One Year Later, Cole Thomas Disappearance Still Unsolved

At 3:00am on November 25th, 2016, Christopher “Cole” Thomas was reported missing. On the one year anniversary of his disappearance his family and friends are still desperate for answers about what happened to the 22 year-old man.

According to two friends he had known less than 3 weeks, they were traveling on I-40 towards Durham when they exited off the interstate and traveled into Benson.

As the men were traveling through a residential area, the two men said Thomas suddenly stopped the car, jumped out and ran away.  The two friends attempted to find him but could not so they called Benson Police.

“As the father of two young adults near Cole’s age, I cannot begin to comprehend what the Thomas family is going through,” Benson  Mayor William Massengill said shortly after the 2016 disappearance. “My heart goes out to them.”

A reward continues to be offered for information leading to Cole’s location.

Cole, an honor student in high school in Florida, had been working as an electrician most recently in Pine Island, Minnesota before the 17-hour 1,100 mile Thanksgiving 2016 trip to North Carolina.

Benson Police Chief Kenneth Edwards states, “As a parent myself, I can only imagine how difficult a year this has been for Cole’s family.  Our staff, and our investigative partners have worked tirelessly to find answers for them, and we will continue to do so.  Our commitment remains to finding Cole Thomas, no matter how long that takes, to reuniting him with his family, and to obtaining justice for him.  Mr. and Mrs. Thomas and their family have our support, and they remain in our prayers.”

Four men were charged earlier this year in connection with his disappearance but details about what happened to Cole remain a mystery.  Jeremy Brian Carpenter, 42, of Taylor Falls, Minnesota; Julian Valles Jr., 34, of Dudley; Rudolfo DeLeon Jr., 27, of Mt. Olive; and Anthony Ridell James, Jr., 26, of Mt. Olive are charged with concealment of a death.

During a court hearing in August for one of the defendants, a prosecutor said Thomas, Valles and Carpenter planned a trip from Minnesota to North Carolina to buy drugs.  After purchasing methamphetamines, the three men drove past a deputy sheriff somewhere near Mount Olive. Afterwards, Cole allegedly became paranoid and eventually tossed the drugs from the vehicle.  Around 1:10am Cole fled from the vehicle and disappeared.

Their stories then differ about what happened to Cole.  One co-defendant claimed Cole had been struck with a bat and later he heard gunshots. The co-defendant later changed his story and told police the information was a lie.

Law enforcement officers, family and friends have conducted dozens of searches but haven’t had any success in finding Cole.

His father, Chris Thomas, has made countless 500-mile trips from Florida to Benson to search for his son. He has met countless friends in the Benson area who also want to help him and his family find answers and locate Cole.

Search And Balloon Release
Two events will be taking place this weekend in Benson on the one year anniversary of Cole’s disappearance.

Volunteers will search for Cole from 8:00am until 2:30pm Saturday.  The search will also continue on Sunday.

Saturday at 3:00pm there will be a Balloon Release at the white fence across from the Benson Police Department.

Thomas is described as a 22 year-old white male, 6 foot 1, 230 pounds, with brown/blonde hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing a light blue shirt, black long sleeve undershirt, black pants, dark colored (Hurly) shoes and a blue and white ball cap.

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Christopher Cole Thomas is asked to contact Benson Police at 919-894-2091 or email tips to

(story updated to correct clothing description)