WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A probable cause hearing for a man accused of killing a woman whose body has not been found and is suspected in the death of a woman whose body was found recently will continue Friday morning.
James Opelton Bradley is charged with the murder of Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk, who has not been found since going missing from downtown Wilmington in early April. Wilmington Police say Bradley is also a suspect in the death of Elisha Tucker, who went missing last summer. Her body was found recently in a field off Hoover Road in Hampstead. Investigators initially believed the remains may have been Vannewkirk.
Testimony today came from a WPD detective, Vannewkirk’s mother and Steve Mott, the man on whose property Tucker’s body was found. Mott testified Vannewkirk worked for him and that the two also had a romantic relationship at times. He also testified that Bradley, who also worked for him, had access to locks that guarded his Hampstead property.
The judge has ruled that information about Tucker’s death and the discovery of her body cannot be included in the evidence needed to charge Bradley with Vannewkirk’s murder.
According to police, during interviews with them Bradley said he believed he was the last person to see Vannewkirk the night of April 5. He told detectives he picked her up downtown, but they say his story changed as to where exactly that was. They say Bradley claimed the last time he saw her was as they argued in his car on Delaney Ave. apparently about Bradley telling Vannewkirk he could treat her better than Mott could. Police say Bradley told them she jumped out of the car and ran off, but they say evidence shows at the time Bradley says they were on Delaney, he was actually returning to his home on Dawson Street.
District Attorney Ben David said he must prove to a judge that, even without her body being found yet, Vannewkirk was killed and that Bradley committed the crime. If the judge decides David failed to prove that through circumstantial evidence, the case could be dismissed and Bradley could be released.
“This is pretty high-stakes poker were playing today,” David said this morning.
This is not the first time Bradley has faced a murder charge. He was convicted in 1990 of the 1988 murder of his 8-year-old stepdaughter and sentenced to life in prison. At the time of his conviction, a life sentence allowed for eventual release. That is no longer the case. Bradley got out of prison in 2013.