If you’ll remember, in Episode 29, I discussed the unsolved murders of three different women in Lumberton, North Carolina. These were not isolated incidents, unfortunately. In 2018, the community was shaken when a teenage girl was abducted in broad daylight in front of her home. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Like many junior high students on a weekday, Hania Noelia Aguilar was waiting to get a ride to school from her family on the morning of November 5.. According to News Station KSRO, the Lumberton Junior High School had started her aunt’s green SUV to warm it up, eager to get to school. She had started the eighth grade that August and loved science.
As the car sat idling, she waited outside of her home on the 3000 block of Elizabethtown Road in Rosewood Mobile Home Park. She was wearing blue jeans and a flowered shirt. According to an article that ran in the Herald Sun, at that same time not too far away, a man in black clothing was spotted walking past her neighbor’s mobile homes. One woman felt so frightened as he went by, she pretended to talk on her phone. Two other neighbors reported seeing a stranger wearing a mask, coming onto their porch, and trying to break in. Then, just before 7 a.m. a witness heard Hania scream and saw a man wearing black clothes and a yellow bandana force Hania into the idling car. He drove away with her inside. The car was a 2002 Ford Expedition with a South Carolina license plate number. It was recognizable because it had paint peeling from the hood and a Clemson University sticker on the back window.
At 10 a.m., an amber alert was issued for the missing teen. A news article in the April 28, 2019 edition of The Herald-Sun reported that when her friends at school initially heard of her going missing, they were certain she was okay. That she’d find her way back home. Three days later on November 8, just before 8 a.m. the stolen SUV was found on Quincy Avenue in Lumberton. According to the FBI, a witness said they saw the vehicle backed into the woods. Hania never made it home, and she wasn’t located until 22 days later. On November 27, about a week after Thanksgiving, she was found in a swampy area 10 miles from home, submerged in a muddy pit under a plastic folding table. She had been sexually assaulted. While the autopsy report doesn’t list cause of death, it was likely that she was asphyxiated.
The FBI and Lumberton Police Department’s investigation led to the arrest of Michael Ray McLellan, now 38. He’s currently being held without bond. Yes, you heard that right. He is still awaiting trial. ABC15, a local South Carolina station, obtained documents that provided details that led to his arrest. Two people indicated that Michael McLellan arrived at their home in the Deerfield Mobile Home Park between 9:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., about two and a half hours after her kidnapping. At the time, he was still wearing the dark clothing, black hoodie, yellow bandana, and yellow-colored bag. When at the home, McLellan asked the two people if he could wash his clothing. They indicated he was all wet and had a cup of loose change. The owner of the stolen SUV reported that a cup of loose change had been missing from the car. McLellan was also trying to sell two video monitors. The SUV was also missing two video monitors.
ABC15 also shared another witness report of someone who knew McLellan. They had spoken with McLellan before the kidnapping on November 5, 2018. He had been planning to do some “licks,” which is a slang term for robbery. He planned on targeting several mobile home parks in the area, knowing he had to be careful because of cameras in the park. Another witness told authorities that McLellan wore a yellow-colored bandanna to cover his face, and so people would think he was a Latin King, a Hispanic gang member.
Michael Ray McLellan Arrested
In December of 2018, nearly 1,000 people attended Hania’s funeral. Her friends at school held their own memorial service as well and read letters out loud. Her gravestone, decorated with beautiful purple flowers, her favorite color, shows a picture of Hania’s smiling face with the words in Spanish, “Vuela alto hermoso angel,” which translates to “Fly high beautiful angel.” What makes this case even more heartbreaking was that it likely could have been prevented.
In 2017, more than a year before Hania’s abduction and murder, the Robeson County Sherrif’s office received evidence that connected McLellan’s DNA to a 2016 rape case, when he crawled through a window and assaulted a woman at knife point. His DNA had already been in the system due to an earlier conviction. Although it the results were sent to the district attorney’s office, it fell through the cracks, Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt told The News and Observer. It wasn’t until McLellan’s DNA was found on the SUV linked to Hania’s kidnapping did the police connect the case.
