INVESTIGATORS’ RETRACE VICTIMS STEPS
By Jennie Jones Giles
When natives talk about the unsolved triple murder of 1966, it does not take long before the focus turns to the unknown man in the back seat.
Back then, Hendersonville was a small town, and there had been several sightings of Shipman’s 1962 white-over-blue Ford Fairlane, with Shipman driving and Glass in the front passenger seat. Witnesses who knew Glass and Shipman told detectives they also saw a man and woman in the back seat, two people the witnesses did not know.
Before the end of the day Saturday, July 23, 1966, investigators were retracing the steps of the victims the last day they were seen alive. It took almost a year to get many of the answers. Forty years later there remain many unanswered questions.
Shumate had worked Friday, July 15, at her job at Taylor Instrument Co. in Arden.
She called her niece, Violet Fluharty of Asheville, between 6:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday. Shumate had ordered a pair of sandals that would be shipped to Fluharty’s address from Florida, she told her niece.
On Saturday, Shipman bought a tire and told the dealer he was planning a trip, according to reports in the WNC Tribune.
Calvert Hunt Jr. and his fiancee stopped by Tempo Music Shop on Saturday to show Shipman and Glass an engagement ring.
“Vernon was in a good mood, but Charles was sullen,” Hunt said.
Shipman was invited to a business dinner Sunday.
“Charles had not been invited and felt slighted,” Hunt said.
Sunday, July 17
Shipman, Glass and Shumate were last seen alive Sunday, July 17, 1966.
Glass called a friend and employee about mid-morning Sunday and invited him to lunch at the Echo Inn in Laurel Park. The friend declined because he had other plans.
Vernon’s father, Harley Shipman, told investigators that he and his son ate a late breakfast. His son was still at their home at 1021 Maple St. in Hendersonville when Harley Shipman left about 2 p.m.
Glass was at his home on Hong Kong Hill near Laurel Park about 2 p.m., talking on the telephone with Shipman, a friend said.
Robert Amsden, assistant manager of the Echo Inn Restaurant and Lodge in Laurel Park, called the Hendersonville Country Club about 2 p.m. to make reservations for two people for 6 p.m.
Sometime between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m., Shipman and Glass were at Johnny’s Restaurant on U.S. 25 North in Mountain Home. Johnny Pistolis, the restaurant owner, told investigators that Shipman and Glass ate a meal and both had been drinking.
After eating at the restaurant, Shipman and Glass stopped for a short visit with friends at Almond’s Antique Shop, at 2001 Asheville Highway. The Almonds remembered them talking about what they had eaten at Johnny’s – spareribs and vegetables.
No show for dinner
Louise Shumate was seen leaving her apartment in Asheville about 4:30 p.m.
About 4:45 p.m., Amsden called Shipman’s house to tell him that the location of their dinner engagement had changed from the Echo Inn to the Country Club and the time was changed from 5:30 to 6 p.m. Shipman was to pick Amsden up at 5:30 p.m. at the Echo Inn. Glass answered the phone and said he would tell Shipman.
According to investigative reports, Sue Nichols, a friend of Shipman’s, called him about 5:30 p.m. Glass answered the telephone. Nichols said Glass was drunk and she could hear someone, whom she thought to be Shipman, telling Glass to get off the phone several times and then heard footsteps. Glass said, “No, Vernon, God no, don’t hit me” and then the phone went dead.
Mrs. Hubert Orr told the WNC Tribune that she saw Shipman’s car headed north on N.C. 191 south of the former Corn’s Factory Outlet about 5:45 p.m. She recognized Shipman driving and Glass in the front passenger seat. There were two people in the back seat that she did not recognize.
At 5:45 p.m., when Shipman had not arrived at the Echo Inn, Amsden called the Shipman house and got no answer. Shortly after 6 p.m., he canceled the reservations at the Country Club and waited in the lobby until about 7 p.m.
Another sighting happened about 6 p.m.
Ronnie Hollifield, the Times-News circulation manager, was driving along Evans Road to visit his farm in the Big Willow community.
“I had driven Little River, up by Kanuga Conferences, and took Evans Road to Big Willow,” he said.
