Rocky Mount Missing Women: Time to add another body to the map?

Just because a corporate profiler says it’s so don’t make it right (remember, he’s working for his own interests). Still, it might be time to add Travis RaRagus Harrison to the map:

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Profiler: Crossdresser likely a victim of same killer as women

By Mike Hixenbaugh

Rocky Mount Telegram
Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A crime psychologist says he believes a crossdresser found dead in Rocky Mount three years ago likely was the victim of the same killer who claimed the lives of seven area women between 2003 and earlier this year.

The parents of 24-year-old Travis RaRegus Harrison said this week that Rocky Mount police are looking into possible connections between their son’s death and the unsolved deaths of seven women, as well as three other missing women. A fisherman and his son found Harrison’s naked body on June 25, 2006, discarded in a thicket along the Tar River off East Virginia Street.

“I’m believing that this murder, more probably than not, is related to the others,” said John Kelly, profiler and president of the New Jersey-based System to Apprehend Lethal Killers.

Kelly has followed the Rocky Mount case closely since June, when investigators announced a state and local task force investigation into the series of missing women and murders in the community. Kelly said the fact that Harrison was a known crossdresser would have made him a potential target for a habitual killer who typically stalks women.

Like the seven other victims, Harrison was black, known to abuse cocaine and sometimes traded his body to pacify his addiction.

“The guy matches the profile of all the female victims,” Kelly said. “He had the same drug of choice, was out in the same areas around the same timeframe, and he was a crossdresser. I have to believe it was probably the same killer, because for that size population, how many sexual murderers could you possibly have in the same area?”

That’s the question Harrison’s mother, Lillian Clark, said she has been asking herself. Clark sat with her husband, Joe, in their Branch Street living room Monday and tried to explain how she felt when she realized her son’s body had been found, naked except for his socks and discarded by the river a few miles from their home. She couldn’t find the words.

The Clarks were surrounded by framed photos of Lillian’s three children. As his wife recalled stories from her son’s childhood, Joe Clark reached above the couch and pulled down a picture of Harrison, his stepson.

“We didn’t know what he was into,” Joe Clark said. “You know kids. They don’t tell you what they do when they leave the house. It wasn’t until afterward that we found out.”

It had been several months since the Clarks had heard from authorities regarding the investigation into Harrison’s death. That was until two weeks ago, they said, when investigators from the Rocky Mount Police Department showed up asking for a new photo of their son. Capt. Laura Fahnestock said the visit was part of the department’s recent effort to re-examine unsolved cases, declining to speak in further detail about the case.

“They said they didn’t know anything new, and that they were out of leads,” Lillian Clark said. “And they said they were investigating to see if his death had anything to do with the other killings.”

Federal, state and local investigators have been careful not to say whether or not they have evidence showing the deaths are linked, but authorities said they believe similarities in the victims’ backgrounds and the circumstances of their deaths are enough to at least raise the suspicion of a possible serial killer.

Kelly, who played a role along with his partner Frank Adamson in helping profile and catch the Green River Killer in Seattle earlier this decade, said he’s almost certain the deaths have come at the hands of a habitual killer.

If he’s right, Kelly said, Harrison’s death wouldn’t be the first time a serial killer known for stalking women attacked a female impersonator. Kelly referenced the Tamiami Strangler, a Miami man who killed six prostitutes in 1994, including one crossdresser.

“It’s rare, but there are a few cases out there,” Kelly said. “It’s very plausible.”

When asked a couple of weeks ago about any possible connections between Harrison’s death and the seven women found dead since 2003, Rocky Mount police declined to detail their ongoing investigation. Because most of the bodies were found outside city limits, Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight is leading the probe, but Rocky Mount police are heading the investigations into the deaths of Harrison and Elizabeth Smallwood, both found within city limits.

“We investigate each case on its own, and we are not going to publicly link together any cases unless we have evidence showing that there is, in fact, a connection,” Fahnestock said. “Of course, we do consider other cases for any possible similarities when we investigate.”

Authorities in September arrested Antwan Maurice Pittman, 31, and charged him in one of the deaths, the March murder of 28-year-old Taraha Nicholson. Investigators won’t say if they believe the Rocky Mount man, a registered sex offender, might be involved in any of the other deaths.

N.C. Superior Court Judge Toby Fitch ordered that all arrest and search warrants related to the case be sealed from the public, making it difficult to surmise what evidence investigators might have linking Pittman to the murder.

The case, which grabbed national headlines this summer, has shined light on the city’s fight against the illegal sex and drug trade and has inspired a local coalition of community advocates working to raise awareness about murdered and missing women.

A $20,000 reward is offered to anyone with a tip leading to an arrest in the women’s deaths. Anyone with information about the case is asked to call Twin County Crime Stoppers at 252-977-1111.

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