From DNA testing to the Dixie Mafia, we bring you new stories of true crime in American history. Join writer & host Benjamin Morris for exclusive interviews with authors from Arcadia Publishing, writing the hottest books on the most chilling stories of our country’s past.
Chapel Hill Murder & Mayhem: An interview with author Rick Jackson
Chapel Hill has seen its share of violence and murder, but it has been able to push those instances aside and keep the ambiance of a Norman Rockwell–style small town. A walk through the campus of the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill can be inspiring, but the school has a darker side that has been well hidden. Over the years, there have been many murders that have taken place among the oak trees and in the dorms and frat houses on campus. Many of the murders are unsolved and remain mysteries to this day. The victims know the truth, though, that evil has no boundaries. Local historian Rick Jackson narrates the mysteries of one of North Carolina’s quaintest towns.
Rick Jackson is a native North Carolinian who grew up in Durham and now lives with his family in Wake Forest, just outside Raleigh. He currently teaches business and economic courses to high school students after spending many years in banking and finance in various positions. He has always had a passion for history and the stories of the people that lived it. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Campbell University and an MBA from The University of Mount Olive.
Now, as I understand it, your background is actually fairly unusual in that you were not an academic, or a police officer, or a judge, or involved in criminal justice in any way before you became an author. You had a bachelor's in history, but your actual background was in the business world. Is that right?
But just in the business where I was working in a retail grocery store at that point, and I was like, "Man, I could see that ceiling." I could see a ceiling where I'm like, "I'm going to get surpassed by people that were educated.” So, I was like, "I need to get a degree of some kind. But I've always enjoyed history, always loved history."
And so, I got a bachelor degree in history with the intention of one day possibly teaching because I had really had a great teacher when I was in middle school, guy named Hillis Haygood, my seventh and eighth grade science teacher. And he just really meant a lot to me.
But yeah, then after that, I got my bachelor's degree and I went into banking. So, banking for almost a decade. And my wife just come up, pretty much told me one day, she's like, "Hey, you've talked about being a teacher for years. You should go for it."
And I did. And I've been ... one thing about being a teacher is you do get time off. We have summers off and things like that and breaks. I was able to get my master's degree. I got an MBA while I was still here.
Well, so, Chapel Hill Murder & Mayhem, which I kind of call it Chapel Hill M&Ms in the back of my mind. Sort of like because there's a lot of both murder and mayhem in the book. And you get to kind of pick your poison. But it's not actually your first book at all. This is your third book. Tell us about your previous ones.
Yeah. So, first book I wrote was with my brother, William. We wrote Ghosts of the Triangle. This is back in 2009. And my brother also, is a history guy. He is got a bachelor degree from Campbell University also, just like myself.
I have a section for the mountains, the Piedmont, and the coastal plain where I pull out some of the big things that people may have heard of or read about or even remember. But also, some pretty obscure cases that they might not have.
And again, just to encourage people to learn a lot of the history of our area and just to see — or of our state. I mean, I am a North Carolinian, through and through. I think this is just the best place on face the earth.
There's been a quite a good bit over the years. And I guess I have to ask you in the interests of historical both enthusiasm and total lack of objectivity, did you do pirates in the previous book? Because North Carolina has some great pirates deep in its history.
Yeah, no, I mean, that's the thing. That's a book all in itself. Like North Carolina pirates. My family and I, we go to Beaufort quite regularly and down there that's just like Blackbeard central down there. And we've been to Bath and all up and down the coast. But yeah, that's a book in itself. Maybe that should be one of my next projects, but-
Well, like I said, my wife, who was my girlfriend, then fiance, she spent four years in Chapel Hill. So, I spent four years in Chapel Hill. I think I probably built some of the facilities up there through parking tickets, in all honesty.
Yeah, exactly, exactly. So, 20 years later, a marriage later. So, it definitely was well spent. But yeah, I mean, I basically spent four years up there myself without taking the classes, which was probably a better experience than what she had. Because she had to go through the actual schoolwork.
But it's just a ... I mean, anyone who's ever been to Chapel Hill just knows that it is just a really beautiful place. One of the most beautiful places in North Carolina. It just has a special feel to it. The stone walls, the trees, the old buildings.
