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Someone apparently wants to prevent any new investigation into the death of Felicia Reeves, a Hendersonville woman who was found dead in New Jersey a year ago this week.
At the same time, public officials at various levels of government in multiple states have been learning about the case from her family and Carolina Public Press, which published an in-depth report on the case in February and a follow-up article in March. Several of them have reached out with new information or have expressed interest in helping in any way they can.
While many questions about what happened to Reeves remain unanswered, a few details have come into focus, especially her claim that she was a police informant a few weeks before her death. Evidence suggests she had links to a criminal enterprise involving human trafficking.
CPP’s continued probe of the case has also eliminated a number of possibilities that no longer have to be considered in the complicated case that spans at least eight states, but apparently begins in Western North Carolina.
When Suzan Bayorgeon’s phone rang a couple months ago, she saw that the caller had restricted access so that she couldn’t tell where he was calling from or who he was. But after months of hoping for news about the disappearance and death of her sister, Bayorgeon took a chance and answered the line, she later told CPP.
“I normally would never answer calls like that,” she said. “But since Felicia’s death I answer everything just in case.”
The man’s voice on the other end of the phone said he was with police in the city where Reeves’ body was found, Elizabeth, N.J. Then he told Bayorgeon to stop trying to get the case reopened.
CPP reached out to the public information office for the city of Elizabeth more than a week ago, requesting confirmation that the city’s police made the call. A city spokesperson said the police’s own spokesperson would need to respond and promised to pass the message to the police.
CPP has left multiple messages with Elizabeth Police since early this year. No calls have been returned. So far, the latest request for comment has also met with silence.
Bayorgeon describes the family’s mixed success in communicating with law enforcement there. Especially early on, they talked with the family. But the conversations were always problematic. With claims that the case resolved when the police ruled it a suicide, the communication has been less constructive in recent months.
“It is not funny but it is,” Bayorgeon said. “I have tried and tried to get someone to talk to me. They have either ignored me or called my mother and gotten her upset and confused. They are rude and downright jerks to us.”
While the identity of the person who called Bayorgeon remains unclear, his statements showed he was somewhat familiar with the police’s inquiry into Reeves’ death.
Reeves was living at the Rainbow Motel in Hendersonville last summer. She had returned to North Carolina in June after spending several months in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. The Rainbow Motel is located on the south end of town, near the home of her mother and stepfather, who are raising her son. She was in frequent contact with her family and doted on her son, they say.
On Aug. 19, 2015, Reeves suddenly checked out of the Rainbow Motel carrying only a small bag of personal items. Her family wasn’t sure where she had gone. An odd call from a man identifying himself as a motel clerk in New Jersey suggested she was there. (The Royal Motel in Elizabeth has no record of this call and apparently had no male clerks. They also say she checked in alone.)
Family members had no further communication from her.
On Aug. 28, a member of the cleaning staff at Royal Motel reported finding Reeves’ body in a bathroom after cleaning the room itself. It appeared she had died there a few days earlier without being found. (Why the room wasn’t cleaned days earlier remains unclear. Also unclear: why the cleaning staff didn’t notice a body in the bathroom before so much of the potential evidence from the room was altered by cleaning.)
When the dispatcher summoned police to the scene where a body had been found, reportedly hanging by a bed sheet from the shower rail, the case was immediately identified as a “suicide.” With police unaware that Reeves had claimed to be an informant — a potential reason why someone might want to kill her — the possibility that her death was anything other than a suicide never seems to have been in consideration.
New Jersey officials performed an autopsy, with a formal report finding everything consistent with suicide by hanging. But no one has been able to answer CPP’s question: Did the findings rule out other possible causes of death, such as that Reeves was either killed or rendered helpless by some other means, something that might have gone unnoticed in her toxicology screen, and then her body, alive or dead, was hung to create the appearance that she had hung herself?
