Several months ago, I received an e-mail from a listener asking me if I’d ever heard any stories of murder victims being left on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I couldn’t say I had at that point, so his e-mail inspired me to do a little digging in the newspaper archives. I discovered several cases I hadn’t heard of before, plus a few I knew about but wanted to get more information on.
The Blue Ridge Parkway spans 469 miles and runs from Virginia to North Carolina, connecting Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a beautiful and popular spot for tourists from all over the country.
While the disappearance of Gabby Petito in September of 2021 kept the world riveted, there were many family members of missing loved ones frustrated by the 24-hour news cycle focusing solely on Gabby. According to a report published by ABC, during the nationwide manhunts for both Gabby and her fiancé Brian Laundrie, search crews found nine different bodies.
Josue Calderon of Providence, Rhode Island, was one of them. Except he wasn’t found in Rhode Island; instead he was discovered 800 miles away from home. On October 9, 2021, a visitor on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Blowing Rock, North Carolina found Josue at the Yadkin Valley Overlook, only a few feet away from the parking area. An autopsy determined he had been stabbed to death. Josue was 33 years old and the father of two children. His family said he didn’t have a car and they had no idea how he had ended up in North Carolina. The FBI began investigating the case, and they determined Josue had been traveling with two other men in a 2018 silver Chevrolet Equinox with Florida plates. On November 17, ABC affiliate WLOS reported an arrest of two people from Rhode Island who were likely connected to Josue Calderon’s death.
Juan Rivera and Julio Castro, both 34 years old, were charged with shooting 38-year-old Jorge Garcia at a café in Providence, Rhode Island on September 25, 2021. The Providence Journal reported that Jorge Garcia was shot in broad daylight around 9:30 in the morning as he ate breakfast. Police told the public the two men knew Jorge Garcia and that his murder was premeditated. The WLOS news report noted that Julio Castro’s name was mentioned in Josue’s obituary, saying his relationship to Josue was “like a brother.”
No other updates on Jorge Garcia or Josue Calderon’s murders have been provided. In January of this year, the FBI stated they knew Jose had been traveling with Juan Rivera and Julian Castro, but continued to ask the public for any tips related to the case.
Anyone with information on the murder of Josue Calderon is asked to call the FBI Charlotte Field Office at 704-672-6100 or the National Park Service tip line at 1-888-653-0009.
Wesley and Bonnie Mahaffey
In 1986, a free vacation getaway turned into a nightmare for an Ohio couple visiting Asheville, North Carolina when they were found murdered at an overlook called Buzzard Rock. Wesley and Bonnie Mahaffey, ages 33 and 29, respectively, had traveled to the area from Hanover Township, Ohio, after winning a three-day trip to Asheville through Wesley’s job. The couple had been staying at a nearby hotel, the Great Smokies Hilton, and a member of the maid service saw them come out of their room as they left for a day of sightseeing on May 18, 1986. Their bodies were found early the next morning by a group of teenage boys. They had both been shot multiple times with a .38-caliber handgun. Buzzard Rock is an area that’s located between Beaverdam Road and the Blue Ridge Parkway, and has always been known as a popular place to watch the sunset because of its beautiful views. But an article in The Asheville Citizen-Times quoted a nearby local resident as saying the area had developed a reputation as a meeting place for drug dealers. Wesley’s pockets were pulled inside out, and his wallet was missing. There were no signs Bonnie had been sexually assaulted.
A Black Mountain resident named Roy Lee Fox was eventually arrested and charged with the murders in 1987. Local law enforcement believed he had come across the couple at Buzzard Rock, robbed and murdered them. He had previously been convicted of murdering an acquaintance named Morris Sams in 1986, and an elderly woman named Ovella Jean Lunsford in the late 1960s during a home robbery. But the case was largely circumstantial, and the charges were eventually dropped for lack of evidence. Fox died in 1992 while serving time in prison for other charges.
To date, the murder of Wesley and Bonnie Mahaffey remains unsolved.
