Family of slain North Carolina man seeks answers decades after his death
By Lindell J. Kay, The Wilson Times
The family of a slain Wilson man who died in a robbery four decades ago wants his unsolved case reviewed.
James Crisp ran a music store on Goldsboro Street in the 1980s. Super Hits Volume One Record Store was popular in a way that’s rarely seen today. Folks would drive from Rocky Mount and Greenville just to see what records Crisp had on the shelf.
On Oct. 11, 1982, an employee coming to work found the front door open and Crisp’s body at the back of the store in a pool of blood. His hands and feet were bound with an extension cord, according to archived Wilson Times reports.
Crisp had been stabbed six times, according to his autopsy.
Crisp died before granddaughter Ashley Eatmon was born. She’s now a criminal prosecutor in a different judicial district.
“I think my career path influenced wanting to find out what happened with this 1982 unresolved murder,” Eatmon said. “The unanswered questions are something that our family has always wondered about.”
Eatmon acknowledged the odds are long at this point that any resolution can be found in her grandfather’s death, but she wants to try.
“It is the right thing to do,” Eatmon said. “Justice requires that someone take action to find out if there is anything that could be done no matter how much time has passed since this senseless killing.”
Use of DNA evidence in criminal cases was all but unheard of when Crisp was killed.
“There have been plenty of cold cases solved by reviewing the physical evidence to determine if testing evidence years later would provide information on the case,” Eatmon said. “I initially contacted the SBI Cold Case Division regarding this because they have grants to do this very type of investigation, and they have been very helpful in this request. The goal was always to see if any physical evidence could be tested.”
SBI agents have reached out to the Wilson Police Department to start the process, Eatmon said, adding that she’s talked with detectives regarding reviewing the evidence in their custody.
“The Wilson Police Department is working with the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation to determine the current status of the case,” said department spokesman Capt. Steve Stroud.
The Crisp case isn’t listed among unsolved murders on the police department’s website.
Crisp’s wife told reporters at the time of his death that she couldn’t sleep and lived her life in fear because no one had been arrested.
Seven years after Crisp died, police arrested three men and charged them in the crime.
Frederick Lyles was serving time in Raleigh’s Central Prison on an unrelated armed robbery conviction.
Anthony Best was on the lam in Virginia, but authorities soon caught up to him.
O’Neal Rasta Thompson was located in a South Carolina prison serving time for an aggravated assault conviction.
Lyles, now 60, was 22 at the time of the murder and 29 when arrested. Best and Thompson, who are now 61, were 23 at the time of the murder and 30 when arrested.
Lyles has an extensive criminal conviction history.
Thompson — a Haitian immigrant — was traveling from town to town and appeared to be homeless.
Wilson Police Chief Tom Younce held a press conference at the time of the arrests and announced the case was closed.
“There was a time when I didn’t believe they would ever find who did it,” Crisp’s wife told the Times. “I’m glad I was wrong.”
Crisp’s daughter Sharon Eatmon told the newspaper in 1989 that the whole ordeal wouldn’t be over for her until the three men were brought to trial.
A trial never happened. The district attorney’s office dismissed the case, citing lack of evidence.
The late John Covolo, a prosecutor in 1990 who went on to be a judge, said the evidence the police collected against the three men didn’t “pan out.”
Covolo told the Times that a hair sample sent to the SBI crime lab didn’t match any of the three suspects; however, the real issue was an eyewitness who agreed to testify but later refused to take the stand should a trial go forward.
Another witness said he’d testify against the three men, but he was an inmate with zero credibility, according to Covolo.
A detective at the time said police would have to live with the district attorney’s office’s decision. Family members said they were confused and disappointed.
Since the charges were dropped, Lyles has been convicted of selling drugs and attempted breaking and entering. Best has been convicted of breaking and entering, larceny and a drug-related charge, according to information provided by the N.C. Department of Public Safety.
Thompson was turned over to federal immigration authorities. His name dropped from state public records after that.
‘SOMEONE KNOWS SOMETHING’
“Someone saw something, someone heard something or someone knows something,” Eatmon said. “I am hoping that almost 40 years later that if anyone has information on this case they contact the Wilson Police Department. I know the chances of anything happening with this case now are slim to none, but you never know until you try.”
Gov. Jim Hunt, who lives in Wilson County, offered a $5,000 reward for useful information in the case back in 1982. Such rewards typically don’t expire.
Team Cold Case, a local partnership between the media, business owners and law enforcement, is also offering a reward of up to $15,000 for information leading to an arrest, bringing the total possible reward up to $20,000.
Anyone with information about the case can call Wilson police at 252-399-2323, Crime Stoppers of Wilson at 252-243-2255 or Team Cold Case at 252-406-6736.