However, CPP has identified doubts about the integrity of the autopsy. The report described a specific tattoo in detail, but completely ignored other such markings. It said Reeves’ reproductive organs were normal, when she in fact missing an ovary.
After the family was contacted, Bayorgeon traveled to New Jersey and talked with officers, a local reporter and a contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She talked with motel employees, workers at the funeral home that handled her sister’s remains and whomever else would communicate as she tried to make sense of Reeves’ death.
Police told Bayorgeon last fall that the motel had kept a surveillance camera rolling with footage of the room’s front door, the only way in or out of the room. Police told her that once Reeves checked into the room on Aug. 21, 2015, no one entered or left that room, she said.
In CPP’s earlier reports on the case, multiple problems were identified with this claim. The room contained no refrigerator or food preparation area, so Reeves would likely have had to leave to get food. Among the items found in the room was an apparently unused train ticket to Philadelphia that Reeves purchased in New York City on Aug. 23.
Police had painted a picture of a troubled drug addict with a history of suicide attempts who found herself broke and alone in an unfamiliar city, checked into a cheap motel, and after a period of heavy drinking hung herself there. Indeed, when CPP contacted Royal Motel staff about the case, this was exactly how they described Reeves, despite the lack of any public evidence that could have led anyone not privy to background information about her past to think she used drugs.
Reeves did have a long history of prescription drug use. She was severely injured two decades ago during a sexual assault while serving in the U.S. Army and stationed in Korea. Since then, she relied on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for disability payments and prescription medication, including painkillers and drugs to treat her post-traumatic stress disorder.
Her family does not dispute that she struggled with addiction, a situation made worse through her association with men who mistreated and took advantage of her. They have described how one man with whom she was involved would seize her medication for resale on the black market.
But no drugs, prescription or otherwise, were reported found in her room. And a toxicology report identified no drugs in her system.
Motel staff reported that her room was full of beer bottles, which were removed in the cleaning process before they found her body. The toxicology report did show alcohol in Reeves’ system. Her family finds this surprising if she was alone in the room, since she generally avoided alcohol.
While the motel cleaning staff didn’t turn in any substantial sums of money, her family said Felicia had cashed a large check shortly before she disappeared and would have been traveling with large sums of money. So she shouldn’t have been broke at all. (Also not reported by the motel staff or found on her person, a substantial amount of jewelry that she always wore.)
Reeves did have one previous apparent suicide attempt, and it was not far in her past. Facing a series of legal, financial and medication problems, she apparently attempted an overdose.
But this has been characterized as a “cry for help” rather than a serious attempt. Reeves had formal medical training and knew exactly what she was doing with medication.
Deprived of her normal prescriptions, Reeves’ social media posts from around the time of this attempt show a downward spiral. But her tone was dramatically different by the weeks leading up to her disappearance as she had gained access to her normal prescriptions and disability payment.
The previous attempt also raises questions about the means of her death. Addicts who kill themselves typically overdose, with death by hanging ranking low statistically.
Far from traveling to the area aimlessly to give up on life, Felicia’s receipts suggest she had business in New York City. Prior to checking into the motel she used the subway in to travel around to several stops in Manhattan and Queens. At one of those, she acquired a claim ticket for eyewear from an optical boutique with a hefty deposit. Why would someone who was desperate and planning to kill herself put down a deposit on high-end glasses or contacts?
And then there was the unexplained train ticket purchased at Manhattan’s Penn Station on Aug. 23. CPP has been unable to confirm whether this ticket was ever used, by Reeves or anyone else. But it was found with her possessions in her room, along with the VISA card used to purchase it – more evidence that she or someone else had come and gone from the room between Aug. 21 and Aug. 28.
But the caller who contacted Bayorgeon a few weeks ago finally had a partial answer to these questions. He said the motel surveillance footage did show Reeves going in and out of her room over the course of several days, just not anyone else.