There’s more. The police in nearby Fairmont-county had a warrant for McLellan’s arrest for robbery and kidnapping in a carjacking gone wrong. That warrant went unserved until November 13, eight days after Hania disappeared. On October 17, 2018, the state’s Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission issued a second warrant for McLellan’s arrest, because he had violated the terms of his recent release from prison. Nothing happened until November 13, 2018. According to an article on News affiliate ABC 15, while two of the investigators lost their jobs following an internal investigation, the family has no peace. Her mother says she has been living a nightmare and they are still waiting for trial.
In his first appearance in court in December of 2018, Michael McLellan appeared wearing a bullet proof vest. He is being charged with 10 felonies, including first-degree murder, first-degree rape, and first-degree kidnapping. Unfortunately, the case against McLellan, Hania’s killer, has been delayed yet again. His attorney cited having a very limited contact with his client following the pandemic and facing the withdrawal of another one of McLellan’s attorneys. This time, a trial has been delayed until at least February 2024. Prosecutors confirm the case fits the criteria for the state to seek the death penalty. The News and Observer reported that in early May of this year, Superior Court Judge Greg Bell stated that a murder case in Robeson County typically takes up to three years on average, and post pandemic, it is now closer to five. He said he’d rather see these delays now than days before a trial in September, because they want to get things right for the first time.
But Hania’s mother is still seeking justice, believing that the prosecutors have had enough time. In an article in The News and Observer, she said she can’t understand why the defendant should be given a chance continue if he didn’t give her daughter a chance to live?
Victoria Paredes Identified
This next case also takes place in Eastern North Carolina and involves a Jane Doe who recently got her name back. On July 20, 1999, an unidentified female was found in a heavily wooded area om Easy Street in northern Sampson County, North Carolina. The News & Observer reported that a 911 caller reported finding human remains in advanced stages of decomposition. According to an article on MissingKids.org, all anyone knew of her was that she had long red hair, a slim build, and that she wore a black tank top, dark blue bra, green Calvin Klein jeans, white sandals, and an Elle wristwatch. Her fingernails were painted with a blue-green nail polish. She was between 5’4 and 5’7 and between 17 and 24 years old.
Investigators believed she died from stab-related injuries two weeks before anyone found her body. Due to the lack of identification found and the condition of the body, no one knew who she was. In 2002, the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported the case to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and requested their help. The NCMEC used various resources to identify Jane Doe, including creating a facial reconstruction image of what she may have looked like in life. Unfortunately, for 24 years, she stayed a Jane Doe. According to The Sampson Independent, investigators pursued hundreds of leads, but all turned out to be unrelated.
In June 2021, the case took a new turn. The NCMEC let the Sampson County Sherriff’s office know about a grant that could help identify her through genealogy databases. They took DNA samples from Jane Doe and submitted them to Astrea Forensics pro bono to pursue forensic genetic genealogy. According to the News & Observer, her DNA then went to the Kin Finder Group, which has a genealogy database for people to find their relatives.They discovered Jane Doe’s family originated in Honduras, which would be critical to solving the case.
While that was going on, NCMEC featured the young woman’s case on the Help ID Me Facebook page. In June 2022, someone found the post and reported a tip that the Jane Doe was an extended relative named Victoria. They said she was from Honduras and came to the United States at 21 to meet a man she was in a relationship with named Vayardo Meza. He had arranged for her to live with his family in the Duplin County town of Rose Hill. A few days after arriving in the US, she disappeared. Vayardo returned to Honduras in April 2000 to inform her family that she left him and never returned. She was never reported missing.
Along with this tip came with an important piece of information: that Vayardo and Victoria had a daughter together who was left behind in Honduras. The Sampson County Sheriff’s Office found her living in California and coordinated with the San Jose Police Department to collect DNA. DNA testing confirmed that the parent/child relationship between Victoria’s daughter and the Jane Doe.
In August of 2023, Jane Doe finally had a name. She was confirmed to be Victoria Dolores Mejia Paredes. According to The News & Observer, deputies are investigating her death as a homicide. Interviews have been conducted with Victoria’s family members as part of the investigation. What has made the case a challenge to solve is that Vayardo died in Honduras around 2001. However, investigators have not publicly identified him or anyone as a suspect. The investigation remains ongoing.