So, yeah, it really drew me to the history of it. And also, because it's such a small town, and because I was looking at something that was the murder and the mayhem aspect of it, you don't expect that stuff in a beautiful small town place like Chapel Hill, but it's there. It's like hidden behind the beauty of these stories.
It's funny, Rick, I may have mentioned on this show once or twice in the past that I had the good fortune to study as a Blue Devil in the triangle in my earlier years, and got to take a class or two at Chapel Hill while I was living in Durham.
I used to ride that Robertson bus a couple days a week, back and forth and down 15-501. And I just loved walking around on the campus, and it just felt different in some of the other areas, as you say. There was kind of a peacefulness and a tranquility to it and a beauty.
And I'll say the kinds of cases that you describe in the book, I mean, they would have felt so foreign, so alien, so distant from that kind of tranquil very placid kind of relaxation that you felt as the spring light filters through the trees and the kind of the grass is nice and soft underfoot.
Yeah. And I think it's almost illustrative of our society's fascination, I think, with true crime, because it's so foreign for a normal person, I would say, to think of doing any of these things to another person, to like hurting people. These things are foreign to us.
And like I said, I think that's Chapel Hill really illustrates that. It's just like you've got this perfect world, but you peel a layer back of that onion and you're like, "Wow, that's pretty terrifying. That's not as perfect as I thought it was."
No, you're right. And I think that's one of the reasons that North Carolina has produced so many exceptional novelists, and playwrights, and storytellers over the years. Reynolds Price and William Styron, and just the list is acres long. I mean, you get that sense of folks hunting out that blood in the soil.
But let's go ahead and dive into some of these cases that you've got here in the book. The first one is really one that this week we're going to talk about sort of the gown of the town of gown, and next week we're going to go to the town. So, we're going to kind of take a look at a few cases here that took place on the university premises or around them.
Yeah, it's definitely more than that. I really shouldn't have used the word robbery, but I think that's what they kind of pinned it on at the time, is they tried to say it was a robbery. But really it's like you said, it really has a lot more to it than that.
What a lot of people don't realize about North Carolina in 1920, the Volstead Act, they had prohibition, and you really you had the rise of Al Capon and these gangsters and the crime wave kind of that hit the country.
Yeah, exactly. But I will say that when the '20s and '30s came around, you did see an uptick in crime. Like people were ... it became a bigger business. And of course, the newspapers had a lot to do with that too, because if you are seeing reports of crime in your newspapers, you're going to feel like that there's a crime wave. And that's kind of the era we were in by the time we get to '32.
But Chapel Hill definitely had their share of speakeasies, if you will. There was a famous restaurant called Brady's there. I think it's back where I think like a Siena Hotel or something is there now, off of Franklin Street. But that was a speakeasy.
There was a place called The Blind Tiger, where the village apartments are at. And the village apartments were pretty famous out there. And 15-501, you talked about driving into there, there was a shack that was a pretty famous speakeasy right where that building was as people drove in.
What happened is, on March 31st, 1932, again, there was a university hotdog stand on Franklin Street, and I'm not exactly sure what building is there now, like where it was. This is definitely, on Franklin Street.
But a black car sort of pulls up in front of it, couple guys get out. They dressed in the air. Like again, you can imagine Humphrey Bogart with his hat on and he comes in and he just kind of ... they sit at the counter, but they have their eyes on the manager named George Coleman. They're just staring a hole through this guy.
They order, get some Dr. Peppers, but they're just staring a hole right through this guy. It's later in the evening, it's about nine o'clock at night. And the back door's open to the ... it's again, before the air conditioning stuff. So, they're trying to air the place out.
And they just get up and walk right through the kitchen and walk out of the back door. And George Coleman, of course, being the manager, well, he's the one that's got to find out what these guys are doing. And he follows them out there.
And one of the guys is looking at an old cooler that's been thrown out there. And George Coleman comes up and he's like, "What's going on?" He's like, "Man, I'd like to buy this cooler." And he just kind of scratches his head, like, "What in the ... what are you talking about?"