If that’s true, why did it police not clarify this point months ago when both CPP and a New Jersey newspaper looked into the case? And if the new information is legitimate, why transmit it through a threatening call to a grieving family member from a restricted number rather than through official channels to the family and the media organizations that have been asking about the case?
With no one in New Jersey willing to talk with CPP about the case, the Asheville-based news organization has focused on trying to resolve other important questions. Combing Reeves’ background, researching her associates and tracking her activities has contributed to the quest for insights in two primary areas: her reasons for being in New Jersey and the nature of her claimed role as an informant.
CPP still does not know why she went to New Jersey, whether she traveled alone and under her own will or even how she traveled. But some ideas have been eliminated.
CPP speculated in February, based on receipts and VISA records, that Reeves may have taken a taxi from the Rainbow Motel to a site near the Asheville airport where an independent services operates a ground-based shuttle between several airports.
She may have used this service to go to Greenville, South Carolina, and then to Charlotte. From Charlotte, her next move remains a guess, but she may have boarded a plane to one of several locations in the New York area – the Royal Motel is just east of the Newark International Airport.
On the other hand, since Reeves is known to have hated flying and her first known stop in New York was at Penn Station, she may have taken a taxi from the Charlotte airport to the Amtrak station, and gone by rail to New York.
Receipts show that she moved around New York by subway, though she may also have used taxis.
One intriguing aspect of Reeves’ movements in Queens on Aug. 19, 2015, was that she had lived in precisely this area in the early 2000s when she underwent training at the New York School for Medical and Dental Assistants.
Receipts and VISA records from last year show her taking the subway to this part of town and stopping at a sandwich shop near the school to buy a drink. Could one of her reasons for being in New York City and traveling through Queens have been related to the school?
According to the school’s current administrator, Clint Arnaboldi, that seems unlikely. After being contacted by CPP, he checked with school staff to see whether anyone had heard from Reeves, who went by the name Felicia Adams during her time there.
“She did not have any contact with any of the four employees (from her time as a student) who are still employed with the school,” he told CPP in an email.
However, this does not rule out the possibility that she was meeting with someone she knew from that time period. CPP has been unable to locate the man she listed as her emergency contact while studying in Queens. Her family says this man was a boyfriend from that time period, though they don’t know much about him. He was apparently from Eastern Europe and may no longer be living in the United States.
Another point of inquiry has been the claim ticket for Cohen’s Fashion Optical, which operates eyewear stores throughout several northeastern states. CPP talked in February with several stores in New York City and New Jersey, none of which recognized the claim ticket as belonging to their store.
In June, CPP contacted Brandon Jones, a spokesperson for Kentucky-based Houchen Industries, the parent company of Cohen’s. Jones agreed to research the claim ticket to see if it was indeed a legitimate claim ticket, what product it might have been for and whether anyone ever picked up the purchased item. To date, CPP has not received any further answers about the claim ticket.
CPP has also tried to piece together some aspects of Reeves’ life in recent years. Following up on one possibility uncovered another mystery. In 2014, she announced on social media that she was starting at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, which is based in Salisbury. But when CPP contacted the school to ask about what she studied and how long she was enrolled there, the answer was surprising. She was accepted into the school before the fall term in 2014, but never actually enrolled in any classes.
What happened to prevent her from going back to school in 2014 after seeming so excited about the prospect? It may not be connected to any of the other issues, but it’s one more mystery in Reeves’ case.
Reeves’ explicit claim that she was acting as a police informant came on social media last summer. She made several related statements about people regretting their actions and talking with the “po-po.” The context of these statements is unclear. If she was engaging in an online conversation with someone else, as it appears at times when she addresses someone as “you,” the other parties may have deleted or hidden their posts. At one point in early June 2015, Bayorgeon believes Reeves was being held against her will in a remote Transylvania County location by whomever she later threatened to expose.
