Episode 97

A Serial Killer in Rocky Mount, NC?

July 5, 2021   Tags: , , ,
Apple Podcasts
From 2005 until 2010, the area of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, seemed to be the hunting ground of a serial killer. It took months or years before most of the bodies were recovered. The offender was preying on black sex workers in the area. Billy and Paul try to find the killer or killers of  Melody Wiggins, Jackie Thorpe, Ernestine Battle, Elizabeth Smallwood, Sunshine Hargrove, Christine Boone, Roberta Williams and Yolanda Lancaster. And to find Joyce Durham. 

The Deaths of Melody Wiggins, Jackie Thorpe and Ernestine Battle:
Melody Wiggins:
29-year-old Melody Wiggins had spent the last few years in Rocky Mount. She was a known sex worker in the area, and usually worked on Hill Street or Branch Street.

The last time anyone could confirm seeing her was on May 23rd, 2005. An Edgecombe County deputy served her with a child support court order that day on Hill Street in Rocky Mount. 

Six days after that--on May 29--a group of people were out riding recreational vehicles near Nobles Mill Pond Road and Old Farm Road. It is about six miles from Rocky Mount in Edgecombe County.  It was there they discovered Melody’s body.

It was located 2700 feet off the road, but still on an unpaved path. The body wasn’t visible from the road. It was partially clothed. Melody’s black pants had been pulled down to her mid-thigh; her black underwear folded down. Her black bra was above her shoulders. 

The body had already begun to decompose. The autopsy stated the cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the head. The right side had been bashed in with an object--maybe a hammer. But the offender had also stabbed and cut Melody repeatedly through her buttocks, chest, arms and back. 

Melody’s hands had eight different cuts on them. Her fingernails were dirty with blood under them. It was clear she had tried to fight her offender. 

Jackie Thorpe:
On May 22nd, 2007 34-year-old Jackie Thorpe was reported missing by her mother. She said she last saw her daughter around noon on May 8th. According to her mom, Jackie usually checked in. But after she hadn’t talked to her in two weeks. 

On August 17th, 2007, a man was on Seven Bridges Road looking for bottles. He came across a skull and arm in a wooded area where people dumped trash. The pieces were the remains of Jackie Thorpe. 

The parts of the body that still contained tissue were mummified. There were no clothes found on the remains. The Medical Examiner estimated the time of death to have been around May 8th. Due to the decomposition and animal interference a cause of death wasn’t determined. However, there were no drugs found in Jackie’s system.

Ernestine Battle:
In February 2008, 50-year-old Ernestine Battle was reported missing by her sister. She had seen Ernestine get into an unfamiliar car on February 2nd. Ernestine was also a sex worker.

A month later, a farmer was in the area of Seven Bridges Road. He discovered Ernestine lying face down near a tree stump. She was nude. Again no clothing was found near the mainly skeletonized remains. 

Due to the state of the body, the cause of death couldn’t be concluded. There were no obvious signs of trauma beyond a sternal fracture.

The Deaths of Elizabeth Smallwood, Sunshine Hargrove, and Christine Boone:
Elizabeth Smallwood:
On February 23, 2009, a skeletonized woman’s body was found by a clean-up crew on Melton Drive in Rocky Mount. The area was on the county line and near a soccer field. 

As law enforcement canvassed the scene, they found clothing nearby. It was not related to the remains though. The autopsy said the victim could have been dead for as long as six months to a year before it was discovered. 

Again because of the state of the remains, a cause of death could not be determined. There were no injuries to any of the bones. But there were traces of cocaine found in the tox performed on the woman’s hair.

The remains didn’t match any missing persons reports. The medical examiner wasn’t able to identify the body until October. At that time law enforcement learned her name--33-year-old Elizabeth Smallwood. 

Sunshine Hargrove:
30-year-old named Jarnieve “Sunshine” Hargrove was reported missing on May 2nd, 2009, after her family hadn’t spoken with her for a week. Sunshine worked frequently on Holly Street. 

On June 29th, 2009, 200 yards from Seven Bridges Road, Sunshine’s skeletonized remains were discovered by a tobacco worker. There were no clothes found. She was still wearing a white metal chain with a dollar sign charm and white metal ring. But there were no clear signs of trauma. 

According the GQ article "The Lost Girls of Rocky Mount," Sunshine’s sister went to the scene the following day. She found six teeth and a toenail with Sunshine’s usual brown color. She turned them into police. Even with this additional evidence, a cause of death could not be determined. 

