Eight months ago, Christopher Cole Thomas disappeared on the streets of Benson – a baffling report of a 22-year-old man stopping his car in an unfamiliar neighborhood and darting off into the night. His family in Florida has spent that time agonizing over crumbs of information, posting his face on signs across Eastern North Carolina.
Now that three men stand charged in Thomas’ disappearance, more questions than answers remain:
▪ Where is Thomas?
The men arrested in Harnett and Wayne counties were jailed on charges of obstruction of justice and concealment of a death. But Benson police offered no further information, particularly about whether or not they know Thomas’ location – dead or alive.
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Concealment of a death, by law, happens when someone “fails to notify a law enforcement authority of the death or secretly buries or otherwise secretly disposes of a dead human body.” Has a body been located? If so, Thomas’ family is still in the dark.
“We have desperately waited for answers to where Cole is,” his father, Chris, wrote in an email Tuesday. “We pray this will be the start of finding him.”
▪ Did he really flee Benson on foot?
Thomas was reported missing on Nov. 25 – in the middle of the night. He had been working as an electrical apprentice in Minnesota, and he had been driving to Durham for Thanksgiving with two men from the job. Those men told police he pulled off Interstate 40 and stopped the car at North Elm and East Morgan streets – a residential neighborhood in a town he’d never visited. The spot where he fled stands near the police station but not gas or convenience stores a traveler might need.
This story has never made sense to Thomas’ father, nor to much of the public. How could anyone vanish on foot in a strange town, staying hidden despite exhaustive searches on land and from the air? The nature of the charges – concealment of a body – suggests he ended up somewhere else.
▪ Who are these people?
Thomas’ father did not know either of the men who were in the car with him that night. Search warrants released in December said he had been involved in a drug deal in Benson before going missing, information his father rejected as tarnishing his son’s reputation.
“My son made some poor choices in the last six months, leaving college where he was at a 4.0 and going with friends to Minnesota for a job,” he wrote at the time. “As a family we were not happy with these changes, but we truly believe our son became lost; it does not mean he was a bad person.”
No drug charges related to the disappearance have yet come to light. The three men charged Monday – Julian Valles Jr., 34, of Dudley, and Anthony Ridell James Jr., 26, and Rudolfo DeLeon Jr., 27, both of Mount Olive – were not charged with drug crimes, and none of them were arrested in Benson.
The investigation continues, and Thomas’ family waits.
“We will continue to seek the truth and will not give up, not give in until Cole Thomas is home again,” his father wrote, “and whoever is responsible for his disappearance or harming him is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Have you seen him?
Christopher Cole Thomas, missing since November, is described as 6 foot 1 inch tall and weighing 200 pounds. A native of Florida, he was last reported seen in Benson, wearing a red T-shirt and black jacket. He has a swirling tattoo over his left shoulder. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call the Benson Police Department at 919-894-2091.