When Beverly Potts saw police with flashlights check the house around the corner, she feared the worst.
“A red flag went up right then,” she said.
She thought maybe the elderly woman who lived at 530 S. Jones Ave. was ill. She soon learned the truth.
“It blew my mind,” Potts said.
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A year ago Saturday, police found Cora Campbell, 76, dead in her home after family members who had not heard from her asked authorities to check on her well-being, according to a Rock Hill police report. Campbell, who buried James Campbell, her husband, just a week earlier, had been stabbed to death.
Since then, nobody has been arrrested in her slaying, but police say they have identified a “strong suspect” whose identity they will not disclose. They will not say if that person knew Campbell, but they insist that the suspect is not a threat to the public. They are trying to link together evidence to prove the person’s guilt.
The doors were locked and the mailbox was full of mail when they found Campbell, police said. There was no sign of forced entry into the house, and officers found several boxes of food, delivered by Meals On Wheels, still sitting on the front porch, said Executive Officer Mark Bollinger of the Rock Hill Police Department.
A day earlier, family members – “particularly her daughter”– became concerned that no one had heard from Campbell in several days. When officers went to check the home Dec. 13, no one came to open the locked doors, which isn’t uncommon during a welfare check, Bollinger said. Officers returned at about 3:15 p.m. Dec. 14, a Friday, with plans to use a family member’s key to open the door or enter forcefully.
While police were at the scene, one of Campbell’s sisters arrived with a locksmith, who opened the front door. Campbell was found dead in the hallway.
Police collected evidence from Campbell’s home, but they will not say what they found. They’ve submitted evidence to the State Law Enforcement Division for DNA testing, but a backlog in SLED’s DNA lab has delayed progress, Bollinger said.
There were no witnesses to the crime, and no new leads have developed, he said. Police have not been able to determine if James Campbell’s death was linked to Campbell’s slaying, and they have not established a firm motive, though they have followed leads on several rumors.
Police continue to actively investigate Campbell’s death, Bollinger said. But many details about that investigation, police say, will remain guarded.
“There are points of evidence and circumstances that the only people who know ... are us and the person who did the crime,” Bollinger said.
Concern in the neighborhood
Campbell’s family members think about her every day, said one relative who did not want her name published. She added that there have been many sleepless nights where loved ones have wondered, “Who could do such a horrible thing?”
“We’re just ready for this to be over and hope (police) catch whoever did this,” she said.
Since Campbell died, “it’s been a little tough” for neighbors, as well, said Potts, who lives a couple of houses down from Campbell’s. “Most of us are concerned (since) the suspect or suspects are still at large. She didn’t bother anybody.
“People are a lot more concerned,” she said, but they’re also vigilant, watching out for each other and keeping lines of communication open.
With most of her neighbors retirees, Potts said, there isn’t much trouble on her block of South Jones Avenue. But, unlike most of her neighbors, Potts knows what it’s like to be in the loop investigating cases. She worked in law enforcement for more than 18 years, retiring from the York County Solicitor’s Office as a victim’s advocate. She also worked as a trial assistant for former solicitor Tommy Pope, helping prosecutors investigate murders and assaults. Pope is now a Republican state representative from York.
A year without any arrests, she said, doesn’t mean police have stopped working.
“You get leads people call in you hear a conversation that most of the public doesn’t know about,” Potts said. “A lot of it does take a while. With an ongoing investigation, you can’t talk about it (because) you don’t want to spook the suspect.”
If police have identified a suspect but don’t have enough enough evidence to make an arrest, they’ll wait until the “person slips up,” Potts said. And,“they’ll slip up.”
Campbell’s killer likely “caught her off guard,” Potts said, where “she was in a position that she couldn’t help herself.” Potts said it would be no surprise if the suspect is someone Campbell knew.
“A person obsessed with getting what they want” will go to any means to get it, she said. “Sometimes, that’s stealing. Sometimes, that’s robbing. Sometimes, it’s killing.”
Tommy Jones, who lived across the street from Campbell, spoke with police the night her body was found. He told officers then that he saw a man looking around near Campbell’s house and then speaking with police the day before Campbell was found dead.
“Something’s not right about that situation,” Jones said. “That is not right. The policemen should be” finding her killer.
“We’re paying them to do their jobs. It’s not over until they get that suspect,” he said. “God’s going to fix it some kind of way. Something needs to be done about that situation.”
Campbell’s homicide is one of four in 2012 without an arrest or resolution. Police have said those cases are not unsolved, but investigators have faced challenges because evidence connecting suspects with the crimes is not strong enough for convictions.
“Some cases lend themselves to a suspect right away,” said Willy Thompson, deputy 16th Circuit solicitor. Others take longer.
“In some cases, you may have a suspect but may not have enough evidence to charge that suspect,” he said.
Anyone with information on the death of Cora Campbell is asked to call the Rock Hill Police Department at 803-329-7200.