Hollifield knew Shipman and Glass. Shipman worked at the N.C. Employment Security Commission, next door to the Times-News, then on Sixth Avenue West. Hollifield saw him every day.
He also knew Glass because the record shop manager placed ads in the newspaper for Tempo Music Shop and for his voodoo booklet. Hollifield knew Shipman’s car.
In 1966, the dirt road was narrow, with hairpin curves. Two cars could not pass at the same time.
“There were wild roses on the bank,” Hollifield said. “I had just bought a new car and didn’t want it scratched.”
Hollifield stopped his car and waved Shipman through at the horseshoe curve.
Shipman was driving and Glass was in the front passenger seat. He saw a man in the back seat behind Glass, wearing sunglasses, with light-colored thin hair. As the car approached, this man edged up toward the front of the seat and sat up straighter. His face disappeared from Hollifield’s view.
“The woman was behind the driver,” Hollifield said. “She looked over at me and smiled. Glass’ crutches were in between the seat, between him and Shipman. The third man was raised up in the back seat and I couldn’t see his face. He was a thin-built guy and had on a suit, dark blue with pin stripes, somewhat outdated. He was white. The woman had a smirky, odd smile on her face. Glass and Shipman just looked straight ahead.”
Hollifield estimated the unknown man’s age at 40 to 50.
The third sighting
About 6:30 p.m. on Little River Road in Flat Rock, Calvert Hunt Jr., former employee at the Tempo Music Shop, and his fiancee were going on a picnic. Hunt had turned off U.S. 25 South, heading toward Kanuga Road. The couple passed Shipman’s car coming from Kanuga Road toward U.S. 25 South.
“On several occasions Vernon let me use his car during times my parents’ car was unavailable,” Hunt said. “Because I had driven his car often, it was unmistakable when I saw it on Little River Road. I remarked that it seemed funny that Vernon, who was driving, was not at his dinner engagement, and that Charles was with him, when Charles had not been invited.”
Hunt saw two people in the back seat.
Harley Shipman, Vernon’s father, returned home to the Maple Street house about 8:30 that Sunday night and found the front door open. He saw something else that didn’t look right. His son’s coat and tie were on Harley Shipman’s bed. Vernon never left clothing in his father’s room.
Two teens leaving Sunday night church services in Zirconia took the North Lake Summit Road to return home about 9 p.m. They passed where a dirt trail leads off the road to the site where the victims’ bodies were found. They saw a car parked where a gate is today, a light blue 1963 Pontiac.
Bruce Gordon, who lived outside Saluda, took North Lake Summit Road about 5:45 a.m. Monday to his job at a summer camp in Tuxedo.
He saw three cars near where the dirt trail leads to the crime scene, and four men there. The cars were a 1961 or ’62 black Ford, a 1955 or ’56 cream-colored Chevrolet and a late model blue Pontiac. A man was walking toward the Pontiac. The other three were inside the Ford.
“I was working at Camp Green Cove and Mondamin,” Gordon said. “I was going to work. There was a bunch of people just standing on the road. I didn’t know any of them. That was known as a place where people would pull off the road, stand around and drink.”
About 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 20, Shipman’s car, a 1962 blue Ford Fairlane with a white roof, was found by the Hendersonville Police Department on an unpaved road that ran parallel to the railroad tracks between Seventh Avenue East and Ray Avenue.
This unpaved road no longer exists, but it is near the parking lot of the Boys and Girls Club next to the railroad tracks. The car was photographed and fingerprinted.
Witnesses reported the car had been there since at least 7 a.m. Monday, two days earlier.
The keys were in the car, but they would not open the trunk. The back seat was jerked forward. There was a hole large enough for an arm in the middle of the back seat and in the separator board which joins the back window. Harley Shipman told the WNC Tribune that Vernon had not had a trunk key for quite some time and had rigged up this system to get into it.
Through the opening officers could see a base and handle of a bumper jack. The shaft of the bumper jack was missing. Investigators believe the missing shaft was the bumper jack shaft found at the crime scene. Found in the trunk of Shipman’s car was a brand new jack, later thought to be from a 1961 Pontiac. Another jack was found on the rear floorboard.
