Case File: The Murder of Faith Hedgepeth

What exactly do you need to solve a murder?

Beyond the snappy Poirot answer of an answer to the motive, the means, and the opportunity of the person committing it, most true crime enthusiasts will have a hard time coming up with a definitive answer. For as many cases as there solved with solid evidence to back up their conclusions, there are a dozen more infuriating unsolved mysteries that seem to have every single detail in place apart from the final one: who?

So maybe, in this case, one of those endlessly infuriating ones, the question isn’t what we need – what more could we need? DNA all over the apartment. A phone message from the night of the murder. A handwritten note left at the scene, apparently by the killer. All this, and far more – and yet, the murder of Faith Hedgepeth remains unsolved.  

But how?

Faith Hedgepeth. Image via NBC news.

On September 12th, 2012, around 11am, Faith Hedgepeth’s roommate, Karena Rosario, entered their shared apartment, along with her friend, Marisol Rangel. Inside, they soon found Faith’s body in her bedroom, wrapped in a blanket and partially undressed. Rosario called emergency services and informed police of the discovery.

Hedgepeth was a junior at the University of North Carolina at the time of her death, just a few weeks away from her twentieth birthday. A member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe, she was raised by a single mother along with three other siblings; after earning a scholarship thanks to her academic achievement, Hedgepeth hoped to become the first in her family to graduate college, and planned to train as a teacher or a pediatrician once she had graduated.

Initially, documents surrounding the investigation into Hedgepeth’s murder were not shared publically, a marked change from the Chapel Hill police force’s regular mode of operation. Eventually, after pressure from the UNC student paper The Tarpit, the details of the investigation were revealed to the public, and Hedgepeth’s final hours, as well as the main suspects pursued by police, were further illuminated.

Hedgepeth spent her last night with her roommate, Karena Rosario; the two women attended a local club called The Thrill, arriving at 12.40am and leaving around ninety minutes later after Rosario complained of an upset stomach – CCTV footage from the club confirms the two women leaving at 2.06am, the last time that Hedgepeth’s presence was confirmed on camera.

They had made it back to their apartment by 3am, around which time a downstairs neighbor claimed later to a TV investigation to have heard a series of loud thumps from their home, suggesting that they could have been an end table being turned over. In the same timeframe, Hedgepeth’s Facebook account was accessed.

At 3.40am, a text was sent from Hedgepeth’s phone to Brandon Edwards; Edwards had been previously involved with both Hedgepeth and her roommate, Karena Rosario, though the specific nature of his relationship with both women at the time of Hedgepeth’s death was unclear. He had spent the night on the couch in their apartment several days before Hedgepeth’s death, and, according to investigative reports from the Chapel Hill police, had shared a physical relationship with Rosario.

The text sent to Edwards from Hedgepeth’s phone implored Edwards to come to the apartment and asked him to “let her [Rosario] know you care”. Around the same time, Rosario’s phone records show that a number of calls were attempted to Edwards from her own phone. Edwards eventually responded to Hedgepeth’s texts just past 4am, asking who was messaging him.

Rosario left the apartment at 4.25am after failing to get a response from Edwards, and got into a car with another acquaintance, leaving Hedgepeth alone in the apartment. She informed police that she believed Hedgepeth to be asleep in her room at the time, and that she had left the door unlocked, though whether this was intentional or otherwise is unclear. The next day, Rosario needed a ride home – unable to contact Hedgepeth, she reached out to another friend, Marisol Ranger, instead. When Rosario returned to the apartment, Hedgepeth was dead.

Police would later come to believe that Hedgepeth had been killed by blunt force trauma to the head, believed to be inflicted by an empty rum bottle found at the scene. Semen was also discovered (whether Hedgepeth was sexually assaulted or not remains unclear), which matched with male DNA found around the apartment; police used this to try and construct a profile of Hedgepeth’s killer. Though there was one person, at first, who seemed an obvious suspect for the crime.

Rosario and Hedgepeth had recently moved into a one-bedroom apartment together as Faith waited for her financial aid to arrive so she could get a place of her own; initially, though, they had shared the apartment with another roommate, Rosario’s then-boyfriend. Eriq Takoy Jones.

