Six Women Murdered, Three Still Missing, and Nobody Seems to Notice

NC Women Slain

There is quite seemingly a serial killer loose in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. And if there’s not, there certainly still is a murderous epidemic. Nine women have disappeared since 2005, and six bodies have so far been found.

Since 2005, nine women who lived at the edges of the poor community in this small North Carolina city have disappeared. Six bodies were found along rural roads just a few miles outside town, most so decomposed that investigators could not tell how they died. At least one of the women was strangled, and all the deaths have been classified as homicides. Three women are still missing.

Police will not say whether they suspect a serial killer, but people in the community about 60 miles northeast of Raleigh do, and they’re impatient with law enforcement efforts to investigate the slayings.

The community in which these women all lived is apparently a poor, rural one. Many residents suffer from drug addiction, and many women sell sex to make ends meet. It’s unclear from the article whether every woman who has gone missing so far was a sex worker, but it is indicated that at least several were. Many if not all were in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. And according to both the available photographs and an article in The Loop, all were black.

Had you heard this story? Until last week, I hadn’t. Until last week, at which point more media accounts began popping up, pretty much no one outside the town had. And I do believe that I just outlined the reasons why up above.

As La Macha writes in the VivirLatino post “When Sex Workers Aren’t White and Beautiful,” the “Craigslist killer,” who murdered sex workers, was huge news, and the police put valuable resources into finding the man responsible. Which of course isn’t to say that every time a sex worker is murdered, it hits the national media, and police launch a full-scale investigation — not by a very long shot, and that’s exactly why sex workers are disproportionately targets for murderers. Further, even when a sex worker’s murder is covered by the media, it’s almost universally accompanied by disgust and disdain against the victim, and attempts to titillate the audience. But when a serial murder goes on a killing spree, no matter how utterly terrible the reporting is, we do tend to hear about it, and the police do tend to sit up and take notice. When those things don’t happen, the reasons are generally pretty clear.

In a misogynistic society, the lives and bodies of non-sex workers are valued over the lives and bodies of sex workers, and the lives and bodies of beautiful women are valued above the lives and bodies of women who are not considered conventionally attractive. In a classist society, the lives and bodies of middle class and wealthy women are valued over the lives and bodies of poor women, and the lives and bodies of non-drug users are valued over the lives and bodies of addicts. In an ageist society, the lives and bodies of young women are valued over the lives and bodies of middle aged and older women. And in a racist society, the lives and bodies of white women are valued over the lives and bodies of women of color.

The media has a long history of proving the point. When we hear about missing women, it’s almost universally the white ones, the pretty ones, the young ones, the ones who come from “good” families. We don’t hear about missing Black women, or Latina women, or Native women, or Asian women. In fact, there’s a whole blog dedicated to tracking the cases of missing black women and girls which go ignored by the media. We don’t hear about missing poor women, or missing sex workers, or missing addicts. We don’t hear about missing middle aged women — unless they’re white soccer moms who are still considered conventionally beautiful. Because we only hear about the missing women who the bulk of our society sees as having some value. And those women, they don’t have sex for money, or have wrinkles on their faces, or have dark skin.

Racism is believed to be playing a particularly large role in the media’s silence and the police’s disinterest. Stephanie Jones, a woman who knew two of the victims and has been at the forefront of a community crusade to find justice and stop the killings, and is frankly a big part of the reason why there is any media attention on this issue at all now, noted the following:

“It seems like with minorities you don’t see them on Nancy Grace or anything like that . . . But there was a white lady who went missing last week. As soon as she went missing, they had a press conference. And that’s great. That’s what they should do. But around here, they should have done that too. There should have been a press conference. There should have been a search. There should have been an effort.”

And yet, of course, there hasn’t been.

This section of the HuffPo article sent chills down my spine:

Vivian Lord, chairwoman of the criminal justice department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said that if one killer is responsible, he is likely trying to cleanse the world of prostitutes or deliberately picking victims he knows won’t be missed.

