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Probe of woman's death upholds suicide finding

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A homicide task force that was looking into the August 2015 death of Felicia Reeves of Hendersonville has told her family that the case has been closed, according to Reeves’ sister Suzan Bayorgeon.
“A thorough review of Felicia’s death was conducted,” Sgt. Joe Vendas of the Union County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office wrote Thursday in an email to Bayorgeon.

“(The review) involved identifying and interviewing witnesses, re-examining photographs of the scene and a review of the autopsy by the medical examiner as well as other investigative tools. The investigation that was conducted supported the Elizabeth (N.J.) Police Department’s assessment, as well as the medical examiner’s conclusion that Felicia’s death was a suicide. Nothing was found that would support anyone else being involved in her death.”

Vendas’ remarks came in response to the sister’s request for an update on the probe, announced in August 2016. It was unclear how long ago the probe ended. An initial death investigation by Elizabeth police ended quickly in fall 2015.

In response to an inquiry from Carolina Public Press later Thursday, Vendas apologized but said he could not comment. CPP has identified several irregularities and unexplained discrepancies with the original case, most of which appear not to have been part of the review that Vendas described to Bayorgeon.

The sister said nothing about the New Jersey decision surprises her. Nor does it change her belief that Reeves was murdered, with her death made to look like a suicide.

The trail of evidence in New Jersey was very cold by the time the task force reexamined it, but Bayorgeon believes that evidence could still come to light in North Carolina that would reveal what actually happened.

Reeves disappeared from Hendersonville in August 2016. An Elizabeth, N.J., motel maid reported finding her body a week later hanging from a shower curtain rod.

Carolina Public Press has reported extensively on the case since February 2015, following months of investigation, with multiple updates through October 2016. The announcement that the homicide task force would take the case followed both CPP’s reports and a letter-writing campaign by Bayorgeon.

One theory of how Reeves could have been killed is that someone incapacitated her, possibly with a drug that was not part of the toxicology screening done post mortem, then placed her into the noose on the shower curtain rod, causing her death by hanging. Vendas’ email appears to indicate the review turned up no evidence of another party’s involvement, but not that such involvement was clearly excluded from possibility.
Unresolved questions

Among the problem issues that CPP has identified with Reeves’ disappearance and death:

  • Financial records and other evidence suggests that Reeves left the Henderson motel where she had living for some time without formally checking out on Aug. 19, then traveled Aug. 20 to the Buncombe County airport, where she took a ground shuttle service to Charlotte. She can be placed at several locations in Manhattan and Queens on Aug. 21, including putting down a $140 deposit for eyeware at a high-end boutique. Later on Aug. 21, she checked into a motel room in nearby Elizabeth, New Jersey. How she traveled from North Carolina to the northeast and whether she was alone is unknown. Why these movements and a purchase of expensive items that she never picked up if she was only going to a motel to kill herself?
  • Reeves’ parents received a phone call from a man asking for their credit card information to cover incidentals on a motel stay for Reeves. They declined to do this. But staff members at the New Jersey motel where she was staying and later found dead have said that she checked in alone and no male employee was on duty when she checked in. So who made this call?
  • Elizabeth Police originally said surveillance footage showed no one entering or leaving Reeves’ room from the time she checked in until a week later when the maid cleaned the room and found her. But credit card information and receipts show that Reeves was in Manhattan during that time period. At Penn Station she purchased a possibly never-used train ticket to Philadelphia. If she didn’t leave the room, then how could she have been in Manhattan making purchases? And what was she doing making those types of purchases if she went there to kill herself?
  • Elizabeth Police have never responded to CPP’s requests to talk with them about the case and never officially addressed the problem with Reeves’ leaving her room. They did talk with a local newspaper in New Jersey in March 2016, a few days after CPP’s initial article appeared, but officers did not address these objections regarding the case. However, Bayorgeon received an anonymous call in summer 2016 warning her to stop pushing for a new investigation and claiming that police had always meant that no one other than Reeves entered or left the room. If that’s the correct explanation for that issue, why didn’t police just say so when repeatedly given the opportunity? And what was someone making a harassing phone call doing with that sort of information? For that matter, why was someone making a harassing call?
  • The original autopsy described aspects of Reeves’ anatomy inaccurately, such as saying her reproductive organs appeared normal when in fact she was missing an ovary due to a previous surgery. The autopsy also described one tattoo in detail but failed to note several other tattoos. How thorough was the autopsy if it missed these things?

Suspicions

Reeves’ family has told CPP that they believe someone killed her for reasons connected to her life prior to arriving in New Jersey.
Reeves had been residing in North Carolina through most of the summer of 2015 after spending several months in Kentucky. Prior to that she had lived in Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe and Rowan counties at different times over the previous decade.

In the months just before her death, Reeves posted to social media that she had been acting as an informant. She also predicted that someone would attempt to kill her. Although the information is unclear, some evidence has suggested Reeves was in contact with people engaged in human and drug trafficking. She may have been acting as some sort of interstate courier, making sudden and otherwise unexplained trips to Ohio, Texas and ultimately the New York City area. If her associates believed she was informing on them – regardless of whether she actually was – they might have had motive and means to silence her.

It’s not clear whether one of the people on whom she was threatening to “inform” was her ex-husband Titus Boley. Reeves had told many people that she feared he would try to kill her, just as he had done before.

Boley served several months in prison in 2009 after attempting to strangle her. On another occasion he held a glass shard to her throat, according to court records from Transylvania County were the couple resided, part of a long history of violent abuse.

Family members have told CPP that the physical abuse and psychological intimidation continued long after their marriage and relationship were over, including after he left prison. They said Reeves stopped believing that the law enforcement system was able to protect her. She and her family feared that he would injure Reeves or her children.

According to the family, Boley contacted them the same day they learned of Reeves’ death to express his condolences – before that information went public. They said he told them that he learned about her death from social media. But no one who knew that she was dead had posted anything to social media at the time, the family says.

Boley has a lengthy history of conflict with the law. Most recently, Polk County authorities arrested him in May 2016 for trying to sell drugs to an undercover officer near the South Carolina state line. A grand jury indicted him on four counts, including two felonies, in November. He faces trial on those charges on March 1.