Episode 80-The Murder at TCS Designs

On January 13, 2021, an incident of workplace violence at a manufacturing plant in Hickory, North Carolina resulted in the shooting death of a 51-year-old woman. The shooter, also a female, then left the premises, along with her husband, and evaded law enforcement for more than six months. Immediately following the murder, the victim’s family was heartbroken and outraged that more was not done to protect their loved one at her place of employment. In this episode, we’ll take a look at workplace violence, the details of the case, and an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit against the company where the murder took place.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 392 U.S. workers were workplace homicide victims in 2020. Of those victims who died from homicide, 81 percent were men. 44 percent were aged 25 to 44. 28 percent were Black and 18 percent were Hispanic. Thirty percent of workplace homicide victims were performing retail-related tasks such as tending a retail establishment or waiting on customers. Federally-regulated industries, such as banking centers, are required to provide their employees with training about workplace violence, sexual harassment and assault, bomb threats, active shooters and more.

I was curious as to what regulations fall under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, so I visited their website. I found the following information.

There are currently no specific OSHA standards for workplace violence.

However, under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” The courts have interpreted OSHA’s general duty clause to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard. OSHA has developed Enforcement Procedures and Scheduling for Occupational Exposure to Workplace Violence, which provides guidance and procedures to be followed when conducting inspections and issuing citations related to the occupational exposure to workplace violence.

An employer that has experienced acts of workplace violence, or becomes aware of threats, intimidation, or other indicators showing that the potential for violence in the workplace exists, would be on notice of the risk of workplace violence and should implement a workplace violence prevention program combined with engineering controls, administrative controls, and training.

A study by OSHA in 2019 revealed that incidents of serious workplace violence are four times more common in healthcare than in the private industry. According to that data, 80 percent of serious violent incidents reported in healthcare settings were caused by interactions with patients.

Another form of workplace violence we often hear about involves a situation like what occurred in Concord, North Carolina in September of 2011. On that day, a Lowe’s Home Improvement employee named Vivian Xiong, age 25, died after her 31-year-old husband, Por Ye Lor, entered a store in Concord, shot her, and then turned the gun on himself. There had been no prior record of domestic violence between the couple before the murder suicide.

The Day of the Murder

But the situation that unfolded in January of 2021 is something we do not often hear about—it involved an incident of violence and murder between two female employees.

Phelifia Michelle Marlow, who went by Michelle, was a Caldwell County native, wife, mother of two and grandmother of two employed as an upholsterer at TCS Designs. TCS Designs is a manufacturer of upholstered fabric and leather products for both residential and commercial markets located in Hickory, North Carolina. Three years ago, on the afternoon of January 13, her co-worker, 49-year-old Tangela Parker, entered the area where Michelle was working and shot her with a .357 Magnum revolver. Michelle turned and tried to run, but Parker then shot her in the back of the head. Following the shooting, Tangela’s husband Eric, who worked as a supervisor at TCS Designs, approached his wife, took the gun from her, and walked her to their car, a beige 2019 Honda CRV. They then left the premises. Michelle was still alive when officers arrived on the scene, but she died at the hospital as a result of her injuries a few hours later.

Investigators believed the couple from Alexander County was headed to the Smoky Mountains region of the United States. They enlisted the help of the U.S. Forest Service in the search for Tangela and Eric. The U.S. Forest Service worked to distribute information to all their park service and special agents in the area from North Carolina to Tennessee and circulated information around campgrounds. The search also extended to the entire East Coast, with the U.S. Marshals Service offering a $10,000 reward in the case.

After Michelle’s death, her family heard from people that worked at the plant that Tangela Parker had a reputation for being aggressive and argumentative. Michelle’s daughter Makayla said there were times she could hear Tangela in the background yelling at people when she talked to her mother on the phone. In an article that ran in the Hickory Daily Record on January 23, 2021, Michelle’s husband Justin said Tangela had been bullying his wife. The week before the murder, he said the two women had what he called a silly dispute over moving tables in their work area, resulting in a three-day unpaid suspension for Tangela after she threatened Michelle. There was also another previous verbal confrontation on July 28, 2020.

At a graveside vigil on what would have been Michelle’s fifty-second birthday in March of 2021, Justin Marlow told reporters his wife had been selfless, and that she thought about others before she thought about herself. He said he hoped his wife’s death would bring more awareness to workplace violence. “She would have given anybody a chance,” he said. “She would have given this woman another chance. There’s no reason for this violence.”

It turns out Tangela and Eric Parker had gone further west than investigators realized. A tip led authorities to Phoenix, Arizona about six months after Michelle’s murder. Federal marshals told WBTV news in Charlotte that the couple had changed ID’s, stolen car license tags, panhandled for money, and had lived in their car for about eleven weeks. When they were apprehended, they were working for cash at a ranch in Arizona and using the names Jason and Elizabeth Reardon. Once they were expedited back to North Carolina, Michelle’s family members were devastated by the next turn of events. A judge with the Catawba County Superior Court reduced Eric Parker’s bond from $600,000 to $125,000. He was remanded to custody of his sister and had to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. His attorney said that his client was present at the site of the murder but not responsible for harming anyone. He also had no previous criminal history and was not a flight risk.