Christine Boone:
43-year-old Christine Boone was reported missing on January 16, 2007. Her family said law enforcement wasn't concerned with the case.

After three years of searching, on March 5th, 2010, Christine's remains were located. Halifax County and Scotland Neck police were searching the area of Mary Chapel Road for another case. There they discovered the skull and skeletal remains of Christine. 

Cause of death was unclear. The medical examiner noted there was a possible cut mark on one of her left ribs. It was noted as “possible” because the remains had been scattered by animals.

The Deaths of Roberta Williams and Yolanda Lancaster and the disappearance of Joyce Durham: 
Roberta Williams:
On March 27th, 2010, a body was recovered near Seven Bridges Road. 20 yards into the tree line, the remains along with a credit card, a yellow metal wristwatch and a piece of chain with a hook were found. 

The body was identified as 40-year-old Roberta Williams. She was a sex worker from Rocky Mount. Her family said they hadn’t spoken with her in two years. 

Like five of the other women, her cause of death could not be determined. Even without a cause of death, Rocky Mount Police Chief John Manley said it was clear they were dealing with a suspected serial killer. 

Yolanda Lancaster:
37-year-old Yolanda Lancaster was reported missing on March 30th, 2009 by her mother.  Yolanda's mom told law enforcement she hadn’t spoken with her since February 2nd. It was right after she had an argument with her boyfriend.

On January 10th, 2011, a man was out near the wooded Battleboro area looking for deer antlers. There isn’t much reported on Yolanda’s remains.  

The Disappearance of Joyce Durham:
46-year-old Joyce Durham was suffering from drug addiction at the time. Her brother-in-law reported her missing on June 17th, 2007. 

Her last known location was at 1505 Harper Street--an area frequented by drug users. Joyce was last seen around 2:30 PM. She was 5’2” and 118 pounds when she disappeared. She is black with black hair, brown eyes and pierced ears.

She still has not been located. 

The Murder of Taraha Nicholson:
28-year-old Taraha Nicholson’s father reported her missing on February 22nd, 2009. She left home around 12:30 AM the day before. 

She frequently walked the area of Holly Street in Rocky Mount. But no one had seen her since her father reported her missing. 

On March 7th, 2009, some people were out riding ATVs near Marriot Farm Road. It was there they discovered Taraha’s body. She was partially clothed--her socks were still on. Her bra had been pulled above her breasts. 

The medical examiner said Taraha was manually strangled. Her body showed signs of bruising, a fractured hyoid, subdural hemorrhage. There were scratches on her abdomen and multiple abrasions. The medical examiner noted the abrasions were most likely from the body being dragged.  

She had the presence of benzoylecgonine, cocaine and nicotine in her system when she was killed. The exact time of death could not be determined. A rape kit was conducted on Taraha. There were spermatozoa present--enough to create a profile.

In September 2009, the DNA profile from Nicholson’s case hit a match in CODIS.

The man was 31-year-old Antwan Pittman. He was a convicted sex offender. At the age of 16, he was charged with the attempted rape of a two-year-old. He took a plea deal and was convicted of indecent liberties with a child. He was released from prison this time in April of 1997. He was supposed to register as a sex offender. 

In July 2007, Pittman was arrested in Rocky Mount. He was charged with loitering for prostitution. The case was dismissed when the arresting officer wasn’t able to testify because he was serving in Iraq.

He had also been arrested on a variety of charges between 1997 and 2007. Most were misdemeanors like failing to register as a sex offender, driving while impaired, simple assault, larceny, trespassing and resisting a police officer.

He was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole in Nicholson's case. He hasn't been charged with any of the other deaths.  

There are still eight unsolved murders in the Rocky Mount, North Carolina area. No one has been charged or convicted of killing Melody Wiggins, Jackie Thorpe, Ernestine Battle, Elizabeth Smallwood, Sunshine Hargrove, Christine Boone, Roberta Williams and Yolanda Lancaster. 

46-year-old Joyce Durham remains missing. She was last seen at 2:30 PM on June 17, 2007 at 1505 Harper Street. She was 5’2” and 118 pounds at the time she disappeared. She has black hair and brown eyes. Her ears are pierced. 

If you have any information on any of these cases, please contact us or or Crime Stoppers at 252-977-1111.


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As tips come in, Jensen and Holes will work to verify them. If they look good, we will publish them here to try and get us closer to their names.