ROCKY MOUNT — Edgecombe County authorities and the State Bureau of Investigation are trying to determine whether the unsolved homicides of six women in and around Rocky Mount since 2005 are connected.
At least three other women from the area have been reported missing.
Many of the homicide victims share a similar profile: At least five were unemployed, and some had troubled pasts.
Four of the bodies were found off U.S. 301 in woods and fields north of Rocky Mount, according to police.
Five of the women were reported missing before their bodies were found. On Tuesday, Rocky Mount police released the names of three more women who have been reported missing since 2006 under suspicious circumstances.
Edgecombe Sheriff James Knight would not say whether he thinks the deaths of the women were the work of a serial killer.
The latest body was found June29, when a man working in a field off Seven Bridges Road found skeletal remains in the woods. On Tuesday, the Edgecombe Sheriff's Office identified the woman as Jarniece Latonya "Sunshine" Hargrove, 31, of Rocky Mount, who had not been seen since May2.
One of the six women has not been identified. Her skeletal remains were found Feb. 13 on Melton Drive in Rocky Mount by state inmates and city workers cleaning up debris. Police say she was between the ages of 27 and 45.
Missing, then dead
The other four women were:
Taraha Shenice Nicholson, 28, of 218 N. Raleigh St. in Rocky Mount, whose body was found March 7 off Marriot Farm Road by people riding all-terrain vehicles through the woods. Nicholson was reported missing Feb. 22 by her father, Lougene Williams, who told police that he saw his daughter leave their home on foot at 12:30 a.m. Feb. 21. Williams told the police that his daughter often walked during the night, but that she always returned.
Ernestine Battle, 50, of 619 Branch St. in Rocky Mount, who was found March 13 in the woods off Seven Bridges Road near Battleboro, more than a year after she had been reported missing by her sister. Corneta Battle told Rocky Mount police that she last saw her sister in front of her home, where she got into an unfamiliar car with an unknown man. Police noted in the missing person's report that Ernestine Battle had been arrested before for drug paraphernalia and prostitution.
Corneta Battle told police that, "Ernestine will get into any vehicle with anybody, and she does this all the time," according to the missing persons report. Battle's body was unclothed, the state medical examiner's office reported.
Jackie Nikelia "Nikki" Thorpe, 34, of 117 Owens Circle in Rocky Mount was discovered in the woods off Seven Bridges Road on Aug. 17, 2007. Thorpe's mother reported her missing May 22, 2007, and told Rocky Mount police that her daughter frequented drug areas and that her family was very concerned because she had not contacted them.
Melody Wiggins, 29, of 343 S. Grace St. in Rocky Mount was found in woods beside a field on Old Farm Road. Wiggins' boyfriend, Mitchell Williams, reported her missing June 2, 2005, and told Rocky Mount police that she had left home to borrow a friend's bicycle. Williams said he knew the friend only as Bobby, according to the missing-person report.
An autopsy report indicated that Wiggins was stabbed and cut repeatedly by her attacker. Her assailant killed her by bashing in the right side of her head with a blunt object, possibly a hammer, authorities reported.
Other women vanish
Rocky Mount police also are concerned about three other women who have been reported missing. One, Shamika Simmons, a 17-year-old Edgecombe Community College student, was reported missing June 30 by an on-call social worker at the college.
Simmons, who lives in a foster home in Whitakers, was last seen at 8 a.m. June 30, social worker Trudy Hawley told police. The teen's foster mother said Simmons called her about 3 p.m. that afternoon and told her she was in the Battleboro area but on her way home.
A second woman, Joyce Renee Durham, 46, of 1505 Harper St. in Rocky Mount has been missing since June 17, 2007, police reported. Durham was reported missing by her brother-in-law, Winston Kemp, who told police that she frequented drug areas, according to police reports.
Months before on Jan. 16, 2007, Christine Marie Boone, 43, was reported missing to Rocky Mount police by her daughter in-law, Susan Ann Boone. Susan Ann Boone told investigators that her mother in-law was suicidal.
thomasi.mcdonald@ newsobserver.com or 919-829-4533