And the next thing he gets whacked across the back of the head by the other guy with a stick that had been laying out there, and they just start brawling. Well, the reason they're doing this is because Coleman was not just a manager of a hotdog stand. This guy was big into running illegal booze around Chapel Hill. So, this guy's connected to different stuff.
But what they didn't realize is that apparently this guy Coleman, was some kind of UFC fighter before that even exists. Because he just starts throwing a beating to both of these guys. Like he is just fighting these guys off, and they're screaming, he's screaming.
But finally, he gets to the point where, because of that one whack with the stick, he's bleeding so bad, he can't see. And so, he can't see, he ends up getting off of him. And he kind of staggers out into the street. The guys run off, because I mean, again, their plan was a foiled because this guy's beat them up, they jump in their car and they take off.
And this is funny because, Rick, your case here has so many twists and turns. It's a short case in the book. It's only a few pages. But it was full of twists just about in every paragraph. And this was the first one when I was reading it, I thought, "These guys, they got the drop on him."
And typically, when you get the drop on somebody, element of surprise and all that, you come out ahead. But no, he manages to take the blow, shake it off, and turn the tables right on it. This just did not go how they thought it would go, did it?
No, not at all. I mean, and again, I don't know the background of George Coleman or the background of the guys, but I mean, they got a surprise shot off on this guy with a stick. Enough to make him so bloody that eventually he can't see them.
So, I mean, it's a pretty good start, if you're going to fight somebody. It's two guys and a blow to the head with a stick. So, the fact that he was able to turn the tide on, tells me this guy, he knew a little bit of something about what he was doing. Again, probably didn't learn that being a hotdog man
But yeah, so, again, they speed off. Well, right about that time, this officer named UM Rackley is coming out of a movie theater and people are yelling, because they know him. It's a small village, so they see him.
And they're like, "Officer Rackley, these guys just robbed this guy. They're taken off." Well, he goes and he requisitions a car. There is a car sitting there with a fellow in there, and his girlfriend, his name is Ashby Penn.
Now, Ashby Penn is a son of an American Tobacco Company, vice president named Charles Penn. So, he is very, very well connected, wealthy guy. I mean, just all-American boy. Handsome, has his girlfriend in the car with him. He's a junior there at UNC. Her name was Anne Edmonds.
And of course he's like "Let's go get them." So, Rackley jumps on the side of the car like you see just like on the movies. Another guy named Robert Stone is walking along with him. He jumps on the other side of the board and they just go peeling out of town.
Now, some newspapers that I read in my research, very few reported as there was like this car chase, it was even cooler than like what really happened. It was like there's a car chasing, they're bumping each other and like knocking each other around.
But what really happened is the bad guys are pretty good ahead of them. There's only one road leading out of town. So, they're heading towards Carrboro and they're behind them. But eventually, the car that Ashby Penn is driving gets a blowout. They fishtail a little bit and they're like, "Oh, we're going to have to stop."
But literally, as they're slowing down, as they're stopping, they see the other car ahead of them stopped. So, like, "Well, hey, we caught up to them." So, to this day, we don't really know what happened to the other car, but it knocked off somehow. Some mechanical problem also.
But when they get there, Rackley reported later that he did not want to approach the car because there was a lady in their car, he wanted to protect the lady. Stone reported that he kind of lost his nerve, I guess you'd say.
He was put in a situation where like he's ... it's almost like if you ever seen a dog chasing a car, then the car stops. They're kind of like, "What do I do now?" Now, that's kind of how he was. He was like, "I don't really know what to do."
Well, Ashby Penn again, he's all fired up and he's like, "Hey, well, give me your pistol. Like I'll go arrest these guys." And he does this. The police officer gives the other guy his pistol, and he goes up to the car to get these guys.
Yeah. He gets shot, I think in the left lung. Yeah. I think his left lung gets collapsed. So, he's pretty severely wounded. Rackley's gone, he's in the night, the bad guys in the night. The guy that got wounded in the car, he takes off in the car. He gets it started again. He starts driving. It's popping and wheezing, but his car starts to drive again.
So, gets in the car. Anne starts driving and Stone is ... well, no, no, no, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Stone didn't go with the one that drove, he drug him back to the car. But he goes to try to find someone to call for help. Like he goes to try to find a farmhouse or something. Anne starts driving back towards Chapel Hill.
