On January 7, 1998, Brittany Locklear, then five years old, was woken up by her mother, Connie, while it was still dark outside. Brittany, who attended West Hoke Elementary School in the tiny town of Raeford, North Carolina, for kindergarten, had a typical school day.
Brittany was prepared for her 150-yard walk down the driveway to her bus stop after she had eaten breakfast and changed into her clothes. Through a window, Connie watched her daughter as she did every morning. She watched as Brittany swung her purple backpack down the driveway while sporting pink and white sneakers and green overalls.
She knew her bus would arrive any moment, so when she got to the end of the driveway, she gazed expectantly up the street. For a brief moment, Connie moved away from the window, and upon turning around, Brittany had vanished. As she had every other morning, she figured Brittany had boarded the bus. She didn’t realize something was wrong until she heard screams coming from a neighbor. Her world as she had known it ended at 7:02 a.m.
The woman Connie heard yelling was Rose Johnson, who lived next door. A pickup truck was speeding down the road, and she saw it while she was watching her own kids wait for the bus at the end of their driveway. And then the truck stopped directly in front of Brittany. After jumping out of the truck and seemingly picking up something, the man got back in the vehicle and drove off.
Rose discovered that the man had abducted Brittany, much to her dismay. The school bus appeared a few moments later. It went straight to the next stop after passing Brittany’s house without stopping to look at her. As her children boarded the bus, Rose hardly gave it any attention. She dashed to Brittany’s residence and forcefully knocked on the door. Connie was shocked to learn what she had witnessed. She and Brittany’s stepfather arrived at the school immediately before the bus, much to her amazement. As usual, Brittany would undoubtedly jump off the bus. Panic struck when the bus driver admitted that she hadn’t seen Brittany that morning.
After calling the police right away, they first thought Brittany would be found soon. The truck was probably still nearby, and she had only been taken a few minutes earlier. Searching for the truck and the young girl, deputies spread out throughout the region.
Brittany’s clothes, shoes, and backpack were discovered abandoned at 9:00 a.m. on a dirt road approximately two miles away from her original location. The officers’ hope that she would be found safe was dashed by the somber discovery. Police kept looking until the sun set, but they were unable to find any more evidence, so they called off their search until the next morning.
Another extensive search was initiated at dawn. Hundreds of volunteers, ten different fire companies, and over 100 Department of Corrections staff members arrived to assist in addition to the local law enforcement. While everyone was expecting a miracle, Brittany’s body was discovered three miles from her house at 2:00 pm in a drainage ditch. She had been se*xually assaulted and drowned, most likely in the same location where her body was discovered, according to an autopsy. The search quickly turned into an investigation into a homicide.
The murd*er shocked the community. The flag at Brittany’s elementary school was flown at half-mast the day her body was discovered. Crisis counselors tried their best to comfort weeping kids, some of whom were too young to understand the whole situation. Among the 425 pupils at the school, Brittany was the youngest and the shortest. She stood out due to her small stature, and it appeared that everyone there had known and loved her. Classmates reminisced about the small child who adored Pocahontas, had a contagious smile, and gave the greatest hugs.
On January 11, there was an evening wake for Brittany. Over 4,000 people turned out to support her family during their time of grief. The next morning, her funeral mass was celebrated in the auditorium of a school. It was one of the few locations big enough to hold the 750 people who came to bid farewell to the young child who had envisioned herself as a doctor and “driving airplanes” one day. Teddy bears that had been stuffed were placed around Brittany as she was laid to rest in a small white coffin with gold trim.
There was a murd*erer to apprehend, so the detectives working on Brittany’s case couldn’t afford to take any time off to grieve. They began by speaking with every person who knew Brittany in any capacity, including her relatives. At the onset of the investigation, Connie and her spouse, Charles, offered to undergo a polygraph examination. They wanted the police to clear them so they could start looking for the murd*erer as soon as possible because they knew they had nothing to hide. Additionally, detectives were certain that Brittany’s birth father, who had never known the child, was not associated with the cr*ime.
