Thursday, September 26, 2013

A BIRTHDAY. A DEVELOPMENT SOON.

Faith Hedgepeth would have turned 21 today. Really, what more can you say?

--

I expect there will be some news developing in the next 24 to 48 hours.

--

I talked to someone in law enforcement today who was at the scene of the crime. This person saw many things. One thing emphasized to me...was courage. Faith Hedgepeth had an incredible will to live.

It honors her to fight — without fail — for:







Monday, September 23, 2013

....A D.A.'S SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

This column was published earlier this month in The Durham News (part of the News & Observer), where I also write.  tg

http://www.thedurhamnews.com/2013/09/02/3153224/gaspo-faith-hedgepeth-and-a-das.html

----

Faith Hedgepeth and a DA’s sleepless nights
He couldn’t sleep. It was about 4 a.m. a few days ago when the man woke up and stared at nothing, really.
Interim Durham County District Attorney Leon Stanback was thinking that night, as he has many nights, about Faith Hedgepeth. It’s been a year since the UNC student was murdered. A year, on Sept. 7. With no arrest.
“It’s a terrible crime,” Stanback said. “Just terrible. We need to get this resolved. I am ready to inject new ideas, new energy, new pressures into doing that. Faith and her family deserve my best, everyone’s best.”
Faith, 19 days from her 20th birthday, was found murdered in her Old Chapel Hill Road apartment in the town of Chapel Hill. The complex is just inside the Durham County line, though, so it is the Durham DA’s office that would prosecute a suspect, if a suspect is ever charged. The Chapel Hill Police Department is the investigating agency.
The night after his sleeplessness, Stanback invited me to meet with him and two top homicide prosecutors, Charlene Coggins-Franks and Jim Dornfried.
“We are in more or less constant contact with Chapel Hill on the Hedgepeth case,” Stanback said.
He signaled that a major shift in the investigation could be coming very soon, but would not publicly elaborate.
“As the district attorney, there are things I can do,” he said.
Stanback, a steady, calm and personable man, spent 20 years on the bench, in a place where serious crimes came before the former judge time and again. He has seen it all. And now he’s in a different job.
“No one,” Stanback said, “least of all the person who took Faith Hedgepeth from her family and friends – and from her promising young life – should mistake kindness for weakness.”
As for new pressure, Stanback says he has a message to the murderer.
“We will get you,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time. You can’t hide from this forever.”
I called the Chapel Hill police, whose new spokesman, Sgt. Bryan Walker, said he knows the community wants answers.
“This is not a cold case,” Walker said. “We are actively investigating leads.”
Walker’s department has been tightlipped from the start. A man’s DNA was collected from the scene; an FBI profile suggests Faith was likely familiar with her attacker.
If there were ever a mysterious murder, this seems to be it. Search warrants with far more detail have been sealed since shortly after the crime.
Back in Durham, I asked who wanted the warrants sealed.
“I did,” said Coggins-Franks.
“Why for a year now?”
No answer.
I did learn some new details during the meeting. Because of certain conditions at the scene, the team believes the murderer was emotionally driven to do the things he did.
I also learned that during the investigation, DNA has been collected from a number of people, in some instances voluntarily.
“The DNA from the scene may be connected to the murder,” Stanback said. “Or, it may not be.”
Prosecutors don’t necessarily believe Faith’s death had to do with her visit to a Chapel Hill club into the wee hours of the night before. She and her roommate were observed meeting and talking with several people. They said video from the club shows the two women leaving. The prosecutors would not be more specific.
“Sometimes you need one thing to break a case,” Stanback said. “Sometimes you make your own breaks. Perhaps we’re just one thing away.”
Stanback had another message.
“I believe the murderer is aware that someone else holds significant information about what happened. It’s been a year now. I am urging that person or persons to call somebody, clear their conscience, let it out. I don’t care how you do it. Just do it.”
Justice will come, Stanback said. “I feel confident it will.”
As the footstone on Faith’s beautiful burial plot in Warren County says, in white cursive on gray slate. “Just Have Faith.”
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at tgaspo@gmail.com or 919-219-0042.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

ONE MURDER. OTHER MURDERS.

