Raleigh police ask for public’s help in solving 20-year-old murder case

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comAugust 21, 2014 

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Beth Ellen Vinson, in an undated photograph.

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— The uncle of a 17-year-old woman murdered 20 years ago this week and a detective still hunting for her killer said Thursday that it’s time to bring peace to her family and justice for the slain teen.

Russell Vinson and Raleigh police detective Jerry Faulk sat in a second-floor conference room at the North Raleigh police precinct to ask for the public’s help in finding Beth Ellen Vinson’s killer.

Vinson, the victim of a frenzied stabbing attack on Aug. 16, 1994, “deserves justice,” Fault said. “Her family deserves some peace. They deserve some closure in this case.”

Faulk asked her killer, or killers, to turn themselves in.

“My appeal is to that person living with this and carrying this thing around for 20 years,” he said. “It may be time to remove that weight from around your shoulders.”

Raleigh police say the cold case is among the city’s longest-standing unsolved murders. Russell Vinson said the teen’s family believes “someone out there knows something.”

“If you feel the burden of knowing something, you should share it, please,” he said.

Beth Ellen Vinson was a vivacious “social butterfly” who grew up in Goldsboro, her uncle said. She was “the light” of the family, he said, a one-time queen of the Wayne County Agricultural Fair who took tap dance classes as a child and dreamed of one day becoming a Broadway dancer.

In the summer of 1994, she moved to Raleigh.

Vinson took a job working for a national escort chain, said police spokesman Jim Sughrue. She had been in the city for only about six weeks when on Aug. 16, 1994, at 2:30 a.m., she left her apartment in the 2400 block of Avent Ferry Road for an escort service date: 45 minutes of exotic dancing for a stranger in a hotel room.

Police think she was murdered before daybreak.

Investigators found her abandoned car, a white Mazda 626 sedan, on Yonkers Road later that morning. One of her platform sandals was still in the car, police reported.

Police conducted an extensive search by foot, boat and helicopter. A week passed before a plant manager found her body in a muddy ditch between two industrial buildings on Wicker Drive, a short distance from where her car was found.

Someone had stabbed the teen repeatedly in the chest and back, police said.

The killer tried to hide her body by heaping cardboard on top of her. The teen’s purse, two costume rings and a gold band with purple amethysts that her grandmother had given her were missing.

In the week before her body was found, investigators realized important evidence had vanished; footprints, fingerprints and other evidence that might have told them what had happened.

Investigators also questioned the man who hired Vinson that night, another woman who was supposed to dance that night at the hotel with her and other out-of-state businessmen who had hired her in the past. No arrests were made.

Faulk, who was assigned to the case five years ago, said technological advances in DNA and forensic sciences have not enabled detectives to develop any leads.

“It’s a solvable case,” he said. “We have evidence, but we haven’t been able to link that evidence to a person or some people.”

Faulk said police are particularly interested in talking with people who were living on Avent Ferry Road and other locations near or on N.C. State University’s campus at the time of Vinson’s death.

Faulk said no tip is too small.

“I will take 1,000 frivolous tips to get the one good one that may lead to the murderer,” he said.

Russell Vinson said his niece’s parents, Bill and Penny Vinson, are both getting older and are in failing health. They’ve had to endure 20 birthdays and Christmases without their daughter.

“It’s very emotional,” Russell Vinson said. “To everyone else, she is a murder victim, but to her family she was just a little girl. She will always be a little girl to me.”

Police ask anyone with information that may assist the investigation of the case to call Raleigh CrimeStoppers at 919-834-4357 or call Det. Jerry Faulk at 919-996-1036. CrimeStoppers pays cash rewards for anonymous tips that help solve cases.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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