On the way back to Chapel Hill, she ends up picking up Officer Rackley, who's like walking down the street back the other way. So, they get him back and they get him patched up. They get him at the Memorial Hospital. The guys, they take off.
But his testimony later was invaluable to catching the guys, but also, was invaluable unfortunately, for Rackley. Because again, the story he tries to weave is that he was just trying to protect the lady in the car.
Well, what sounds like to me, Rick, is that Anne Edmunds, the lady in the car, did not need any protecting, that she was doing just fine on her own. And that if she's able to commandeer this vehicle and drive it with three good tires at breakneck speed as fast as it could possibly go to get somebody help to the hospital.
Oh yeah. She was definitely, as the kids would call nowadays, a ride or die. Like she was there for him. Like she put that thing back on three wheels, got him back to town, and again, they got him patched up, but it was pretty touch and go.
So, they got their jail time, but really the whole situation just ruined this guy, Rackley. In my research, I found that he had to resign. He almost lost his house to taxes. I guess he didn't have a job after that for quite a while.
He ends up becoming a constable. Which different places used the term constable in different ways, but at the time, a constable in North Carolina was someone that goes out and serves like civil papers. So, basically he would work for a judge and the judge would pay him a fee. Every time he got a summons out, he would get a fee for that.
Ashby Penn, again, he survived, but he didn't live long. He died in 1950. He was 39. He served in World War II, but just didn't have a long life after that. But he did get married to Anne and yeah, he lived a full life in a short amount of time, kind of, so to speak. But-
Mostly from the participants like testifying and giving like kind of after action reports, but also, just from the newspaper reports from other people that witnessed it. Because you'd get some people, a reporter at one paper may interview someone that was in the restaurant. And like someone else might pick up someone that was on the street coming out of the theater with Rackley.
And like I said, but then it gets disputed because, of course Rackley has a story, and then Stone has a story, and Ashby, and Anne, they all have their own stories. Then you have to kind of see where they line up.
Yep. Now, there was this other interesting aspect, which you describe. They did find the four guys. They fingered the first guy first, the one who was wounded, and then they tracked down the other three sort of as a matter of the investigation and so forth, the guys who scattered into the woods.
Robert Thomas, he had been a chief of police up in Mount Holly. Man, I don't have my notes in front of me right now, for that, but yeah, he had been a chief. Which Mount Holly's a very small town, so he was probably like maybe a chief and a deputy, kind of like a Andy Griffith kind of situation.
But again, he was a respectable guy, but he was definitely connected with, like I said, this burgeoning bootlegging community. And I don't want to like really tell you any like facts without me having here, but he definitely was involved.
But that Volstead Act and the rise of these bigger Chicago, Atlantic City, New York, and in Virginia, these different places, these rise of these larger criminal networks really turned up the dial on the profit, I guess you would say, that was out there to be made.
Well, Rick, I got to tell you, we here at Crime Capsule, we love a bootlegger and we have spent many an episode chasing those taillights around the back woods of southern roads and southern counties, from Texas to the Carolinas. And there's just kind of nothing that gets us happier than getting to meet yet one more bootlegger.
And at this point, I have to plug, there's another history press title, which we ran an article on back when Crime Capsule was a website, which is the illicit moonshine on North Carolina book by Frank Stephenson and Barbara.
Molder has some of the best photographs of the homemade stills that you see in the back woods that you'll ever encounter. I mean, just the most elaborate magnificent creations and everybody's just searching for a little bit of that firewater back in the day. Can you blame them?
Yeah. And again, if you think about it, if we're operating from 1908 into the Volstead Act, well, now, if you are looking for alcohol in other states where people in North Carolina used to have to go across the border to get it or buy it from a bootlegger, now, you've already got all these bootleggers in North Carolina who have all those things built.
They've already got the steels, they've already got the routes they run. And that's why you saw the crime really tick up because they have been a smaller scale, but now, everybody's looking for business. They're looking for that source, the distributors, things like that. So, yeah, there was money to be made, for sure.