Three tires were muddy. A fourth tire was clean. Two hub caps were missing.
Harley Shipman said his son told him that one hub cap had been stolen earlier. Two were now missing and there was no spare tire in the trunk. There were scratches on the side of the car.
Two latent fingerprints were found on the rearview mirror.
In the right rear ashtray were Pall Mall cigarette butts, filtered, Shumate’s brand. One had lipstick stains.
Harley Shipman said the car had an oil change Friday, July 15, two days before his son disappeared. The car had been driven 259 miles since the oil change.
The trip from Shipman’s house to where the bodies were discovered off North Lake Summit Road is 38 to 40 miles.
One puzzle was solved about nine months after the murders.
On May 11, 1967, Dennis Waters of Hendersonville gave a signed statement to Henderson County Sheriff Jim Kilpatrick admitting that he and other youths had found Shipman’s car before dark Sunday, July 17, 1966, and moved it to the location where it was found by police.
Waters said in a recent interview that he and three other young men found Shipman’s car parked in grass, weeds and briars, with the front headed west, near the former Carolina Sales Building, not far from a migrant labor camp. This would be adjacent to Mountain Rug Mills on Ray Avenue today, near Seventh Avenue East. This would be about six miles from the crime scene, at least a 15-minute ride.
The keys were in the ignition. For about an hour, the boys took a joy ride in Shipman’s car. They returned the car where they found it, Waters said.
All four went back to the car, intending to strip the car of the tires. They brought a jack with them. About 10 that night one of the young men drove the car out of the thicket to the place where it was later found. They lost their nerve and decided not to strip it.
“We got to thinking the car might have been stolen,” Waters wrote in the statement. “We came on back home and left the jack in the back floorboard.”
The young men said the left front hubcap and the spare tire were missing when they found the car.
A light blue 1962 Ford Fairlane was reported abandoned Tuesday, July 19, near the French Broad River in the Rugby community. The car could be seen from N.C. 191 as the road crosses the river near French Broad Baptist Church.
The car was at the end of old N.C. 191, an old paved road through plowed fields to the river, where the old bridge was once located, about 35 yards from the current N.C. 191. The car had been spotted Monday, July 18.
The windows of the car were down, doors unlocked and the key was in the ignition.
Henderson County deputy Jerry Wilson drove the abandoned car to the courthouse.
The same model as Shipman’s, the Fairlane belonged to Shumate.
A complete bumper jack was in the car. Shumate’s handbag, without the change purse and identification, was hanging on the door handle. Inside the car was a camera; no pictures had been taken.
“Aunt Louise would never have left her handbag on the door handle and the keys in her car intentionally,” her niece Linda Shirlin said.
Shortly after the bodies were discovered, authorities returned Shumate’s car to her brother. Her nephew, Sam Davis, searched it thoroughly.
He found some swizzle sticks under the front seat that had come from Bob Barley’s Bamboo Lounge in Charlotte.
Some authorities believe Shumate was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was picking blackberries when the murderer with his two potential victims happened upon her.
Official records indicate no items related to blackberry picking were in her car or found anywhere near the car. Family members all say they were told by SBI agents, Buncombe County authorities and Henderson County authorities that no items related to blackberry picking were in or near the car.
Shumate’s friend, Ruby Taylor, told authorities that she and Shumate had picked blackberries at this location in the past and blackberry bushes were and are growing there.
There is information that Shumate may have known Shipman and Glass.
After reconstructing the last few days of the victims’ lives, authorities were no closer to answers.
What they did find only raised more questions.
A killer or killers were still at large.
INVESTIGATION WIDENS, AUTOPSIES PERFORMED
By Jennie Jones Giles
Investigators peering at the bodies arranged in a crude semicircle faced a big challenge.
The two missing men, Vernon Shipman and Charles Glass, were dead, and along with them a woman who was mostly unknown in Hendersonville. The victims had already been dead six days, through summer heat and rainstorms.
Rescue workers moved the bodies from the grassy clearing in the woods to Jackson Funeral Home on U.S. 25 South. Family members arrived Saturday to identify the bodies.