The HuffPo writer seems to interpret the statement as meaning “victims whose families won’t realize they’re gone for some time,” but I read it as “victims whose deaths will be ignored by the public and by those who have the power to prevent more from happening.” And with regards to the latter, that certainly does seem to be what has happened so far. When it comes to who we as a society miss, who we notice is gone, and who we care about even when their absence is brought to our attention, the women that this man has murdered don’t fall into those categories. It’s an indictment of us that outside of their immediate communities, these women have not been missed.

This story is age old, but it’s no less tragic. While the women of Rocky Mount have been living in terror for four years, law enforcement is only now beginning to take anything resembling serious action. The billboard you see above is not a result of a police effort, but of Stephanie Jones and victims’ families and other friends. The media has basically ignored the story and so money is scarce, and four years after the first death, national pressure is still in its infancy.

So bodies remain unfound, the killer remains on the street, and more women may die, as the families of victims have to live with the knowledge that their loved ones’ deaths might have been prevented if only someone had cared, if only white supremacy and misogyny weren’t still raging on.

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29 comments for “Six Women Murdered, Three Still Missing, and Nobody Seems to Notice

  1. Laurie
    August 26, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    It’s not just Rocky Mount. Jennings, LA has had eight women with a particular “lifestyle” turn up dead since 2005, aged 17-29. The press locally has covered it since the discovery of the eighth woman last week, but I don’t believe it’s getting any attention on a wider scale. Rural women with a history of drug use and sex work… they’re just not the same as real people, I guess.

  2. Laurie
    August 26, 2009 at 5:08 pm (A local article about the killings.)

  3. Pony
    August 26, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    I was under the impression that Law enforcement generally preferred to keep investigations out of the media in general, rather than a)Giving the perpetrator notoriety and b)Inspiring copycats and muddying the waters.

    • August 26, 2009 at 5:14 pm

      Really, Pony? Law enforcement try to keep missing persons under wraps, rather than publicizing them with photographs and a number to call if you see the missing person, in an attempt to get them back alive? And even better, if you nicely ask the media to not cover something, they don’t? Well I guess you learn something new every day.

  4. August 26, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    I don’t know what to say, but to say nothing at all seems too much like silent complicity in the invisibilising of these crimes.

    Thanks for letting me know about this.

  5. August 26, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Like tigtog, I feel like I have to say something; it seems like the most terrible part of this story is the ones just like it that we aren’t hearing about. And I wonder which piece of the puzzle would have to change for people to pay attention: if they were white women instead of black women? Bank tellers instead of sex workers? Uniformly in their 20s?

  6. tafel
    August 26, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Here, it’s aboriginal women instead of black women, but a chillingly similar story. Somewhere between 30 and 75 missing or murdered women later, we have a task force.

    I like how they say the created the task force because of public pressure. Not, say, because they actually care what happens to aboriginal women, particularly those involved in the sex trade.

  7. August 26, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Didn’t you get the memo Cara? Sex workers and drug addicts aren’t really People, so if they disappear–eh, it’s probably better for Society in the long run.

    (Yeah, I’m bitter. The 300 + women who disappeared to that pig farm in Canada soured me completely on this issue.)

  8. the15th
    August 26, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    When a pretty, white non-sex-worker (i.e., Natalee Holloway) is murdered, we may hear a lot about it, but much of the coverage is about how she dressed or what she did to invite the attack. I think it’s a mistake to view “attention” as proof that our society values the lives of certain victims of violence against women.

  9. August 26, 2009 at 6:53 pm


    If I had to choose between having the media publicize the fact that my daughter had disappeared–thus maximizing the chances something will be done– or have them completely ignore the case, I’m going to choose the publicity.

    Doesn’t mean the speculating on Natalie’s conduct was OK, but it is a very, very, different animal.

  10. Wehaf
    August 26, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    This disgusts me. Somehow I am always shocked at the media’s racism and sexism, even though by this point I shouldn’t be. I second what the15th says as well, about the some of the attention paid to female victims of violent crime, but often the story is specifically framed as the tragedy of the loss of an innocent (young, pretty, white) woman’s life.