Steven Wade Boyer
A murdered man from Georgia was discovered in Western North Carolina, but it was clear his killer had never meant for his body to be identified. In December of 1984, 27-year-old Steven Wade Boyer had been living with friends in Smyrna, Georgia. At the time, he and his wife, Ellen McGrath Boyer, were in the process of obtaining a divorce. On Dec. 23, Steven told a neighbor he was going to ride to Waynesville, North Carolina with his father-in-law to retrieve a car. His in-laws had a home in Islamorada, Florida for the winter and kept a summer home in Western North Carolina. They were in Smyrna visiting their daughter at the time for the holidays. Steven decided to go with his father-in-law but expressed concern for his own safety and asked his friends to notify police if he didn’t return by 5 p.m. that day. When he didn’t make it home that night, they called the local police.
Three days later, on December 26, 1984, two young hunters discovered a nude body missing its head and hands alongside U.S. 276 in Transylvania County.
At first, investigators had no idea who the victim could be. They hypothesized that the murder was execution style, and the missing head and hands pointed to a perpetrator who did not want the victim’s identity known. On Dec. 30, Hubert Brown, the then chief investigator for the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Department, told the local media, “We’re figuring at this point that the Blue Ridge Parkway plays a significant role in this thing, due to the location of the body.”
With the help of X-rays from hospitals in Ohio and Georgia, investigators were able to identify the body as belonging to Steven Wade Boyer.
The state medical examiner’s report showed Steven was killed by a single shotgun blast to the left side of his chest. Steven’s father, Walter Boyer, repeatedly pressured law enforcement to make an arrest in his son’s case. He stated they had enough evidence to arrest someone for the crime, but stopped short of saying who the suspect was. In September of 1985, a Haywood County grand jury indicted Steven’s father-in-law, 49-year-old James “Jimmy” DeVoe McElrath for the murder.
At Jimmy McElrath’s trial, an FBI agent testified that the shotgun pellets removed from Steven’s deceased body were similar to those found in a box at Jimmy’s Haywood County home. They also found blood stains on the property and in Jimmy’s 1976 Pontiac, and when tested, it was determined to be human blood, although investigators couldn’t narrow down the blood type. A neighbor of Jim’s testified that it was unusual for the McElrath’s to visit their Cruso home in the winter months—they normally were not seen during the months of October until April. He was surprised to see Jim’s car in the driveway on the evening of Dec. 23. The next day, he noticed both of Jim’s cars, a black and brown Pontiac, were in the driveway and went to talk to him. The neighbor said Jim stated his wife was in Smyrna with their daughter and that he was in town to see his ailing father. A grocery attendant testified Jim came into his store on December 24 to borrow a drill, saying he needed to work on a dishwasher at this house. During the investigation, police officers noticed multiple drill holes in the trunk of Jim’s brown Pontiac, including the fender wells. Steven’s body had been found about six miles from Jimmy McElrath’s summer home in Cruso.
Jim Devoe’s defense team insisted he was innocent, and that he had met Steven at a restaurant in Smyrna the morning he went missing, but then Steven was seen driving away with someone else after breakfast.
On August 22, Jimmy Devoe McElrath was found guilty of murdering Steven. He was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 20 years. But in September of 1988, North Carolina State Supreme Court justices ordered a retrial of the case, ruling that the original trial judge had erred in not allowing into evidence a map showing a supposed plan by Steven Boyer to rob the McElrath home. The retrial took place in McDowell County rather than Haywood County, where the first trial was held. After eight hours of deliberation, the jury returned on November 18 with a not guilty verdict. Jim McElrath left the courthouse with his wife and daughter Ellen, a free man.
Steven’s head and hands were never found. The case remains unsolved.
Next, I’d like to talk about the mysterious case of 50-year-old Judith Smith, also known as Judy. She disappeared from Philadelphia in April of 1997, and her remains were found in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest five months later. Her case begins during a springtime trip, where Judy and her husband Jeff Smith planned to mix business with pleasure while Jeff, an attorney, attended a business conference in Philadelphia. Judy was a divorced mother of two who had met Jeff when she served as a home health nurse for his ailing father. They had been married five months when they planned the trip to Philadelphia.
The morning they left for the business trip, Judy discovered at the airport that she’d forgotten to bring her driver’s license, preventing her from boarding the plane. She told Jeff she’d go back home to get her license and catch a later flight. She arrived in Philadelphia that night around 10 p.m. She brought Jeff flowers as an apology for delaying her part of the trip. Judy set out the next morning for some sightseeing, carrying a red backpack she always had with her. The two planned to meet up for dinner later that night.
