Investigators in Johnston County announced an arrest in a murder case Tuesday that ran cold for almost 47 years.
Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell re-opened the investigation into the killing of Bonnie Neighbors in 2007. He called it the oldest cold case in Johnston County.
The 33-year-old mother had been found bound and fatally shot after going to pick her oldest son up from school in December 1972. Her 4-month-old son was found alive beside her.
Larry Joe Scott, 65, was arrested Monday in Bradenton, Florida, Bizzell said. DNA evidence was used to connect Scott to the killing, he said.
Scott was charged with murder and kidnapping, Bizzell said. He is being held in Bradenton until he is brought to North Carolina to face the charges, Bizzell said.
“I was finally able to tell her son that we had found his mother’s murderer,” Bizzell said. “Justice had been far-too-long delayed for her. For all those years we had looked to find who had done it..”
Scott lived in Benson in 1972, Bizzell said.
Neighbors disappeared on her way to pick up her 7-year-old son at school. She was carrying her youngest son.
After a lengthy search, her body and the baby were found in a migrant worker house near Benson, investigators say.
Bizzell said they have not determined a motive for the crime. There is no obvious connection between Scott and Neighbors, he said.
The investigation took a turn about two weeks ago, Bizzell said.
His investigators then contacted Florida law enforcement in Bradenton, he said. Bizzell first gave the case to Capt. Buck Pipkin in 2007 and he continued to work on it through retirement with Lt. Ryan Benson, Bizzell said.
Evidence was retested by the State Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab with more sensitive technology that produced a useable DNA profile, the sheriff said. Investigators then were able to find Scott.
Only 14 years old
“In 1972, I was only 14 years old, but something about Bonnie Neighbors’ killing and about this case always bothered me,” Bizzell said.
“After I became sheriff in 2007, I was still haunted because her killer had not been found.”
Roger Allen, the SBI agent who investigated the crime when he was a 26-year-old case agent, said he was relieved a suspect was found. He sat in the audience during Tuesday’s press conference.
“I don’t know how many times I thought about this case,” he said.
Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle said many thought the case would never be solved.
“For almost 47 years, many thought this day would never come,” she said. “This day has come due to the determination of Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell and his tenacious investigators.”
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein called it a good day for public safety and for the people of Johnston County.
“Sheriff Bizzell, you and your colleagues worked tirelessly on this case,” Stein said. “They never gave up, keeping the victim and the victim’s family at the top of their minds. Sometimes justice is swift. Sometimes it takes longer.”
Stein said the Crime Lab produced 47 reports about this crime for Johnston County investigators from 1972-99.
Early DNA evidence proved to be inconclusive, Stein said. But since 2017 the Crime Lab has developed techniques that have improved the chances of making DNA matches. The evidence in this case was retested, he said.
“This led to a profile and arrest,” he said. “The confirmatory testing is still in process. But now an extremely cold case is very warm.”