July 29, 2011
They were two women who probably never met. One hailed from a middle-class corner of Long Island, a blond-haired suburbanite and the daughter of an accomplished musician who enjoyed dancing in her father’s studio. The other was raised on the rural roads of Leland, a woman who sometimes lived precariously but never strayed far from her tight-knit family.
Their lives diverged in many ways. But then came their disappearance, followed by the discovery of their remains – two skeletons lying side-by-side in a wooded patch behind a strip of small businesses on Wilmington’s west side.
In the three years since they were found, police have sought to establish a link that might help explain how these two strangers, Allison Jackson-Foy and Angela Nobles Rothen, wound up the victims of one of Wilmington’s most mysterious, unsolved murders. The only apparent connection detectives have been able to surmise is both women likely died at the hands of the same person.
Detective Lee Odham, an investigator with the Wilmington Police Department who has worked the case since the bones were discovered in April 2008, visited the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit in Virginia earlier this month to ask federal analysts if they could provide any clues into the killer’s identity. In the best-case scenario, he hopes they produce a profile to help narrow down the list of suspects.
The investigation, which started as a missing person’s case when Jackson-Foy vanished five years ago this Saturday, has been full of twists and turns. Promising leads have fizzled out. At least once, detectives seemed on the verge of an arrest only to backtrack and clear their main suspect. And meanwhile, two families are thinking, wondering, hoping the cold case picks up steam so they can finally achieve a sense of closure.
Jackson-Foy, 34, was last seen enjoying a drink with a friend early one Sunday morning in the summer of 2006 at Junction Pub & Billiards, a pool hall off Carolina Beach Road. She was celebrating her new job as the assistant general manager of a Holiday Inn on Market Street and looking forward to finally making good money in the service industry, according to family members.
When it neared last call at 2 a.m., Jackson-Foy or her friend asked the bar to call her a cab. The friend later told investigators that when the taxi driver arrived, he poked his head in the door and asked who needed the ride. Jackson-Foy hugged her friend goodbye and left.
Her sister, Lisa Valentino, was leaving from a trip in New Hampshire when she got the call from her father that Jackson-Foy was missing.
“I looked at my husband after that phone call was over and I said, ‘Allison’s dead,’” Valentino recalled earlier this week from her home in New Jersey. “She would not take off and leave her kids … and secondly, if she were in trouble, she would have called someone in the family for help.”
At first, family members said, the police treated her disappearance as an adult walkaway, noting the fact that her marriage was rocky.
But the family refused to buy into that assertion. Jackson-Foy’s father, John Mazalewski, said he and his three other children immediately flew to Wilmington. They hung missing person posters, hired a private detective and tried to retrace Jackson-Foy’s last steps.
Despite their efforts, a question mark would linger over Jackson-Foy’s whereabouts for the next two years.
The next summer after Jackson-Foy disappeared, Nobles Rothen, 42, was dropped off by her parents at her home on Lex Road in New Hanover County after she attended a birthday party for one of her granddaughters.
They never saw her alive again.
Like with Jackson-Foy, Nobles Rothen’s family reported her missing, this time to the New Hanover County Sheriff‘s Office, but felt like they were not taken seriously. Nobles Rothen had a checkered past of crack abuse and arrests for prostitution, so authorities believed she had run off on her own accord, family members have said.
“I have a feeling they didn’t really care because they knew she had been doing drugs,” her mother, Patricia Nobles, who lives in Leland, said in an interview Thursday. “But she did matter. She was my child.”
The disappearances turned into a murder investigation when, on April 26, 2008, a passerby walking through the woods behind what was then a shuttered Mexican restaurant in the 3500 block of Carolina Beach Road came across two skeletons. Though police had preliminary indications that the bones belonged to Jackson-Foy and Nobles Rothen, it would take months for DNA to finally confirm their identities.
Autopsies concluded that both women died at knifepoint. Jackson-Foy was stabbed at least 27 times. Nobles Rothen was beaten, had broken bones in her face and skull, and her throat was cut.
Not long after the remains were found, police focused on a former cab driver who lived in New Hanover County for about 30 years. In June 2008, detectives executed a search warrant on Tim Iannone’s home, alleging that he had a history of violence against women, particularly prostitutes.
Iannone, who has repeatedly denied involvement in the murders, later went on the show “Dateline NBC” to say how the investigation had affected his life. He derided the media for portraying him as guilty and disputed the allegations of violence, saying police only looked at him because he held a prior conviction stemming from a consensual encounter with a prostitute.
Later, the police department proclaimed Iannone clear of any wrongdoing in connection to the case, and said the investigation was moving in a different direction. Detectives have since backed away from that assertion, and Odham said this week that Iannone was still a suspect.
Detectives also looked at a man named Leslie White, who was friends with Nobles Rothen and used to camp near where the bodies were found. Though they never called him a suspect, Odham labeled him a “person of interest” in April 2010 when he executed a search warrant on White’s apartment. Police confiscated a knife with a reddish-brown stain on it and found newspaper clippings about the investigation inside.
But Odham said Wednesday that the substance on the knife was not blood, and detectives had no reason to believe that White was involved in the killings.
By Brian Freskos