(Editor’s note: Since this article was originally published, new information has put some of Reeves’ statements from June 2015 in a new light. She was arrested by police in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and “detained” at a mental hospital for about 12 days. Around this time, her social media posts reference items she had in storage in Transylvania County as well as a former boyfriend who was in jail awaiting trial there at the time. It does not appear she was ever detained against her will in Transylvania County.)
Some pieces of evidence are isolated from other patterns and simply raise more questions. One social media post claims that Reeves had a truck she was using seized by law enforcement in Texas. CPP has tried unsuccessfully to substantiate this claim or even if and when she was in Texas. Why she would have been there or had a truck seized would be follow-up questions.
On the other hand, some additional information about where she was and wasn’t, as well as who she was or wasn’t talking to has become available.
Some time after Reeves’ death, a text came to her cellphone from a man with a Texas area code asking to hire her for service he’d seen advertised on the online Backpages service. The would-be customer claimed she was advertising physical therapy services, though Reeves had no qualifications as a physical therapist. But Backpages is notorious as a marketing place for human trafficking.
CPP attempted to search Backpages.com records from last year to find an advertisement with Reeves’ number. That effort came up empty. But, by the nature of the way these files are stored, Backpages archives are incredibly difficult to search with the limited information available.
The would-be client also indicated that Reeves would be paid through a PayPal account. CPP has attempted to obtain information about this account. Reeves’ family has wondered whether it was accessed by anyone after her death. If someone was routinely paying for illegal services through this account, it could potentially have information that might lead to whoever would have wanted her silenced.
PayPal has indicated that its hands are tied by privacy concerns. The company may be able to reveal some information to Reeves’ family, but would only do so if they could obtain a court order, which could be a prolonged, expensive and uncertain process.
Reeves’ cellphone had an area code for Hopkinsville, Kentucky. She lived there from about March to May of 2015 for unknown reasons. CPP has found that at one or more periods of unknown length she was a patient at Western Kentucky State Mental Hospital in Hopkinsville. Since she had been under treatment by the VA in other areas, her status as a patient at a state facility in a place she lived for such a short time seems surprising. Due to privacy rules, CPP has been unable to learn why or precisely when she was at the hospital. Kentucky health authorities have not ruled out the possibility of providing her family members with some of these answers, though arrangements to do this would likely involve legal complications.
One important detail about the hospital has emerged in recent weeks: It’s exclusively an in-patient facility. This rules out scenarios in which Reeves was living in Hopkinsville as an outpatient. However, without knowing whether she was a patient for a prolonged or short period, the nature of her stay there remains unclear.
Documents show that Reeves filed a grievance against the hospital at some point. She later referred to it disparagingly on social media as “western state nuthouse.”
CPP has asked Kentucky authorities for any information that can be released about this grievance and its eventual outcome, as well as whether an answer to these questions could be given to family members. At this time, these questions have not been addressed.
But the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office has answered one very important question. Reeves was not giving information to them and does not appear to have been passing on information to any other local or state law enforcement agency in Kentucky.
CPP has received a similar answer from the State Bureau of Investigation about North Carolina. Reeves was not informing to the SBI or any other state-level police agency. Each of the local police agencies in North Carolina that CPP has contacted have said that she was not informing to them.
But Felicia’s presence in Hopkinsville points to another possibility. Located in south-central Kentucky, Hopkinsville is directly across the state line from Clarksville, Tennessee. Phone records indicate she was in contact with some people in Tennessee during her time in Kentucky. Could Reeves have been talking with authorities in Tennessee about human trafficking or other criminal enterprises?
The precise date when she left Kentucky is unclear, but it must have been toward the end of May 2015. On May 22, multiple media outlets in the region reported on a major human trafficking bust in Clarksville, which they characterized as a “sting” operation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, with some 14 arrests.
Could Reeves have been connected to this case and could she have left the area as a result?
(Editor’s note: Since this story was originally published, new information shows that Reeves was still in Kentucky as of June 29. Misinterpretation of her social media posts had led to the conclusion that she was back in North Carolina earlier.)
