A young man shows signs of violence against women at a young age and is sent to a detention center. There he charms an employee who does not realize how dangerous he will later become. This man will eventually murder four women in three different states, and that may not be the full extent of his victims. What was it about this man that was so charming that his victims never realized the depths of his depravity until it was too late?
He was incredibly young, and he had the face to match. But underneath his youthful demeanor lay the heart of a killer. Women were inherently drawn to him and trusted him.
Although two of Lesley Eugene Warren’s crimes took place in my home state of North Carolina, including places I lived, I somehow had never heard of the man until the last few years. His case was the basis for an episode of the Investigation Discovery series titled “Handsome Devils” in 2014. You can view the episode, titled “Baby Faced Killer,” through the Discovery Plus streaming service.
The Early Years of Lesley Eugene Warren’s Life
He was born in Candler, North Carolina and based on information that came out in his criminal trials, grew up in an abusive household. While in 8th g\rade, he broke into a cousin’s home and was sent to the local Juvenile Evaluation Center. A year later, counselors sent him to Broughton Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Morganton, because they feared he would attempt suicide. Lesley began to show signs of being troubled as a young child, after his parents divorced. He spent 33 days enrolled at Enka High School in 1983. But he only attended only 10 of those days before school officials withdrew him. While at Enka High School, a few weeks before his 16th birthday, he tied up a neighbor in her home and held her at gunpoint. A friend happened to stop by and helped rescue the woman. This incident sent Lesley back to the Juvenile Evaluation Center. He first met a young woman named Jayme Hurley there. She had a psychology degree from UNC-Asheville. According to her co-workers, she enjoyed her job and connecting with the teens there, including cooking holiday dinners for them. She thought Lesley was a bright young man, even if he was a loner. He liked to read, and they would discuss books. Jayme later left the job after experiencing burnout, but she stayed in touch with Lesley on a platonic basis. She even gave him her telephone number.
He eventually earned his GED and enlisted in the United States Army when he was 18. He married a woman he had met in South Carolina and was stationed in Fort Drum, New York in 1987. Through a fellow soldier, he became acquainted with a 20-year-old young woman named Patsy Vineyard. Her husband reported her missing on May 21, 1987 after he returned home from being out of town and couldn’t find her. Patsy’s body was later found in Lake Ontario near her home in Sackett’s Harbor, N.Y. She had been strangled to death. Lesley was one of 150 soldiers who were questioned in her disappearance, but was not charged at the time of her death.
Lesley was dishonorably discharged from the Army after receiving convictions for larceny and unauthorized absences, returning back to North Carolina and becoming a truck driver.
Meeting Jayme Denise Hurley
The woman Lesley had met at the Juvenile Evaluation Center, Jayme Denise Hurley, was 39 years old when she went missing from her home in Asheville, N.C. on May 25, 1990. A friend of Jayme’s knew Lesley had been at Jayme’s home the day before she went missing and grew concerned when she couldn’t reach her friend. Lesley had reached out to Jayme and said he needed her help, and she invited him over.
Investigators tracked down Lesley a few days later to question him about Jayme Hurley. He let them search his white van at the police department, and they found a purse belonging to Jayme inside. Lesley told police he thought he needed to retain a lawyer, and they talked amongst themselves and decided Jayme might still be alive. However, despite Lesley asking for an attorney, they continued questioning him. During the course of that interrogation, Lesley told police that Jayme had died from a cocaine overdose and he had put her body into the French Broad River. According to Jayme’s friends and family, she was not known to use cocaine. The police arrested Lesley for failure to produce a title for a motor vehicle and misdemeanor larceny of Jayme Hurley’s purse. The district attorney was not ready to file additional charges related to Jayme’s disappearance at that point, so Lesley was released on a $25,000 secured bond.
He returned to the police department on June 7, 1990, to try and get his van back. Investigators asked him to give blood, hair, and urine samples, which he agreed to. They asked if he could return the next day to tell them more about Jayme’s alleged overdose, and he agreed to. However, instead, his mother and his lawyer’s private investigator left messages for the police stating that his attorney needed to be present for any future interviews. Ted Lambert, who was then a detective with the Asheville Police Department, had been conducting informational interviews with people who knew Lesley from South Carolina. That’s when he learned Lesley had been a suspect in yet another woman’s murder.
