North Carolina

Three women found dead in six weeks in one NC neighborhood. Moms still want answers

NC Attorney General announces plan to test rape kit backlog

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein announced a $10 million plan Tuesday to eliminate the backlog of more than 10,000 untested rape kits statewide, hoping to close decades of unsolved sexual assault cases.
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N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein announced a $10 million plan Tuesday to eliminate the backlog of more than 10,000 untested rape kits statewide, hoping to close decades of unsolved sexual assault cases.

Two women were found dead on April 18, 2017, just across the street from each other in Lumberton, North Carolina, WBTW reports.

A third woman, who had spoken about the case with a local television station, was found dead six weeks later in the same neighborhood, according to WBTW.

Almost two years later, the mothers of the three women still want answers, CBS17 reports. The mothers recently learned that the rape kits on the women were not submitted for testing until 20 months after the first victims were found, in December 2018, the TV station reports.

Lumberton is in Robeson County, where the murder case of 13-year-old Hania Aguilar brought new attention to rape kit testing there, The News & Observer reports.

The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office had DNA evidence linking the suspect in the Aguilar case to a 2016 rape — but never followed up on the evidence, according to the newspaper.

The Victims

“These last almost 23 months have been a living hell,” Shelia Price, the mother of one of the women, said, according to CBS17. “People just don’t get naked and crawl in weird spaces to die. Anybody who has any common sense at all knows that.”

“In April 2017, Christina Bennett’s body was found naked inside a television cabinet in an abandoned home in East Lumberton,” WBTW reports.

A sexual assault evidence kit contains forensic evidence gathered from a victim's body during an intrusive, hours-long examination. Testing kits can find DNA evidence used to identify rapists, boost prosecutions or exonerate the falsely accused.

That same day, Price’s daughter, Rhonda Jones, 36 at the time, was found naked in a trash can, according to CBS17.

That trash can had the same number as the house where 32-year-old Bennett was found, Inside Edition reports.

The third victim, Megan Oxendine, was 28 when she was found dead, according to Inside Edition. She was connected to the other two deaths because she was interviewed by CBS17 the day the bodies were found, WBTW reports.

Push for Justice

Almost two years later, the mothers of each of the women still want answers in the cold cases. They formed a new organization, Shatter the Silence, to push police for answers, according to WPDE.

“It just seems like 20 months is a long time for evidence to sit on a shelf and collect dust. It seems like that would’ve been a priority. It seems like all victims are treated equally here. It’s not fair,” Mandy Revels, a friend of Oxendine, told WPDE.

“When I found out a couple weeks ago that the Lumberton Police Department let the rape and DNA kits sit on a shelf for 20 months, that shows you just how much they care about these cases. So all they’ve done is going to just make us fight harder,” Price said, according to WPDE.

In a statement to CBS17 about the rape kits, which police call SAECKs, Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeill said, “Regardless of the test results, the SAECK for each of these women should have been submitted to the lab in a more timely manner, the Lumberton Police Department will review the policies and procedures in place to determine if changes should be made.”

“We continue to work every day to uncover and prove how these women died. We hold ourselves accountable to their families and to this community to uncover the truth,” the chief said, according to CBS17.

Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt discusses first court appearance, arrest of Michael Ray McLellan, accused in death of Hania Aguilar.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.