WILSON, N.C. (WNCN) – Investigators recovered the body of a missing Kenly woman from a shallow grave behind a house in Wilson County.
Prosecutors charged Kenneth Lamm, 50, with the first degree murder of 71-year-old Kathy Thomas. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office issued a missing persons report for Thomas on Wednesday which said her family and friends last saw her on Nov. 23.
Deputies blocked off the property around Lamm’s girlfriend’s home in Wilson Wednesday night. Cadaver-sniffing dogs helped locate Thomas’s body near a wooded area close by.
“When my best friend (Thomas’s niece) called me and told me that Ms. Kathy was missing, I said, ‘it’s not going to be a good outcome.’ I had that feeling come over me. I knew it,” family friend Teresa Hall.
“I wanted this to be good news, but I wanted her found so they could have closure. They’re not taking it very well.”
Relatives told investigators they last talked to Thomas the day after Thanksgiving. That led to concerns for her safety, and the sheriff said her disappearance was suspicious.
Neighbors told CBS 17 on Wednesday that the Johnston County woman was exchanging text messages with a man. A close friend said she did not think the man’s intentions were good.
Investigators said Thomas and Lamm were acquaintances but did not elaborate further.
Hall went Thursday morning to visit the site where deputies found Thomas’s body on Harper Street.
“I just wanted to see where she was at,” she said through tears. “I’m broken hearted, broken hearted for the family, because they didn’t think this was going to be the outcome.”
Neighbors said Lamm was often at his girlfriend’s home on Harper Street. His house is five miles away, and is on the sex offender registry due to a 1994 conviction for second-degree rape and two other sex offenses. Lamm served 18 years of a 50 year prison sentence.
Hall said he never should have gotten out, and compared what happened in Wilson to the recent disappearance and death of 13-year-old Hania Aguilar in Lumberton.
“(Lamm’s) already been convicted of rapes, even though he put in his time. They let these people out and they continue to go back out there, and they wait. It’s like they’re looking for their prey,” Hall said.
She mentioned Michael Ray McLellan, the man accused of abducting, raping, and murdering Aguilar in November. It took investigators three weeks to find the Robeson County teen’s body.
The Robeson County district attorney said Wednesday that McLellan was a possible rape suspect a year ago, as the state crime lab identified his DNA as a match to a sexual assault from 2016. The crime lab put the information in a report sent to the sheriff’s office in 2017, but McLellan was neither arrested nor charged back then.
“There was something on that man’s paperwork that murdered the 13-year-old girl that possibly could have kept her from getting killed,” Hall said.
“The district attorneys in the towns where these people were murdered at like Wilson, and Lumberton, I do believe that they will make an example out of these gentlemen that has done this.”
Lamm made his first appearance before a Johnston County judge on Thursday morning. Wilson County animal control initially confiscated several dogs from Lamm’s girlfriend’s home, but returned the animals to the house Thursday afternoon. She has not been charged with any crimes.