On February 22, 2021, 35 year-old David “Van” Alphin was reported missing by his family. Forty-two day later, on April 5, 2021, a lifelong friend, James Eric House, 35, of Highway 421, Clinton was charged with his murder. The Sampson County Sheriff’s Office said Alphin was the victim of foul play but so far have not been able to locate his remains.
Van’s brother, Kane Alphin, wants the public to know who his brother was and to publicly thank a Johnston County private investigator he says helped crack the case.
Van grew up outside of Clinton, NC the oldest of three boys. The first word he ever said was ‘tractor’ and running a tractor was one of the things he enjoyed the most.
He attended Midway High and during school volunteered for two years at a local fire department. Working with his hands was important. After graduation in 2004 from Midway High, Van went to work near his home helping a produce farmer. Van loved anything to do with farming and a tractor.
“He enjoyed plowing, disking, spraying crops, harvesting, anything of that nature,” Kane Alphin said. “If it involved a tractor he loved it.”
Van didn’t have any children but loved spending time with his 6 year-old niece, Zaylin. He also enjoyed seeing people laugh and smile. “He was a bit of a jokester. He liked to pick and play.”
“He had been staying with one of our cousins. Our cousin’s girlfriend, which also lived there, she worked with my wife and was telling my wife Van hadn’t come home,” Kane told Johnston County Report. “We hadn’t heard from him. We didn’t know what was going on. After her telling my wife that, and her telling me that, within a couple of nights I had a bad gut feeling something was not right.”
“The story told to us was he was seen leaving on a white SUV, which is what his previous girlfriend drove. We got sidetracking and thought he went with her. As time went on, we filed a missing person report. We knew something ain’t right.”
“They checked into it and said the while SUV the previous girlfriend had been driving was in the shop at the time he went missing. So we let them investigate – Sampson County law enforcement investigate – for not quite a month, and a cousin of ours reached out to us and told us about David Marshburn and what he does. I called him on a Sunday night and didn’t get him. I called him back on Monday and explained to him about my brother. David (Marshburn) said he had more than he could work on. But as we explained more, he said he could solve this case pretty quick. Everything started improving since he has been on it. I can’t really elaborate much further. I do know he was a vital part of getting to the point we’re at right now.”
David Marshburn, the owner of Marshburn’s Investigation Agency in Smithfield, and the organizer of the non-profit Search For Me Foundation, did get involved as promised. Within days, the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office had arrested and charged James ‘Eric’ House with murder. House is being held without bond in the Sampson County Detention Center.
“Eric House went to Midway High School with us,” Kane Alphin said. “I was one grade behind him I believe. Van and I have known him our entire lives. I know he has a daughter and outside of that I don’t know a lot about him.”
Kane said Van had worked part-time at a cow, hog and row crop farm owned by Eric’s family. Van went to work full-time at the farm last year.
Authorities aren’t saying how they believe Van Alphin was killed or how Eric House was connected to the murder. Kane says there are rumors the death was over a monetary debt but he isn’t sure and detectives aren’t saying. Kane says his brother was a non-violent person.
“We asked (about a motive) and honest to goodness all they told us, it was an ongoing investigation and they arrested Eric House for murder. We don’t know. The only answer we have right now is that Eric House done it,” Kane said.
A candlelight vigil was held in March for Van Alphin, a few weeks before his family learned he had been murdered. A memorial service was held last weekend for friends and family.
“It is easier talking with someone without a badge”
David Marshburn has helped solve several missing persons cases, including the 2012 disappearance of Kelli Bordeaux, an Army Specialist who disappeared on April 14, 2012 from a Fayetteville nightclub and the February 17, 2018 disappearance of a 5 year-old boy in Wichita, Kansas.
“I got a call from Kane to help the family. He called me and wanted to know if there was any way I could help with the case. I was slammed busy but thought since it was in Clinton I would check in and see what I could do. When I get on something I can’t let it go. I ended up staying on it for about a week,” Mr. Marshburn said.
“Law enforcement had all the bases covered. They pretty much felt like they knew what happened they just weren’t getting any cooperation from a witness or anything tangible with the case. When I came in I didn’t want to mess up the case. We have to keep our investigate separate from law enforcement. They have theirs. I have mine. When you have a witness you have to be careful what you do. When you have communication skills to talk with anyone, and not having a badge, they want assurances they won’t be involved or thrown under the bus. It is easier talking with someone without a badge.”
“Sampson County (Sheriff’s Office) did everything they could. They had all the bases down. They felt like there was malice involved. The story they were getting was only from the one committing the crime. It was tough. I came in on the back end and put the puzzle pieces together. It was all them. I just did a few things on my own to help with the investigation.”
Marshburn says he believes he knows how Van was killed but isn’t releasing that information to protect the law enforcement investigation. “I pretty much know the whole situation of what happened to Van. At this time I have pulled myself out of the investigation. Law enforcement has to take over at this point. It’s an ongoing investigation and I don’t want to disturb what they are doing.”
Are there other possible suspects? Marshburn says, “There are potentially other suspects that could have been involved with disposing or helping cover up the crime.”
Marshburn believes Van Alphin was killed within 24 hours of his disappearance.
“The person who last saw him was the person who was charged with murder,” Marshburn said.
Marshburn is hopeful Van’s body can be recovered soon to give the family closure. “It’s all going to be up to the defendant. If the defendant shows any remorse he will give them something. I hope the family can get closure with the justice part of it.”
“Our family is all to pieces. It’s something nobody should have to go through. Natural death is bad enough,” Kane Alphin said. “I would like to thank the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office. They have worked tirelessly. Unfortunately, people aren’t as willing to cooperate with them as they are David.”
Marshburn operates the non-profit Search For Me Foundation, dedicated to helping solve missing persons cases. It’s a cause the Alphin family now supports.
Marshburn says he continues to work on the November 2016 disappearance of Cole Thomas of Florida who was last seen in Benson. It’s a case Marshburn says can be solved.
Anyone who has any information on the murder of David “Van” Alphin is asked to contact the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office at 910-592-4141.
Van is survived by his parents, David and Debbie Alphin, and his two younger brother, Kane, 33, and Jacob 26.