The Lumberton deaths: What we know — and what we don’t know

LUMBERTON, N.C. (WNCN) — In Spring 2017, three women were found dead in a matter of weeks in Lumberton.

Their deaths captured the public’s attention, drawing federal scrutiny and international press coverage and fueling rumors that a serial killer was on the loose. Much of the discussion of the killings has been speculation about links between deaths and disappearances in the area. Here’s what we actually know.

WHAT WE KNOW

Three women were found dead. On April 18, 2017, Christina “Kristin” Bennett, 32, was found dead at 505 Peachtree St. in Lumberton. The same day, Rhonda Jones, 36, was found at 702 East Fifth St. The two sites are only yards apart.

Peachtree Street is a narrow dirt track that runs along some railroad tracks. At the time, the bodies were described as decomposed.

On June 3, 2017, Megan Ann Oxendine, 28, was found decomposed behind a vacant home at 608 E. Eighth Street. That’s about three blocks up the railroad tracks from where the first two bodies were found.

One of the bodies was found somewhere unusual. Jones’ body was found in a trash can, police said at the time.

There’s a connection between at least two of the dead women. Oxendine was friends with Jones, and spoke with CBS North Carolina about Jones’ death.

Oxendine spoke with CBS North Carolina on April 19. Her decomposed body was found just a little more than six weeks later.

Police are investigating with the help of the FBI. The State Bureau of Investigation was called in to assist on the case almost immediately, and the FBI has been helping for months.

Authorities are offering a reward. On Wednesday, FBI and police officials held a press conference to announce a reward of up to $30,000 for information that helps them “determine the circumstances that lead to the deaths.”

The reward is helping. “Information is starting to move after offering the reward,” said Capt. Terry Parker of the Lumberton police on Thursday.

Another woman disappeared. Abby Patterson was last seen on Sept. 5, 2017, when she got a ride from an acquaintance. She texted her mother to say she’d be gone for about an hour, but was never heard from again. There is a $5,000 reward for information that leads to Patterson.

These aren’t the only crimes that have happened in Lumberton lately. There have been a number of other violent crimes in Lumberton, but they haven’t gotten nearly the attention that the three dead women and Abby Patterson have. For example, there’s a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in the killing of Warren Bradford Fields, 38. Fields was shot and killed inside his camper in Lumberton Nov. 7, 2017. Also in November, police started a homicide investigation, after finding a man’s decomposed body in a wooded area. Before those and other crimes, the town was in the news at the end of 2016 after a town police car was set on fire for the third time in one year. The ATF is involved in that case.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

We don’t know how the women died. Neither do officials. The medical examiner hasn’t yet determined a cause of death, Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeill said Wednesday. While investigators are remaining tight-lipped, figuring out how the three died seems to be a big part of the ongoing investigation.

We don’t know if there’s been a crime. “At this point, we do not know if this is a criminal matter, or whether there’s another explanation for why these women are gone,” McNeill said Wednesday.

We don’t know where Abby Patterson is. Police say they’re making progress in the case, but it’s slow going.

We don’t know which deaths are actually connected. “We don’t know that these deaths are necessarily linked,” said John A. Strong, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Charlotte Division. “They have some similarities.” Those similarities include the times and places the bodies were found. Strong said he’s not at liberty to discuss any other similarities. He also said There’s no indication the three women’s deaths are linked to any other deaths.

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