Any stranger would stand out in the remote part of Hoke County where Brittany’s family resided. Her house was on a tiny, two-lane road with very little traffic and neither sidewalks nor shoulders. Investigators knocked on every home, asking each resident if they saw anything out of the ordinary around the time Brittany was abducted. Rose Johnson described to them the man she saw taking the child and his truck, but she didn’t have many specifics because she was observing from a distance. All she could tell them was that an adult male, possibly of White ethnicity, was operating a pickup truck, most likely brown in color. No one was able to identify the driver of the brown truck that several other residents claimed to have seen that day on the street. For detectives, there wasn’t much to go on.
Early on Friday morning, authorities established a checkpoint on Gainey Road close to the location of Brittany’s kidnapping. Every vehicle on the road was pulled over, and the drivers were all interviewed. Investigators were hoping that someone who traveled that route on a daily basis might have noticed something unusual on the day Brittany was k*illed. Unfortunately, no one they spoke to had any leads to share.
Working together on the case were agents from the FBI, State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), and Hoke County deputies. To date, the team has received over 1,500 tips. It took time to go through them all, but it was necessary. They were also in the process of interviewing every known se*x offender in the area, having compiled a list of them.
The entire community was on edge, with little hope of a speedy arrest. Children would never be allowed to go anywhere without an adult’s supervision. A few parents started taking their kids to school by car. Some parents let their children board the school bus, but they accompanied them to the bus stop to ensure that they boarded safely. Until they were certain that the mur*derer was apprehended, none would feel secure.
Deputies made an attempt to pull over a brown pickup truck on Gainey Road on Sunday, close to the scene of Brittany’s kidnapping. A short chase started when the driver initially refused to stop. The man eventually pulled over and admitted to the police that he was rushing because he was running late for work. He cooperated and let deputies search his truck after finding out why he had been stopped. After the man was brought in for additional interrogation, detectives spoke with him for six hours before ruling him out as a suspect and releasing him.
The FBI finished compiling a behavioral profile of the mur*derer two weeks following the cri*me. They thought the k*iller would try to alter his look and maybe his car, and he would probably be very interested in the case being covered by the media. They observed that the mu*rderer might exhibit an abrupt shift in the quantity of drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes he used, and that he would be tense and agitated if approached. Calls came in by the dozen, and people were urged to contact a dedicated tip hotline if they knew anyone who fit the description. Despite careful investigation into every lead, the murd*erer remained elusive.
Days passed with what seemed to be little movement on the case, and rumors in the small town started to swirl. People began speculating that West Hoke Elementary School’s principal was the murd*erer; the local newspaper even suggested he was responsible. Both the principal and Brittany’s mother angrily denied reports that they occasionally stopped to pick Brittany up from her bus stop and take her to school. Ultimately, authorities were compelled to convene a press conference to declare unequivocally that the principal was not a suspect.
After several months, no one had been taken into custody in this case. Hoke County residents were still terrified that a mur*derer might be at large and found it difficult to comprehend why the police were not able to crack the case. Some became frustrated instead of fearful. Some said that because the victim was a member of a minority group, the police were not doing enough to investigate the case involving Brittany and her Native American family. The investigators maintained that race was irrelevant and that they were making every effort to identify the mur*derer. They had investigated almost two thousand tips, spoken with all child molesters and se*xual offenders within a fifty-mile radius, and looked through a large number of brown pickup trucks. Simply put, there wasn’t enough data to identify a single suspect.
Years passed by in months. Police believed they had finally apprehended the mur*derer on multiple occasions, but in the end, DNA evidence ruled out every one of their suspects. They still have hope that the case will be resolved, but they need the public’s assistance. Investigators think that someone out there has the information required to bring an arrest to a conclusion.
A reward is being given for information that results in the culprit for this cri*me being apprehended and found guilty. Please contact the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-334-3000 if you have any information.