Velma Faye Gray
In August 1989, the body of 42-year-old Velma Faye Gray from Travelers Rest, S.C. was found by fishermen in Lake Bowen not far from her home. Her hands were tied behind her back. She had died of asphyxiation. It appeared she had wrecked her car earlier that evening before she went missing. Velma was a singer in a band called Reflections, and had been returning home from a gig in Asheville so she could help her son get ready for college. Her car was later found in a remote section of Greenville County. The left side of the vehicle had sustained damage, the passenger window was down, the gas tank lid was open, and the license tag was missing.
Police initially arrested a young man for stealing Velma’s car, a Mazda RX-7, and moving it from to the secondary location after finding it abandoned. They later determined Velma was already gone from the scene when the car was stolen. In an article that ran in The Greenville News on December 15, 1989, the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office announced Velma’s family was offering a reward of $3,000 for anyone who knew of a truck driver that was at the scene when Velma wrecked her car off the White Horse Road Extension. Witnesses said they saw a tractor trailer parked near Velma’s car early on August 27. Police wondered if someone had stopped to offer the woman help. They wanted to see if this truck driver had any additional information. They later questioned Lesley Eugene Warren when they learned he was a truck driver who might have been in the area and he said he had not stopped that night in South Carolina.
In July of 1990, after being questioned in Jayme Hurley’s disappearance, and while out on bond, Lesley traveled to High Point, North Carolina. According to a news article that ran later that month, a young woman named Teri Quinby, who worked part-time as a bartender at a local hotel, met Lesley and took him as her guest to a company picnic. She introduced him to a co-worker, Katherine Johnson, a 21-year-old college student at the University of North Carolina, and the two hit it off. The group went to a local Applebee’s after the picnic and Lesley bragged to Teri’s brother that he planned to make a move on Katherine later that evening. He and Katherine later left the restaurant so he could give the young woman a ride on his motorcycle.
Around 11:30 p.m., Lesley returned to pick up Katherine’s car. Katherine was not with him, and he told Teri that she was at a local motel where they would be spending the night. The next day, he returned alone to Teri Quinby’s house and asked her if he could stay there while he looked for a new place. He said Katherine had returned to Chapel Hill. Lesley proceeded to spend the entire week at Teri’s house before he was arrested for Jayme Hurley’s disappearance. When he was arrested, he had a set of keys on him that belonged to Katherine Johnson. After he was detained by the officers with the Asheville Police Department, he confessed to being responsible for the murder of Katherine Johnson. He revealed the two had been intimate on the night they met, and then he had strangled her with her bra and left her body in the trunk of her car in the Radisson Hotel Parking Deck. Katherine’s family had been out of town and didn’t even known the young woman was missing when investigators discovered her body.
Police from Asheville Police Department traveled to High Point as they realized how dangerous Lesley Eugene Warren was. They eventually captured him at Teri Quinby’s home in High Point and questioned him about Jayme. Lesley came clean and said he had strangled Jayme Hurley and buried her in a shallow grave off Highway 151 in Western Buncombe County.
Warren was eventually tied to the deaths of Patsy Vineyard from New York and Velma Gray from South Carolina. After Lesley was arrested in High Point, Teri Quinby told local media outlets that “What freaks me out is that I could have been next. I mean they say he knew all those girls, too. It’s so hard to believe. He was so normal.”
It’s hard to know why Lesley committed these murders. Most of the time his victims were women he knew personally, except for Velma Gray, which seemed to be a crime of opportunity. But why did he murder some women and remain in relationships with others. What was his thought process?
At the time of his arrest, Lesley Eugene Warren had a wife he was separated from and a child in South Carolina. He was not tried for Patsy Vineyard’s murder. He received a life sentence for killing Velma Gray from South Carolina, and was sentenced to death in North Carolina for the murders of Jayme Denise Hurley and Katherine Johnson. Lesley Eugene Warren is currently on death row. He is suspected of murdering other women as well.
I found an article in the August 3, 1990 edition of The Charlotte Observer that said South Carolina authorities questioned Lesley about the death of 42-year-old Daisy Snider, who was found near the Oconee power plant in 1988. She had been sexually assaulted and died from a shotgun wound to the chest. However, that crime was later linked by DNA to a man named Mark Neal Golden, who was an inmate at a state correctional facility in Pennsylvania.
