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Killer at-large

MURFREESBORO – Yes, grown men can cry.

In his job as Hertford County Sheriff, Juan Vaughan admits he has shed tears twice during his many years in law enforcement n once when called to a Sunday church service where a woman accidentally backed over her grandson and again on Aug. 4, 2006.

It was that date, exactly one year ago today, when Sheriff Vaughan was summoned to gruesome scene of a double murder involving two elderly sisters, Dorothy Hobbs, 74, and Nellie Bradley, 71, both of Emporia, Va. Their bodies were discovered in a wooded area near a farm path off Vaughan’s Creek Road, just north of Murfreesboro.

“I still vividly remember what I saw that day,” Sheriff Vaughan said. “Often, I’ll see those images in my mind at night before I drift off to sleep and those images disturb me just as much today as they did one year ago.”

While he and other law enforcement officers from numerous agencies busied themselves that day collecting evidence and documenting the crime scene, Vaughan said it was a tough chore from an emotional standpoint.

“Those two women were more than just victims…they were somebody’s mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins or friends,” the Sheriff said. “It broke my heart to know that somebody out there could do this to two elderly women.”

In the weeks and months following the murders, Sheriff Vaughan and his investigators logged hundreds of man hours pouring over the evidence and tracking down leads. Highly-trained canines were brought in from Virginia in an effort to sniff out clues. One week after the bodies were discovered, Hertford County lawmen were out soliciting information during a traffic stop at the intersection of Vaughan’s Creek Road and Vaughan’s Mill Road. Simultaneously, Northampton and Hertford authorities were seeking information at a traffic stop performed at the Northampton County end of Vaughan’s Creek Road at its intersection with NC 35 just north of Severn.

Meanwhile, the evidence was sent to specialty forensic labs where additional clues surfaced.

“We’re still working closely with the FBI and SBI on this case,” Sheriff Vaughan said. “We’re leaving no stone unturned on this. We will bring the person or persons responsible for these murders to justice.”

A break in the case developed in October of last year when forensic tests on the vehicle occupied by the sisters on the day of their murders turned-up a third DNA sample. That vehicle, a black 1996 Ford Crown Victoria, was found parked behind an abandoned residence near Boykins, Va. shortly before midnight on the day of the murders.

However, that DNA remains a mystery as its sample did not match any found in a national criminal database.

Two months later, law enforcement officials from North Carolina and Virginia as well as SBI and FBI agents held a press conference in Winton. There, details were released about the type of behavior expected from the individual who committed the two brutal murders.

“We feel it’s possible that these women were murdered by someone they were giving assistance to, possibly offering them a ride or giving them money,” Vaughan said at the press conference.

Additionally, it was revealed that the murderer injured himself during the violent interaction with the victims, so much to the point that he would have needed to later explain the injury or seek medical attention.

Vaughan said after the attack, if the offender was employed, he may have missed a day or more from his work. The sheriff also said the subject may have been noticeably different following the murders.

“There would have been a noticeable change of mood,” Vaughan said. “There would have been an increased use by the offender of drugs and alcohol.”

Despite the fact that no arrest has been made up to this point, Sheriff Vaughan stressed the case remains the top priority of his investigators.

“We will not rest until we put the person behind bars who committed this horrendous crime,” Vaughan noted. “August 4, 2006 is still fresh on our minds. Apparently, it’s on the minds of a lot of other people as well as there’s not a week that goes by without someone asking me about the case. That’s great because it means people have not forgotten.”

Vaughan said family members of the victims have been extremely supportive of the ongoing investigation.

“That support means a lot to us,” he said. “We’re doing all we can to help those family members be able to bring some closure to the deaths of their loved ones.”

Meanwhile, the 2007 North Carolina Watermelon Festival is currently underway in Murfreesboro, an event where the news of the grisly murders shocked last year’s huge crowd.

“Tens of thousands of people come in each year for the Watermelon Festival, many of which are repeat visitors,” Vaughan noted. “In their travels to and from the festival, perhaps they will recall something out of the ordinary from last year. It doesn’t matter how trivial they think it is, we would like to gain that information. Please contact my office (252-358-7800) if you have any information you can share about this case.”

Earlier this week, Sheriff Vaughan, aided by Murfreesboro Police Chief Darrell Rowe, erected large posters, in English and Spanish, at each of the festival’s main entrances.

“We did that to keep this ongoing investigation in the public’s eye as well as hoping the photos and information on the posters will jog someone’s memory about last year,” Chief Rowe said.

Rowe added that the murders are in no way a reflection of the Watermelon Festival.

“The festival remains a great event,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate that this brutal crime occurred at the same time of the festival. The Murfreesboro Police Department joins Sheriff Vaughan and his staff as well as the other agencies involved in this investigation in a pledge to assist in any way we can to find the person responsible for these murders.”

The sisters were last seen alive between 3:45-4 p.m. on Aug. 4, 2006. They were seen at Boykins Baptist Church making a donation during a “bucket drive” for Relay for Life. Their bodies were discovered approximately three and one-half hours later.

A $12,500 reward is offered for the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible.

Tips can also be emailed to the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office at hfdcounty.sheriff@ncmail.net or mailed to P.O. Box 176, Winton, NC 27986.

Individuals may also call crimestoppers toll free at 888-298-8567 or call the SBI toll free at 800-334-3000.