Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

May 29, 2011

Wolf Creek murders ended age of innocence across the two Virginias

May 28, 1978, marked a beginning for many in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia. It was the end of innocence, and the start of a new day marked with unimaginable violence and a heinous crime.

I was 11 years old. My short decade on this earth had been marked with an idyllic childhood. Living in the country with my parents, grandparents and older siblings, my life was near perfect. I spent my days outside playing with our dogs and cats, riding the go-cart like a NASCAR driver in training and running barefoot across the many grassy, rocky and wooded acres surrounding our home.

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My childhood could be characterized by family, friends, fun and normalcy. According to memory and my childhood scrapbook, which Mom meticulously kept updated, my “likes” included my pets, my family, my friends, cheerleading, dance classes and more.

Another pastime my friends and I enjoyed was Girl Scouts. We faithfully attended our weekly meetings, sold cookies and racked up badges. And in 1977, at age 10, we enjoyed our first week-away-from-home camp experience.

We stayed at Camp Clyde Browder in Bland County, Va., with girl scouts from across the region. It was a new experience for many of us. Although we had enjoyed plenty of sleepovers, it wasn’t the same. Staying a night or two at a best friend’s house was nothing like living in a tent in the woods — with outdoor plumbing — for a week.

There were bugs, spiders and snakes (in the tents), the challenge of cooking over a campfire (runny eggs-in-hole anyone?) and the latrine. Thirty-plus years later I can still recall the odor that emanated from that wooden building.

Worse than using it in the daytime was a nature call in the middle of the night. The first evening at camp my tent had a latrine call after midnight. We got in trouble when we were spotted walking barefoot through the woods.

Our punishment was cleaning lanterns. That was child’s play compared to the true Girl Scout camping punishment: the mandatory eating of two prunes every night at dinner.

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Despite the prunes, snakes and latrine, my friends and I thoroughly enjoyed our week at Girl Scout camp, and looked forward to returning the following year.

Then came the Memorial Day weekend of 1978, and things changed. Life had a new measuring point: before and after the Wolf Creek murders.

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My parents didn’t talk about it in front of me, but I was adept at sneaking around and listening to conversations I wasn’t supposed to hear.

I learned that a couple, around the ages of my older brothers and sisters, had been killed. I knew it was bad from their hushed tones and shocked expressions.

The boy, Jeff Scott, 21, was from Bramwell, just up the road and river from where we lived. The girl, Karen Noble, 20, was from Bluefield, the city where we shopped.

Although only 11, I was already a faithful reader of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Each day at breakfast I grabbed the paper to read the “funnies.” After May 28, 1978, I began secretly reading the news pages.

I wanted to know what happened to “the couple.” The couple who were good kids — so like my own siblings. The couple who had met a fate that caused my parents to be worried and scared. The couple whose death resulted in my mom pulling me out of Girl Scout camp in 1978 because its location was too close to the scene of the murders for her to feel comfortable.

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Three decades and three years later, these murders once again became a centerpiece in my life. When the Daily Telegraph announced the beginning of a new cold case series a month ago, reaction from the public was immediate. Through e-mails, Facebook postings and phone calls we were asked to investigate the Wolf Creek murders. The public wanted to know who was responsible for the death of Karen and Jeff.

The case was tentatively slated to be part of the series later in the year. But three weeks ago, while doing initial research on the case, I realized the anniversary date was drawing near. And I knew it was the opportune time to revisit the case that had such a life-altering impact on so many across the region.

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For the past three weeks I have been engrossed in the Wolf Creek murders. I have interviewed anyone willing to speak up in an attempt to shed some light on these homicides that forever changed the lives of all those living in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

My hope, my goal, was to be a voice for Karen and Jeff, a young couple whose lives came to a tragic end on Memorial Day weekend 1978. The story on today’s front page of the Daily Telegraph will not answer all the lingering questions about the murders, but, with hope, it will help bring a renewed spotlight on the case.

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The Wolf Creek murders marked an end to the age of innocence in Four Seasons Country. In the blink of an eye, our region evolved from a safe haven to the site of a horrific double murder. No longer was it OK to go to sleep with unlocked doors and keys in the car in the driveway.

The murder of Karen and Jeff brought a new reality to the people of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia: Bad things can and do happen to good people.

Samantha Perry is managing editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com.

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