Did Faith Hedgepeth accidentally record the moments before her death three years ago?
A forensic audio expert and the Chapel Hill Police Department agree a “pocket-dialed voicemail” is relevant to the murder investigation.
They disagree on whether the accidental call records the events leading to the former UNC student’s death, and even whether it came from the apartment where her body was found.
Hedgepeth, 19, was found beaten to death in her off-campus apartment Sept. 7, 2012. Chapel Hill police have made no arrests in the case.
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On Tuesday, the program “Crime Watch Daily” aired an episode “Murder on Voicemail” in which forensic audio expert Arlo West says he deciphered the garbled, pocket-dialed voicemail.
West says his analysis reveals the voices of Hedgepeth, at least two men and another woman, and the mention of two names he says might help investigators.
At one point, according to the program, a male voice reportedly says, “I think she’s dying” while West claims another male replies, “do it anyhow.”
He says Hedgepeth is heard saying, “Ow! Help me!”
In an interview Tuesday, program host Matt Doran said the show obtained the voice mail from one of Hedgepeth’s friends – he would not name the person. West, who specializes in deciphering such accidental calls, was not paid for his analysis, Doran said.
Doran said he does not know if police had the latest equipment West used to analyze it.
“A lot of the technology that has been used to clean this audio up, (West) says, has been developed in the three years since Faith’s murder,” Doran said.
Like Doran, Police Chief Chris Blue said investigators obtained the audio from one of Hedgepeth’s friends.
“We have done some analysis and actually will do some more analysis on it,” he said. “That has not been completed.”
But Blue said police think the call came from a club, not the apartment where Hedgepeth was killed. Police have said Hedgepeth was at the Thrill nightclub on Rosemary Street the night she died.
The call was reportedly made at 1:23 a.m., several hours before Hedgepeth is thought to have died.
On Wednesday, police spokesman Lt. Josh Mecimore said the department used multiple sources to corroborate the time. It is standard procedure in homicide investigations, for example, to obtain a warrant to get such information from the caller’s phone company, he said
But West, in a telephone interview Wednesday from Maine, still questions the time, saying “a known software glitch existed in that time frame” that could have recorded the time wrong.
He also says the call lacks the background noise one would associate with a call from a club.
“You would hear normal socialization,” he said. “You might hear a waitress carrying drinks to the table. You might hear glasses clinking together. It could be a million things.”
There’s also no music.
“There’s no drums. There’s no keyboards, There’s no thumping bass line,” he said. “Because I looked for all that stuff.”
But Mecimore said that doesn’t prove anything.
In many clubs, “there are no waitresses, there are no clinking glasses,” he said. “There are Solo cups. This is a college town.”
West says police should keep analyzing the voicemail, as Blue says they are. If the call did not come from the apartment, perhaps it came from a vehicle and could still help catch the killer or killers, he said.
“I just hope that it leads to justice in this case,” he said. “We have a young lady who’s been murdered; let’s not forget that.”
In 2014, police released a photo of a fast-food bag with the message – “I’M NOT STUPID BITCH” “JEALOUS”– found at the Hawthorne at the View apartment in Durham County where police say Hedgepeth was killed.
Her body was leaning against the bed. Her head was bludgeoned so severely that medical examiners concluded blunt force trauma killed her.
The white bag with the note written in capital letters was on the bed.
Mecimore said police released the note because they thought it could help.
“In any kind of homicide there are thousands of pieces of evidence that are collected,” Mecimore said. “The vast majority are not related to the case. I don’t think there was great need for us to release the audio because the note was the important thing.”
The audio was garbled and “difficult to decipher,” he said. “We thought that the note was probably more useful.”
‘My daughter’s voice’
On Tuesday night, Roland Hedgepeth, Faith’s father, said he thinks the call came from the apartment.
“I’ve listened to it probably a couple hundred times,” he said.
He first heard the voicemail about a year after the killing when the owner of the phone that received the message let him make a copy of it.
“It is pretty garbled up, but I know my daughter’s voice,” he said. “From day one I heard my daughter screaming in the background, and I knew something was going on.”
Blue said between two and four investigators continue working the case at any one time.
“It is a very active case,” he said. “I am very confident in our investigators because I know how hard our investigators are working.”
But Blue acknowledged the family’s frustration, adding, “When you’ve had a loss like Roland’s and Faith’s family has had, time stands still.”
Watch the episode
“Crime Watch Daily” airs at 2 p.m. on WLFL, channel 22. You can watch the Faith Hedgepeth episode at bit.ly/1UaTHpW