Yep. Well, and we have to give credit where credit is due. I mean, good heaven, state of North Carolina invented NASCAR to convert all those cars that were running from the cops into something lawful in the first place.
We do love it. Let's turn over to a couple of cases in the middle of your book back on campus again. These are a little less entertaining, but they are fascinating because out of the two dozen or so cases that you describe in Chapel Hill M&M, only a few actually happened on campus. But these were very serious cases that happened on campus.
Yeah. So, in the case of Putnam Davis, and I thought this was fascinating because when we think of time periods, like we, of course, live in our time now. But then there were times before where people just looked at things and saw things just differently than we did.
And in this case, like you can tell that there's something going on that we would look at today and say, “Okay, well, like there was definitely some mental health situation going on with Putnam Davis."
But Putnam Davis in 1954, he was a frat brother for the Phi Delta Theta house, it's on South Columbia Street there in Chapel Hill. But he's there, he's rooming. I mean, he plays cards, he drinks. I mean, imagine basically like Animal House. I think that movie took place in like 1960.
And so, they're partying and drinking, but he was just widely known as just kind of an odd cat. Like he didn't say a whole lot. And he was very ... ah, let me see if I got ... there was a term they used for him.
A lot of people called him like hypersensitive, I think is what they would say. Like he was just hypersensitive to everything, and he'd either get upset or just like kind of disconnect. But now, that being said-
Yeah, thin skin. But that being said, he was just considered to be kind of like a quiet, quirky kid that just kind of kept to himself a little bit, but yet he still participated in these frat things. So, it's kind of odd to just place him in that place.
It's almost like he … again, a guy that came from a wealthy family. He was an artist, he's a pretty good artist from everything I've read. He was a sculptor. His work had been presented and stuff. So, he almost seems out of place in this social environment that he's in. So, one has to wonder if like his father kind of pushed him into this environment.
But what happened with him night in May, they're just partying all day. It's just been a big party. They had a big pool party somewhere. They had come back to the frat house about 2:00 AM. You had William Joyner and Allen Long, were two of the brothers at the fraternity house, and they roomed together.
And Putnam Davis just kind of came and kind of started hanging out with them while they were playing cards and drinking. They played card, they moved up to their room, they ended up in their little dorm room there. And they're just drinking all night.
Putnam's just sitting there, just kind of listening, not really contributing to any of the conversations, kind of listening to what's going on, just staring at the wall. Morning comes, they're kind of yawning, "We got stuff to do. We better get some sleep." Putnam's just there-
Yeah, absolutely. And they're kind of trying to lay down hints that maybe it's time for Putnam to move on. But he doesn't, he just kind of sits there. Well, excuse me, Allen, he gets up and he goes to the bathroom. And as he's coming through the door, he hears a gunshot. Hears a couple gunshots, not just one.
When he comes back in the room, turns around and he comes in and he looks over and he sees that his buddy, William, has been shot. And then like his eyes kind of go to the upper corner of the room, and there's Putnam Davis sitting on the bottom bunk of their bunk beds holding a pistol.
Putnam catches his eye, turns the pistol on him, and takes a shot at him. Misses the first time and then as he's running away, shoots him in the back. And he's just like, basically, "What in the world is going on here?"
And a couple more shots come from the room. He's crawling in the hall screaming for help. A guy named — they call him Dr. Reit, Matthew Mason, he finally comes up and he hears it. The other brothers kind of hear this stuff and they come find him.
And he says, "Hey, brother Davis shot me." Like trying to say, “Brother Davis shot me.” And they go back up there, and by the time … like he's even is still in this moment, like he's in that frat brother vibes.
Yeah. And to just put this in context, (not to jump ahead) when the police come investigate, there were 50 empty beer cans in this room where these three guys had been all night. So, these guys, they've been kind of going on hard at it.
But when they went up there and looked, Putnam Davis was there, had a small revolver in his hand, had a bullet hole in his head. So, he had obviously taken his own life. They were able to get both of in to the hospital, get them healed up.
But again, yeah, absolutely, thankfully. But really, there was nothing. They searched this guy, Putnam's his house, they searched his stuff. There was no note, no diary, nothing to indicate that he was going to harm anyone or himself at any point.
