1965 UNC coed murder remains unsolved

February 11, 2013 8:31:57 PM PST
Say the names Eve Carson and Faith Hedgepeth to any UNC alum and they'll know right away you're talking about two young co-eds murdered just off campus.

However, there's another tragic name only longtime Tar Heels will remember --  Suellen Evans. She was a student killed on-campus and a crime never solved.

It was a murder that shocked our state nearly 50 years ago, and it still haunts all involved.

Vibrant, determined, devoted Tar Heel, those words could describe Carson, Hedgepeth, or Evans.  All three were senselessly murdered.  Two of the three cases are still unsolved.

Carson's killers are behind bars. Detectives say they're trying to solve Hedgepeth's murder. However, Evans' case has long gone cold, though not forgotten..

"Well, I think about it quite often," said Orange County Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass.

Pendergrass was a young Chapel Hill police officer on that hot summer day in 1965. Evans was a 21-year-old student  in a hurry to get home to Mooresville.

"She'd taken a shortcut through the arboretum back to her dorm to pack and get ready to come home," said Suellen's sister, Elaine Evans. "As she walked through there, someone stepped out from the bushes there."

In 1965 the arboretum wasn't open like it is now. It was overgrown with vines, and capable of hiding a killer in waiting.

"When he stepped out, she maybe even spoke to him," said Elaine. "She was just a small town girl."

Soon, that small town girl would be a tragic headline from Murphy to Manteo.

"It was something that just didn't happen," said Pendergrass.

Pendergrass said Suellen fought back, and passersby heard her screams but it was too late.  A nun found her barely alive with her neck cut and a stab wound to the chest. She lived just long enough to tell the nun a man had tried to rape her.

"She said that Suellen died in her arms," said Elaine .

Many were in shock for much of that long, hot summer including ABC11's own Larry Stogner.

"It was a much more innocent time," said Stogner. "We hear about school shootings and stabbings all the time but back then that was so rare, and that's what had people so mystified about it."

Police with bloodhounds immediately launched a manhunt, but they only had a vague description of the man running away. One potential witness who was looking down from a nearby dorm window was no help.

"I think she was frightened, traumatized with what she had seen," said Pendergrass.

Another witness helped a UNC art professor paint a picture of the suspect, and students from all over campus helped search the arboretum,  but they never found the weapon used in the attack.

Weeks later, though, there was a potential break.  A groundskeeper who worked nearby, and matched the description, was brought in for questioning.

"'Did you see who did it? Did you do it?' And he fainted right there on the spot," said Pendergrass.

In fact, Pendergrass said the man fainted every time they asked him. So, with no confession, or solid evidence, they had to let him go.

"You remember the ones that are solved and you remember the ones that aren't solved," said Orange County Deputy Rick Smith.

Smith was a young police cadet at the time. He said they didn't give up. They questioned other men as far away as Texas.

Suellen's family heard they'd even looked at a foreign exchange student.

"He disappeared and was never back in school again," said Elaine.

Pendergrass and Smith think that's just one of the rumors that came out of the case.  They stayed focused on the faint-hearted groundskeeper and in the late 1990s they tried questioning him again.

"There'd been a homicide in Raleigh," said Pendergrass. "We thought might be connected but it didn't pan out, but they tried. They really tried. It's a shame it wasn't solved."

Now,  48 years later it is still a mystery just like Hedgepeth's much more recent murder.

Hedgepeth's family is now on the same journey in their search for answers. Evans' sister says she understands the heartbreak and offers a word of advice.

"Don't give up hope," said Elaine. "As long as you're alive, there is always hope that something can come up, even if it never is solved."

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