Based on various clues, Bayorgeon has said she suspects that her sister was being forced to act as a conduit for younger girls who were being trafficked, possibly recruiting them or bringing customers to the girls. Coercion could have been through drugs or threats to harm her or others in her family. During the months leading up to her disappearance, Reeves frequently made statements expressing paranoia about someone making good on such threats.
Such a scenario might match up well with a TBI arrest in Clarksville from two years earlier, when a woman living in Hopkinsville was charged with trafficking a young girl across state lines to Clarksville. Was this a pattern for human trafficking and did Reeves become involved in the same sort of thing?
CPP recently asked the TBI whether Reeves was an informant for them, especially in relation to the Clarksville arrests last year. Unlike the state-level organizations in Kentucky and North Carolina, the TBI claimed that state law prevents them from answering that question even if they want to address it and even if the individual is deceased.
CPP has also reached out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to ask about whether Reeves was an informant for them. So far, there has been no answer.
While some of Reeves’ apparent criminal contacts remain uncertain, at least two are well-known and currently behind bars.
Andrew Bryson lived with Felicia at a residence in southern Buncombe County several years ago. On June 27, 2013, he was fleeing from law enforcement in Asheville when his vehicle struck a North Carolina State Trooper in Transylvania County. Bryson remains in prison on charges from that incident. At the time of Felicia’s disappearance, he was jailed awaiting trial. He is up for a custody review next month and his projected date of release is for Oct. 25 according to the Department of Public Safety.
Before her relationship with Bryson, Reeves was married for several years to Titus Boley, who served an eight-month prison sentence from 2009 to 2010 for attacking Reeves. CPP has reviewed repeated complaints she filed with authorities in Transylvania County, where they were living at the time, in which she described Boley choking her or threatening to kill her with a jagged piece of glass. Boley also has previous convictions from Henderson and Polk counties.
Reeves’ family members have wondered whether Boley could have some connection with Reeves’ disappearance and death and whether he may be among the people on whom she was informing.
Thanks to recent developments, some in law enforcement may be wondering the same thing.
On May 24, Polk County authorities arrested Boley on drug charges. Capt. Lowell Griffin of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office told CPP that Boley made a delivery of oxycodone in front of undercover officers.
Griffin, who previously worked in law enforcement in Henderson County, said he was familiar with Boley’s past and that his drug activities have been on law enforcement’s radar for some time. Although Griffin also knew Reeves, he was unaware until CPP contacted him earlier this month that she had died under suspicious circumstances. Now that authorities in Polk County are aware of the unresolved questions about Reeves’ case, they make look at Boley with additional scrutiny.
But whether either of these man are connected in any way to Reeves’ disappearance and death is unknown. Multiple law enforcement agencies have been made aware of the links between them and Reeves.
Quest for help
Because Reeves’ body was found in New Jersey and she apparently died there, the ruling in New Jersey that her case was a suicide has a limiting effect on the ability of agencies elsewhere to look into questions about her case, especially without strong evidence that she was coerced into leaving North Carolina last August.
Bayorgeon has sent out a steady stream of letters to public officials in various jurisdictions asking them to look into her sister’s case. Mostly there has been no response, other than the angry call from the person claiming to be with the police.
But earlier this month, she received the first somewhat positive acknowledgement. A letter from the office of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie confirmed that her letter had been received and said it was being forwarded to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office as the appropriate agency to consider her request for the case to be reopened.
So far there has been no confirmation that the prosecutor’s office did receive the inquiry or indication of how it will be handled.
Bayorgeon’s efforts to get answers about what really happened to her sister continue, despite harassing phone calls. She said she has additional correspondence set to go out in coming days.
CPP continues to investigate the death and disappearance of Felicia Reeves. Thanks to those who have contacted CPP already with information that may help answer some of the questions about her case. Contact Frank Taylor by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have some information related to the case that you would like to share.