But again, everybody said that that night he was just acting just extra, extra odd. And the fact is, like I say, we look at this now, we read this case and we're like, "Hey, man, like this guy was absolutely — something else was there. Like something was going on that we didn't see."
So, that takes place at the fraternity house. And then just a few years later, elsewhere on campus, we have a very similar scenario. I mean, it just 6, 7 years later, we have yet another sort of unsolved, unexplained, kind of mysteries surround another murder, suicide or attempted murder, suicide. I mean, it's just kind of crazy how quickly these things happened back-to-back.
Yeah. And this one was the one that happened at Cobb dorm, which I think is cool. It's not cool that it happened, but a lot of my students, because I'm a high school teacher now, I go to UNC. And if they ever say like, "Oh, I'm staying at Cobb dorm." I'm like, "Hey, let me tell you a story."
But there you had two young men. It's 1961, so, it's like you said, like very shortly after that, they didn't show up for work at their work assignment. And the guy calls a place and there was a custodian there, and he was like, "Well, hey, I went into their room."
A guy named William Johnson Jr. and James Barham, he says, like, "I just went into the room, they're sleeping, they're still asleep." And he just didn't seem right. It was like 11 o'clock and it's getting on towards afternoon, and they'd never been late to work before.
They walk there, but as they get to the door, the custodian that he had spoken to, he's coming out the door and he starts telling, he's like, "Hey, I went back up to check on these kids because this guy called me and these guys, I think they're dead." And they go check on them and sure enough, they were.
But what had happened is, talking to the other people that lived in the dorm, they said around midnight the night before, was the last time they had saw him. Around midnight, James Barham was in the bathroom getting ready for bed, brushing his teeth and stuff like that. And he just fell out, just absolutely passed out on the ground.
A lot of the students came and grabbed him, and Johnson was like right there. Johnson's the roommate. He comes out, he's like, "No, no, no. Like he doesn't need to go anywhere. He's fine. I'll take care of him. Just bring him in the room. He just needs to sleep it off."
It was very odd how pushy he was to the other people in the dorm. But again, there had been no indication that he would not take care of him or say if something got worse, and they were he was like, "Hey, just lay him in my bed."
So, lay Barham in Johnson's bed. I guess Johnson goes to sleep in his bed. But the next morning, they find them both dead in their bed and nothing's happened. But they were both dead, but they were both poisoned with cyanide. There was no cyanide in the room found with them, like no traces of anything. But they both had died of cyanide poison.
Yeah. So, of course like I said, they determined that was the cause of death. But like you said, they searched like some cups and things that they found in the room. There was no trace of cyanide in the room at all.
So, if initially you might look and say, "Well, these two guys, someone poisoned both of them." Like that's what you initially think. Because like they must have — someone gave them something to eat or gave them something to drink. But none of that was ever found.
About that same time, there was a sudden death of a photographer named Robert Smith Malden. He was 33 years old. He was there as a graduate student, and he was there as a photographer. And the same day as they were found, he was found dead on his couch.
And then they also, linked that back. They had a guy named Ralph Sergeant, had been arrested for dispensing cyanide pills to students. So, this guy had taken cyanide from a dental laboratory that he had worked at.
He was cooperative with the police though. He swore that he had never sold any to either one of these guys. And the police actually came back and said, "Well, he must not be connected to Malden or the death of these two guys." Now, what you need a cyanide pill for, other than this?
Yeah. I mean, there's one thing it's for, I mean, as far as I know. Man, I'm no chemist. Maybe somebody's listening to this and they're like, "Oh, well, you use this for this." But there's nothing I've ever heard of it before than poison people. I'm sure it has some practical use somewhere, but not for people carrying around a pill for them.
Yeah. Especially not in a pill form. Like so, definitely it seems like that it was being sold to people that were probably considering taking their own lives or up to some kind of other, like more devious thing.
Yeah, absolutely. Somehow was ruled out of the investigation and the police ... again, with this being so unsolved and so odd of a situation, it led to all kind of speculation as to what could have happened with these two guys.
There was all kind of speculation that maybe someone had given them something or someone had been in the room and snuck out somehow. There was speculation that maybe they had been in a relationship and there was like a murder, suicide or a joint suicide kind of thing.
