49-year-old murder continues to raise questions, speculation
Seventy-year old Ronnie Evans, a retired engineer with UNC-TV who lives in Franklin, seems an unlikely homicide investigator.
Garrulous and amiable, Evans is also meticulous, unflagging and dogged. In the seven years spent investigating Macon County’s only unsolved murder — the 1963 stabbing death of his cousin Frances “Frankie” Stanfield Bullock — Evans tracked countless people down, conducted a series of in-depth interviews and gathered boxes full of information on the slaying. His office was wherever he could find a place in his home: sometimes his kitchen table, sometimes in a sunroom. Evans also traveled extensively for interviews and to find documents related to the murder.
“My investigations took me to Elizabeth City, Manteo and even down to Louisiana,” he said. “I don’t regret the time, but it got emotional at times.”
In the past few years, this amateur sleuth’s investigation has slowed, but it hasn’t ended. Evans continues to seek new information about the murder. And after all these years of work, Evans is convinced that he knows who killed Bullock.
Sheriff’s department investigators, however, say there’s no way for anyone to know for sure.
The 49-year-old case technically remains open. But almost everyone involved is now dead, making further official investigation unlikely. Who would you talk to? Who could you arrest?
Victim was popular
Bullock, who was 40 when she was killed, was described in news accounts of the time as an “attractive widow,” and photos of her support that description. Evans remembers a woman who was a mix of contradictions: high-strung, quick to anger and even somewhat self-centered, but also friendly and loving, particularly with family members.
“When she would greet you, her smile would win you over. It really would,” Evans said. “That smile would get you every time.”
Bullock was a brunette who dressed well, carried herself well and enjoyed wearing nice clothes and jewelry. The men in town noticed, and after Bullock’s second husband was killed in an accident, they lined up to date her.
Eblon Bullock, her husband, was a maintenance supervisor for Nantahala Power and Light Co. He died from burns suffered after he came into contact with a high voltage line in a power plant. There was some speculation about his death being a possible suicide, an allegation that infuriated the temperamental Bullock. When word got back to her, she reportedly “made a scene” in NP&L’s offices, Evans said.
Eventually there was a large settlement and Bullock, though not wealthy, was certainly set financially. She added to her income by selling antiques out of her home on U.S. 23/441.
Bullock, Evans noted, would be a good catch for the man who could win her hand.
After her husband’s death, Bullock spent a lot of time with family. She grew close to Evans’ mother and visited a couple of times a week at the Evans’ home.
“She confided in my mother a lot,” he said.
At first, everything seemed normal. As time passed and Bullock began to date, she talked about the different men she was seeing. Then, Evans said, her behavior became somewhat bewildering. Bullock had clearly become serious about a gentleman friend, but there was an air of mystery surrounding who he was and how they’d met.
“She never brought him around to meet anyone,” Evans said. “She’d made a couple visits to her sister’s home in Colorado, and when she got back, she announced to my mother that she’d met this person on the plane. We never met the man, and so we thought she was making it up.”
Bullock, however, showed Evans’ mother an engagement ring and eventually said the man’s name was John Peterson.
As it would turn out, the family was right — there was no John Peterson in Bullock’s life. He didn’t exist. But there was a man who did exist and was intimately involved with Bullock: His name was Gordon Forrester.
There was a good reason Bullock wasn’t giving Forrester’s correct name. At the time, Forrester was married. Forrester’s marriage, his second, was on the rocks, however, and by April of 1963, he’d gotten a divorce. Then there was no need for the John Peterson alias.
Forrester worked for the Internal Revenue Service in Franklin. A co-worker told Evans that Forrester had gotten in trouble for his temper and was forbidden to work anymore with the public. His former wife also spoke of Forrester’s violent temper, and about heavy drinking. Perhaps looking for a fresh start, Forrester transferred from Franklin to Elizabeth City. Throughout June 1963, he made trips back to Franklin to spend the weekends with Bullock. The couple made plans to marry.
Then, days before Bullock was murdered, there was a disagreement between the two regarding some property Forrester apparently owned. Bullock wrote him a letter, saying in part: “I want you to know that your failure to mention owning lots here was of no real consequence. Although I did wonder why. However, your flat denial of having them last night is an entirely different matter.
“I was willing to share my life and anything I might have with you. But I can tell you this one-sided deal is out. I would not marry you now for love or anything else. In short you can go to hell … I made you welcome as a guest in my home at the risk of my reputation, which I don’t take lightly. You are no longer welcome, in fact I never want to see you again.”
Brother questioned in death
During the weekend of July 26-28, neighbors noticed a light burning constantly in Bullock’s tidy brick home. Her tan Mercury car, which she always parked in the house’s garage, had been left outside.
The neighbors called Bullock’s brother, Charlie Stanfield, and asked him to enter the house. Stanfield worked closely with Bullock in her antique business. He checked around the outside of the house but refused to go inside.
Stanfield’s odd behavior attracted investigators’ attention. In the days after the murder, local law enforcement tried to interview him, setting a date and time. Stanfield didn’t show up. Eventually, law enforcement hauled him into the courthouse for an interview.
“He was not allowed to leave for his sister’s visitation down the street,” Evans said. “The interview reportedly became heated and loud, drawing a crowd of spectators outside.”
The interview was stopped and Stanfield was taken to the N.C. Highway Patrol Office in Bryson City for further questioning.
