CHAPEL HILL — University Massage, the Franklin Street parlor that Mayor Kevin Foy said some suspect offers sexual services, has been the target of a police investigation since the fall.
Foy said he expects police to prove once and for all whether the speculation is true. So far, the investigation has determined only that there's no evidence of sex trafficking. The trafficking question came up during the spring at a UNC-Chapel Hill conference on women and children forced into the sex industry.
"It's something that I've heard from citizens, and I take their concerns seriously," Foy said of the broader allegations.
"I think it's something that we need to resolve," he said. "I don't think it's a matter of saying whatever's been going on can keep going on."
A phone number on University Massage's town business license for owner William Johnson, 1434 Cole Mill Road, Durham, was disconnected. Johnson was not available at University Massage for comment Wednesday or Thursday, and didn't return a call Thursday to another business, Quality Movie Mates in Durham.
Chapel Hill police have been investigating the parlor at 403 1/2 W. Franklin St. since September, when Daily Tar Heel columnist James Edward Dillard wrote about visiting the tiny street-front business nestled between a cozy Italian restaurant and an eclectic book store.
"One quoted me the prices again, adding that I was purchasing a full-body massage with 'adult conversation,' " Dillard wrote.
A woman directed Dillard to take his clothes off, he wrote, which Dillard did not do. She then told him his options, which included allowing him to touch her or $140 for "even more," Dillard wrote.
Police Chief Brian Curran said it would take more than an employee "saying what you can get" to uphold a soliciting prostitution charge. He said "it would take an overt act."
Orange-Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall said that could mean one or both parties undressing or some other "definitive act that shows you intend to go through with the crime."
"If I just stood in the middle of the street all day and said, 'I'm going to break into that house,' I haven't committed a crime," Woodall said. "If I go over there and start taking the screen off the window, then I've committed a crime. I've got to do something in furtherance of it."
Still, police are "pursuing other avenues" to gather evidence of any illegal activity, Curran said, declining to provide any details.
Police aren't called to the business often, he said, and when they are it's usually for vehicles vandalized in the back parking lot.
"We don't operate on rumors," Curran said. "We operate on complaints. And the place doesn't generate complaints."
Speculation about University Massage has been part of Chapel Hill lore for years.
That's why Dillard decided to take a look. Many people had claimed sexual services were offered there, "but no one knew why they knew or how they knew," he said Wednesday. What he saw, he says, confirmed the rumors. He said his column was true and that no one from the business ever contacted him to dispute it.
Curran said police asked Dillard to be a cooperating witness in the investigation, but Dillard declined.
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