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Cold case: Grocery store slayings still haunt retired chief

Be-Lo sketch.jpg

This sketch may have hurt the investigation into a bloody mass murder 25 years ago, according to a retired sheriff who worked the case.


Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

WINDSOR — A now-infamous police sketch may have helped a brutal killer slip away 25 years ago, according to a local law enforcement officer who worked the multiple-murder case.

A still-unknown suspect hid inside the Be-Lo grocery store on South Granville Street on the night of June 6, 1993. After the store closed, the suspect unleashed hell on the two employees and four cleaning crew members locked inside.

The suspect rounded up his six victims, tied them into pairs using duct tape and stacked them into three piles. Then he went to work with a pistol and knife.

■ Bud Cecil, store manager, shot to death

■ Joyce Reason, cashier, shot to death

■ Johnnie Rankins, cleaning crew, shot to death

■ Tony Welch, cleaning crew, injured by gunfire

■ Jasper Hardy, cleaning crew, injured in stabbing

■ Thomas Hardy, cleaning crew, escaped unharmed

Either due to running out of ammunition, having a malfunctioning firearm or just being sadistic, the suspect stopped shooting his victims and used a knife he found in the stockroom. Jasper Hardy was stabbed so hard that the knife broke off in his back. Out of handy weapons, the suspect left the store with $3,000 in cash and money orders.

After the killer left, Welch crawled to the front of the store, leaving a blood trail behind him. He called the police.

The story is just one of dozens of missing persons cases, unidentified bodies and unsolved murders in eastern North Carolina. But it's a case that might have been solved years ago if authorities didn't use a composite drawing made to help identify the suspect, said now-retired Bertie County Sheriff J. Wallace Perry, who worked the case as it unfolded. He said too much stock was placed in the suspect sketch.

“He probably looked like that, but the nose in the sketch is too big,” Perry said. “It's just my opinion, but I think the public focused too much on that nose. Everyone was running around looking at noses.”

Perry said he's still haunted by the deaths.

“Not too many days go by that I don't think about it,” said Perry, who retired as sheriff in 1998 but served as a Bertie County commissioner until four years ago. He said the most asked questions he received his entire public service career were about the Be-Lo murders.

Rumors persist in the small town that the killer is ex-military, a disgruntled cop or former store employee. Because of the sketch, a lot of folks think he must have broken his nose playing sports or in a gang fight. Speculation in the case in unending.

Perry said local and state law enforcement ran down every lead they had, but a real suspect never emerged in the investigation.

“I think about it a lot, I wish we could solve it,” Perry said. “I always hoped there would be a deathbed confession, but nothing yet.”

At the time of the slayings, the killer was described as a black male with medium complexion. He was around 6 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. He had a slender build, military-style haircut and a narrow nose.

Windsor Police Chief Todd Lane recently told reporters the case remains an active investigation despite how long it's been.

If you have information about the slayings, call the Windsor Police Department at 252-794-3111 or the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation at 800-334-3000. A reward of $30,000 is being offered for information that leads to an arrest.

Lindell John Kay is a reporter for the Rocky Mount Telegram. Reach him at lkay@rmtelegram.com.