SMITHFIELD — Smithfield police are investigating the suspicious death of a woman at her home a few blocks from downtown on Thursday.
Police say 74-year-old Patricia Stevens' son found her dead around 5 p.m. Thursday at her house at 309 N. Third St. Lt. Keith Powell said Stevens was "the victim of an apparent crime," but he wouldn't say how she died until he hears from the medical examiner.
Stevens was the widow of prominent Smithfield attorney Austin Stevens, who died in 2005. She was active in Centenary United Methodist Church and is remembered fondly by friends and neighbors.
"She was a very, very nice lady," said Edith Wilkins. "Pat was a staunch friend. Everybody liked her."
Powell said detectives found no signs of forced entry to the house. "The house was in disarray," he said. "Weve not taken the family through yet to determine whether anything is missing or not."
On Friday morning, police set up a traffic checkpoint on North Third Street, asking drivers on the busy shortcut to the north end of Smithfield if they'd seen anything suspicious. As of 9 a.m. Friday, police had no leads, Powell said. The State Bureau of Investigation and the District Attorney's Office have been called in to help with the investigation.
Neighbors in the 300 block of North Third Street said news of the incident has them on edge.
"We just really want to know what happened, so we can adjust or ramp up our security system," said Mary Stephens, who lives across the street from the Stevens residence.
"We're just shocked by it," added her husband, David Stephens, noting that the neighborhood has seen an increase in home break-ins but no violent crime. "If you don't feel secure in your own home, that's a problem."
He said Patricia Stevens and her late husband had lived in the house since the early 1980s. The home was built by former Johnston County schools superintendent H.B. Marrow, who's credited with creating a single countywide school district and one of the largest school-building campaigns in county history.
Police are asking anyone with information to call the department's anonymous tip line at 919-989-8835. A reward is being offered for information.