And there was also, a speculation that maybe there had been some advances by maybe Johnson to Barham. And maybe he had fed him something, like giving him some kind of pill. And then once that took effect, he took something himself to take his own life. Once he saw that Barham was going to be dead.
Yeah. And there were plenty of cases through the years, and I think there's even one or two in your book where the abiding logic is, if I can't have you, then nobody else can. And that's the one of those sad twists of the human mind that leads to so much suffering, for sure.
Well, I do appreciate the way that you pair those in the sense that we can see the distance that has been traveled as far as offering mental health services to students in different levels of education in the present day.
And it goes without saying, but we should say it anyway, that if anybody out there in podcast land is struggling with anything, make sure you go and find someone and get some help and talk to somebody. We absolutely advocate for that.
So, Rick, let me ask you. This last case is unsolved. These past two have been kind of unsolved as far as we don't really know kind of what went into, but we do know that we were able to identify at least the perpetrators to a degree.
This last case featuring Suellen Evans is the textbook example of an unsolved murder. And this happened right on the campus of UNC, Chapel Hill as well. And it also, happened just a few short years after this last murder. So, we're now, in the mid '60s, aren't we?
Yeah, we're in 1965. We're hot summertime. It's a summer day, summer school, UNC, Chapel Hill. Suellen Evans was from Mooresville, North Carolina, and she was 21 years old that summer.
Rick Jackson (45:04):
She had been going to Catawba College. She had finished her second year there, and she had applied and got accepted to UNC Greensboro. Which I'm pretty sure had just switched over from being I think the like woman's college or North Carolina Women's College to be in like UNC Greensboro itself proper.
Rick Jackson (45:24):
And so, she was going there and she went to UNC Chapel to just make sure she was caught up. Like she did not want to go into UNC Greensboro behind her peers. But every account I’ve read says she was a really friendly girl, but she was not.
Rick Jackson (45:39):
She was there to go to school. Like she didn't have a ton of friends. It wasn’t she was antisocial. It was just, for her, it was more important to get done what she needed to get done. And then every chance she got, she would go back home to her parents and to her friends back home.
Rick Jackson (45:54):
So, not a lot of people really intimately knew her in Chapel Hill, so she was kind of there by herself. But she was staying at Cobb dorm also, but she didn't make it back to Cobb dorm this day. She was going to head home that summer day and she had to stop by Alumni Hall to speak to a professor, and then she was going to cut across the arboretum over to Raleigh Street and then down to Cobb.
Rick Jackson (46:22):
But as she's coming out, as she's coming through this arboretum … and I tried to think of it, if you've been there recently, the paths are well defined and there's lighting. And I don't know what it looked like in ‘65. I would think-
Benjamin Morris (46:37):
I was absolutely going to ask you, because I wondered whether those concerns had made their way into the consciousness of the groundskeepers or of the administration. So often in these older universities in the early part of that century, you don't see that level of recognition that you see today.
Rick Jackson (46:59):
Yeah, absolutely. I feel like when I was there last, after I had written the book and I'm walking through and I was looking at the way things are set up and I was like, “I wonder if this is set up because of Suellen Evans. Like I wonder what it looked like that 1965 day.
Rick Jackson (47:17):
Because like you said, I don't think that when they did things back then they sat down necessarily and said, “Hey, what is the safety aspect of this going to look like?”
Rick Jackson (47:26):
But it was enough foliage and it was enough to conceal someone from her as she walked along, because she was literally just snatched up right before she was coming out over on Raleigh Street. And this is the middle of the day. This is like 12:30. This is just haunting.
Benjamin Morris (47:46):
That’s what's so amazing about it, yeah. Broad daylight, yeah.
Rick Jackson (47:49):
Yeah, broad daylight. But yeah, someone just reached out and grabbed her, tried to pull her in. Now, look, Suellen, she put up a fight. I mean, she fought this guy that had her with all her might. She's screaming, she's fighting, and people heard her.
