Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 28, 2011

1981 murder of local businessman remains unsolved

CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — By

 — It wasn’t unusual for Charles Boone to schedule an early morning business meeting on a weekend.

Such was the case on the fateful morning of Saturday, March 14, 1981. Boone, a prominent 33-year-old Bluefield area businessman, was scheduled to meet his business partner at his office on the third floor of the old Commercial Bank Building on Bluefield Avenue.

Boone was a partner in Boone-Meadows Associates, a CPA firm, and owned Kingfield Restaurant. His business interests at the time stretched to Pineville and Kingsport, Tenn.., where he also owned restaurants. Boone was active in the local business community serving as a member of both the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce and the Fincastle Country Club.

The meeting scheduled for 7 a.m. on the morning of March 14, 1981, should have been routine. It wasn’t. Instead of meeting his business partner, Boone instead was confronted by an unknown assailant. A scuffle between the two men ensued.

Shortly before 8 a.m., Boone’s body was discovered in the hallway just outside of his office. There were signs of a struggle. Police believe Boone was strangled to death sometime between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. by the unknown assailant.

“He was strangled to death with his own coat — he had a sports jacket on,” Tom Helton, a retired lieutenant with the Bluefield Police Department who reopened the Boone homicide in 2001, said. “It (the homicide) was inside. It was on the third floor. He had an office space. It was in the early morning hours. He was supposed to have a meeting there around 7 a.m. in the morning. I think his secretary came. I’m not for sure what time she came in, but she came in and found him and called the police and that’s how we got involved.”

At the time, Helton was a newly appointed detective at the city police department. He was dispatched to the scene to assist original investigator Jim Dent.

“There was a struggle at the bank,” Helton said of the crime scene. “There was a fight. You could see boot marks on the wall. His wallet was laying out.”

In the days after the murder, police launched a widespread investigation. At one point, Helton remembers traffic being stopped along Bluefield Avenue. Random motorists were asked if they saw anything suspicious in the area around the time of the murder.

At the time, Bluefield Avenue was bustling with traffic. There was a Shoney’s Restaurant and the original Captain D’s restaurant just a short distance from the bank building, as well as a grocery store. Police believed someone somewhere must have saw something.

Helton said an arrest was initially made, but the charges against the original suspect were later dropped. He wasn’t the man they were looking for.

But someone did see something on the morning of the murder. However, the witness wouldn’t come forward to police until nearly a decade later.

The day this witness may have seen the killer was March 13, 1981. The witness — a young man from Bluefield — had a construction job in North Carolina. He was back in town for a birthday party. His birthday just so happened to be March 14, 1981.

The young man had spent the night at his home in Bluefield. On the morning of the brutal murder, he walked in the rain toward the Princeton Avenue Parking Garage where he had left his car. As he walked along Bluefield Avenue near the Commercial Bank Building, a muscular stranger in a raincoat suddenly darted out in front of him. The man appeared to be of Mediterranean descent. Both men faced each other for several seconds. It was an encounter the witness wouldn’t forget.

“He was walking down Bluefield Avenue at the time and he ran into a gentleman who came out of the bank,” Helton said. “He came out of the bank, and was in a hurry. He was dressed in a black rain coat.”

At the time, the young man had no way of knowing that a murder had just occurred at the bank, and that he had just came face to face with a possible killer. In fact, he wouldn’t put the pieces of the puzzle together until nearly a decade later after reading an article in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

The article that jarred his memory was a story detailing the exhumation of Boone’s body by local authorities.

In 2002, advances in DNA had reached all new levels. Police had long theorized that Boone got his hands on his killer. And if he did, there was a chance that DNA evidence could still be under his fingernails. Family members consented, and gave authorities the green light to exhume Boone’s body.

Helton said the exhumation was a “million to one shot.” But it was a shot police, and family members, were willing to take in hopes of solving the 22-year-old unsolved homicide. If DNA from the attacker had been under Boone’s fingernails, the odds were good that it would still be there.

A court order was issued on March 6, 2002, and Boone’s body was exhumed from the Monte Vista Park Cemetery. DNA samples were taken.

“Out of that came the witness who saw somebody leaving the lot at that time,” Helton said of the young man who witnessed the tall, muscular man of Mediterranean descent rushing out of the bank nearly 22 years ago. “He read it in the paper when we did the exhumation. The fellow called me and told me he saw somebody that morning, and the reason he knew it was that particular morning was because it was his birthday.”

From the witness account, a composite sketch of a “person of interest” was developed, and transmitted across the National Crime Information Center.

Soon a second witness would emerge with a very similar story. Helton said a man matching the same description from the first witness — a muscular man of Mediterranean descent — was spotted on the same day at a local grocery store where he attempted to cash a check from the New York area.

Helton said a store clerk at the grocery store felt uncomfortable about cashing the check since it was from out of town. The man then left the grocery store without getting the check cashed. Helton said when employees at the grocery store saw the composite sketch, they confirmed it was the same man who had entered their store attempting to cash a check.

Helton said police do not believe the suspect was from the area.

“That was the main theory I had developed is that it wasn’t a local person,” Helton said. “There were all kind of theories about what was going on at the time.”

Helton said one of the simpler theories at the time was that the suspect entered the bank hoping to cash the out-of-town check.

 “Then there is a theory that it was just somebody in town trying to cash a check and get out of town, and just walked into the bank and the guy killed him (Boone) and robbed him,” Helton said. “There are several theories out there.”

At the time of Boone’s death, Helton also investigated reports that the businessman was working with a construction company to build restaurants. He also learned that during the time, a man came to the area to work with the construction company who appeared to be a Mediterranean descent, according to earlier reports by the Daily Telegraph. A source with the construction company provided Helton with names of people who used to work there. During the course of the investigation, he was able to track down individuals and gather more information. Helton took the composite sketch to a couple of workers. From those interviews, Helton began searching for a man who collected money for the construction company. The man was never located.

While the investigation gained steam with the search for a person of interest identified in the composite sketch, it also suffered a setback when a crime lab analysis failed to find DNA evidence under Boone’s fingernails.

Today, more than 30 years later, the murder mystery remains unsolved. The person of interest identified in the composite sketch remains at large. Police are still hoping that someone with additional information regarding the crime will step forward.

“I would just like to see the final thing closed,” Helton said. “But as time goes by it gets harder. I would really like to see it solved. I spent a lot of time on it and talked to a lot of good people. A lot of good people helped me with it. The (past) articles you all ran — people would come forward because it would jar their memories. They would come forward and talk about it. From that we were able to get a composite sketch.”

Anyone with any information regarding the unsolved homicide is asked to contact the Bluefield Police Department at (304) 327-6101.

“Obviously, any information we can get on it we would love to have — as well as any cold case we have,” Police Chief Joe Wilson said. “If anybody has information on it, we would like to hear from them.”

 — Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com