Faith Hedgepeth was found dead nearly two years ago, leaving family and friends grasping for information about a homicide that continues to stymie police.
On Thursday, the day before court documents in the case were to be unsealed in Durham County Superior Court, Chapel Hill police released their first real trickle of details from the investigation with a major plea to the public.
They mentioned a fast-food bag with the unintelligible and mildly profane message – “I’M NOT STUPID BITCH” “JEALOUS” – found at the Hawthorne at the View apartment where Hedgepeth was killed.
She was found barely clothed on the floor of the one-bedroom apartment she was sharing with Karena Rosario, a student from New Jersey who had invited the 19-year-old biology major from Hollister to live with her the first weeks of school while Hedgepeth awaited financial aid.
Investigators found Hedgepeth’s body on Sept. 7, 2012, shortly after 11 a.m., leaning against the bed. Her shirt was pulled up, and she had no clothes on below the waist. Her head was bludgeoned – a beating so severe, according to an autopsy report, that medical examiners concluded blunt force trauma killed her.
The white bag with the note written in capital letters was on the bed.
With blood pooled in the bedroom and splattered on the wall and closet door, investigators were able to collect DNA evidence.
A DNA profile was generated from semen collected in a sexual assault kit, and investigators believe the DNA belongs to the killer.
“Investigators have excellent evidence in this case, and we are making a public appeal for any information that will help us tie that evidence to Faith’s killer,” Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said Thursday afternoon. “This is not a cold case. It has been and remains an active investigation.”
The chief highlighted details in the case with the hope of jogging someone, possibly even the killer, to come forward.
“If the killer is out there hearing this message,” Blue said, “know this: We will catch you.”
Her last night
Hedgepeth spent much of the last night of her life, according to police, as many college students do.
She and Rosario visited Davis Library on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus about 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6, 2012, and returned to the apartment on the border of Durham and Orange counties about 12:30 a.m.
They did not stay home long, though.
About 1 a.m. Sept. 7, according to police, Hedgepeth and Rosario returned to downtown Chapel Hill and parked in the Wallace parking deck on Rosemary Street. They walked to the Thrill bar on East Rosemary Street from the deck and then left there together at about 2:38 a.m. in Hedgepeth’s white Nissan Altima.
Investigators think the two returned home together, and then at about 4:30 a.m., Rosario left the apartment.
At 11 a.m. Sept. 7, Rosario reported finding Hedgepeth cold and unresponsive inside the apartment.
Investigators have partnered with local, state and federal agencies, according to police, with the N.C. State Crime Laboratory, under the state Department of Justice, analyzing DNA and other evidence collected from the scene.
After consulting with the FBI’s behavioral analysis unit, Chapel Hill police issued a series of theories last year on the anniversary of Hedgepeth’s death for the public to consider while pondering whether they might harbor clues.
The criminal profilers said then that the suspect could have known Hedgepeth, possibly lived near her at some point, talked about her in the past or shown a keen interest in the case. The suspect might have been unaccounted for during the early hours of Sept. 7, 2012, and could have left the area suddenly without adequate explanation for the departure.
Over the past few years, investigators have executed numerous search warrants and court orders for computers, phones, social media accounts, financial records.
They have asked “persons of interest” to provide oral DNA swabs to compare to the profile from the crime scene.
Though no samples have been found to match the evidence from the apartment, not all “persons of interest” have agreed to provide DNA samples, according to Chapel Hill police.
‘Give me love’
Among the materials that police released Thursday was a DVD with snippets from Hedgepeth’s parents.
Her mother, Connie, recalled a daughter who was a bright light in the family. She misses the hugs when her daughter would lean in and say, “Mommy, give me love.” She appealed to anyone with information to come forward.
“It’s not right if they don’t say anything or tell us anything,” Connie Hedgepeth said over and over in the DVD provided by the N.C. Department of Public Safety.
Roland Hedgepeth said he thinks about his daughter the first thing each day, before his “feet hit the ground.”
“Her leaving us has just left such a void. I don’t really know how to describe it,” the grieving father said on the DVD. “Just no closure, not knowing what happened to her or who did it just drags it out and drags it out. It drains me.”
“I am so convinced that the difference in solving this case and it going cold is just one fact,” he added.
A $40,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Hedgepeth’s killer.
Blue said three detectives from his department and the State Bureau of Investigation continue to work exclusively on the case. Investigators have set up a tip line monitored around the clock on a mobile phone. That number is 919-614-6363.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro-UNC Crime Stoppers has a dedicated line for anyone wishing to provide information anonymously at 919-942-7515.