GQ story on alleged serial killings splits opinions
By Brie Handgraaf
Rocky Mount Telegram
The people interviewed for a recent national story on Rocky Mount’s alleged serial killer case are divided on the published product.
Jackie Wiggins, mother of victim Jackie Nikelia ‘Nikki’ Thorpe, spoke with the author of the article in June’s issue of “Gentleman’s Quarterly” last fall and said she has mixed opinions about how it turned out.
“I was pleased with it as far as the publication about the girls and stuff, but his interview with this cabbie person was kind of shocking to me,” she said. “He came out with a whole lot of information that could have been useful earlier (in the investigation).”
She said she is reserving judgment on some of the quotes from officials used in the article.
“I think they said some things that now I hope they regret,” she said. “I guess the reporter reported as he heard it, but I’m waiting to hear their version of it.”
Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs was negatively portrayed in the article. Combs said the author took him out of context.
“Most people assume the mayor knows everything that is going on, but I’m not always aware of what the police department is working on,” he said. “He also made a comment about how I wasn’t at the candlelight vigil, but I really didn’t know about it. Nobody called me so I never knew about it.”
He added the article was skewed to overplay the race issue.
“I’m not sure I realized the direction he was going with it,” he said. “He wanted to paint a picture between Edgecombe and Nash counties, but I think, overall, that as a mayor, I look at it as all one city. I think because he is writing a book on race in the South, the whole article was based on race more than anything.”
Wiggins said she also believes the focus on race was dramatized.
“When he talked about the train tracks diving the blacks and whites, I think it could have been worded better,” she said. “I guess that was just his way of getting the point across, but our schools are integrated. I feel like some things were stretched.”
Rocky Mount councilman and local NAACP president Andre Knight said race does play into how much media attention, or lack thereof, the case has gotten.
“I think (the author) used race as a backdrop,” he said. “I think when it comes to African-American women and children (as victims of crime), they don’t get near the coverage other nationalities get in the media.”
Knight and Wiggins commended the author for his portrayal of the girls — not just how they died, but how they lived as well.
“He gave the women a real face. He talked about not just their addictions, but how these women were actually engaged in society. They were good people,” Knight said. “He was trying to actually put a face other than a mugshot on these women. I think he gave them some dignity as well.”
Wiggins actually was pleased with the relatively graphic portrayal of the victims’ deaths in the article.
“He was printing that to make people see just how tragic and demeaning the bodies were left,” she said. “He described what it was like. He put it like it was. I think the readers can see what we saw and how we felt.”
Knight said he hopes the national media attention will help the investigation.
“This case hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as it needs,” he said. “We don’t need this to go by the wayside. It is still very important to the families and the community.”
Combs said the attention will likely taper off.
“Other communities have had similar things happen and I hate to say this, but soon the national media moves on to something new,” he said. “Hopefully, someone will see this in the media and come forward with new information.
“I just hope people take it for what it is. It is a magazine article by someone trying to write a book.
“He took a lot of liberty along the way. It is what it is.”