Jones and Rosario had been come to an end earlier that year, and had been frequently marked with incidents of domestic violence, according to a friend of Faith who shared details of their relationship with the police. After Rosario attempted to end the relationship, Jones, on two occasions, attempted to break into the apartment, prompting Rosario to change the locks. Prior to her murder, Hedgepeth had taken Rosario to the local courthouse to get a protective order against her ex-partner in July 2012, an action which seemed to stir deep dislike for Hedgepeth in Jones – according to court documents, he allegedly threatened to kill her if he and Rosario did not resume their relationship in a phone call after she helped her roommate take out the protective order against him.

On the night before Hedgepeth’s body was discovered, Jones posted on Twitter, asking another user to “forgive him for what he was about to do”. Three days later, he changed his banner picture on Facebook to the image of a statement which read “Dear Lord, Forgive me for all of my sins and the sins I may commit today. Protect me from the girls who don’t deserve me and the ones who wish me dead today.”

But, despite what looked like compelling evidence against Jones, police tested his DNA against that which was found at the scene of Hedgepeth’s murder – and it excluded him as a suspect. A number of other men, mainly from The Thrill nightclub, also submitted DNA, but were similarly excluded as potential suspects. Brandon Edwards, the recipient of the last text from Hedgepeth’s phone, was subject to a search warrant by police, but was later ruled out as a suspect as well.

With the most obvious suspects apparently ruled out, other details of the case and the crime scene came under greater scrutiny; of these details, perhaps the most-discussed are the note left at the scene, and a phone message from Faith’s number earlier that night.

The note discovered beside Hedgepeth’s bed, which police described as being written on a fast-food bag, reads “I’M NOT STUPID BITCH JEALOUS”. It seems to have been placed at the scene after the murder was committed, due to the fact that there was no blood found on the note, despite a large amount of it being present at the crime scene. The author of the note is unclear, though it is often assumed to be Hedgepeth’s killer.

The note at the Hedgepeth crime scene. Image via hereforfaithhedgepeth.

A friend of Hedgepeth’s received a call from her number on the night before her body was discovered. Though initially assuming the message left by Hedgepeth to be nothing more than an accidental mistake, this friend passed on the message to police. Timestamped at around 1.30am on the 7th September, when Hedgepeth was believed to still be in The Thrill nightclub, it was released to the public in 2016, where it became the centre of much speculation.

Arlo West, hired by Crime Watch Daily, a musician who specializes in the enhancement of such recordings, produced a much-discussed analysis of the call in which he claims that a number of voices are audible sharing a conversation, with a man and a woman on the call referring to one another as “Eriq” and “Rosie” (speculated to be Rosario’s nickname). In this call, he believes that there is a discussion in progress about an attack on an unnamed woman, and that the apparent victim of this attack can be heard protesting her assault. West has shared his belief that the call is actually a recording of Hedgepeth’s death; police later dismissed the claim, but Hedgepeth’s father continues to agree with West’s conclusion.

The eight-minute phone call can be heard in its entirety here, as shared by the Pursuit Podcast, and Arlo West’s analysis of the message can be found here. The phone message is near-essential listening for those interested in the case, and I would recommend listening to it both before and after engaging with West’s analysis.

Later in 2016, police released a composite of their suspect based on the DNA found at the scene. They believe the suspect is likely of Native American or Latin descent, and assumed to be around 25 years of age at the time of the murder. As of yet, police have not named another suspect for the murder, though the investigation is ongoing.

The composite released of Faith Hedgepeth’s suspected killer. Image via WDTV.

So, this is the evidence that we’re working with. It feels almost inconceivable that an arrest hasn’t been made in this case; there are too many clues, it seems, not to have led to at least a more concrete conclusion than we currently have. Eight years later, the murder of Faith Hedgepeth remains unsolved, though that hasn’t stopped near-constant speculation on the person or people behind her death.

Hedgepeth’s case is one that I’ve been following for a long time; I was a student at the same time as her, and so much of this case bears reflection of my own experience as a young woman navigating life on the cusp of adulthood, even though we came from very different backgrounds and lived in very different worlds. Obviously, any conclusions that I’ve drawn from the evidence are my own opinion, but it’s unlikely you came here just looking for a breakdown of the timeline and the people involved.

