New interviews in 12-year-old homicide case lead to Georgia suspect

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comOctober 23, 2013 

— Twelve years ago this week, 91-year-old Buelah Dickerson, a slight woman who used a walker to get around, was the victim of a savage, frenzied attack at her West Raleigh home.

The crime remained unsolved until Wake County Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings said his office reviewed the evidence in recent months and re-interviewed several witnesses. Those interviews produced the probable cause they needed to charge the elderly woman’s former neighbor with the crime.

On Tuesday, the anniversary of Dickerson’s death, sheriff’s deputies in Bartow County, Ga., detained Cathy Lynne Lentini, formerly known as Cathy Piper, and charged her with first degree murder.

Cummings called The News & Observer in September and requested archived news articles about Dickerson’s death, particularly news accounts of police search warrants and items that were seized by investigators from Lentini’s home and car.

“I interviewed at least two of the witness,” Cummings said. “And I traveled out of town to talk with another one. They described items that were among the physical evidence.”

Cummings declined to name which specific pieces of physical evidence served as the linchpin that held all the evidence together and led to Lentini’s arrest.

Raleigh police detectives contacted Bartow County sheriff’s investigators this week and asked for their help in locating and arresting Lentini. But she was not home when the deputies arrived Tuesday at 80 Pine Needle Trail in Cartersville, on the northwest edge of the Atlanta metropolitan area, sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Jonathan Rogers reported in a news statement Wednesday.

The deputies waited until Lentini showed up and took her into custody just after 4 p.m., Rogers said.

Lentini waived extradition and was scheduled to arrive at the Wake County jail late Wednesday afternoon, according to Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue.

Dickerson last seen at mailbox

Dickerson was last seen alive on Oct. 22, 2001, at 11 a.m. She was outside her home, checking on the mail, neighbors told police. On Oct. 24, Dickerson’s daughter and son in-law found two days worth of mail in her mailbox and then discovered her bludgeoned body in the bedroom of her small, ranch-style home.

Police noted that someone had rifled through several drawers in the bedroom and concluded that robbery was the motive.

Several wounds on her hands appeared to be defensive attempts to ward off her attacker, but she still endured a beating that left 25 lacerations on her scalp and forehead, according to an autopsy report from the state medical examiner’s office.

Neighbors said Dickerson was a retired shop owner and vacuum cleaner mechanic who occasionally drove herself to a nearby KMart and made sure her neighbors’ younger children got on the school bus in the morning.

Lentini, who lived across the street from Dickerson, was a primary suspect early on in the police investigation into Dickerson’s death.

Murder weapon discovered

A search warrant made public in early 2002 indicated investigators thought the murder weapon was a bloody, blue tire iron they found in a tree nursery near the crime scene.

Lt. Chris Morgan, a retired detective who investigated the slaying, reported that the tire iron was found by employees at a tree nursery about 10 days after Dickerson was killed.

Investigators confirmed that a similar tire iron was missing from Lentini’s 1981 Buick Riviera. The search of Lentini’s car and found costume jewelry they think belonged to Dickerson and a pair of bloodied socks.

Lentini claimed that a friend had borrowed her car the week before Dickerson was killed.

She also told a family member in 2001 that she had moved to South Raleigh shortly before Dickerson’s death. On Oct. 23, she said she drove to Lucama in Wilson County, about 52 miles east of Raleigh, and stayed with friends before moving to Sanford.

On Nov. 20, 2001, a Raleigh police detective went to Sanford, searched Lentini’s car and asked her to drive back to Raleigh. She was questioned and arrested on an unrelated charge.

Investigators continued to question Lentini while she was in custody. She even agreed to take a lie detector test. But she was never charged with Dickerson’s murder.

Convicted on other charges

Lentini ended up going to prison on Jan. 25, three months after Dickerson’s death, and began serving a 12-month sentence on unrelated charges of felony embezzlement. She was released June 9, according to the State Department of Corrections.

Several months ago, Lentini posted on her Facebook page that she was “in a bad way, my husband just walked out and left me broke:( any comment.”

None of her five friends bothered to comment.

News researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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