Rick Jackson (48:07):
And what's actually interesting is a couple … there were two nuns on Raleigh Street that heard her. So, I mean, I've never seen a nun in Chapel Hill, but I think that's kind of odd part of the story too, but like two nuns
Benjamin Morris (48:18):
Rick Jackson (48:20):
Yeah. I mean, I guess they're there, but maybe they're not still. But they came in, everybody came running. But as they came in, no one really ever got a good look at the person that had attacked her.
Rick Jackson (48:34):
But as she's fighting him off, and as this person hears people coming, she's pulling away from him and he pulls out a knife and stabs her and hits her right in the heart. I mean, just like pop — that one blow just hit her right in the heart. And it's a very sad scene.
Rick Jackson (48:55):
She collapses on a bed of periwinkles and she's laying there, she's bleeding out. And one of the nuns comes and kind of cradles her head. She's just holding this young girl. And this young girl looks up at her and she says, “He tried to rape me. I think I'm going to faint.”
Rick Jackson (49:10):
And she did. Oh, well, she didn't faint, but she closed her eyes. And that's the last time Suellen Evans opened her eyes. Like she was gone right there.
Rick Jackson (49:21):
It was too late for her, she passed away, unfortunately. But people really got behind finding who did this. The police came and they snatch up a couple people nearby, but questioning them, nobody's really linked.
Rick Jackson (49:36):
I think they ended up questioning like over 200 people, over I think 250 leads. They file a 116 suspects, go over the country. 500 students come out like canvas the place looking for clues, they raise money. But just never … I mean, like you said, it's just totally an unsolved case.
Rick Jackson (49:59):
There's probably a box somewhere that has the information in it that could probably lead you to have a pretty good idea of who did it. But they were just never able to bring any charges on this.
Benjamin Morris (50:14):
Yeah. Was there ever … the whole thing is just awful all around. I think about those nuns and I think not all heroes wear capes. I mean, just how grateful we can be that they were there, at least to minister to her in her last moments. I mean, that's one small silver lining in all of these dark clouds.
Benjamin Morris (50:35):
But I wanted to ask you, was there ever any kind of marker or memorial stone? Or was there ever anything sort of placed to commemorate Suellen's life at the spot where she died?
Rick Jackson (50:48):
No, I don't think there's … I mean, nothing that I've seen that was there. Man, you feel like there should be something in a place like that. I mean, that would fit right into the arboretum there and she definitely would deserve something like that.
Rick Jackson (51:02):
Now, that being said, it's very possible people put markers in different ways. It's very possible in 1968, someone went and gathered around, they planted a special tree or something in her honor that's just been kind of lost to history. But as far as like something with her name on, a stone, I've never seen anything like that.
Benjamin Morris (51:23):
Yeah. Well, we are grateful to you, Rick, for the way that you honor her memory in such a respectful and sensitive way. It's a sad case, but I thought that you handled it with a great amount of grace and dignity afforded to her.
Benjamin Morris (51:40):
And you never know what kind of things might pop up down the road or a deathbed confession or piece of evidence or it is just sometimes these cases sleep for decades until they awaken and you never know. You never know.
Rick Jackson (51:53):
Yeah, absolutely. I know I spoke to a police investigator about a case one time and he told me, he said, “I know exactly who killed this little girl who I was looking into for a case.” He said, “But knowing and proving are two different things.” And he said, “I've had to ride around for 20 years and pass this guy on the road or see him at the grocery store.”
Rick Jackson (52:22):
So, like I said, it's very possible that well, someone knows exactly who did this because somebody was who did it. But it's very possible that the police could have known. But because it is a cold case, I mean, this is a case that pops up every once in a while.
Rick Jackson (52:37):
I mean, this is still a case probably out of all the cases in the book, this is the one that'll resurface at times that the police are looking back into it. Or that someone's picked up this cold case to try to solve it.
Rick Jackson (52:49):
So, hopefully, they do, because there's someone out there that needs to know to have some closure on this. There's people that knew this young girl and loved her personally. And I would love to see something happen. Some information come out on this.
Benjamin Morris (53:04):
Yeah. Well, I can't think of a better place to end this week than on a note of hope like that. So, we sure do appreciate that.
Benjamin Morris (53:12):
And we will be right back here next week to take a look at some of the cases that happened off camp.