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A homicide task force of the Union County, N.J., prosecutor’s office is continuing its investigation into the 2015 death of a North Carolina woman, Felicia Reeves, and is also examining police’s initial handling of the case.

“They act as if they are really looking into things,” Suzan Bayorgeon, Reeves’ sister, told Carolina Public Press in an email last week.

Investigators are probing several electronic communication devices that Reeves used, including a cellphone that CPP had been analyzing and will now turn over to the task force.

Reeves used the device for phone calls, texts and emails from May to August 2015. Because she had been living in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, for some time in spring 2015 when the phone’s undeleted records begin, the phone has the 270 area code for that location. She also used this phone when she returned to North Carolina in late June and to a limited extent after she went missing from Hendersonville on Aug. 19.

Click to read more from the Carolina Public Press investigation into the life and death of Felicia Reeves.

A motel maid in Elizabeth, N.J., reported finding Reeves’ body Aug. 28, hanging in the bathroom of a room where she had been staying for a week.

Police initially ruled her death a suicide, but her family raised concerns about discrepancies they felt police had ignored. CPP has reported on the case several times, including on the decision from the prosecutor’s office to launch a new investigation in August 2016.

Among other unusual aspects of the case, the family said police told them that surveillance footage shows no one coming or going from Reeves’ New Jersey motel room after she checked in, but evidence places her in New York City after that date, buying a train ticket to Philadelphia that she apparently never used.

Reeves also posted to social media in the weeks prior to her death that she was acting as a police informant, leading to speculation that someone wanted her silenced. Could she have been drugged with a substance that wouldn’t have shown up on the routine toxicology report, then hung where she was found to make her death appear as a suicide? It’s a possibility that her family hopes investigators explore carefully.

Bayorgeon has told CPP that she believes her sister had become mixed up with criminal elements. After she died, a message came to her cellphone with the Kentucky area code from a Texas man who claimed he’d seen an advertisement for “physical therapy” with that number on Backpages.com, an online personal ads services that has long been criticized for suspected ties to human traffickers. The CEO of Backpages.com was recently arrested on related charges.

Other discrepancies also exist back in North Carolina.

Reeves’ ex-husband, Titus Boley, who served time in prison for brutalizing Reeves and attempted to strangle her, was arrested in June 2016 for involvement with narcotics trafficking in Polk County. Reeves’ family members say he called them in August 2015, within hours of them learning about Felicia’s death, to offer his condolences, long before it had become public knowledge. They say he claimed he had learned of her death on social media, but they believe no one who should have known about it had posted anything by that time.

Hendersonville disappearance

While anything new that authorities in New Jersey have uncovered remains unknown for now, CPP has talked with Hendersonville Police about the efforts they began simultaneously in late August to learn more about Reeves’ disappearance.

CPP also talked with the manager of the Rainbow Motel in Hendersonville, who said Reeves had been staying there for several weeks before she disappeared. Although his records weren’t clear about exactly when she checked in, he said she left suddenly on Aug. 19, leaving behind many personal belongings.

Based on this, the motel manager said she must have thought she would be returning there shortly when she left, but then left the state instead for unknown reasons.

The manager and other witnesses who talked with police were also able to describe the taxi that Reeves took when she left.

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But Hendersonville police said they’ve been unable to learn much of value from the cab company. Due to health problems, the taxi driver doesn’t have a clear memory of that night. He remembers Reeves and picking her up several times, but not the circumstances on the night she disappeared or where he took her.

Records from the phone that CPP has been analyzing show that she called this cab company several times during weeks leading up to her disappearance. But if she or someone else called for a cab on that final evening, she must have used another phone.

Financial records indicate that Reeves may have gone to the Asheville Airport area, a few miles north of Hendersonville, and taken a ground shuttle service that goes to Greenville, S.C., and then on to the Charlotte airport.

She may have taken a plane from there, though she is known to have disliked flying. Because records place her at New York’s Penn Station – a train hub in central Manhattan – a short time later, it’s possible that she took a cab from the Charlotte airport to the Amtrak station and then took a train. But her movements and purposes remain unclear.

After arriving in New York City, she can be placed in both Manhattan and Queens on Aug. 21, before checking into the Royal Motel in New Jersey that evening. At some point on Aug. 21 she acquired a claim ticket from an eyewear boutique, which indicates that she left a $40 deposit for either glasses or contacts that she apparently never picked up.

Like her means of travel, the reasons for suddenly leaving her belongings in her North Carolina motel room and going to the New York City area, as well as her activities while there, remain unclear, even confusing. What little is known points to someone with deliberate purposes. How these steps led to her death remains unclear.

