WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Wilmington Police say a body found earlier this week in Pender County is likely not that of a Wilmington woman missing for several weeks.
At an afternoon news conference, Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous said it appears the body found off Hoover Road near Hampstead is not Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk, who was last seen at a downtown Wilmington bar April 5, but further testing is still needed. Investigators had charged James Opelton Bradley, who worked with Vannewkirk at a landscaping company, with her murder.
District Attorney Ben David said during the news conference that Bradley is still charged with Vannewkirk’s murder. Now a second homicide investigation has been opened with the Pender County Sheriff’s Office and WPD. Investigators say Bradley is a suspect in that case as well.
“This is an unfortunate surprise,” Evangelous said. “This discovery is a surprise to all of us.”
Police say they will continue to search for Vannewkirk’s body.
Neither Evangelous nor David would answer questions during the news conference.
Many people have wondered how Bradley, who was convicted of the 1988 murder of his 8-year-old stepdaughter, could have been released from prison last year while serving a life sentence. Defense attorney James Payne, who is not currently involved in this case, says when Bradley was convicted in 1990 of the crime, he was eligible for parole after 20 years. Payne says the law change in 1994 leaving only two possible sentences for first-degree murder: life without parole or death.
“Life without parole means life without parole,” Payne said. “It means he will never, never be outside the prison wall.”