Tangela Parker’s bond was set at $250,000, and Michelle’s family did not think it was fair that she was able to be released because she could have been considered a flight risk, given her actions directly following the crime. After the bond rulings, Hickory Police Chief Thurman Whisnant told the Statesville Record and Landmark, “I am extremely disappointed, and in some regard in disbelief, in the decision by the judge on the bond in these cases. Aside from the obvious seriousness of the crime, both of these individuals fled and evaded apprehension for six months. If there were ever a case that demonstrates a flight risk, this is it.”

How it Ended

In late September of this year, 52-year-old Tangela Parker pled guilty to second-degree murder in the shooting death of Michelle Marlow. Catawba County Chief District Attorney Tim Gould called the murder an execution. “The way Parker used the revolver gave this victim no chance. It’s not just a murder, it’s an execution. You see the hurt she has caused this family, this community.”

Judge Bradley B. Letts handed down a prison sentence of 241 to 300 months. At the plea hearing, friends and family spoke about the impact Michelle’s murder had on their lives. Her daughter Mak Marlow told the court:

“January 13, 2021 was not only the day that my mother was murdered, but it is the day my life was forever changed. That is the day I lost my best friend, my rock, my support system. My mother was the one constant that I had in life. The person who had been through it all, my mother didn’t have a single bad bone in her body.”

During the hearing, Tangela’s attorney Victoria Jayne called a psychiatrist and neuropharmocologist to the stand to speak about the defendant’s state of mind prior to the murder. The attorney said Tangela was taking Xanax at the time of the shooting, and the psychiatrist said Tangela told him she took more Xanax than she was prescribed in weeks leading up to the murder. The defense argued that she was in a dissociative state of mind at the time of the murder due to the Xanax. Victoria Jayne said Tangela had no memory of the shooting, from around lunchtime that day until the next day when she says she woke up and her husband told her what happened.

Tangela declined to speak during the hearing. Her defense attorney read the following statement from her instead:

“I ask the Marlow family in front of Jesus Christ and all these witnesses to forgive me. I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused your family. I pray for your family daily and that our Lord will comfort you when you mourn.”

Earlier this week, 64-year-old Eric Parker pled guilty to felony accessory after the fact in regards to the murder of Michelle Marlow. He was sentenced to a minimum of four years for helping Tangela elude arrest. He has already served two and a half years of that sentence.

In March of 2022 news outlets reported that Michelle’s husband, Justin Marlow, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against TCS Designs, its president, and the plant manager, alleging the company knew about Tangela Parker’s threats against the victim but failing to appropriately act. Justin Marlow believes both Tangela and her husband Eric should have been terminated before the murder was able to occur.

According to Furniture Today, he filed the initial wrongful death claim with the North Carolina Industrial Commission in March 2021, asking for $25,000 in damages. After eleven months of discovery, motions, and mediation, he Justin Marlow then moved to voluntarily dismiss the claim and filed a complaint instead with the Catawba County Superior Court in February 2022.

TCS Designs attempted to appeal the lawsuit, but the Catawba County appellate court denied the motion. TCS Designs attempted to claim that the trial court did not have jurisdiction over the case as the Commission should have had sole jurisdiction over Justin Marlow’s claim, but the appellate court denied the claim.

Keeping Yourself Safe at Work

I know there are many listeners out there who have experienced incidents of intimidation and bullying at work. It can take on all forms. According to OSHA, here are some tips employees can take to protect themselves from workplace violence:

  • Learn how to recognize, avoid, or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending personal safety programs.
  • Alert supervisors to any concerns about safety or security and report all incidents immediately in writing.
  • Avoid traveling alone into unfamiliar locations or situations whenever possible.
  • Carry only minimal money and required identification into community settings.

In return, employers should:

  • Encourage employees to report and log all incidents and threats of workplace violence.
  • Provide prompt medical evaluation and treatment after the incident.
  • Report violent incidents to the local police promptly.
  • Inform victims of their legal right to prosecute perpetrators.
  • Discuss the circumstances of the incident with staff members. Encourage employees to share information about ways to avoid similar situations in the future.
  • Offer stress debriefing sessions and post-traumatic counseling services to help workers recover from a violent incident.
  • Investigate all violent incidents and threats, monitor trends in violent incidents by type or circumstance, and institute corrective actions.
  • Discuss changes in the program during regular employee meetings.

Listen to the full episode here.

Show Sources:




Hickory Daily Record

January 23, 2021

Justice Will Be done

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Statesville Record and Landmark

March 6, 2021

US Forest Service joins search for fugitive Alexander County couple.


Statesville Record and Landmark

September 11, 2021

2 days, 2 reduced bonds in Hickory shooting death case

Family of victim, police chief voice frustrations


Hickory Daily Record

November 23, 2021

Comments about 14 letters of support filed on behalf of murder suspect Tangela Parker


Hickory Daily Record

December 9, 2021

“It ain’t really Christmas”


Hickory Daily Record

September 30, 2023

Tangela Parker sentenced for shooting, killing coworker at Hickory Furniture Plant

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Law and Crime