LUMBERTON — The mother of one of three women whose decomposing bodies were found last year in the eastern part of Lumberton is frustrated and saddened as key questions about her daughter’s death remain unanswered.
“It’s been more than eight months and I still don’t know what happened to my child. I don’t even know how she died,” Sheila Price, mother of Rhonda Jones, said last week.
The body of the 36-year-old Jones, the mother of five children, was found in a trash container near a house at 505 Peachtree St. where the body of Christina Bennett, 32, of the 1900 block of Eastwood Terrace, was found the same day, April 18. Jones’ address was Troy Street.
The body of Megan Anne Oxendine, 28, of the 700 block of Dwight Road in Lumberton, was found June 3 behind an abandoned house at 608 E. Eighth St.
All three bodies were sent to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Raleigh for autopsies.
The autopsy results and toxicology reports haven’t been completed, Capt. Terry Parker, of the Lumberton Police Department, said Thursday.
Police investigators believe the deaths of Jones, Bennett and Oxendine are related, but the lack of the medical examiner’s reports and of new leads have brought the investigation at essentially a dead-end.
“There are so many unknowns, that’s why, we don’t know what we are dealing with,” Parker said. “We don’t know if it’s a homicide. We just don’t know.”
Parker says more could have been done to keep Price informed.
“We don’t have any new leads, no new information,” Parker said. “That is not an excuse. We dropped the ball and we will do better.”
Parker said he spoke to Price last week and apologized.
“I feel like they are doing their job as far as investigating and things like that,” said Jones’ sister Shirlyn, who asked to be identified by only her first name. “I don’t feel like they are keeping in contact with us like they should.”
Parker sympathizes with Jones’ family.
“I know they are frustrated, I would love to resolve this case as much as she (Price) does,” Parker said. “We would like to know what happened.”
Price, Shirlyn and law enforcement all are frustrated with the length of time the Medical Examiner’s Office is taking in completing its reports.
“Every death investigation conducted by the (office) has its own unique set of facts and circumstances,” Cobey Culton, a North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services spokesman, said Thursday. “The length of time to complete a case can vary based on a number of factors.”
Cases are pending until final review by a forensic pathologist to avoid providing preliminary information that may end up being incorrect or that would compromise a criminal or other investigation, Culton said.
Price wants to know how her daughter died, but where Jones’ body was found — in a trash bin — haunts her daily.
“I just want people to know from a mother having to wake up every morning and picture my child in that trash can,” Price said. “I mean nobody knows how it feels.”
Shirlyn said her sister was a mother, a daughter.
“She mattered, and she was thrown away like trash,” Shirlyn said.
Her sister’s nude body was found upside down in a trash bin, Shirlyn said. The body was so decomposed a large tattoo on Jones’ leg was the only identifying feature.
“In all honesty, I did ask him (Capt. Parker) to be straight with me, I kinda asked for it,” Shirlyn said. “I don’t regret it, cause if I wouldn’t have known I would still be wondering.”
Speculation of a possible drug overdose have spread through Lumberton.
Price and Shirlyn refuse to believe Jones voluntarily took a powerful drug such as heroin.
“Rhonda had a drug problem,” Shirlyn said. “She wasn’t your common drug addict. She had a heart of gold.”
Shirlyn understands the stigma surrounding drug users, but said her sister was loving, honest and didn’t bother anyone.
Jones’ drug of choice was crack, Price said. After finding self-help books from Jones’ stints in rehab, Price got a better understanding of what drove her daughter to consume the highly addictive drug.
“All Rhonda wanted was to see her kids,” Price said. “That is all she wanted.”
Jones and the father of her children had a tumultuous custody battle going on for years, the mother said. The last time she saw her kids was Mother’s Day 2016.
Jones had five children, ranging in age from 8 to 22, Price said. Jones died wanting to see her kids.
Price wants the father of Jones’ children to have compassion.
“I have a heart condition and a lot of health problems,” Price said, as tears flowed down her cheeks. “I don’t want to die wanting to see my grandbabies. Rhonda is dead, let us have a relationship with those kids.”
Undelivered presents for her grandchildren have been sitting in Price’s car since Christmas.
Price and Shirlyn are pleading for the public’s help.
“We know someone knows where her stuff is and what happened,” Price said. “That is what we want to know. Rhonda deserves that.”
Anyone who saw the women before their bodies were discovered is asked to call lead Detective Evan Whitley or Detective Jennifer White at 910-671-3845.
“We hope to shake lose new information that may lead to a resolution in these cases,” Capt. Parker said. “There is someone that knows what happened. Please come forward.”
She may feel gratification when the cause of Jones’ death is discovered, but she will never have closure, Price said.
“I will never have peace of mind, I picture my daughter stuffed in a trash can,” she said. “That was my baby.”
Reach Annick Joseph at 910-416-5165 or via email [email protected] or connect on Facebook Annick MultiMedia Journalist