Most people choose not to wear shoes that are two sizes too small, but things seem to work differently in Bladenboro, North Carolina, where Lennon Lacy apparently squeezed himself into an ill-fitting pair before hanging himself.
Authorities say it was suicide; Lacy’s family says it was murder. Thanks to shoddy police work, neither side has enough facts to prove their case.
Lacy was last seen leaving his home at 10:30 p.m. on August 28. His parents say late-night walks were common for their son, although he may have left to go across the street to his then-girlfriend’s house.
Just before 7:30 a.m. the next day, a woman called 911 to report finding Lacy’s body. The woman called it a “suicide” and for some reason speculated that Lacy may have been breathing. “Should I cut him down?” she asked 911. The dispatcher told her to try, marking the first in a series of apparent missteps in an investigation wrought with procedural errors.
Coroner Hubert Kinlaw told Dr. Christena Roberts, a pathologist hired by the North Carolina NAACP to conduct her own investigation, that he was prevented from taking photos of the crime scene by police—and that cops even threatened to take away his camera.
Furthermore, Kinlaw told Roberts as part of her investigation that police at the scene “didn’t want an autopsy performed,” and that Kinlaw took it upon himself to order one with the local district attorney. (Kinlaw has turned down repeated requests for comment.)
However, an officer from the State Bureau of Investigation said in a report that no photographs were taken at the scene because the sole crime scene technician was at “another homicide.” (No other homicides could be found in news reports for that 24-hour period.) So the authorities don’t even agree why photographs weren’t taken.
That omission alone could jeopardize any homicide investigation, but police apparently collected virtually no forensic evidence on the crime.
The teenager’s hands weren’t bagged when his body reached the medical examiner, which is commonly done to preserve DNA evidence for retrieval by investigators.
The shoes that Lacy’s family members says weren’t his never made it to the autopsy table.
When Dr. Deborah Radisch of the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office asked the State Bureau of Investigation about this, they said the presence of the suspicious shoes had “been explained but did not elaborate further.”
Hell, the noose wasn’t even measured.
“No measurements are available at this time for the noose (described below) but it does not appear long enough to have been tied around the beam, fed through the grommet and still allow a large enough loop for [Lacy] to be able to place over his head,” Roberts wrote.
Radisch notes in her report the two belts delivered with Lacy’s body must have had been cut, because they didn’t seem long enough for Lacy to hang himself.
Radisch would only be left to speculate because the authorities didn’t measure the swing set where Lacy was found.
It wasn’t just the noose that Radisch speculated about.
“It was reported that he had been depressed over the recent death of an uncle,” Radisch wrote in her autopsy about what Lacy’s mother had said.
Even the best pathologist can’t diagnose depression, so the inclusion of what amounts to witness testimony is unusual to say the least.
“In a sense, this is a strange report,” said Dr. Larry Kobilinsky, a professor of forensic science at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Kobilinsky called the remark about Lacy’s mental state a “tantalizing sentence,” but added that calling the death a suicide was premature.
“What they should have simply said, at least until more information is available, is that the cause of death is undetermined,” said Kobilinsky. “There are some complicated cases where the question is suicide or homicide. These are difficult determinations and it requires a lot of expertise and good crime-scene work.”
There was neither.
If evidence was taken from the scene, that information is contained in police reports that aren’t subject to open records laws due to the FBI’s ongoing investigation, the police said. And since police and the local coroner had determined early on that Lacy had taken his own life, little was done to test how he would have done so.
At 5 feet 9 inches tall, Lacy would have had to jump 21 inches to grab the cross beam to secure the noose. Not an impossible feat, even for a husky young man who weighed 207 pounds, but a difficult one considering he would have then had to use his free hand to secure the noose through a metal grommet on the beam. There is another way Lacy could have achieved this morbid feat, which was raised by Roberts.
“The side structure of the platform is a rather small square that is further obstructed by the v-shaped vertical supports of the swing,” she wrote. Lacy would have to slip his head into the noose while cantilevering from the platform, then let go.
The only other way, besides the 21-inch leap or leaning off the platform, would’ve been for Lacy to stand on something under the cross beam. There was no such thing found the next morning.
None of this proves Lacy’s death was a suicide or a homicide. None of the information compiled by police—what little there is—proves anything. Lacy’s death remains as much a mystery as it was the day police showed up at the swing set, and decided there was no mystery at all.