House fire turns into homicide investigation

Published 10:53am Thursday, March 6, 2014

MERRY HILL – What appeared on Tuesday to have been the accidental death of an elderly Bertie County woman during a late evening house fire is now being investigated by the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) as a homicide.

Law enforcement officials returned to the burned out ruins at 1615 Highway 45 North between Colerain and Merry Hill this morning (Thursday), the scene of aTuesday evening blaze that it was initially believed to have claimed the life of 80-year-old Bessie Mae Slade White.

Authorities now believe White was murdered prior the blaze that consumed her home March 4 when units from three area volunteer fire departments answered a call that found the home totally engulfed in flames.

Bertie County Sheriff John Holley told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Thursday afternoon that an autopsy conducted at the Medical Examiner’s office in Greenville revealed that White died of multiple stab wounds.

It was shortly after 8 a.m. Thursday morning that the new information on the cause of White’s death was revealed and that a homicide investigation began.

“She was a good lady,” the sheriff stated in describing the woman he remembered from growing up in the neighborhood where he still resides. “We will work 110 percent to solve this case.”

Heading the investigation for the Sheriff’s Department are Lead Investigator Ed Pittman, Chief Deputy Greg Atkins, and Investigator Harris Williams, along with Sheriff Holley himself.

The blaze was first reported shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday and the Perrytown Volunteer Fire Department was first on the scene at 8:40 p.m.  Units and firemen from the Colerain and Midway-Merry Hill Fire Departments also assisted.

According to Perrytown Fire Chief Rodney “Bud” Lee, when the truck arrived, firemen found the house fully engulfed in flames with fire shooting through the roof. Firemen called out around the house to determine if any occupants were inside, but there was no response.  At this time, said Chief Lee, some 20 members of the fire departments then went into full attack mode to extinguish the flames.

After the fire was contained, firemen conducted a search of the now-destroyed premises and that’s when White’s body was discovered.  Her remains were later removed by Bertie County Emergency Services and transported to the Medical Examiner’s office in Greenville.

Perrytown VFD Chief Bud Lee extinguishes hot spots Wednesday morning left over from a Tuesday evening blaze on Hwy 45 between Colerain and Merry Hill that claimed the life of an elderly woman. On Thursday, this fire scene turned into a crime scene after an autopsy revealed that the victim was murdered prior to the blaze. Staff Photo by Gene Motley
Perrytown VFD Chief Bud Lee extinguishes hot spots Wednesday morning left over from a Tuesday evening blaze on Hwy 45 between Colerain and Merry Hill that claimed the life of an elderly woman. On Thursday, this fire scene turned into a crime scene after an autopsy revealed that the victim was murdered prior to the blaze. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

 

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