Stanfield had an alibi. He said he and his wife, Hazel, had gone to a movie at the local drive-in. He accurately told investigators what was playing on the big screen. But when Stanfield and his wife underwent polygraph tests, they both failed.
Stanfield and Bullock had a volatile relationship, one Evans described as “hot and cold.” Stanfield helped his sister with the antique business when the two were on good terms. But, they often quarreled.
“Charlie had borrowed money from Frances on several occasions and sometimes he did not pay her back,” Evans said. “She told a friend she was going to cut him off and not loan him anymore.”
‘Blood all over’
After Stanfield refused to enter the house, a friend summoned by the worried neighbors came to check. She spotted Bullock’s body through a window.
On that Monday, July 29, 1963, Franklin resident Harold Corbin was at the sheriff’s office visiting with his friend Sheriff Bryce Rowland. A call came in.
“He said, ‘ride out with me,’” said Corbin, who later served as chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners.
The two men went to the house just outside of town on U.S. 23-441.
“We were the first ones there,” Corbin said. “You could look through the door and see the body on the floor, and blood all over.”
Rowland called the State Bureau of Investigation for help. The two men stayed at the doorway until agents arrived, then they all walked in, including Corbin.
“It was a bloody mess,” Corbin said. “You could tell immediately that the woman had been stabbed.”
Bullock, in fact, had been stabbed a total of seven times, so deeply her left lung and intestines were lacerated, according to the autopsy report. Her left wrist and breastbone also were fractured. There was a wound in the abdomen, a wound in the right chest and four stab wounds in the left shoulder and chest area. There was also a one-inch wound in her right hand, as if Bullock had tried to grab the knife.
There was no sign of a struggle, with Sheriff Rowland telling reporters “nothing seemed to be out of place out there.”
Bullock’s black patent leather handbag with brown bone handles was never found. It was the only item missing from the house.
Blood evidence indicated Bullock had been attacked in the kitchen. A light trail of blood spots led from the kitchen to the dining room, and Bullock collapsed near a table.
“Except for a few blood spots on the floor and on cabinets and the stove at floor level, the kitchen appeared to be in order,” the sheriff told newspaper reporters. “Two chairs at the kitchen table were turned outward slightly as if both had been used.”
A butcher knife in the kitchen was the suspected weapon, but laboratory technicians examining it found no evidence of blood.
Michigan man questioned
Officers would find two notes to Bullock, one on the front and the other on the back doors of her house. Once again, law enforcement officers were checking out a man who had been in Bullock’s life.
Lewis Clayton, of Dearborn, Mich., told law enforcement that he had left the notes. Bullock and Clayton had gone together to an all-Mozart concert at the local Methodist Church the Thursday before she was killed.
Clayton said he and Bullock had planned on going to church together on Sunday morning. She wasn’t there, and Clayton said after church, he and a friend drove to the Bullock home and filled holes in the yard with dirt.
“I told her I would fix them because she might get into some insurance trouble if anyone stepped in one,” he was reported as saying in a local weekly newspaper, The Franklin Press.
Evans noted that Clayton took a polygraph test and was cooperative with investigators. During his own investigation, Evans and another family member met for four-and-a-half hours with an SBI attorney who answered questions and went through the investigative file with them. Much of the information in this article came from that meeting.
“The information we got just created more questions,” Evans said, adding that he requested a follow-up interview but was never granted one.
An unsolvable murder
Evans believes Forrester, who died in Louisiana in 1975, is the most likely suspect in the murder of Frances Bullock. The problem with that theory is Forrester had an alibi that placed him eight hours away in Elizabeth City at the time she was killed. Still, alibis can be fabricated, and Evans believes that’s exactly what Forrester did.
The IRS agent took off work at noon on Friday. Bullock was either killed that night or the next morning. Forrester’s alibi was that he went to a golf driving range and met a client who needed to talk to him about tax problems. Forrester claimed that he was there until 5 or 6 p.m.
“From that point, there was no accountability that I was given at least,” Evans said. “The timeline is fishy.”
Forrester was interviewed around midnight the day the body was found. After that, he got a lawyer, said Evans, noting that marked the end of Forrester’s cooperation in the matter.
Today, 49 years later, there’s no way of verifying or disproving Forrester’s claims.
“I’m not sure the murder itself is going to be able to be solved,” Evans said. “Anyone who was questioned has passed away. There’s no one left to prosecute.”
But, Evans still wants a firsthand examination of the records in the case. That looks unlikely to happen because this cold case is still considered open, according to Chief Deputy Andy Shields of the Macon County Sheriff’s Department.
But solving it? That’s probably impossible.
“We actually reopened it and had all the evidence resubmitted for analysis with technology that was not available in the 1960s,” he said. “We interviewed people. It led nowhere. There is no evidence available today to take us to finality.”
Shields, like most people familiar with the Bullock murder case, had a theory. His theory was that the person who stabbed the Franklin woman might also have cut himself and gotten blood on the pink cotton dress she was wearing. That theory, Shields said, was wrong.
Shields attended an FBI academy in the 1990s and took the Bullock case file. The FBI behavorial science unit studied the case and offered its analysis, but still the Bullock murder eluded being solved.
“We tried our best to come to a resolution,” Shields said. “But almost every single person involved is dead. Everybody’s got theories, but they are not based off fact.”