    And chava, you mean 49, not 300, right?

  11. August 26, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    @ Wehaf–

    There was a case in Canada and a case in Mexico–one of those featured the number 300. I may have mixed them up; I think 300 is the one is Mexico, and is still ongoing.

  12. Wehaf
    August 26, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    @chava – Okay. The biggest issue like this I’ve heard of in Mexico is the series of killings of young women in Juarez, with over 800 bodies found and more than 3000 missing.

  13. Wehaf
    August 26, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Also, it makes me deeply sad that there are so many stories like this that it becomes easy to mix them up.

  14. Napalm Nacey
    August 26, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    3000? Really? 3000? How… how would you even… I don’t even… ARGH. Just – ARGH. *brain pops like light globe*

    I don’t know what to say to this. It breaks my heart. All I can say is that I’m listening, I’m taking note, I’m not ignoring this. It’s all I can do for now (except in the case of those Aboriginal women, where-in angry letters can be written).

  15. August 26, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    The HuffPo comments reflect what many think: that society SHOULD be cleansed of prostitutes. It doesn’t matter how white or pretty they are, all one has to do is read blog commentary about sex workers in the media to see that. And the media attention (or lack of it), to sex worker murders reflects this as well.

    Thank you for posting this. More names to add to the Dec 17 list. At least these women will be remembered by their brothers and sisters.


  16. Constintina
    August 26, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    I actually hadn’t heard of this and am too saddened and horrified to make much by way of useful commentary. The intersections of whorephobia, racism and classissm are obvious, I hope. Also that these women are being missed, right now. May the party responsible be brought to some kind of justice, and may those providing fucked up media coverage be shamed. (pouring a drink now…)

  17. Dawn.
    August 26, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    I hadn’t heard about this either. It is just bone-chilling that we live in a society that values people in these sick hierarchies. My heart breaks for all the missing people all over the country that aren’t noticed, and/or actively pursued.

    It honestly terrifies me to think that technically, according to the general public, I am disposable. A lot of people I love are disposable. Millions of people are disposable.

  18. August 27, 2009 at 10:42 am

    I’m from North Carolina and only heard about this a few months ago. It’s absolutely terrifying to think that six murders could happen with little investigation, and the lack of empathy towards these women and their families is disgusting. Regardless of their lives, someone out there is going to miss them. Not to mention the fact that murder is wrong, period, no matter who is killed.

  19. Sonya
    August 27, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Absolutely disgusting! My heart goes out to the families of the victims. I am truly sorry your daughters are seen by the police as too unworthy to bother with but please believe they matter to me very much. Unfortunately, the abuse, rape and murder of women is never very important and if you add in that they weren’t “good girls” they become even less so. When will society stop judging women’s worth by who they sleep with! I am ever so tired of the virgin/whore dichotomy.

  20. August 27, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    There have been unfortunately a number of these types of homicides around the country. The police in many areas have an unofficial term for such murders- “NHIs” which stands for “No Humans Involved.” In the 1980s, there were over 45 women murdered in San Diego before the cops really started looking for a killer. And what is really interesting is that for a while, the suspect or suspects were cops… who had relationships with the murdered prostitutes and who were demoted when their relationships were discovered. Some artists in San Diego put together a project back in the early 1990s to educate the public about the cop terminology (NHI) and a google search can find more information about this for anyone who is interested.

    • August 27, 2009 at 8:03 pm

      Whoa. That’s terrifying, Norma. Thank you for the information.

  21. August 27, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    This breaks my heart. So many women turn to prostitution after society has let them down. It’s so disturbing that we continue to let them down after they die.

  22. Helena
    August 27, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    One womnA says she might have a suspect description

  23. Kristin
    August 31, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    There are a lot of unfounded assumptions being made about these women in this thread. In particular, it strikes me as problematic that so many people are assuming that these women were drug addicts based on the fact that they were sex workers and WOC who lived in a poor town with a high drug addiction rate. No information suggesting that this is true has been released to the public. Please keep your racist, classist assumptions about the dead to yourselves, y’all.

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