Murder charges filed in 37-year-old case

Published 9:26 am Tuesday, September 1, 2009

WINDSOR – A family’s 37-year ordeal may finally be moving towards closure.

Monday morning, Bertie County Sheriff Greg Atkins and his staff charged 68-year-old Roy Lawrence Rascoe in the 1972 deaths of his wife and children. Rascoe, who was arrested in Butner, according to Atkins, is charged with three counts of first degree murder and one count of arson.

According to a copy of the Bertie Ledger-Advance dated Thursday, November 30, 1972, three people were killed when fire completely destroyed a home in Indian Woods. Those who died in the blaze were Annie Elizabeth Rascoe, 23, and her two children, Rita Renee, 13 months, and three-year-oldTony Ray.

The newspaper report said there were rumors that Roy Rascoe was arrested in connection with the fire and deaths at that time, but the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office said that was not the case. Rascoe was arrested, however, on a parole violation from the state of Maryland at that time.

The bodies were sent to Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill for an autopsy to determine the cause of death, according to the newspaper account.

“These are just standard procedures in a case such as this,” then Deputy Sheriff Sam Barnes told the newspaper. “We’re trying to explore all possibilities in the investigation.”

At some point, however, the investigation stalled and there had been no real activity until new evidence was uncovered in recent months, according to a press release from the Bertie County Sheriff.

The sheriff’s office, along with the Windsor Police Department, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and Federal Bureau of Investigation, began investigating again which led to Monday’s arrest.

Speaking on behalf of the family of the late Annie Rascoe, her brother, Lemon Smallwood, said he was glad to finally see an arrest in the case.

“I don’t know why it took 37 years,” Smallwood said. “That’s puzzling to me. Actually, until recently I thought the guy (Rascoe) was dead. It feels good to see some justice done.”

Carrying a photo of his sister, Smallwood called her “a very nice person” and said she was the only daughter born to his father and mother, along with five sons. He said he remembered being informed of her death almost four decades ago.

“I worked at a bakery at night and when I came home, I was told they had their lives taken away from them,” Smallwood said.

He said there were many rumors at the time, including indications that his sister, niece and nephew actually died of stab wounds and the house being set on fire afterwards.

“There were people who saw him with kerosene and they didn’t use kerosene,” he said.

Smallwood said he had nothing to say to Rascoe.

“I don’t want to say anything to him,” Smallwood said. “It probably sounds bad to say, but I would like to do something to him. For someone to do something like that, he must be brain-damaged or something.”

Smallwood said his sister and her children crossed his mind every day. After speaking to the news media, Smallwood remained to see Rascoe brought into the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office.

After he arrived in a sheriff’s office car, Rascoe was escorted by Detective Sgt. Ed Pittman and other law enforcement officers to the office. On his way, he responded to a number of questions from the gathered members of the media.

Rascoe, who is believed to have been serving time in federal prison in Butner, answered a question about why he was incarcerated by saying, “I took $87,000 off of a dead man.”

He also maintained his innocence, repeating several times “not guilty.”

When asked what his late wife was like, he said, “like a woman.”

Rascoe was officially charged Monday afternoon and is being held in the Bertie-Martin Regional Jail under no bond. His first appearance will come Wednesday morning.