Maria Esperanza Diaz
I want to talk about the death of a woman named Maria Esperanza Dias Mendoza that took place in Charlotte in the past year. Investigators have closed her case, but her family is still looking for answers. Maria came to the United States from Neuquén, Venezuela for a better life. She was in pursuit of the American Dream, her brother Alejandro Diaz told WSOC-TV. While she didn’t have family here, she had several friends from her childhood in El Tigre, Anzoategui, Venezuela, who lived in Charlotte.
Like many who arrive in the United States, she wanted a better future and to be with those she loved and was raised around. She had only just arrived in Charlotte on April 22 of this year. Channel 9 learned that Maria went out with her friend and a couple of guys the night she arrived to celebrate. After a bite to eat and a few drinks, the women parted ways.
However, on April 24, 2022, Maria Esperanza Dias was found unconscious in an abandoned house on Glasgow Green Lane in Charlotte. Emergency personnel tried to revive her but pronounced her dead on the scene. She was only 26. According to Charlotte Alert News, she was found with minor blunt force injuries and a petechial hemorrhages at her lower eyelids. She also had an abrasion on the left side of her face. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department reported she died from fentanyl and cocaine toxicity. But her family insisted she wasn’t known to do drugs. While her brother didn’t know who exactly she arrived to stay with, Alejandro did say she had reunited with her childhood friends upon her arrival in Charlotte.
The Charlotte Police report also questioned everyone who was with her that night, as well as collected evidence at the scene that indicated there was no force involved in her death. But what about the abrasions on her face and other injuries?
The news of her disappearance spread to Venezuela, where she grew up, and Argentina, where she had originally lived with her mom and her sister’s family.
An article on the Ultimas Noticias stated investigators with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department have said their investigation is near completion. However, it’s far from over for her family.
Her sister, Livia Diaz, is worried the case will end like this, with the police saying it’s an overdose, and that’s it, she told Últimas Noticias. She insists her sister was not a drug addict nor did she kill herself.
As of now, investigators have told Maria’s family that there are no leads or updates on the case. Her sister warns those who migrate to the United States, encouraging those who arrive to question those who offer their friendship. She fears sometimes people do not measure the danger, which can result in the loss of life such as this one.
Anyone with information about this case can call 704-336-7600.
What Happened to Scott Johnson?
Finally, I’d like to talk about a current missing persons case on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. On August 31, a 47-year-old man named Scott Johnson and his dog Baxter, a brown and white pit bull, were reported missing. The Town of Kill Devil Hills requested the public’s help in locating Scott. They posted the following message on their social media pages:
The Kill Devil Hills Police Department is requesting the public’s help in an attempt to locate Scott Harmon Johnson. Mr. Johnson is a 46-year-old white male, six feet tall, 175 pounds, brown hair, blue eyes. He has a full, short beard. The Department is requesting anyone with information about Mr. Johnson’s whereabouts to contact us at 252.449.5337 and ask to speak with Detective M. Sudduth.
The News and Observer reported that Scott Johnson was planning to take his 23-foot sport fisher out on the water to troubleshoot a maintenance issue he was having with the vessel. At the time he appeared to go missing a tropical storm was passing through the North and South Carolina coasts. His vehicle and boat trailer were found at the North Carolina Wildlife Access Boat Ramp in the vicinity of Pirate’s Cove Marina, according to the Coast Guard. He was last seen by a neighbor on August 22.
Following the missing persons report, The Coast Guard began searching for Scott and his dog. They analyzed drift patterns and interviewed his friends and family while also working with local authorities. No one was aware of how long Scott had planned to be gone. Searchers covered more than 1,168 square miles of ocean before calling a halt to the effort on Sunday, September 3.
If you’ll recall, in Episode 55, I discussed cases of people missing in and around bodies of water in the Carolinas. Tyler Doyle was one of the people profiled. He went missing on January 26 of this year when he went duck hunting at the Little River Jetties while a small-craft advisory was in effect. He had dropped a friend off at the north jetty and moved in the boat to set up duck decoys. While they were on the phone at the time, Tyler’s friend eventually lost contact with him after Tyler reported having mechanical issues with his boat. Tyler also remains missing, and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has said they do not suspect foul play in the disappearance of Tyler Doyle.
Nicole Pyles wrote the portions of this podcast script that included Hania Aguilar, Victoria Paredes, and Maria Diaz.
April 28, 2019
The Herald Sun
December 12, 2018
The News and Observer
Could Hania Aguilar’s Death Have Been Prevented?