The person who contacted me was almost frantic at first. Frantic but seemingly smart. Someone who’s done a lot a lot of digging, thinking and worrying. 

A person I’ll call BN. BN maintains that a man in his twenties with strong roots in central North Carolina — a man who some information suggests may be living in the state now and circulates in our area — ought to be interviewed in connection with the Faith Hedgepeth case. 




BN is a lay person with a theory. It would be easy to dismiss. It would also be reasonably easy to follow up on, too, if Chapel Hill police felt it worthwhile. 

BN tracks this man, essentially.

--

BN is dogged. Deluged me with information. 
BN answered any question asked. 
So, I listened to the story of why BN believes this man might have murdered Faith. And: at least two other women. One of them in our area, in addition to Faith. 

This man came onto BN’s radar when a young female relative — BN’s close family member — dated him. It did not go well. The man was quite frightening at times.

BN sent me the names and pictures of two other young women slain in recent years. Both cases are unsolved. One happened in the Triangle, another out of state where this man has lived and worked. BN also sent me a picture of BN’s family member.

When Faith’s photo is included side by side, there is no question the facial and hair similarities between the four women are striking. BN has that part right.

--

This kind of tip, this kind of outside “investigation,” this kind of pressure, is the kind Chapel Hill police have received on the Faith Hedgepeth case. The Durham County District Attorney’s Office is deeply involved, too.

I’ve listened to stories such as this throughout my a career as a crime writer. In a murder case, there’s only one real story in the end, though, so tips are either relevant or lead to nothing. It is so tough to know which ones get should attention and which should not.

--

I know the name and background of the man BN is focused on. His internet persona is at times disturbing. The man now indicates on social media that he is dating a young woman in a major Triangle city. In one photo, he wears a UNC cap.

The man’s ego is giant-sized. He clearly believes he is what women desire. He says he’s modeled. He may have a past link to the military. For now, I’ll leave it at that.

--

As I’ve said, the physical similarities between the three murder victims BN points to (one being Faith) caught my eye. Wait. They seized my attention, really. So I read the stories about the other two cases, including the one in the Triangle besides Faith’s. Some elements of the murders were similar, and some were not.

A depraved murderer is clearly capable...of murdering again. And of having murdered before.

--

These investigations start in small circles, expand outward as needed. After a year since Faith Hedgepeth died, how big is the circle? How big should the circle be? 

The police keep asking for help, though. One piece, just one piece of information, may be crucial. 

Someone always knows something.

BN has a theory. I’ve sketched it out in broad strokes. I see where BN is coming from. At least BN is trying. 

There are some people who are not trying. Who are not stepping up. Why not?

Contact: Chapel Hill Police





Thursday, September 12, 2013

POTENTIALLY CRUCIAL MEETING FRIDAY AFTERNOON ON HEDGEPETH INVESTIGATION

It is my understanding that members of the Chapel Hill Police Department working on the Faith Hedgepeth case will be meeting Friday afternoon, the 13th, with key individuals in the Durham County District Attorney's Office.

It is possible that what emerges from that meeting, either shortly after or reasonably soon, could fundamentally alter the course of the investigation, or at least the number of personnel assigned to it...and maybe the energies and new ideas coming to bear on it.



I believe that, to date, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) has not been involved in any significant way from a day-to-day investigative standpoint. The SBI has far greater potential resources than the Chapel Hill PD. Has the CHPD declined to ask for the SBI's help? If so, why?

After a year with no arrest, there is and will be pressure on Chapel Hill investigators to let the SBI come in and do some major reviewing of the case, re-interview people, analyze major leads past and present, and as much as anything, get some fresh eyes on the investigation...where it has been and where it can go. If there are particular suspects who persist, maybe there are new ways to approach those scenarios.

From what I know, it is no doubt a highly difficult case.

