Wrong stop leads to teen's murder


Staff Writer

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Rocky Mount proved to be the end of the line for a teenager who got off the bus at the wrong stop four decades ago.

Students walking to school on the morning of Sept. 22,1977, found the body of 16-year-old Robert Earl Demary in the parking lot of London Mills, a textile company a few blocks away from the Trailways Bus Depot.

Robert died of a single small-caliber gunshot wound to the head, according to his death certificate.

Witnesses saw an unfamiliar dark colored car in the area. Just another lead that never went anywhere. If details fuel investigations, then Robert's case has been running on fumes for decades.

Rocky Mount interim Police Chief Willie Williams hopes to re-ignite the flame under cold cases like Robert's murder.

The chief began his law enforcement career as a patrolman in October 1967. He was promoted to sergeant in '73 and lieutenant in '76. In 1977, he was in charge of records, special operations and crime scene investigations.

In his career, the chief has seen a lot of crime scenes. We sat down last week in his office to talk about it.

"Quite a few robberies, murders," the chief said. "The children stand out."

The day he processed the site of Robert's death will never leave him.

"I was one of the forensics guys on that scene, it was so ... when I first saw his body ... the things that he was supposed to have ..."

The chief was trying to preserve a level of dignity robbed from Robert in death. The teenager had been striped of his pants and underwear, and was the possible victim of sexual assault before being shot through the head.

"Saddest part, he wasn't supposed to get off the bus in Rocky Mount. It was a mix up," the chief said. "We interviewed a lot of people, but we just couldn't get the puzzle pieces to fit."

One piece of that unsolved puzzle is Edward T. Ramoth, a teenager at the time of Robert's death.

Robert was from a rural route outside Nashville and Ramoth was an inner-city kid from Rocky Mount. They were recent graduates of Breckenridge Job Corps Center in Morganfield, Ky. They left the school a few days prior to Robert's death on a bus headed home to the Twin Counties. From all accounts, Robert wasn't supposed to get off the bus in Rocky Mount.

Police questioned Ramoth; he was never named as a suspect. His only criminal convictions were in the early 1980s for a couple of break-ins and drunken driving in 2000. At any rate, Ramoth died in January 2004 at the age of 44.

The chief had been gone from Rocky Mount for more than a decade by then. He was headhunted for the top cop job in Petersburg, Va., and left Rocky Mount in 1992. He later spent time as police chief in Wilson, where he still lives. (He's so beloved in Wilson that the Chamber of Commerce there named him a lifetime member earlier this year.)

The chief was asked in December to return to Rocky Mount — where he had spent a quarter-century as a police officer — to take charge of the department as interim chief.

He said he didn't know about the high number of unsolved homicides in the city — and after an assessment, he kickstarted a cold case squad.

"We're going to look at all the unsolved cases with a different set of eyes," the chief said, adding new crimefighting technology has been introduced since many of the crimes were committed.

The chief said new technologies are great, but he prefers eye witnesses and neighborhood help. That's why he's been hosting chat with the chief sessions and holding meetings with community groups.

"I want citizens to know Rocky Mount is a safe place and it's going to be safer when we get some of these murderers off the street."

Anyone willing to help the chief and has any information about an unsolved murder in Rocky Mount can call Twin Counties Crime Stoppers at 252-977-1111.

I learned a long time ago that there's two kinds of police chiefs: Detectives and administrators. Chief Williams is a good bit of both. His passion and determination reminds me of another lawman I know.

At one time the longest serving sheriff in North Carolina, Ed Brown was anything but conventional during his two decades in office.

He would often look for buried bodies with an ad-hoc divining rod made out of a coathanger. He once drove around with a skull in his cruiser asking different dentists whether they could identify the remains. And he was once charged with poking a dead body with a stick. He had a good reason for that last one, believe it or not, and the charge was dismissed. I don't have the page space to explain it here.

The sheriff was a little unorthodox, but he was a true detective with an investigative mind like a steele trap who also viewed cases like puzzles. Sadly, we both misjudged the fate of Maria Lauterbach, a pregnant Marine missing from Jacksonville in mid-January 2008.

I've seen the sheriff solve missing persons cases with a phone call so when he believed something, there was good reason to believe him. And the sheriff spent all night telling me Maria was OK.

"She ran off to California," the sheriff repeated like a mantra, maybe trying to convince himself as much as me.

Maria's case garnered national media attention and the sheriff was set to make an announcement to a room packed with reporters and cameras in the morning.

But a new puzzle piece presented itself at the last minute, changing what the sheriff would have to say. It changed him, me and Jacksonville forever.

The sheriff, barrel-chested in a powder blue suit, stepped up to the bank of microphones and with seven words unleashed a media circus the likes of which Eastern North Carolina had never seen.

"She is dead," the sheriff lamented. "And she is buried."