Police seek new leads in investigation of women’s deaths

LUMBERTON — The investigations into the deaths of three women whose bodies were found in East Lumberton in April and June have stalled because of a lack of new information and autopsy results.

The cases are active and are being treated as homicides, police Capt. Terry Parker said. Many people have been interviewed and many leads have been followed — and exhausted.

“We don’t have any new leads,” he said.

The bodies of Christina Bennett, 32, of the 1900 block of Eastwood Terrace, and Rhonda Jones, 36, of Troy Drive, both in Lumberton, were discovered April 18. One was found inside a house at 505 Peachtree St. and the other in a nearby trash container. The body of Megan Anne Oxendine, 28, of the 700 block of Dwight Road in Lumberton, was discovered June 3 behind an abandoned house at 608 E. Eighth St. Shortly after all three badly decomposed bodies were found they were sent to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Raleigh so autopsies could be performed.

The investigators still are waiting on autopsy results, Parker said.

“We’re still actively investigating the cases,” Parker said. “We just don’t have any new information.”

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has not indicated when the autopsy results will be ready, Parker said. The investigators were told early in the investigation that it could be six weeks or the end of the year before the results are ready.

“We’re still in a kind of holding pattern until we get a cause of death,” Parker said.

These cases have not been completed, said Kelly Haight, press assistant at the state Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Communications.

“Please keep in mind that every death investigation conducted by the OCME has its own unique set of facts and circumstances, and the length of time to complete a case can vary based on a number of factors,” Haight said. “Although individual reports and information are not released from the Office of Chief Medical Examiner prior to the completion of the case, the OCME is available for consultation with law enforcement should law enforcement have any questions that can be answered prior to case completion.”

While they wait on the medical examiner, the investigators are appealing to the public for information. Anyone with information about the cases is urged to call 910-671-3845 and ask for the investigating detectives.

“Someone out there’s got information we need,” Parker said. “We just don’t know who they are, yet.”

The lead investigator in the deaths of Bennett and Jones is Detective Evan Whitley, Parker said. Detective Jennifer White is the lead investigator in Oxendine’s death. Detective Derek Evans is the backup investigator for all three deaths.

No obvious signs of trauma indicating how the three women died were found on their bodies before they were sent to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Police Chief Michael McNeill said previously. The bodies showed no signs of blunt force, bullet wounds, head trauma or other violence.

“There isn’t even signs of rape,” he said. “There is not much left besides drugs … We just have to wait on toxicology.”

Toxicology testing screens for more than 600 compounds, and it may take months to get the results, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. More than 36,000 analytical tests are performed annually by the office. More than 4,400 drug autopsies were completed in 2016. More than 1,700 of them were related to poisoning.

Oxendine had a prostitution charge pending in Robeson County with a July court date. Neither Bennett nor Jones had any convictions or pending charges related to prostitution, but were found in an area known to law enforcement as a hub of prostitution and illegal drug use.

“We have been considering all of that,” McNeill said previously. “We are hearing the same things and we are not ruling anything out. We are still in the early stages of the investigation.”

By T.C. Hunter

Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974.