Charity Worley: Tragedy compounded

“Nothing was normal that morning.”

That’s what Linda told me one spring day around lunch time as she thought back to the little details of the last time she saw her daughter Charity alive. On a normal day, Charity would have been begging for caffeine before heading out to work. Instead, she was sipping stale leftover coffee from her favorite Starbucks cup.

“I thought ‘Oh, no, she is drinking day-old coffee,” Linda said. “I had had pneumonia, and that night had been the first night I had been able to sleep without sitting up. I had a pounding headache, so I did not fix fresh coffee.”

Charity didn’t ask for any. She didn’t ask her mother to pray with her as she usually did. She was dead by the end of the day.

What started as an abnormal morning became nearly decade of tragedy compounded with tragedy, a cold case left unsolved, and Linda dead in a hotel room.

Charity Worley died nine years ago last Sunday. She left her house to warm up her car on a cold December North Carolina morning. Somebody was waiting. They beat her nearly to death and left her under her 4Runner.

It happened in Hendersonville, about an hour north of where I live. I was already out of the news business by that point, but I never shook whatever it was that made mysteries like Charity’s so compelling. Only a couple of days passed before I was watching a local newscast that opened with a voice screaming, “Oh, God!” over and over again. It was the kind of scream that tore at your stomach. I couldn’t believe the TV station had used the 911 tape from that morning at Charity’s house. I wrote an essay about it. A few weeks later, Linda found the essay online. It wasn’t long after that, Linda started to confide in me.

Linda and Charity’s life was anything but normal. Linda had a neuromuscular condition that required frequent therapy. Charity’s husband was a private military contractor living in Iraq. Charity had a 15-month-old baby. Her sister needed a place to live. So, they all moved in together and called themselves the Three Musketeers. They each saved text messages that read “All for one and one for all.”

Their lives had not been perfect. They each had their problems, some of which were public, some of which were not. There were secrets the media didn’t discover. Some were tawdry. Some were merely sad. They were real life. Linda spent her days and nights wondering if those darker problems led to her daughter’s murder.

A year passed, and investigators found nothing they admitted in public. They said Charity had been beaten to death with a pipe, but other than that, nothing had turned up.

In the meantime, Linda had turned herself into an amateur investigator. She tracked down a man she believed had motive to kill, a man who had power over Charity, a man she hounded in every way she knew. She finally resorted to long Facebook messages, some of which she forwarded me. I have no way of knowing whether the man’s responses to her were real, but Linda said they were.

“I am sure her beauty and poise attracted you like a shark to blood,” Linda wrote. “You preyed on her.”

According to what Linda forwarded, the man begged her to leave him out of it for the sake of his kids, writing “Its (sic) for them I live.”

Linda developed several suspects on her own, all of which sounded–at least in her telling–like viable paths of investigation. If she had mentioned any of them in public, she might have been sued. Or she might have caught the killer.

Regardless, deputies had something else in mind.

A few weeks after Linda told me about her suspect, she sent me a message.

“Yesterday my son, my daughter, and I were interviewed by the SBI.”

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation had pulled them all in for interviews. Linda at first thought she had reason to be hopeful. She thought the case had gone cold and that investigators had given up. Instead, the investigators had turned their focus to Linda’s family, specifically Charity’s sister.

Linda said the agents had shoved photos of Charity’s shaved head in front of her sister Lindsey, and according to Linda, worked to get Lindsey to confess. Distraught, Linda came to realize no one was coming to ease her tragedy. They were only going to compound it.

“There are no more cruel or meaner people alive than the SBI,” Linda told me.

*

Linda set out on a crusade, one that would eventually end her. She wrote elected officials. She wrote her son-in-law’s government contractor employer. She wrote angry letters, one of which got published on the internet calling an SBI agent “the most unethical cruel and meanest man I have ever met in my life.”

Though Linda found people who would sympathize with her, her crusade did nothing to ingratiate herself with investigators. Their focus intensified. They hired a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) profiler who held a news conference and, for all intents and purposes, pointed the finger at Linda’s family.

“The offender will live within an extremely close proximity of the residence at 1004 W. Gilbert St. (the crime scene) at the time of the crime…extremely close,” the profiler said.

Linda came to realize, perhaps too slowly, that she was doing herself no favors. Detectives pushed even harder. Linda told me they tried every investigative trick they could find, including convincing her they were going to arrest Lindsey, and then asking her to write a statement saying Lindsey had been suffering from postpartum depression.

“They could sway public opinion,” she said they tried to convince her.

Linda wrote no statement. Lindsey was not arrested. No one was arrested then, and no one has been arrested since.

Linda poured through her daughter’s emails. She used Charity’s email address to continue her personal investigation. She chatted with Charity’s friends and people she believed might actually be Charity’s enemies. Over time, even some people in the public began to turn against her in public forums, including writing unflattering comments and veiled accusations in the comments on this site.

The last time I heard from Linda, she’d found something resembling optimism. She had herself hypnotized. She heard from a new investigator who she said was described as a smart cookie who was going back over every piece of evidence. In the transcript of the investigator’s email Linda saved, he had written that they too were considering having her hypnotized. It read “Take care and we will be talking soon!”

*

On February 6, 2014, a housekeeper opened the door of Linda’s hotel room in Newberry, South Carolina. Linda was there, dead of an overdose that police believed was intentional. They found letters Linda had addressed to loved ones, but nothing in those letters offered any insight into what happened to her daughter. Cops from another county said Linda was connected to an identity theft investigation at the time of her death.

From what I knew of Linda, I would never have expected her to kill herself, but the only Linda I knew was the one hellbent on finding whoever killed her daughter. There were other Lindas, to be sure, and one of them committed suicide a little more than five years after somebody murdered her daughter.

The profession I chose and the path I took crossed paths with just about every sort of grieving parent. It was barely possible to witness any of their grief, but the worst by far were the parents who never knew what happened to their children. They all shared a similar pain, but they dealt with it differently.

I can still recall the stoic resolve on the faces of Warren and Debbie Holsonback as they waited for investigators to find the evidence against the men they believed killed their daughter.

I remember Jason Knapp’s mother, Deborah, taking us to Table Rock State Park with a psychic in the hopes she could find her son.

I remember the mom who contacted me last week asking me to look into the 2002 death of her daughter, one police ruled an accident.

And I remember Linda.

Holsonback’s parents counted on investigators. Knapp’s mom sought help in a psychic. Linda threw herself into her own crusade and ran right into an investigation of her own family.

If you asked me what I believe about Linda, I’d say I don’t think she knew who killed her daughter. Her grief turned into some questionable decisions, and she made enemies of some of the people who were trying to help her. As much as she tried to help herself, she ended up doing the opposite. I’d like to say I would have handled it differently than she did, but I’m not sure I would have. In fact, I’m pretty sure I would’ve made some of the same mistakes she did.

But if you asked me not what I believe but instead what I know, I’d say this: not much. I barely knew Linda. I didn’t know Charity at all. I only know that Charity died nine years ago this week, and the killer has gotten away with it so far.

And, as unsatisfying as that is, that’s it.

There is nothing comforting about a story ending without a resolution. It leaves an empty space in your brain that requires, if not justice, at least an answer. Nine years later, we still have a remote chance at seeing both.

Linda died with neither, just as lost as she had been that morning in 2008 and in enough pain that she couldn’t conceive of the story ending on its own.

So she did it herself.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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