On December 14, 1972 – 46 years ago today – Bonnie Wheeler Neighbors of Benson disappeared while on the way to school to pick up her oldest son. Three days later she was found shot to death in a labor camp in the Meadow community. Her death is still unsolved but is still being investigated.
Neighbors was 33 years of age and the mother of two young boys. She left her home on Highway 50 with her infant son to travel to Benson to pick up her oldest son, 7 year-old Ken III, from school. She never made it. The following day her station wagon was found abandoned on Market Street in Benson.
Dozens of volunteers and law enforcement officers worked out of the Benson School to try and find Bonnie. Those who didn’t participate in the search brought food and drinks to the school for those who did.
On Dec. 17, 1972 Bonnie Neighbors was found shot to death in the vacant labor camp. She had also suffered a blow to the head.
Her 3 month-old son, Glen, was found next to her. He was cold but alive. Glen was taken to Betsy Johnston Hospital in Dunn where he was treated. Neighbor’s body was placed on a stretcher and taken to a helicopter where it was flown to UNC Hospitals for examination.
Then Sheriff Raeford Oliver assigned two deputies to the case, Fulton Moore and Lemay Penny. John Twisdale was the District Attorney. They along with SBI agents spent thousands of man hours looking for her killer. Local news outlets had special coverage of the murder for the weeks that followed but eventually the search for her killer grew cold.
In April 2007, Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell reopened the cold case. Bizzell was just 14 when Bonnie Neighbors was killed.
Using modern forensic technology like DNA, all the evidence was resubmitted. In 2017, on the 45th anniversary of her death, sheriff’s detectives traveled to the NC mountains to track down a new tip in the cold case. And earlier this year a tip led homicide detectives to another state.
“As you recall, I reopened this investigation a few years back and detectives have worked numerous leads on this unsolved murder,” Sheriff Bizzell told WTSB News. “Recently detectives followed up on leads that took them out of state. We will continue to investigate this murder in hopes of one day solving it.”
Former prosecutor John Twisdale said, “It is the only murder case in my tenure that I recall was not solved. It still bothers me. I am still hopeful someday it will be solved.”
For those who knew her, Bonnie Neighbors is still remembered by family and friends as having three main priorities in her life that was cut tragically short. Her priorities were her church, family, and home.