Body could be tied to Hawks homicide case

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Only one murder case in Alleghany County, N.C., involves a missing body, and Alleghany authorities searched for — and found — remains in Carroll this week.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

LAMBSBURG — A body found at the bottom of a Carroll County well could be connected to a murder case in Alleghany County, N.C.
Three people are charged with the kidnapping and killing of Michael Thomas Hawks, but they have yet to go to trial and the victim’s body has been missing since 2010.
After days of digging to reach the bottom of the 50-foot shaft in the Lambsburg community, police found human remains on Monday morning. They were led to the spot by a tip from a suspect, said Alleghany County Sheriff David “Squeak” Edwards.


While Edwards would not comment on any connection between the search and the Hawks case, that is the only murder case in Alleghany County that involves a missing body.
The victim and suspects were not from Alleghany, but police believe Hawks was killed there, at a mobile home in the Ennice community.
Deputies said the remains had been buried for no more than two years, which would fit the timeframe of the Hawks case.
In 2010, police searched a vehicle in Lambsburg while investigating the Hawks case, and found ropes and other evidence.
Carroll Sheriff J.B. Gardner said the body was sent to the chief medical examiner’s office in Roanoke for an autopsy. He said DNA evidence might have to be used to identify it. No identification was found at the scene, and police could not determine the gender of the remains.
Alleghany County authorities sent along all available information on the missing person they are seeking to the medical examiner’s office to help with the identification process. That includes dental and medical records.
The person in question had no known identifying features that could be recognized.
“I don’t know if they’ll use DNA... DNA takes a long time,” Edwards said Wednesday. He is unfamiliar with the way the Virginia forensics labs works. “It’s a waiting game right now.”
Edwards had hoped that a positive identification on the remains would come in this week.
The well is on a secluded, seemingly uninhabited property at the end of an unmarked road known as Snowbird Lane, not far from Carroll County’s border with North Carolina.
Carroll County investigators called in a bulldozer from Sowers Construction Co. to begin digging last Friday. The dig continued through Monday after losing a day to rain last Saturday.
A bulldozer and excavator dug an enormous trench through the wooded property and removed tons of earth throughout the weekend to reach the well’s bottom.
After finding the remains, investigators and a forensic anthropologist began processing the crime scene.
Gardner said other agencies assisting at the scene were officials from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the Surry County (N.C.) Sheriff’s Office, Cana Volunteer Rescue Squad and Cana Volunteer Fire Department.
Charged in the death of Hawks, 40, of Surry County, N.C., are a couple from Cana, Rebecca Jane Wright Upchurch and James Bradley Upchurch; and Wayne Thomas Lawson Jr. of Mount Airy, N.C. All three have been in jail since December 2010 awaiting trial on murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder.
The Alleghany Sheriff’s Office investigation started when police received a call on Oct. 26, 2010, at 7:30 a.m. and heard muffled gunshots in the background and a man begging not to be killed before the call ended.
This information was taken from a warrant obtained to search Lawson’s home.
The 911 operator could tell that someone was in distress and a female’s voice was heard in the background.
According to the warrant, the 911 call originated from Rebecca Upchurch’s cell phone. Sheriff Edwards said the 911 call was traced to a mobile home at 1136 Mountain Lake Road in the Ennice community, about 13 miles south of Sparta near the Blue Ridge Parkway.
According to Edwards, mobile home owner Euly Holbrook gave officers permission to search inside.
Officers found shell casings and a “reddish substance” on the floor that appeared to be blood, according to the warrant.
Dozens of individuals were interviewed during the investigation, which included both the Grayson and Carroll sheriffs’ departments. Edwards said investigators determined through interviews that the alleged killers were “just acquaintances” of Hawks.
Deputies with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office assisted searches of two vehicles and Rebecca Upchurch’s residence on Speas Mill Road in Cana, according to court papers. Deputies seized “a map on a white piece of paper” and a pink quilted bag and its contents.
A warrant obtained on Oct. 30, 2010 — on suspicion of a hidden firearm — also resulted in the search of a home on Speas Mill Road in Carroll County, as well as a cream-colored camper. Deputies found a green ammo case with assorted ammo, along with several clothing items.
A third warrant from Nov. 22, 2010, requested permission to search a yellow Ford dually utility truck in Lambsburg. Deputies seized a black hammer handle, a bottle of bleach, a blue rope, a rope with dark stains and a white rope.
Investigators wanted to search this vehicle because of statements given by James Upchurch that implicated himself in a crime, court papers stated.
Deputies retrieved the most evidence from a Chevy Impala, also after hearing statements given by James Upchurch, the court papers say. From this vehicle, deputies took 18 swabs from the trunk, the driver’s side door well, the passenger door and the inside passenger door handle.
Deputies also found in the vehicle live .25-caliber rounds, a knife with a brown wooden handle, a piece of carpet fiber, a black gasket and a latent print, the court documents say.
At the time of Hawks’ shooting, Rebecca Upchurch was free on bond after being charged in Surry County with possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia. Her husband was also free on bond on charges of driving without a license, no registration and no liability insurance in Surry County.

Coby Larue of The Alleghany News also contributed information to this article.