Probe into 3 deaths complicated by lack of cause

By: By Mike Gellatly - [email protected]
Michael McNeill

LUMBERTON — There were no obvious signs of trauma of what killed three women whose bodies have been found in Lumberton in the past two months, according to Lumberton’s top lawman, and that is making the investigation more difficult.

The main holdup in the investigation of the three women’s bodies is not knowing what caused their deaths, Police Chief Michael McNeill said. His department’s investigation is limited without a cause of death, which is expected to be determined by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Raleigh.

The bodies show no signs of blunt force, bullet wounds, head trauma or other violence, McNeill said.

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

Investigators are treating the deaths as homicides.

Toxicology testing screens for more than 600 compounds, and it may take months to get the results, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Three badly decomposing bodies have been found since April in a small area of Lumberton.

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. She had been interviewed by a television station following the discovery of the first two bodies, prompting more speculation about what was happening.

Since the first two bodies were discovered, fearful neighbors, acquaintances of the deceased and others have been on social media calling the deaths the acts of a serial killer, but law enforcement officers have not been willing to go there.

Fueling some of that speculation was the discovery of two bodies in the spring of 2009.

The bodies of Lisa Hardin, 36, and Michelle Ann Driggers, 23, were found about a mile apart. Hardin was found on Chippewa Street and Driggers in an overgrown cemetery on Hestertown Road. Their bodies displayed significant signs of trauma.

Then Police Chief Robert Grice spoke of the idea of a serial killer at the time.

“It could be coincidental or it could be that someone is out there targeting prostitutes,” Grice said. “But, at this point, it’s just too early to tell whether the two homicides are related.”

The cases remained unsolved.

Hardin and Driggers had faced prostitution charges. 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 Monday. “We are hearing the same things and we are not ruling anything out. We are still in the early stages of the investigation.”

More than 36,000 analytical tests are performed annually by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. In April, the office’s staff performed 138 autopsies, of which half were suspected overdoses. Last year 4,416 drug autopsies were completed. More than 1,700 were related to poisoning.

Michael McNeill McNeill

By Mike Gellatly

[email protected]

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly