too much stock in feelings I get," I said. "You're not going to be able to convict people based on if they give the county publicist the heebie-jeebies or not."
He nodded and stared at me for a moment. His gray eyes had flecks of blue in them that I hadn't noticed before. Finally, he turned back to the paperwork. He put his finger on the picture. "Scott Bonham is the most likely suspect we have. He's thirty-two years old and was fired from the police force in Cary after being a cop for two years. He graduated from the same high school where Melissa attended and has family in Asheville. He hasn't held a stable job since he was fired in 2002 and has had residences in Raleigh, Asheville, and Winston-Salem."
"Is he in custody?" I asked.
"Nope. Again, not enough evidence," he said.
I thought for a moment. "Why was he fired?"
"For gross misconduct and sexual harassment. He was accused of groping two women during a routine traffic stop," he answered.
"But he wasn't arrested?" I asked.
He shook his head. "They decided not to press charges. He was let go among a flurry of embarrassing news reports."
"Where is he now?"
"Police in Winston-Salem try and keep tabs on him. That's his last known residence," he said.
Nathan's cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and answered it. "Hey," he said. "I'm working at home. What are you doing?" He listened for a moment. "No, I think I'm just going to stay in today… No, don't come over. Maybe we will go to dinner tomorrow… Sure, church in the morning would be fine."
"Yep, OK. You too," he said and disconnected the call.
I folded my arms across my chest. "Are you going to church to repent for lying—again—to your girlfriend?"
"I didn't lie," he said with a pitch of offense in his voice.
"You didn't tell her I was here. That's lying by omission," I said.
He shook his head. "Nope. That was just bypassing extra details for the benefit of everyone."
"What's with you saying 'you too'?" I asked.
I cocked an eyebrow. "I'm pretty sure she says 'I love you' and you say 'you too'. What's up with that?"
He shifted uncomfortably on the desk. "I'm not sure that's any of your business."
I laughed. "Oh, it's not my business. I'm just curious. Are you in love with her?"
He stood up. "Sloan, that's a really inappropriate question."
"Why won't you answer it?" I asked, grinning up at him.
"Why are you so hung up on me and Shannon?" He folded his arms across his chest. "It didn't seem to bother you much when you and your friend left the bar last night with those two guys."