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The News and Observer from Raleigh, North Carolina • 10

Raleigh, North Carolina
Issue Date:
Extracted Article Text (OCR)

rEMMON7iimMIMulmumoMINMIMMIMMEIPMEIOMMINIMEInk A DATE WITH DEATH THE NEWS HIM SUNDAY JUNE 25 1995 lift VINSON 1 4 A 7 rt 1 44 2::::: A i Al 4: ir -') 74 Hi 4 '10'li it 1 I 1-4 I '-): 1 4 1 A :4 7 '1 A 1 I 1 'iot i A i ''i i tIbZr 1 4 -t -00 st 't- A AC) 1 i4 :1 I it ki i 1 iv1 i qr 'P'' tt Y': 7 '''c 1 1 'i '7: 1 i 1 "I iii I rfto 1: lt- '-'1 'i 4- tts -Iwo li- '4''7 t' irive- 1v )1 l'r! 'r -iw PI 1: s''' I -0-- kL 4: -4 :1: v-))yz 4 X''1 k'' i i- iy 4' A'" '''v ''i 1 1: AP IV i K'i i p1414470t 1 4" 4 Y' 1 's 'C z': i 4'1KE 4 oiiiitilivi0100 i 4': -0 4' b- Lk Sz0 rz 00 '-i4: 1 '2 I NS'''-'''ak '''''t 10A4''''444A4r ''I': I 4 1: '0 '''4'i 1 "i 4fQrz- 2" -Z n' F': S' 1: I 74 '1-JN 7144 -4 4 4'''- I 4 --k41 k- 1 Vs: 3: r'''' Ii'-'' 4P7''1 f' l's 1 1' 7 'sr- "44 T-4 i 7' night and in the daylight headed out to the motel where she worked A few miles from the motel he recognized the peace symbol decal on her car saw the police and thought there had been an accident As detectives and bloodhounds arrived Heath told police about Beth-Ellen's escort date that night and how his roommates had returned soon after she left They all stayed up for about another hour before going to bed he said When he awoke he called the escort service repeatedly but couldn't get an answer he said Police have searched Heath's car several times and interrogated him relentlessly more than 15 hours in an interview moth in those first two days "It was hell" he said "I pretty much just lost it" Investigators have continued to question him during the past 10 months along with Beth-Ellen's friends and others even as recently as this month They say they still do not have a good suspect in the case Heath's sister says he hasn't been the same since the murder "When they found her Rick slept on this couch with Beth-Ellen's T-shirt draped across him He couldn't talk he was devastated" Portia Merritt said from her Mount Olive home "He walked around with that T-shirt for weeks" Ge di! to ME sy hu ea the lea int da: fly off be we op( ry9 exi spe cia plo the tioi ent the apartment with Beth-Ellen Vinson STAFF PHOTO BY and his brother went through intense ROBERT WILLETT interrogation over her murder 0 gto 4 st-- 4 4 Cotmurzo ROM POCJE lA There would be no sex a guard would follow her and the money was going to be so good she could go to New York sooner than she hr1 planned Two of her girlfriends said they would follow her to New Yrkk when they could "At that age when you've only bden living in a small town I think everybody's naive to a certain degree" Luna said "And I think there are people out there who will take advantage of that" Beth-Ellen still needed a place to live She stayed briefly with Kelly gerTitt a I5-year-old classmate who lived in Mount Olive Then she asked if she could move in with two younger brothers of Kelly's stepmother NC State students who shared an apartment near the university With no more than a couch to sleep on and the promise of a job Beth-Ellen headed for Raleigh "It was par for the course I hate to say it" said Kelly's stepmother Portia Merritt "But she was going to take charge If you were going along with her fine but if you weren't it didn't matter She was invincible" 'I've screwed up my life' "I'm not a prostitute I'm not going to get paid to have sex with anyone" Two friends stared at Beth-Ellen as she spoke into the phone She listened for a minute longer and then told the escort service owner she wanted out and hung up "He kept calling back but she wouldn't talk with him" said Kelly Adcock 17 one of two friends from Goldsboro who visited Beth-Ellen at the Avery Close Apartments in late July Less than three weeks after her arrival in the capital city the dancer's dream seemed further away than ever Beth-Ellen seemed frightened And for good reason She confided in Kelly Adcock that on one of her first "dates" a man had raped her Kelly Merritt who had wanted tOjOin in her friend's adventure tearfully acknowledged that Beth-Ellen had also told her about the rape "She stopped after that but went back because of the money" Kelly Merritt said 'When she ran out of money she'd go out on another date I got mad because of what she was doing" There were other pressures Beth-Ellen had to help pay the utildy bill but she hadn't even paid the $10 "registration fee" she still owed the escort service The $130 to $150 she had made on each of her four A 2 4: '14 1 '1': "i 4 sot 1 Ja trz eff tit lu) 1 Mi Tr to bol hoi 1 I Ricky Heath who shared his college or five dates never seemed to stretch far In another month Beth-Ellen probably would have to move because her roommates' previous roommates would return to school But she hid those pressures from Ricky Heath Kelly Merritt's 21-year-old steptmcle who was now her lover as well as her roommate Heath a former Southern Wayne High soccer and tennis player thought he had met his soulmate "I think we were pretty serious I was" he said "She was one of the nicest people I ever met: She didn't care who you were or what you looked like she could like you And I loved that about her" She never told him about the rape or said she wanted to get out Looking back he doesn't see anything he could have done to change her "I never really liked it not at all But I wasn't going to tell her not to do it" Heath said "I know a lot of people don't think I made the right decision but I wasn't going to be a parental figure I wasn't going to be her dad she came to Raleigh to get away from that She wanted to be on her own and I thought that's what she deserved" Two weeks before she died Beth-Ellen huddled in Heath's apartment one night and wrote a letter by candlelight to Kelly An accusation In October someone added a strange twist to the puzzle over Beth-Ellen's murder The Goldsboro News-Argus received a long unsigned letter which it published last month claiming Beth-Ellen was killed because she had been blackmailing an