Hey, y’all! Welcome to Southern Macabre, a podcast focusing on true crime, missing persons, and the paranormal in the south.
I started researching an insane case in Robeson County, North Carolina and I fell down the rabbit hole. There are so many cold cases from this area and, to me, it seems like they could be solved if someone would speak out. Today’s episode has a lot of names and information so you may need to visit the blog to read the transcript. You will also see pictures of the missing and the victims and links to my sources as well. In case you, too, want to go down this rabbit hole.
So as I said, today’s story comes from Robeson County in Southeast North Carolina where it touches South Carolina. It’s a large county at 949 square miles with about 130,000 residents. Most of the residents, 39%, are Native American. 1 in 2.6 residents live below the poverty line. Cities include Lumberton, Red Springs, Fairmont, Maxton, Pembroke, Saint Pauls, Rowland, Barker Ten Mile, Prospect, and Elrod.
There is a lot of swampland and, this may shock you, there are alligators there. In 2014 a nine foot 350 pound monster gator was found and shot by wildlife officials after locals started gathering around it. With all of the people missing I can’t help wondering how many ended up in the swamps with his friends.
Since 2008, the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office has investigated over 280 homicides. Not all of them were murder cases. Over half of the victims were Native American. This is not unique to this area, sadly. This is a nationwide problem, but I wanted to focus on one area at a time in order to give you as much information as possible. There is a nationwide movement, #MMIW. It stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and the list is long just on Facebook.
In 2016, the Justice Department estimated the murder rate of Native American women is ten times higher than the national average. The number of human trafficking victims is also substantially higher, but harder to produce numbers.
Lumberton, North Carolina is a town with 20,484 residents and a murder rate higher than the national average. They stopped reporting crime data to the FBI in 2018. It’s not hard to find articles about most of the murders happening there, especially if they’ve been solved.
The following cases have not been solved and the families fear that they will never get answers. I pray that someone reading or listening can do something and will. No matter the circumstances, these families all deserve answers and the victims deserve justice.
We’ll start with Stephanie Lynn Lewis who was last seen walking away from the Days Inn in Lumberton, where she worked, on October 12, 2004. She was desperately trying to find a ride to Virginia, but no one knows why. She was twenty-one years old at the time and 5’3” tall and about 100 pounds. She had black hair and green eyes. Her tribe is unknown, but she is Native American.
If you knew/know her please get in touch with me, I would love to talk about who she was/is.
In 2006 Robeson County faced an embarrassing scandal that I think plays a role in the rest of these cases. Not that the police department is doing anything wrong today, but because of the consequences of previous officer’s actions. The scandal was called “Operation Tarnished Badge”. The sheriff and eleven deputies were arrested and convicted of such offenses as drug trafficking, possession, distribution, and stealing money during drug busts. Fifteen officers also quit that same year. By 2008, twenty-two lawmen had been convicted. This means a lot of young and inexperienced officers on the force.
District Attorney Johnson Britt estimated between 200 and 300 drug-related cases were dismissed and 150 people convicted of drug related offenses in Robeson County had to be released. Drugs and gang activity is still a major problem in this county today, even though they have had at least two new sheriffs since Operation Tarnished Badge. That many people involved with drugs coming back into a county without seasoned law enforcement is a recipe for disaster and has been.
If that’s not enough, in 2004 the sheriff’s office was raided by federal agents who confiscated computers and documents. Allegations included money laundering, kidnapping, and pirating satellite TV signals.
After talking to a few residents in Robeson County, there are still many who don’t trust local law enforcement. Especially with gangs becoming bolder, drugs easier to get, and the number of murders climbing almost daily. It seems that law enforcement is trying to do the best they can, but that’s hard when the community is wondering when another scandal is going to come out.
Lauren Holmes, age 23, was found shot to death at the end of Holly Swamp Church Road on Easter Sunday 2013. After going out with friends three nights earlier, her family became concerned that she wasn’t home. This was unusual for the mother of three.
Her male friend claimed that he dropped her off at her house the night they partied, but he didn’t watch her go inside. Her keys, cellphone, and purse were allegedly found in his car.
The morning Lauren should have been home with her mother, Starr Hunt, and her three daughters, someone shot into their home. Starr was shot in the arm. None of the children were harmed.
