Gov calls up troops to search for missing women

National Guard troops search in Edgecombe County for two missing women

April 6, 2010 3:32:57 PM PDT
North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue has activated the state's National Guard to help search for two missing Rocky Mount women whose cases may be linked to the work of a possible serial killer.

Perdue's office said Edgecombe County Sheriff James L. Knight requested the assistance. Knight's department is part of a regional task force that's investigating the deaths of nine women from around the Rocky Mount area.

“Having more boots on the ground will help law enforcement agencies cover a larger area and speed up search efforts,” Perdue said.

The soldiers will be looking for Yolanda Lancaster, 37, and Joyce Renee Durham, 46. They have not been heard from by their families for months.

About 100 National Guard soldiers began their search on Tuesday. The soldiers are from the 1132nd and 514th military police companies, headquartered out of Rocky Mount and Greenville. Perdue's office said they'd be searching through the end of the week around Seven Bridges road near Whitakers, where the remains of five of the nine women have been found since August 2007.

Latest body identified

March 31, Rocky Mount police said skeletal remains found March 27 were identified as 40-year-old Roberta Williams.

People riding four wheelers off Seven Bridges Road, between Battleboro and Whitakers in Edgecombe County, found Williams about 20 yards inside a tree line.

Williams was last seen in the spring of 2008 by a family member in Rocky Mount. She was never reported missing because she was considered to be a homeless person.

Williams is the ninth woman whose body has been found in and around Rocky Mount - about an hour's drive east of Raleigh - over the past seven years. The bodies of Ernestine Battle, 50, Jarniece Hargrove, 31, Taraha Shenice Nicholson, 29, Jackie Thorpe, 35, Melody Wiggins, 29, Elizabeth Jane Smallwood, 33, and Denise M. Williams, 21, have all been discovered dumped in wooded areas. Investigators said most of the women had a history of drug abuse and prostitution - which likely made them more vulnerable.

The special task force of local, state and federal investigators has been looking into those deaths as well as the death of Christine Boone, 43, who was found about 20 miles away near a mobile home in Scotland Neck, Halifax County.

Man charged in one death

In September 2009, the task force arrested 31-year-old Antwan Maurice Pittman in the killing of Taraha Nicholson. Her body was discovered in March, 2009 near Marriot Farm Road a few miles north of Rocky Mount. The medical examiner said she'd most likely been strangled.

Documents in the case said DNA taken from Nicholson's body matched Pittman.

Pittman currently remains in the Edgecombe County Detention Center charged with first-degree murder.

Pittman has a criminal record. According to the North Carolina sex offender registry, he was convicted in 1994 of taking indecent liberties with a 2-year-old. He was released from prison in April 1997. He was also once charged with loitering for prostitution.

Pittman linked to other deaths

Earlier this month, a search warrant released in the investigation linked Pittman to four other deaths. The document authorized homicide investigators to look for evidence at a Halifax County mobile home where he once lived.

It was near that home that investigators found the body of Christine Boone last month. The search warrant indicated that investigators believe Pittman may have killed Boone in the mobile home.

The warrant also said a NC Highway Patrol trooper found Pittman asleep in a car on the day Jarniece Hargrove disappeared. The car was parked about 200 yards away from where her body was discovered about a month later.

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