Bluefield Daily Telegraph
In the early morning hours of Saturday, Oct. 5, 1996, Sgt. Greg Martin, of the Jonesville, N.C., police department, stopped a suspicious red Dodge pick-up truck off Interstate 77 in the town he was patrolling.
Martin’s call in to dispatch did not indicate undue alarm. Yet when a North Carolina state trooper radioed and asked if he needed assistance, the sergeant responded in the affirmative. Four minutes later the trooper arrived on the scene to find Martin dead on the side of the road. He had been shot multiple times in the head, and the red pick-up was gone.
Four days earlier, on Oct. 1, the red Dodge truck was on the Ramey Motors lot in Princeton. Late that Tuesday evening, two young men stopped at the dealership and checked out the vehicle. One of the men, who wore a cap, did all the talking.
The salesman noticed the men were driving a solid green, four-wheel drive, 1995 or ’96 Dodge truck with a matching green fiberglass camper shell. The vehicle also had Florida tags, which the salesman commented on. The young man responded that they were “up here visiting family.”
The next morning, the red Dodge was missing from the lot. However, because vehicles are frequently moved and shuffled, it was not immediately reported stolen.
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In Jonesville, N.C., the events of Oct. 5, 1996, unfolded quickly. At 2:40 a.m., Sgt. Martin radioed in about a suspicious person on foot at a strip mall. His transmission: “I’m going to be out with a subject behind the shopping center here beside the Huddle House.”
Jonesville Police Chief Roger Reece believes the “suspicious person” may have been trying to get out of town. He said Martin may have followed him to his vehicle, and then followed the vehicle the short distance to I-77.
Martin’s next radio transmission came one minute and 15 seconds later. “He comes on and says he’s now stopping a red Dodge truck, with West Virginia license 4SD-629, about a mile south on Interstate 77,” Reece said.
Martin was out with the subject for several minutes, but never ran a name because the truck was not reported stolen, Reece said. Later it was learned the tags on the truck were also stolen.
Reece said the tags had been taken from a customer’s vehicle parked outside of Eagle Transmission on Athens Road in Princeton. It is believed the tags were also stolen sometime on Oct. 1, 1996.
“When Greg (Martin) stopped the vehicle, he didn’t know the truck was stolen; he didn’t know the tags were stolen. He didn’t know they didn’t match,” Reece said.
While Martin was out with the person or persons in the Dodge truck, Reece said a state trooper radioed and asked if he needed backup. Martin’s response was “1025,” which is “report to me.”
Reece said the “1025” response translates to “looks like I’m going to need some assistance.”
“He was not hollering, ‘Help!’ ’’ the chief said. “He was trying to figure out what he had going on.”
The state trooper was traveling north on I-77. He arrived on the scene in four-and-a-half minutes. He found Martin gunned down on the side of the road and the truck gone.
Later that day, the red Dodge was found in the neighboring town of Elkin hidden behind a textile plant. One of the company’s vans had been stolen. The next day, around noon, the van was discovered abandoned in Gastonia, N.C., off Interstate 85, at a Home Depot parking lot.
“It was like everything went cold right there,” Reece said.
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Chief Reece is aware of the many strong family and work connections between the people of southern West Virginia and North Carolina. Jonesville, near Mount Airy, is a mere 100 miles from Mercer County; and Gastonia, 200 miles.
“Back in the 1990s, Gastonia was a large textile town with a lot of businesses,” Reece said. “A lot of people from West Virginia moved there to get jobs.”
As officials continue their search to discover the suspects’ connection to southern West Virginia, Chief Reece believes the key may be finding the identity of the two young men driving the green Dodge truck, with the green camper top, who were at Ramey Moters around 6 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 1.
Reece noted the green Dodge could also have been a stolen vehicle.
However, he said the man’s comment about being in the area visiting relatives could have been true as, at that time, the men would not have known what was going to transpire days later in North Carolina.
The three-day time frame — from when the red Dodge was taken from Ramey Motors to when it was pulled over by Sgt. Martin — is also a mystery to investigators. “It was gone on Wednesday morning from the car lot,” Reece said. “It went somewhere between Jonesville and Princeton for three days. We don’t know where.”
First Sgt. J.R. Pauley, with the West Virginia State Police Princeton detachment, said he believes there is “absolutely” a local connection between the suspects and southern West Virginia, and he is certain “there is someone out there who has information.”
Reece said the suspects’ local connection may not be to Princeton specifically; it could be anywhere in Mercer, McDowell or Tazewell counties. “I have a 200-mile crime scene from Princeton to Gastonia,” he noted.
Authorities have as many as three suspects in the case — the two young men who were at the Ramey lot, and a third man, who had a full beard, seen in the stolen van after Sgt. Martin was killed. Police have released composite sketches of these individuals.
A $130,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case. Last week, Chief Reece was in Mercer and McDowell counties distributing flyers with the reward and contact information. “Somebody knows what happened,” he said.
The FBI is working with the Jonesville Police Department on the case. Anyone with information can call 1-800-334-3000 (toll-free, 24-hours a day) or 1-704-377-9200, or contact their local West Virginia State Police detachment.
“The family needs justice and closure, and the town of Jonesville needs closure,” Reece said. “Sgt. Martin had a son who was 6 months old when he was killed. He’s now turning 15. He never knew his dad ... he wants to know who was responsible.”
— Contact Samantha Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org