Jeff got back to the room around 5:30 p.m. and Judy wasn’t there. He contacted hospitals and the police, who told him it was too soon to report his wife missing. He got into a taxi drove and rode through the city, trying to trace the path of the tour bus she was supposed to have taken. He could find no trace of her. Her family speculated she had an accident and developed amnesia. But her friends weren’t so sure.
Jeff had to return to Boston without Judy. He created fliers to fax to law enforcement departments from Maine to Florida. He also hired three different private investigators.
Five months later, on September 7, 1997, a father and son hiking near Candler, a town just outside of Asheville, found a partially buried skeleton. The location was more than 600 miles away from where Judy had disappeared. It was also not in an area tourists would have visited, and was located a short walk from a main road. The medical examiner determined the remains as belonging to a white female, possibly in her late 40s to mid-50s. There were puncture wounds and cuts on the bra found with the remains that were consistent with stab wounds. A doctor in North Carolina had seen one of the fliers about Judy that Jeff had distributed throughout the Southeast, and he called law enforcement when he heard about the female remains discovered in the woods. Jeff Smith provided the dental records that confirmed the victim to be Judy Smith.
Here’s where the story takes a strange turn. Based on a few different eyewitness accounts, it seems Judy had traveled to Asheville on her own after leaving Philadelphia. A sales clerk said she saw Judy in a store, and the two chatted while Judy looked around. She told the salesclerk her name was Judy, her husband was an attorney, and that she was from Boston. She said she decided to visit North Carolina while her husband was in Philadelphia at a convention. An article that ran in The Asheville Citizen-Times on April 10, 1998 reported that employees at a local doctor’s office said a woman matching Judy’s description inquired about a job in April of 1997. Employees at a motel in Biltmore Village also believed Judy had been staying there. Jeff Smith told authorities they didn’t know in anyone in Asheville, and he had no idea why Judy would have traveled there alone.
A friend told the tv show “Unsolved Mysteries” that Jeff and Judy’s marriage had hit a rough patch and that Judy may have left on her own as a way to put distance between her and Jeff. The same friend told the show that she didn’t believe Judy was involved with anyone else, but she was a friendly and outdoing woman who may have met someone while in Asheville who caused her harm. Investigators said they found a blue and black backpack with Judy’s remains, and they didn’t believe it belonged to Judy. There were also a pair of sunglasses manufactured by Bolle. They would have sold for more than $100, and Judy’s friends and family don’t believe she would have spent that kind of money on sunglasses. Robbery did not appear to be a motive. Judy still had her wedding ring on her and over $100 in cash. However, her driver’s license and credit cards were missing, which helped in delaying Judy’s identification.
Judy’s husband Jeff Smith died in 2005 without ever knowing who murdered his wife.
I have read articles speculating that serial killer Gary Hilton may have been responsible for Judy’s death. He is known to have had victims in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. He was convicted of murdering 46-year-old Cheryl Dunlap, a nurse from Tallahasse, Florida whose body was found in the Apalachicola National Forest in December of 2007. Hilton also murdered elderly couple John and Irene Bryant in 2007 as they hiked in the Pisgah National Forest near their home in North Carolina. Georgia resident Meredith Emerson, who was abducted and murdered after going for a hike with her dog on New Year’s Day in 2008, is also a known victim of Hilton’s. He was sentenced to death in Florida, and also received life in prison terms in Georgia and North Carolina. Judy disappeared in 1997, while Hilton’s other known crimes occurred in 2007 and beyond. But Hilton was in his 60s when he murdered Cheryl Dunlap, so I don’t think it’s too far fetched to hypothesize he began his life of crime much earlier, especially since he seemed to be a drifter who frequently traveled between Florida and North Carolina.