“The decomposition was so bad I couldn’t identify her,” said Shumate’s nephew, Sam Davis, who was called to the funeral home.
While the coroner performed autopsies, investigators spent Saturday searching the crime scene for clues. But nothing was sealed off from the public. Before the day ended, residents and on-lookers arrived to view the grisly site.
“It was like a circus out there,” recalled retired Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Harold Crisp. “They didn’t preserve the crime scene. We had never had anything like that around here. Everybody and his grandmother went down there.”
“I went down with my Dad,” said Shumate’s niece, Linda Shirlin. “There were small pieces of the skull on the ground.”
“My Dad and I went down there within a few days of them being found,” said former SBI agent Steve Miller. “There were still portions of the victims’ hair on the ground. The fluids had leaked from their bodies and you could see the outlines of their bodies.”
By Sunday, cars filled with curiosity seekers lined both sides of the dirt road.
All three murder victims died of fractured skulls from heavy blows over the head, according to coroner Dr. James H. Willson, who signed all three death certificates.
Shipman was hit on the right temporal, Shumate and Glass were hit on the left temporal.
In 1966, there were no rape kits, semen analysis or DNA testing.
Former Hendersonville Police Chief William “Bill” Powers said nothing was tested along this line and he did not believe the woman was raped.
An upright portion of an automobile bumper jack was inserted in Shumate’s vagina.
“I removed the jack,” Powers said. “There was not that much penetration, maybe 2 inches if that.”
The instrument could have been inserted deeper, he and other investigators say. As the body decomposed, it could have dislodged.
Glass and Shumate had some type of puncture wounds on their bodies. In the autopsy report, Dr. Kenneth LaTourette described them as less than 0.4 cm in diameter, shallow, penetrating the skin and slightly under the skin, except for two on Shumate that traced through the breastbone.
None of the bodies was sent to the state medical examiner in Chapel Hill, which historically took on the more complex death cases in North Carolina.
Several months later, Buncombe County detective Jim Harrison, who was working on the case with Henderson County officers, persuaded authorities to exhume the woman’s body.
“Shumate was killed in a cruel manner,” Harrison, who is retired, said in a recent interview. “I wanted to know the method and cause of death and then start looking for suspects.”
In the spring of 1967, Shumate’s body was exhumed and sent to Chapel Hill.
The medical examiner wrote in his report in 1967 that there were three puncture wounds on Shumate’s left breast, three on the right breast, two on the breastbone and five over the abdomen.
According to the original autopsy in 1966, Glass had 21 puncture wounds – 18 on the left side of his neck and three widely scattered puncture wounds on the anterior surface of his chest.
No puncture wounds were found on Shipman.
Punctures made before death
The instrument that made the holes in the bodies was not an ice pick as investigators first speculated, Powers said.
“You can’t make uniform holes with an ice pick,” he said.
There was no pattern to the holes, a finding that ruled out shoes with cleats.
The wounds were not made from a shotgun. No gun was used in the slayings.
The puncture wounds were made before Shumate’s death, wrote the Chapel Hill medical examiner.
The 1967 report describes multiple blows to the head and face of Shumate. The injury to the skull was caused by a blunt object with great force, and several blows were made.
Shumate’s left wrist and elbow were broken before she died, the later autopsy said.
“It is indicative of someone who put an arm up while blocking a blow,” Hendersonville Police Capt. John Nicholson said.
Bruising 12 mm in width encircled her left wrist. There was bruising on her right forearm and other bruising: around the external genitalia, lower extremities, especially the inner thighs, left inner knee and right calf.
“If she was severely beaten and unconscious and not yet dead, the bruising could have come from the bumper jack or a sexual assault,” Nicholson said. “Back then, there were no sexual assault evidence collection kits.”
There was also bruising on her right and left ankles and multiple small abrasions on her right knee, scattered areas over the left thigh, many about the buttocks and posterior thighs.
“She could have been struggling while on the ground and held in place or possibly dragged by gripping around the ankles,” Nicholson said.
No in-depth examination by the state medical examiner was ever performed on the bodies of Shipman and Glass.