As well, additional investigators from another agency can also create tension, confusion, overlapping boundaries and unnecessarily duplicative work, and sharp disagreements. Disagreements can fuel progress or they can lead to missteps. But, one hopes, serious debate now about tactics and targets would be wise.

--

My impression is still that the main attacker comes within a group of 10-12 people, and that someone fairly close to Faith may know who that is, suspect who that is, or been involved knowingly or unknowingly. It just seems a bit too coincidental that a random person is in the area... or even a stalker -- and gets into Faith's apartment not long after her roommate leaves, around or after 4 in the morning, after Faith has left a club. So, perhaps it is someone who knew Faith and her roommate had just gotten home, or even that Faith was alone and access was there. How would they know?

--

If the SBI is invited in, the question always becomes: who is in charge? Also, how effective is the SBI? It's an agency that's taken some serious hits in recent years. Maybe some parties don't have confidence in the state agents or their supervisors.

I predict that Durham DA Leon Stanback will sort through all of this — and make some tough decisions, as well as keep a sustained and close eye on how things go. We know he is deeply frustrated, as everyone is.

As I wrote in my previous blog post, clearly this individual or these individuals are deadly dangerous. Faith's murder and murder scene were extremely disturbing, and indicative of of a very driven assailant.

He or they can do it again. This is not an investigation that can be anything less than intense. Can it?

Is there a "witness" who is scared, either because they know something, or because they did something? Or, did one man manage to know precisely when to go to the apartment to find Faith alone, find a way in, murder her, not leave DNA and have an alibi that can't be broken or one that simply states...he was alone.



We'll see if the meeting Friday leads to more activity, different methods, more pressure from authorities publicly offered, or more pressure from the public and Faith's family.

Let's hope the meeting doesn't involve finger pointing, but COMPLETE cooperation.

If a case needs new eyes, let's get new eyes.

                                                                           #





Monday, September 9, 2013

MUCH MORE ON THE FAITH HEDGEPETH CASE

Ive done further reporting on the Faith Hedgepeth murder in recent days, part of a pivotal period for public attention to the case. It was a year ago last Friday that a person or persons ended the 19-year old UNC-Chapel Hill student’s life. Authorities keep asking for help, yet they say little. I thought it was time to say a little more.

I am carefully considering my words…since it is true that some specific information is the kind only the murderer would know. 

I do now have an account of the nature of Faith’s injury/injuries, as well as her body position and other associated circumstances from the room in which she was found. It’s better not to disclose these, because the assailant may very well be reading stories on the case. That would not surprise me. The details are disturbing.

--

A murderer is out there. He — and it is probably a man (but in my view, he may have had some kind of assistance before, during or after the fact from a woman and/or another man) — is fully capable of doing this again. 

Fear of another murder is completely understandable. It was that kind of crime, the kind that says this person is someone who has no stopping point, no governor on his actions or his cruelty. No conscience, it would seem. 

If emotions were raised to the point of homicide that night, they can be again. Something or someone just has to trigger those emotions. It might not take much. 

If significant amounts of alcohol were involved, heavy drinking can, of course, occur again.

--

After further investigation, I have a pretty good idea who some of the people are who were talked to and/or examined and discussed in the first hours, days and weeks after the murder — and why — ranging from the two men Faith and her roommate were talking to at a club a few hours before she died, to other males at the club that knew her, Faith’s friends (male and female), former boyfriends, her roommates’s friends and acquaintances —including a current athlete at a major area university — and Faith’s many coworkers. 

The circle of people with interest in or access to Faith expanded as the investigation developed. People who met Faith did not tend to forget her. 

I have also learned that someone involved in the case may have wittingly or unwittingly created the opportunity for the crime to occur.

Some of the authorities involved have said with apparent certainty that male DNA recovered somewhere at the scene is the murderer’s. Maybe it came from material under Faith’s fingernails as she fought. But if the DNA is the murderer’s, one might assume all the men looked at have submitted samples. 

However, an individual not in formal trouble with the law can decline to do so, and there may not be enough probable cause for a judge to compel the DNA sample. Has anyone declined? Has anyone been compelled? 
--

I’ve been told that a woman closely connected to the apartment Faith was living in at the time of the murder has said she has been questioned by police vigorously — for hours — more than once. 