I also think the reason why Hilton is a suspect in Judy’s disappearance is because the modus operandi is very similar to the ones of his victims in Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia. He would befriend people while out hiking in national forests. He usually had his dog with him. His motive appeared to be robbery—in all the convicted cases, he stole the victims bank cards and forced them to give up PIN numbers before murdering them. Judy’s credit cards and ID were missing when she was discovered. However, many of Hilton’s later victims were decapitated, including John Bryant, Cheryl Dunlap, and Meredith Emerson, and Judy was not. Maybe that was an extra step he took as he murdered more victims as a way to prevent them from being identified. There has also been speculation that Hilton may have been responsible for the disappearance of Jason Knapp, a 20-year-old Clemson University student who went missing from Table Rock State Park in South Carolina. We featured Jason’s story on Episode 8 of this podcast, “Missing College Students in the Carolinas.”
To date, Hilton has denied any connection to Judy Smith and Jason Knapp’s cases.
Patty Jo Pulley
On May 14, 1999, a man named Eugene “Rick” Pulley reported his wife missing from Ringgold, Virginia. Rick was a youth pastor and music director with a church called the River of Life. His wife, 37-year-old Patty Jo Pulley, volunteered her services in the music ministry at the church, taught piano lessons, and cleaned houses to make extra money.
They were involved in almost every aspect of the church, from mission work, the youth ministry, the music ministry, etc. Other church members thought they seemed like happy couple—they appeared as devoted to each other as they were to the church.
When Investigator Keith Isom went to speak with Rick about the missing persons report, he noticed the man had deep scratches on his face that looked suspicious. Rick claimed he had fallen into a briar patch while searching for his dog. He said that the night she went missing, he had driven Patty Jo to work at a house she was cleaning. When she was done with her job she left to go shopping in nearby Danville, but never returned. Rick said he attended a play at the local high school. The investigator had actually attended that play because his son was in it, so he asked Rick some specific questions about it. It was clear Rick Pulley didn’t know how the play ended. Rick also had scratches on his chest and bruises on one arm that looked as if someone had grabbed the flesh with their fingers. On May 16, Patty Jo’s pickup truck was found abandoned near Highway 62.
The community rallied around the Pulleys. A news brief that ran in the Richmond Times Dispatch reported that more than 125 people volunteered to help with an extensive search of the area where Patty Jo’s pickup truck was found on May 21. The search didn’t turn up any leads.
An eyewitness came forward and said two days after Patty Jo went missing, and claimed he saw a man walking on Highway 62 near where her pickup had been found. The driver tried to offer the man a lift, but the man turned his face away so he couldn’t be recognized and said he didn’t need any help. The eyewitness later identified the man as Rick Pulley.
Investigators did a little digging and made the discovery that Rick Pulley was spending more than $1,000 a month calling phone sex hotlines. Patty Jo had been humiliated the night before she went missing when she tried to write a check for groceries at a local store where it bounced. Could she have confronted her husband over the state of their finances?
Rick Pulley left town three months after Patty Jo went missing and began a new life with a position at a different church. He never called Investigator Isom to inquire about the status of his wife’s case. In December 2002, a project geologist was walking underneath the Hyco Creek Bridge on Highway 158 in Leasburg, North Carolina and made a shocking discovery. Remains of an unidentified woman were processed along with scraps of clothing, including a bra, and a length of rope. Dental records identified the victim as Patty Jo Pulley. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death was the result of violent trauma, likely asphyxiation.
Rick Pulley had moved to Lebanon, West Virginia. He was arrested and was taken back to North Carolina to stand trial in Caswell County. All the evidence against Rick Pulley was circumstantial.
There was no DNA found linking him to his wife’s murder. Photos of the scratches on Rick’s face and body that Investigator Isom had taken spoke louder than DNA, though, for the jury, along with his constantly changing alibi. On October 29, 2004, Rick Pulley was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Patty Jo’s niece, Connie Smithson, wrote a book about her aunt’s case titled “Quiet Moments.”
Edna Suttles, Nancy Rego, and Leigh Goodman
And finally, I want to talk about a 59-year-old North Carolina man named Daniel Printz who was recently sentenced to life in prison for the murder of an 80-year-old South Carolina woman named Edna Suttles. During the course of the investigation, law enforcement discovered his involvement in the disappearances and murders of several other elderly women in the Carolinas.
