Durham News: Opinion

Over 4 years, nearly 2,000 people interviewed in Hedgepeth murder probe

Tom Gasparoli
Tom Gasparoli

Since 19-year old Faith Hedgepeth was found beaten to death in her apartment four years ago this Sept. 7, police have been remarkably reticent about the case.

That’s changing. As we approach this “anniversary” of the UNC student’s murder, I have some new information.

First, the Chapel Hill Police Department has a new head of investigations. Her name: Lt. Celisa Lehew. She’s spent 13 years with CHPD.

Lehew said she was the lead investigator on the equally horrific Eve Carson murder case. Carson was the UNC student body president kidnapped, then fatally shot on a Chapel Hill street not far from campus.

Last week, I interviewed Lehew and Chief Chris Blue separately. Lehew has completed a comprehensive case review.

She told me between 1,800 and 2,000 people have been interviewed. An immense undertaking.

Blue said CHPD has collected more than 100 DNA samples for comparison to biological evidence at the murder scene. He put the number of legitimate suspects as closer to 10 than 100.

I asked Blue whether the killer or killers were tied to Faith’s world at UNC.

Blue: “That’s entirely possible.”

I wondered whether he believes more than one person was involved.

“I would ask that you let me not answer that question.”

The chief did strongly emphasize: “It’s not a cold case. It’s never been a cold case.”

Next, key excerpts from my conversation with Lt. Celisa Lehew.

I went directly to the so-called “pocket dial” voice mail that emerged a few months ago, the apparently inadvertent recording where a few men and women are involved in overheated and what sound like threatening exchanges.

One of the pitched, seemingly fearful and agitated voices on the enhanced tape I have a copy of has been identified as Faith by her father, Roland Hedgepeth.

The victim and her roommate, then-UNC student Karena Rosario, had gone together to a Chapel Hill nightclub in the early morning hours.

Q: “You’re satisfied that (voice mail) came from within the club physically?”

Lehew: “Yes, I am.”

Q: “How could you tell?”

Lehew: ”Physical phone extraction, cell phone towers … call logs.”

“Have you identified the people?”

Lehew: “Yes.”

“Is Faith on that call?”

Lehew: ”Faith was present. For me to say that particular parts were definitely Faith, I can’t say that.”

Another female voice on the enhanced recording is, in my view, an extremely angry one.

Q: ”Was that Karena Rosario?”

Lehew: “I do believe Karena was present when that call was made.”

I asked about the other prominent voices.

Lehew: ”You can hear two distinct male voices. We know who was present when the call occurred.”

Q: “Do you think it (the voice mail) could tie into what happened?”

Lehew: “It’s difficult to say. Faith was OK after the call was made. As we go from here with further investigations and leads … it may play a role.”

Again, 100-plus people’s DNA tested. All the obvious suspects and scores more. But no matches.

Lehew: “Do I believe that the person had direct knowledge of Faith? I don’t know. But do I believe it could have been an associate of an associate? Yes.”

Q: “Do you suspect more than one person is involved?”

Lehew: “That’s a piece of the puzzle we do not have if we connect the direct physical evidence. There was some knowledge that two people lived there.”

Q: “Do you think that the 911 call (made by Faith’s returning roommate Rosario around 11 a.m. the next morning) is the first time the caller saw the body?”

Lehew: “That’s the evidence that exists thus far.”

(I have made previous attempts to reach Rosario for comment but have not been successful.)

Q: “Do you have the murder weapon?

Lehew: “We believe we have the murder weapon.”

Q: “A wine bottle or alcohol bottle?”

Lehew: “There was a bottle on scene that was processed ... and DNA located.”

She said the bottle was intact, not cracked or damaged.

A handwritten note saying, “IM NOT STUPID BITCH JEALOUS” was left on the bed near Faith’s body. Lehew believes the murderer wrote it.

Q: “Are there people that you believe have not cooperated the way you’d like?”

Lehew: “We’ve interviewed thousands of people. Do I think one of them could have information … that we’ve spoken to? Absolutely.”

The cops need help. Faith’s family needs help.

It’s not a cold case. As the chief said, never has been.

You can reach Tom Gasparoli at tgaspo@gmail.com or 919-219-0042.