Courts & Crime

N. Carolina police link murder suspect to 17-year-old killing

Gastonia police said Monday they had linked a man charged with the murders of two women in recent weeks to another murder, committed 17 years ago.

Police Capt. Cindy Isenhour said Danny Robbie Hembree Jr., 47, and another Gastonia man, James Arthur Swanson, 41, have been charged with first-degree murder in the 1992 death of Deborah Denise Ratchford, 30.

Isenhour said the investigation into the homicides of Randi Dean Saldana, 30, and Heather Marie Catterton, 17, led police to charge Hembree and Swanson in the 1992 case.

Hembree was charged over the weekend in the deaths of Saldana and Catterton, whose bodies were discovered nine miles and 17 apart in York County, S.C.

Ratchford's body was discovered Aug. 4, 1992, in a wooded area near the Oakland Street Cemetery in Gastonia. Police said she had been cut several times in the upper chest and neck.

Today's arrest comes one day after Gaston County police Capt. J.D. Ramey said police believe Hembree is not likely a serial killer and "had his reasons" for allegedly committing the crimes. "It appears to be isolated," Ramey told the Observer. "We have a clear picture of what occurred."

But Ramey would not go into detail about any potential motive, saying it was still under investigation.

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