When Abby Patterson left her grandmother’s Lumberton, North Carolina, home at 11:30 am on Tuesday, September 5, 2017, she expected to be back shortly. Before leaving, the 20-year-old texted her mom, Samantha Lovette, to let her know that she was going out with a few of her old high school friends and would be home in an hour or so. She then gave her grandmother a quick wave goodbye and then walked out of the front door. She never returned.

Abby had an extremely close relationship with her mother, so Samantha knew something was wrong when she suddenly stopped responding to her text messages. Samantha called Abby’s cell phone repeatedly but all calls went straight to her voicemail. When she wasn’t home by 6:00 pm, Samantha called the Lumberton Police Department and reported her missing.

A witness saw Abby leave her grandmother’s home on East 9th Street and walk towards Inglewood Street, where she got into an older model brown Buick that was parked on the side of the street. Police were able to track down the driver of the Buick; he was one of Abby’s acquaintances. He told detectives that she had called him and asked to get a ride to another location; he dropped her off there and had no idea what happened to her after that.

There were a few reported sightings of Abby in the Lumberton area after she was reported missing, but Samantha was adamant that Abby wouldn’t voluntarily cut off all contact with her family. She had been living in Jacksonville, Florida, and had returned to North Carolina the previous weekend to celebrate the Labor Day holiday with her family. She hadn’t given them any indication that anything was wrong when she left to meet her friend that Tuesday, and Samantha was convinced that something bad had happened to her. As she told one reporter, “Abby left with someone she trusted. Abby’s plan was to come back home that day.”

Abby’s sister, Sandy Bryan, agreed with her mother. She noted that Abby was in constant contact with both of them and she was certain that Abby wasn’t staying away from home by choice.

Abby’s family had good reason to worry for her safety. In the months leading up to Abby’s disappearance, the bodies of three young women had been found just a few blocks away from where she was last seen.

Police responded to the area on April 18th after receiving several complaints about a foul odor. They zeroed in on an abandoned house at 505 Peachtree Street and began to search inside; it didn’t take long before they found the decomposing corpse of a young woman stuffed inside a television cabinet. A second body was found inside a trash can at 702 East 5th Street, just around the corner from the Peachtree Street house.

The body found inside the house was identified as that of 32-year-old Kristin Bennett. Although she had drugs in her system at the time of her death, the medical examiner was unsure if she had died from an overdose or had been murdered but the state of her remains suggested foul play. She was naked when found and had been wrapped in a blanket before being placed inside the television cabinet.

The body found in the trash can on East 5th Street was identified as that of 36-year-old Rhonda Jones. Like Kristin, Rhonda had drugs in her system at the time of her death, but she also had a broken nose and lacerations on her face. Again, due to the state of decomposition, the medical examiner was unable to determine the exact cause of death.

Television reporters flooded the area after the bodies were found, interviewing neighbors about the gruesome discovery. Many appeared to be in shock; one of those interviewed was 28-year-old Megan Oxendine, a friend of Rhonda’s who couldn’t believe she had been killed.

Police were called back to the area on June 3rd for another foul odor complaint. A third body was discovered on East 8th Street, less than 500 feet from the Peachtree Street home where the other two bodies were found. The body was identified as that of Megan Oxendine; tragically, she had met the same fate as her friend. She was also naked when found and had drugs in her system; as with the other two women, the medical examiner was unable to determine the exact cause of Megan’s death.

After learning that a third body had been found, neighbors feared that a serial killer was on the loose in Lumberton. The Lumberton Police Department asked for assistance from the FBI, hoping the added resources would allow them to quickly solve the case. Unfortunately, the investigation had already stalled by the time Abby went missing, and some feared that she had become the killer’s fourth victim.

In the days following Abby’s disappearance, Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeil admitted that it was possible her case was linked to that of the three murdered women but cautioned the media from jumping to conclusions as they had no hard evidence to suggest that Abby was dead.

Desperate to find Abby, her family offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to her whereabouts. This was soon increased to $10,000 after a local business donated an additional $5,000. Friends and family members were hopeful that the offer of a reward would lead someone with information about the case to step forward and talk with investigators; although some tips were received, none of them led to any solid developments in the case.

Abby had only been in Lumberton for a few days when she went missing; she had moved away from the area three years earlier. Her mother was open about the fact that Abby had struggled with heroin addiction in the past but had completed a rehab program and was determined to get her life back together.

The fact that Abby had been known to use drugs was one thing she had in common with the three young women who had been murdered; Rhonda, Kristin, and Megan had all used cocaine shortly before their deaths. The FBI, however, determined that Abby’s case was not linked to the three murders, stating that the other three women were all “known to the street” and Abby was not. They refused to clarify what they meant by “known to the street” but seemed to be insinuating that the three murder victims had ties to prostitution and/or the drug world.

In July 2018, officials searched a pond located off of Almanac Road in Lumberton as part of their ongoing search for Abby. Residents of Almanac Road told reporters that they had seen numerous investigators combing through a wooded area surrounding the pond, which was located near a house that had been abandoned for several years. The pond was about 40 feet wide and up to 12 feet deep in parts; the area appeared to be an informal dumping ground and the pond was surrounded by trash and old car parts.

According to locals, investigators spent several days in the area. Bernice Locklear, who had lived on Almanac Road for nearly two decades, told reporters that he had seen both marked and unmarked police cars in the area, and she believed that they had drained the pond. “They were scraping the bottom…they had two dogs out there sniffing.”

A year after Abby went missing, little progress had been made in the case. Officials with the Lumberton Police Department stated that they had followed up on a number of different leads but had been unable to determine exactly what had happened to the missing woman.

Samantha refused to give up the search for Abby, noting that the situation wasn’t something any parent could simply move on from. “You’re at a standstill and it’s a living nightmare…no mother should have to endure not knowing where her child is.”

In July 2019, the FBI placed Abby on their Most Wanted List for kidnapped and missing persons and included a downloadable missing person poster of her on their website. Friends and family were hopeful that the added exposure would finally bring them some answers about what had happened to Abby. Samantha noted, “We need our sweet Abby back, our world has been turned upside down. It has been a horrific nightmare that we can’t wake up from.”

By September 2019, Abby had been missing for two years and police were no closer to finding her than they had been on the day she disappeared. Samantha acknowledged that both the FBI and the Lumberton Police Department continued to actively investigate her daughter’s disappearance, but noted that she was also active in the case, doing everything she could to keep Abby’s name in the public eye.

On September 28, 2019, Samantha and around 20 volunteers went door-to-door on Almanac Road in Lumberton, handing out missing person flyers and reminding residents that there was still a $10,000 reward being offered for information leading to Abby. By the end of the day, they had handed out more than 250 flyers and were hopeful that their efforts would lead to some new tips being called in to police.

On the fourth anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance, Samantha marked the grim occasion with a Facebook post. “Abby’s smile lit up every room, but the room went dark for our family on September 5, 2017…I am her voice and I will keep screaming her name. I will never give up!” All of Abby’s loved ones believe that there are people in Lumberton who know exactly what happened to her; they continue to hold out hope that someone will come forward and give police the answers they need to finally bring Abby home.

Abby Patterson was 20 years old when she went missing in 2017. She was a bubbly and free-spirited young woman who had gone through some rough times but had managed to get her life back on track and was looking forward to a bright future. She has brown eyes and brown hair, and at the time of her disappearance, she was 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds. She was last seen wearing brown shorts and a white blouse. Abby has a dark-colored birthmark on the back of her right thigh; she has a tattoo of birds on the back of her right shoulder. If you have any information about Abby, please contact the Lumberton Police Department at 910–671–3845.

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