Her death was ruled a homicide by the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office in 2013. Since then, no arrests have been made and Lauren’s family has received little to no information about her case.
This next case piqued my interest because there are so many weird parts to it.
Sara Nicole Graham, age eighteen, had moved recently from Texas to Fairmont, North Carolina in Robeson County to spend time with her dad who it doesn’t seem she knew very well. Her parents separated when she was young and she moved to Texas with her mom.
She left for work at 6:30am on February 4, 2015. She worked as a cashier/door greeter in Pembroke, North Carolina and her shift started at seven. She lived twenty minutes away, but she never made it that day.
So, she was borrowing her father’s older white Chevy Astro van. It was found in a wheatfield off Old McDonald Road about twelve minutes from her home around noon that day, but people reported seeing it in the wheatfield as early as 6:45 that morning once they knew it belonged to a missing teen. No one saw Sara or anyone else around the van.
There wasn’t any damage to the van or signs of a struggle around the van. Also, it was locked which would have been done manually, either from inside the van or with the key on the outside. This makes me think that it was locked by someone who either didn’t want the van or something in it stolen. Like they cared about the van. Why would Sara lock it if she’s being abducted? Or why would an abductor take the time? I may be way off, maybe it was a habit for Sara, but this seems weird to me.
When the van was discovered, Fairmont Police Department launched a search utilizing numerous police officers, 140 volunteers, and a K-9. They searched from her home to the wheatfield and from the wheatfield to the Walmart where she worked. Nothing was found.
Sara’s father, Hubert, was a Sergeant with the Robeson County Sheriff’s office and her stepmother, Connie, was a Deputy with the same office. Connie was fired six weeks after Sara’s disappearance; she had worked there for twenty-three years. The Sheriff’s Department said it wasn’t because of the case but was related to “personnel issues”.
Connie was never named a suspect or person of interest in the case and she was never arrested.
Following his daughter’s disappearance, Hubert left the Sheriff’s office in 2018 to become a police officer in Maxton, a town of 2,346. He had been with the Sheriff’s office for about fifteen years.
According to The Red Justice Project, a great podcast, her dad and stepmom don’t post about her on social media, not even on her birthday or on the anniversary of the day she went missing. I have seen that happen before, but in the other case, it seems the family knows what happened. There’s just not enough evidence to get a conviction.
Sara was born April 1, 1996 and was a member of the Lumbee Tribe. If you know anything, or just think you might, contact the Robeson County Police Department or the FBI in Charlotte, North Carolina.
I was actually researching a different episode in North Carolina when this case jumped out at me and I knew I had to talk about it today. It has been covered by YouTubers, news media, and podcasters. I know I usually try to do little known cases, but this one really hit me and will stick with me for the rest of my life, like Sofia, Kristen, and Kati.
On April 18, 2017, Lumberton police were called out to an abandoned house because of a weird smell. They searched the house and found the naked, decomposed body of Christina “Kristen” Bennett stuffed in a TV cabinet. There are rumors that she may have been a prostitute and was trying to quit and stop using drugs.
Neighbors came out of their homes when they saw police and noticed a strange smell coming from a trash can. Police found the naked, decomposed body of Rhonda Jones, a 36-year-old woman who knew Kristen. She had quit prostituting and using drugs and was trying to get the courts to allow her to see her children. Rhonda may have been an informant around the time of her death.
Ms. Sheila, Rhonda’s mama, said that she was a very clean person and she feels the killer or killers knew that and put her in the trashcan to humiliate her. Her nose was broken, but the coroner couldn’t tell if that was done before she died, or if the person shoving her into the trashcan did it with so much force that her nose broke.
Rhonda’s friend, Megan Oxendine, was interviewed by reporters the day after Rhonda’s body was found. I urge you to watch that interview because you can tell how terrified she was. The whole time she was talking to the reporter, she was fidgeting and looking around.
Not long after, she was beaten by at least five people near her home and they cut her hair! Her mother told her to go to the police, but she refused. On June 3, 2017 she was found naked, bound, and covered in blood about a block away from the places Kristen and Rhonda were found. It is estimated that she had been dead about three weeks.
The toxicology reports showed trace amounts of the same five drugs in all three of their systems which makes me think they were drugged into compliance by their murderer. Also, all three of them had superficial cuts on their bodies which may have been a way to punish them for something their killer thought they did wrong.
