More than 46 years after the death of Bonnie Wheeler Neighbors of Benson, the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office announced this afternoon (Tuesday) an arrest has been made in the Cold Case investigation.
Mrs. Neighbors disappeared on December 14, 1972 on the way to pick up her oldest son from school in Benson. Three days later she was found shot to death at a vacant labor camp in the Meadow community. Her infant son was by her side alive.
In a press conference, Sheriff Steve Bizzell announced the arrest of 65 year-old Larry Joe Scott, formerly of Benson, and now living in Bradenton, Florida.
On Monday, Johnston County detectives, along with detectives from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested Larry Joe Scott (also known as London Scott) on charges of first degree murder and kidnapping.
Sheriff Bizzell reopened the cold case in 2007 and along with his detectives have been working diligently on the unsolved murder case over the past 12 years.
“In 1972, I was only 14 years old, but something about Bonnie Neighbors’ killing and about this case always bothered me,” Sheriff Bizzell said. “After I became Sheriff and in 2007, I was still haunted and continued to be concerned about Mrs. Neighbors and her sons, her family, and her husband being denied justice because the killer had not been found.”
Captain Buck Pipkin undertook the reinvestigation of the case with the assistance of Lt. Ryan Benson. Sheriff Bizzell said he felt that with new technology officers would be able to develop forensice evidence to go with the other investigatory results and find the suspect.
“I felt that we would be ultimately able to find the killer, and Mr. Ken Neighbors also believed that, if we were patient, we would ultimately make an arrest, but unfortunately he passed away before this day came,” Sheriff Bizzell said.
Larry Joe Scott is being held in a Manatee County, Florida jail awaiting extradition to North Carolina. Sheriff Bizzell said his detectives have already questioned Scott in Florida but declined to say what, if anything, Scott told investigators.
When the case was reopened in 2007, DNA was found by the state crime lab on evidence collected at the crime scene. Advances in DNA technology in the past two years allowed the DNA to be resubmitted by the state crime lab through a national database, which provided the new lead to detectives.
Officials said Scott was living on the streets of Bradenton, Florida and was eating daily at a soup kitchen. He has no known connection to Bonnie Neighbors or her family, but was living in the Benson area and known to frequent labor camps in Benson at the time of Neighbors 1972 murder.
Mrs. Neighbors was found shot to death at the vacant labor camp. She also suffered a blow to the head. Her 3 month-old son, Glen, was found next to her, cold but alive. Sheriff Bizzell said he spoke with Glen Neighbors late-Monday and informed him “we have found and arrested your mother’s murderer.”
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.