It is now my understanding that two young women were together and found Faith’s body. The other woman was also a friend of Faith’s. The two were seen coming down the stairs of the apartment building moments before police arrived. Sirens could be heard. 

I have learned that a member of the Chapel Hill police early on the scene had some question as to whether the apartment door was locked when the two women arrived and discovered Faith’s body.

I have learned that it’s been considered that the murderer may have been after the woman who left in the wee hours of the morning, not Faith. 

--

A person who lives in the apartment complex has given authorities information that creates a possible timeline for the crime — which could prove critical. I was asked, and agreed, not to disclose what that evidence is or how it was ascertained.

The resident told me that a male resident at the complex said “a few months” ago that authorities had “come around” taking DNA from male residents, including him. DNA could also be taken to exclude someone from suspicion, or to confirm a person’s presence in the apartment for other reasons.

This resident said that two or so weeks ago, two “plainclothes” Chapel Hill detectives stopped by. The detectives stood in the apartment and talked — while the resident sat — for about a half hour. They asked a question about whether the resident knew of people in the complex who had been talking about the case. The answer was no. They asked the resident if the resident had any sense of how often Faith and/or her roommate had had people coming by their place...more than a year ago now.

The resident had noticed nothing unusual.

--

The length of time now, and the range of men who may have been looked at, suggests just how difficult this case has been, especially since it appears the recovered DNA has not matched anyone who has submitted it. It tells me how many people have had to be interviewed or and/or studied and scrutinized. 

These men I’ve alluded to are just the men who came to the authorities’ attention. Faith went to UNC, with some 30,000 students. She was raised 
out of town, on the Haliwa-Saponi tribal community an hour or more away. 

She worked several different jobs in our area in recent years.

Or, this attacker could have been a stranger to Faith, but someone who’d seen her, stalked her and waited to strike. The apartment she was living in is simple to see from the parking lot, and from woods across the lot.

There is also what could be called an easy escape route behind that building, into some woods and on into another neighborhood.

--

The Chapel Hill Police and Durham District Attorney’s Office want calls. They want information. They want someone who knows something to be brave and talk about it. 

There are ways to get information to people privately who can do something with it. 

Also remember: there is a $39,000 reward potentially available. Callers, you don’t have to be an angel. You can be greedy and just do it for the money. Whatever it takes.


--

The sobering and sad truth is: some murders don’t get solved, or don’t get solved for years, having nothing to do with the quality of the investigation into them — or people’s desire to help. Sometimes, murderers are just passing through — those who have done it before and will do it again. That happens.

Police have intimated that’s not what happened here.

Faith Hedgepeth had everything to live for. This murderer could be in the shadows, or right in our midst, or far away…after a paroxysm early that morning against a spirited, remarkable young woman. He thinks he’s gotten away with it, or does he?

There may be investigative eyes on this assailant right now; there may not be. He — and any accomplices or those who may have obstructed justice — could be picked up tonight or next week. He or they could think they are smarter than everyone else, but they probably aren’t. 


Mistakes happen. People feel ashamed at their silence and come forward. 

People involved who own up to it first may get the better deal, if a deal is to be had. 

Secrets, secrets known only by a few, become wider known. Some are impossible to keep.

Someone may feel they know something somewhat relevant or very relevant but are afraid to speak up. They must continue to assess whether they are safer helping to get this attacker arrested or having him walk free.

They may finally be moved by the terrible loss of Faith. All of us have to look in the mirror. What is it that we see?

The attacker and anyone else possibly involved are exceedingly dangerous people, though they may appear as normal as anyone else. They may be running out of angles to play, or places to hide. Or, they may be sweating every minute of every day.

They might fold under the pressure. Because pressure is building.

I do know one thing for certain: there are a few people who will never stop pressing until they find out who murdered a woman so very much missed.

I can be reached at tgaspo@gmail.com or 919-219-0042.
                                                                             
                                                                            #