escort service that specialized in sadomasochism The writer said the teenager's clients belonged to a group whose members included officers in the Raleigh Police Department Wake County Sherifrs Department and the State Bureau of Investigation who are covering up the murder No evidence has surfaced to support those claims While the writer cited details that hadn't been publicized other parts of the rambling letter were inaccurate and impmbable No one gives it much credibility "We have followed every lead We're still actively working it every day" Raleigh police Capt Gary Black said "There's not a cover-up there never has been and there never will be We're still looking for pieces of the puzzle they're out there" The letter has divided Beth-Ellen's parents as they try to wait out the police investigation Bill Vinson who owns a Goldsboro market says he doesn't believe the outlandish claims and he still trusts Raleigh's homicide investigators His wife Penny has lost some of that trust While she doesn't believe her daughter was part of a sadomasochistic escort service or that she was blackmailing anyone she can't shake the feeling that the police aren't doing enough The let- ter stirred her deepest suspicions "There's going to be a cloud hanging over the Raleigh Police Department and other agencies tmtil this thing is settled" Penny Vmson said It bothers her that police couldn't find her daughter's body only half a mile away from her car and that they have apparently not interviewed some of Beth- Ellen's friends And it bothers her that police have never picked up a box of letters she retrieved from her daughter's grave letters written by Beth-Ellen's friends and left at the cemetery from time to time Bill Vinson stall struggling with his anguish is more patient "They tried they tried" he said "Somebody killed Beth-Ellen and we don't know who Somebody wrote this letter and we don't know who It seems like there's a lot we don't know" sE I go back home to stay I've just become so very scared of what I'm going to do "I've been thinking a lot lately about Christmastime This is going to sound really stupid but do you think I'm going to be included in Christmas with my family? What if I go home and there aren't any presents or anything for me? I'd be so depressedI just want everything to be OK with everybodyi want to accomplish so much before I go you know?" The lost clues The phone rang right at 2 am on Aug 16 just as Heath and Beth-Ellen finished watching 'Basic Instinct" She had told the escort service not to call that late But she went anyway The white Mazda 626 her parents had given her a few months before sped across town toward Capital Boulevard A Green Day album buzzed from the car's CD player and echoed out the open windows into the night It was supposed to be the usual gig: 45 minutes worth of exotic dancing at The Innkeeper Motel This time the customer asked for two girls Later the man called the escort service to complain that only one girl had shown up and she wasn't Beth-Ellen Maybe she went to the wrong room Maybe she changed her mind Maybe the man is lying Everyone has a theory about who killed Beth-Ellen Vinson but no one has found one without holes in it At some point someone pulled the Mazda off Capital onto Yonkers Road a dead-end street and turned it around in the short wide driveway of a used-car lot That's where a dealership employee found the car when he arrived about 5:30 am The key was in the ignition and the IMISie was still on One of Beth-Ellen's platform sandals was inside Although police fanned out from the car and searched the area on foot by boat and in a helicopter they didn't find Beth-Ellen It was another week before a plant manager found her body in a muddy ditch a short drive away in an isolated manufacturing district across Crabtree Creek Someone had stabbed her repeatedly in the chest and the back until she died Her killer had made a halfhearted attempt to hide her body by throwing cardboard on top of her Her purse two cheap rings and her grandmother's gold band with purple amethysts were missing Since then detectives have twisted and turned all the obvious angles without luck leaving the possibility that her slaying was simply random In the week before they found the body important evidence vanished: footprints fingerprints other traces that might tell them what happened Investigators repeatedly questioned the man who hired the "escorts" that night as well as his other date and the out-of-state businessmen who had hired Beth-Ellen in the past All of them insisted they never had sex with the teenager Investigators have also checked out the escort service owners who live in Virginia Investigators also have spent a lot of time grilling Heath who showed up at the car lot as police inspected the just-found Mazda He said he was worried sick when Beth-Ellen never came back that menswear In the last months of her life Beth-Ellen Vinson changed her look considerably: Her parents keep her beauty-queen photo in their house while her boyfriend kept photos that show how she looked after leaving home Merritt which she never mailed She believed her short trip to Raleigh had taken her away from home forever "My mom will always be wonderng every little thing about what went on while I was here and all that kind of stuff so I know I can't handle all her questions I've screwed up my entire life But I still don't think I could ever I 0 0 832-5809 I 2040 On spring summer merchandise Sale going on now! 2 i 2 '4: $: 'n jit i ri: I 'A 4 4: ''t ''4r) 4 1 t-4 'f i -'i i'zs--F '---d --1 v' r-: 0: 'i 'i -4 1 1 0'' tik '''e'r 1 "li: l'' 7 'e r1 ''Ir' I 'i :07: T1': I 7 'i -r':" '4' -s: --s-- "--i'''" k1i ''''I'i '') 7 '')''- -1 1 i "7g6 4 1 I 1: "7 1' i LAT North Hills Mall 787-1720 Cameron Village Still grieving Penny Vinson and her husband Bill are divided over how much to trust the police investigation Penny Vinson wonders why the police haven't followed up on possible clues to their daughter's murder STAFF PHOTO BY MEL NATHANSON.

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