A few years ago, I shared a short video about Lesley on the YouTube channel for Missing in the Carolinas. It generated several comments from people who knew him personally. A man who said he was Lesley’s cousin shared that Lesley had lived with their family briefly for a time. His father had bought Lesley a blue Volkswagen Beetle that Lesley ruined because he failed to put oil in it. The cousin said Lesley loved reading books by Stephen King and discussing them. He also was lazy and did not like to work. Another man said the video was painful to watch because Patsy Vineyard had been his sister in law. The woman Lesley had been dating in Asheville when he murdered Jayme Hurley and Katherine Johnson also commented on the video to say she had testified against him in court. And another man commented who said he met Lesley once, because his mother had dated him.
Next I wanted to talk about a case that recently came across my news feed. It took place on the Outer Banks, in Kitty Hawk, and the case was resolved in court this past fall. On July 22, 2020, a man named John “Jay” Tolson called 911 and said he’d found a friend unconscious in her bathtub at her Kitty Hawk home and needed help. The friend was 38-year-old Amanda “Leeann” Fletcher Hartleben. First responders found the woman unconscious and in medical distress. She was airlifted to a Norfolk, Virginia hospital, where she died three days later. From the start, Leeann’s family was suspicious. She had met Jay only a few months earlier and they became romantically involved. He needed a place to stay, and since her two kids were away at the time, she let him move into her home. According to an article that ran in People Magazine, Jay quickly became possessive and Leann was unhappy and uncomfortable with the way things were progressing. She asked him to move out before the incident occurred in her home.
Based on reports I read, the home was not secured as a crime scene after Leeann was taken to the hospital. Her family members said police told them there was no proof a crime had been committed, and they wanted to wait and see what the results of Leeann’s autopsy were. That took two months. The cause of death was ruled as “complications of blunt force trauma to the head with hepatic cirrhosis with clinical hepatic failure.” She had no alcohol or drugs in her system. She also had bruises to her forearms and backs of her hands that did not seem consistent with a fall in the bathtub. Leeann’s family said there was no blood in the bathtub either, rather, an investigator they hired found signs of blood spatter on the walls of the home and a pillowcase and comforter on the bed. They believed Leeann had been injured on July 20 and Jay Tolson waited two days before calling 911. During that time, he searched his phone for “how bad are concussions” and what if someone won’t wake up from a concussion?” He also phoned an ex-girlfriend asking for advice on what to do if Leeann had a head injury and wouldn’t wake up. When she told him to contact 911, that’s when he finally made the call for help. Once Leann was taken to the hospital, Jay never once called to check on her condition.
After the results of the autopsy were released, 32-year-old Jay Tolson was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. But in September of this year, prosecutors worked out a plea deal with Jay Tolson with the cooperation of Leeann’s family. He pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the Dare County Superior Court. The second-degree murder charge was then dropped. The judge noted that Jay had no significant criminal history prior to the case and sentenced him to up to six years, eight months in prison. He was credited for time served awaiting trial. He’d been in custody for nearly three years at that point. He was also ordered to not have any contact with Leeann Hartleben’s family and be provided with the opportunity to receive counseling and treatment for substance abuse dependencies. At his sentencing, Jay Tolson said, “I pray for peace and closure in Jesus’ name.”
Asheville Citizen Times
October 4, 1995
Expert: Warren abused as a child
News and Record
August 12, 2014
‘Handsome Devils’ episode will profile N.C. serial killer
April 28, 1994
Suspected Serial Killer back to face another trial
He’s got to be punished: Decision coming on fate of Lesley Eugene Warren
Sept. 18, 1995
The Greenville News
Man charged in slaying of Travelers Rest woman
Will be quizzed in two other deaths
July 23, 1990
Confessed killer of four women described as friend and nice guy
The Greenville News
Man serving life sentence pleads guilty to 2nd killing
May 13, 1994
Suspected serial killer makes court appearance
Asheville Citizen Times
February 7, 1995
Warren pleads guilty to murder of Jayme Hurley
The Charlotte Observer
August 3, 1990
S.C. Investigates ’88 Killing
The Greenville News
August 31, 1989
Spartanburg officials have suspects in woman’s death
Democrat and Chronicle
January 8, 1990
Police seek link to two slayings in Watertown area
September 1, 2023
“Plea agreement ends OBX murder trial”