Courts & Crime

Police wondering if man killed five near N. Carolina town

ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. — Police have arrested a man and charged him with killing a woman found strangled earlier this year. Police say they're investigating whether he had anything to do with five other women found dead here since 2005.

The remains of Taraha Shenice Nicholson, 28, were found March 7 in the woods off Marriot Farm Road. Police allege Antwan Maurice Pittman, 31, of 219 Anderson Street in Rocky Mount, dragged her into a field along nearby Marriot Road and strangled her. Her remains were lying face up, arms raised above the head, according to autopsy reports.

Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight said in a release that the investigation into the other women's deaths is ongoing, and no charges have been filed.

Pittman is a registered sex offender who was convicted in 1994 for taking indecent liberties with a 2-year-old child. He served three years in prison, according to the state sex offender registry. He is now being held without bail at the Edgecombe County jail on Anaconda Road in Tarboro, according to police.

Investigators began notifying families about Pittman's arrest around 12:30 p.m. today, but several families already had found out from television news.

Pepita Hargrove, sister of one of the dead women, said she didn't know if Pittman killed her sister or not, but that she feels relieved by the arrest.

"When I asked the Sheriff if this person man was responsible for the other murders, the sheriff said 'no comment,'" Hargrove said. "I'm hoping he's the one. If it's someone else — if he's not the one — I want the one who's responsible found."

All of the victims targeted were poor and living on the margins of society. Some, family members told police, peddled sex to finance their drug addictions.

The first victim, Melody Wiggins, 29, was found by police May 29, 2005, on Noble Mill Pond Road. She died of blunt-force trauma to the head and had been cut and stabbed repeatedly. Her body was partially covered by tree limbs, and the medical examiner wondered if she was dragged or had run from a field into the woods where her body was found.

The partially skeletal, nude remains of Jackie Thorpe, 35, were found Aug. 17, 2007, in a trash heap behind a burned-out crack house. The head and an arm had been separated from the body. The medical examiner did not determine a cause of death.

One year later, on March 13, 2008, the remains of Ernestine Battle, 50, were found face down in the woods. Her remains were unclothed. No cause of death was determined by the medical examiner, who wrote that the likely cause was homicidal violence.

The skeletal remains of the latest victim, Jarniece Latonya "Sunshine" Hargrove, 31, were discovered June 29 by a farmer working in a field. The farmer told police he found Hargrove's body just inside a wooded area off Seven Bridges Road. The medical examiner's office has not yet released a cause of death.

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