In August 2021, 80-year-old Edna Suttles went missing from Travelers Rest, South Carolina. Friends and family described her as vivacious and flamboyant. She had worked as a bail bondsman, restauranteur, and also helped care for elderly patients. A security camera recorded Edna meeting Printz outside of a grocery store and driving away with him in her car. A Food Lion frequent shopper card helped investigators zero in on the Printz’s identity. Edna’s car was located in the parking lot of a Travelers Rest hotel not long after she went missing.
According to an article that ran in The Greenville News out of South Carolina, when investigators searched Printz’s home in North Carolina, they found the driver’s license of another woman named Nancy Rego, along with her passport, debit card, and a bank statement. They also found more than 22 firearms. They arrested Printz on September 9, 2021 on a grand larceny charge and weapons violations. They began unraveling the web of Printz’s other possible victims. Here’s what they found:
In November 8, 2017, an 88-year-old woman named Dolores Sellers passed away in Charlotte, North Carolina. Not long after, her adult daughter, massage therapist Nancy Rego went missing. A friend of hers from Charlotte heard Nancy had decided to “go off the grid” and move to Costa Rica or possibly a ranch in Texas with a man she’d been seeing named Daniel Printz. Every now and then, family members would get texts from Nancy, but they all agreed the messages didn’t sound like they were authentic. No one was sure if she had left the area on her own. While incarcerated for his involvement in Edna Suttles’ disappearance, Printz admitted he had administered a lethal dose of prescription medication to Nancy Rego’s mother Dolores, then murdered Nancy when she threatened to go to the police over his actions. Nancy had also signed over her power of attorney to Daniel two months before she went missing. He continued to collect her social security payments after she was murdered since he had access to her bank accounts.
A woman Leigh Goodman has been identified as another of Printz’s victims. After years of struggling with bipolar disorder, the 61-year-old former occupational therapist also lost contact with her daughters. They told The State newspaper in South Carolina that she had struggled with mental health issues for years, and after a few failed marriages, lived a transient life. They would see her occasionally when she would visit them in Sarasota, Florida. They last time her daughter Michelle saw her was in 2017. Not long after that, investigators believe, Leigh met a man with striking blue eyes at a rest stop in North Carolina. She was seen with Printz at a North Carolina restaurant in September of 2018, right before her cell phone powered down. Then she stopped making contact with her family. Investigators believe Printz murdered her at a property he owned in Gaston County, North Carolina. Evidence found at that home also indicated she may have lived there for a short time.
The details of Edna Suttles’ death are baffling. According to the arrest affadavits in the case, Printz purchased a pack of yogurt at the Travelers Rest Food Lion on the morning of August 27. A few minutes later, Edna pulled into the parking lot in her Jeep Cherokee, and Printz retrieved a grocery bag with the yogurt out of his car and got into Edna’s vehicle. Four hours later, the Jeep left Edna’s house and came back to the Food Lion parking lot. Only now, Printz was driving. A security camera caught footage of Printz moving Edna from her car into his Chevy Cruze. She appeared motionless. During the October search of a property Printz owned in Ruthordfordton, investigators found an empty yogurt cup hidden in a bee box. It contained a trace mixture of a prescription pain killer and muscle relaxer, plus an anti-anxiety drug. Edna’s purse, car keys, and other personal items were also in the box.
While the remains of Edna Suttles were found in May 2022 in a wooded area in Ruthordfordton, the bodies of Nancy Rego and Leigh Goodman will probably not be recovered, as he told investigators he attempted to destroy evidence of their murders with harsh chemicals. It’s still unclear what the motive was in the death of Edna Suttles’ death.
According to an article that ran in The Charlotte Observer this past June, this isn’t the first time Printz had been convicted of a violent crime. In 1997, he was sentenced to and served ten years in a Michigan prison for kidnapping a woman. He was married at the time of his arrest; his wife has since moved to Michigan.
Listen to the full episode here.
Patty Jo Pulley:
“More than 125 search for missing Pittsylvania woman”
“Ex-cleric indicted in slaying”
Steven Wade Boyer:
“McElrath Indicted in Murder”
McElrath Again Denies Murdering Son-in-Law
Wesley and Bonnie Mahaffey:
“Couples vacation ends in murders”
“Slayings Questions Abound”
“Few Details of Slayings Known”
“A Year Later, Woman’s Death Remains a Mystery”