To be quite honest, despite a huge amount of speculation surrounding Hedgepeth’s roommate, Karena Rosario, I don’t believe she had anything to do with her death (beyond perhaps leaving the apartment door unlocked, which can easily be explained with simple forgetfulness after a stressful night instead of malicious intent). Many theories put forward by internet sleuths have built themselves around the idea that Rosario killed or was involved with killing Hedgepeth before she left the apartment with another man, left the note (perhaps referencing their mutual involvement with Edwards), and returned later to fake the fresh discovery of her roommate.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been a nineteen-year-old woman in university trying to navigate romantic entanglements and friendships myself, but the series of events with regards to Rosario’s actions make most sense to me as someone attempting to contact a romantic interest, probably annoying her roommate in the process (hence the text from Hedgepeth’s phone) and roping her in to helping track him down, and, upon failing to do so, spending the rest of the night with another man who was more easily available. I believe that, if Rosario had had access to Hedgepeth’s phone and was using that to contact Edwards, she would surely have responded to the message he sent back to Hedgepeth before she left with the man who she would contact to pick her up shortly afterwards.

Much discussion has been focused on the call to the emergency services that Rosario made on her return to the apartment and her discovery of her roommates’ body, including her reluctance to touch it to check if Hedgepeth was still alive. There has been some interesting analysis on this that’s worth looking into, but, as with so many similair calls, it seems unfair to pin someone’s guilt or innocence on whether or not they reacted in a way that we deem correct to a situation that most of us will never have to deal with.

Of course, the message left on the phone of one of Hedgepeth’s friends on the night of her murder, the one analyzed by Arlo West, is the smoking gun for many of those who believe that Rosario was involved in Hedgepeth’s murder. As I noted above, the call was believed to have been made around 1.30am, when Hedgepeth and Rosario were still at The Thrill nightclub – the club which they were recorded on CCTV leaving together shortly after the call was made. West argued against this evidence with claims that the timestamp on the call could be inaccurate, but metadata collected by the Chapel Hill Police disagree with this conclusion. For what it’s worth, I disagree with it, too – though I’m far from a skilled sound technician, the call is almost completely indecipherable, apart from what sounds like some contemporaneously popular music playing in the background, which matches with the club setting that it claims to have been taken in.

Attaching Rosario to Hedgepeth’s death, too, fails to account for the appearance of semen at the scene of the crime, and the unknown male DNA around the apartment. It’s hard to tell if Hedgepeth may have had consensual sex with someone earlier in the night, or if the semen was left there by her attacker, but either way, it seems highly unlikely that Rosario would have been the one to deposit it, outside of a convoluted scheme to acquire semen from a man unknown to the case to place it at the crime scene to misdirect authorities.

But, even if we rule Rosario out of the equation, it doesn’t do much to shed more light on who Hedgepeth’s killer was. Of course, it is impossible to rule out the chance of a random attacker who found the apartment door unlocked (though how or if they entered through the door of the apartment building, which seems to have been another barrier of security between Hedgepeth’s apartment and the rest of the world), but it seems unlikely that an opportunistic murderer would be operating at the time that Hedgepeth is alleged to have been killed (between 4.30am and 11am). Around this time, people would have been likely to be getting up to work and school, and the chances of being seen or caught by a witness seemed vastly inflated.

Which suggests to me that the person who killed Hedgepeth was likely someone who was at least aware of her, her home, and her roommate. Someone who saw an opportunity after Rosario left the apartment building to attack Faith while she was on her on and vulnerable (Rosario said to police that she believed her roommate was sleeping when she left the apartment). The nature of the note, which is believed to have been left after the murder took place due to the lack of blood on it, also suggests that it was someone known to Hedgepeth, who may have been acting out of anger for whatever sleight they were referencing in their note.

But, in a community as small of that as Chapel Hill in North Carolina, and with a suspect composite built from the evidence found at the scene, it seems improbable that the perpetrator hasn’t been caught yet. As a young woman of Native American descent, Faith Hedgepeth has joined the legions of women like her who have been victimized by violent crime and who have yet to find justice for what happened to them.

By Louise MacGregor

Louise MacGregor is a full-time writer, and also blogs about all things film, TV, pop culture, and personal at The Cutprice Guignol and No But Listen. She lives with her partner and their very tiny, very angry cat.

Published by thethreepennyguignol

I'm a journalism graduate with a horror obsession bordering on a body count. Other hobbies include writing about music, films, and radio. Follow my blog The Cutprice Guignol for larks and intellectual discussion a-plenty.

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