To date, none of these three cases has been coded as a homicide by any law enforcement agency because they still don’t know how any of these three young women died. Due to their decomposition, strangulation or asphyxiation can’t be confirmed or ruled out.
The FBI was called in and is offering a $40,000 reward for information on their deaths, however.
Sheila Price, Rhonda’s mother, started a group called, “Shatter the Silence” in 2019. Their members have confirmed 31 Native American women have gone missing or been murdered in eastern North Carolina since 1998. Sheila keeps a notebook with all of the names and information she can get on missing and murdered people in Robeson County. To date she says she has 300 names and only 20% of these cases have been solved.
Rhonda and Megan were part of the Lumbee tribe. The Lumbee tribe was federally recognized in 1956, but denied any benefits associated with that recognition. The Lumbee tribe is still fighting this decision today. I urge you to visit their website, it will be in the description.
I feel like this next woman may have known something about the previous three murders and that is why she’s missing. Where the first three seem to be “setting an example”, this woman just vanished.
So, Cynthia “Twister” Jacobs stopped attending appointments in May of 2017, just before the three murders, and seemed to go into hiding. She was friends with Rhonda Jones and was also a member of the Lumbee tribe. She was last seen July 27, 2017 on Chippewa Street near 2nd Street in Lumberton.
Twister’s sister-in-law says that Twister claimed to be the last person to see Megan Oxendine alive.
A close friend of Twister’s told Russ Bowen of CBS17 that Twister was trying to get clean from her drug use. She had been to rehab and spent time in a North Carolina prison.
Twister was 41 years old at the time. She’s 5’6”, 110 pounds, and has “Chris” tattooed on her chest.
Abby Patterson was a twenty-year-old who had just returned to Lumberton after completing rehab in Florida. She was working to get clean of her heroin abuse. Abby was in town for a few days before she texted her mom that she was running errands for an hour. That was at 11:30am on September 5, 2017. A little while later someone saw her get in a brown Buick and she hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
She is 5’7” with brown hair and eyes. She has a birthmark on the back of her left thigh and a tattoo of a bird on her shoulder. She was last seen wearing brown shorts and a white shirt, police said.
This story isn’t from Robeson County, but this Native American girl disappeared from Laurinburg, North Carolina only thirty miles away! Kimberly “Kim” Faye Thrower was 16 years old when she was last seen at her school bus stop at 7am on April 29, 2004. A witness reported seeing an African American man put his arm around Kim and lead her away. Despite this, Kim has been listed as an endangered runaway instead of endangered missing. She was last seen wearing faded Levi’s, a black hoodie with a “K” on the front, and light brown Timberland boots.
She was 5’5” and 110 pounds when she went missing. She has light brown eyes and brown hair. If you have any information about Kim please call the Scotland County Police Department. Their phone number will be in the description.
With all of that being said, this is not even scratching the surface of the number of murder victims in Robeson County. I spoke to Ms. Sheila Price and she said the number is going up almost daily now and residents are frightened. A quick YouTube search will pull up tons of news footage showing what is going on there along with channels talking about a few of these victims along with many others.
I do want to say that I don’t think any of these women were targeted for being Native American. I chose to talk about these cases in particular because I wanted to bring attention to the #MMIW movement because I haven’t heard much about it and I live in an area where people are proud of their Native American heritage.
Next Friday we’re going to return to Robeson County for part two where I’ll talk about James Jordan, Michael Jordan’s father. He was shot in his car way back in 1993 in Lumberton. There’s also a cold case from the 80s that piqued my interest, so I’ll tell you about him as well.
If you enjoyed this episode please follow, like, or whatever your preferred platform offers and share so we can get the word out. I can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and southern-macabre.com. I also have a new email address, it’s Aeryn@southern-macabre.com.
Our theme music is The Power of a Heroic Epic Story by Lesfm.
The Red Justice Podcast – episode 5 is about Sara Nicole Graham
The Red Justice Podcast – episode 5 is about Sara Nicole Graham
http://pm1.narvii.com/7120/07df2ae575753e218b3a0c5b4e862cf23de812c6r1-680-497v2_uhq.jpg (Photo of Kristen, Rhonda, and Megan)
Robeson County Sheriff’s Office – (910)671-3100
Scotland County Sheriff’s Office – (910)276-3385
FBI Charlotte – (704)672-6100