Kentucky revisions

CPP has also obtained additional records from Reeves’ time in Kentucky that forces a reinterpretation of her movements and social media statements in May and June.

Based on limited information that was previously available, CPP previously reported that Reeves spent time as an in-patient at Western State Mental Hospital in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, but was uncertain about the dates. Her social media posts appeared to indicate that she was back in North Carolina by late May.

But additional records from the hospital and the City of Hopkinsville have forced a reinterpretation of that narrative.

On June 17, 2015, police arrested Reeves. Unable to explain her behavior, they had her placed in Western State Mental Hospital against her will.

“Police were dispatched to (910 S. Main Street in Hopkinsville) in reference to (Reeves) walking around with a large knife,” Hopkinsville police reported.

“Upon arrival, Sgt. Dearmond heard Reeves talking on the phone about killing herself. (Reeves) had two folding knives both open. (Reeves) was very paranoid and had a difficult time talking. (Reeves) rambled on about numerous things an constantly changed the subject. (Reeves) was unsteady on her feet and very agitated and her mood constantly changed.

“(Reeves) was arrested to ensure her own safety due to her statements and possessed weapons. Warrant was signed by Judge Adams on 6-17-15.” After evaluation, she was taken to the mental facility.

But when the hospital released her two weeks later, they found that she did not have suicidal ideation as the police had feared.

Reeves’ state of mind

Family members have told CPP that Reeves did suffer from several physical and mental health issues that would have affected this interaction with police. She had significant disabilities due to an assault that occurred while she was in the military, including neurological damage that affected the way she walked. She also was on medication for post-traumatic stress disorder.

She had previously been prescribed painkillers to which she had become addicted, but had apparently stopped taking those after completing a methadone program a few months earlier; her toxicology screening after her death was negative for painkillers.

Reeves’ social media posts from the time period could be described as paranoid. She believed someone was out to get her. On the other hand, this might make sense if someone was out to get her.

Because so little is known about why she was in Kentucky, if she was involved with criminal elements with whom she had a falling out, as her social media posts from the period suggest, it’s possible that she had been traumatized by some type of altercation at the time police found her.

Besides the suspected but unknown criminal groups she may have been involved with, Reeves faced several sources of conflict. Family members have told CPP that she was constantly afraid of what Boley might do to her and had lost confidence in the ability of local law enforcement in North Carolina to protect her from him, especially after he served less than a year in prison for attempting to kill her.

While it may not have been directly related to the other issues, Reeves was also having problems with her Wells-Fargo bank account. Her family has told CPP that a bank employee who knew about the time when her monthly disability checks arrived was stealing from her account.

Wells-Fargo would not confirm or deny that this occurred or state how it might have been handled, but did tell CPP that it would have been handled internally and not automatically triggered a call to law enforcement, which would have been up to the account holder.

The bank has recently been exposed for widespread fraudulent activity targeting customers’ accounts and the company’s CEO has been forced to resign.

Reeves was also having problems in dealing with Transylvania Department of Social Services about her youngest son, Addison. Bruising to the boy had been discovered in 2014 and linked to a foster-care provider or someone in her household. But due to an apparent miscommunication between Brevard Police and the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office, no one was ever charged in the case. Authorities told CPP in September that the evidence pointed to a misdemeanor assault charge, but because of the delay the statute of limitations has expired.

Whether any of these experiences led Reeves to manifest “paranoid” behavior is unclear. Nothing in the report CPP has obtained from the City of Hopkinsville indicates that police made an effort to determine the events that led to Reeves being found walking the streets with knives in her hands.

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Reeves’ active social media posts went dark on June 17 until the day she was released from Western State, June 29, at which point she said she had been “detained.”

When she left Kentucky that day, Reeves told hospital authorities that she would be living at an Asheville address. But the address she provided was for the Salvation Army shelter.

But shelter managers told CPP that Reeves, who had not previously stayed there, arrived and filled out the paperwork to get a bed at the shelter, then left and never returned.

While her precise movements are uncertain, it appears likely that she checked into the Rainbow Motel, which was located near her parents’ home in Hendersonville, around this time.

CPP continues to examine issues related to what happened. Additional updates on the case are expected as new information becomes available.

Previous reports about Reeves

What happened to Felicia Reeves? — Feb. 29, 2016

Family disputes police claims in daughter’s case  — March 3, 2016

Sister warned to stop seeking answers about death of Felicia Reeves — August 22, 2016

NJ, NC authorities looking into Reeves’ death, disappearance — Aug. 30, 2016

Family learns child OK, but adopted without their knowledge — Sept. 26, 2016

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Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor is the managing editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact him at ftaylor@carolinapublicpress.org.

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