‘You can rest’: Sister of Johnston County cold-case murder victim gets some closure

Johnston County News

SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) – Newspaper clippings tell the story of more than 46 years worth of questions.

On Tuesday, the headline finally tells a different story — one Rachel Wheeler has waited to hear.

“I would just think, ‘It’s not right. It’s not right. Why? Why? Why? Why?’ You can’t understand why a murder can’t be solved in that time,” said Wheeler of her sister, Bonnie Neighbors’ 1972 killing.

Larry Joe Scott, 65, who at one time lived in Benson, has been charged with first-degree murder in Neighbors’ death, Bizzell said.

Scott was living on the streets of Bradenton, Florida at the time of his arrest. 

Scott is being held in Florida as he awaits extradition.

“Words can’t describe it. Words can’t describe how I’m feeling,” Wheeler said.

Growing up, Wheeler said she and Neighbors were close. She admits living without her, and without answers, has been hard.

“There were times I was in the low of going, ‘I’ll go to my grave and not know,'” she said.

In December 1972, a then 33-year-old Neighbors vanished along with her infant son while on the way to pick up her older boy from school.

Four days later, search crews discovered Neighbors’ body in a cottage at a migrant labor camp. She’d been shot twice and hit in the head. Her baby was clinging to her, but unharmed.

“That is something this guy took away from him. (He is) 46-years-old and he doesn’t know his momma,” Wheeler said of her nephew.

Tuesday afternoon, Wheeler visited her sister’s grave. She said it felt like a cloud had been lifted.

“There’s just a peace about it now. I mean, it was emotional when I came. There’s a peace about it now. I want to say it is finished. I know it’s not, but it’s certainly a good beginning of it being finished,” she said.

Wheeler wants to know why her sister was killed. The sheriff said the motive to the murder, and Scott’s connection to Neighbors, are unclear.

Wheeler said while she’s forgiven the man responsible, she wants him to be held accountable.

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