UNSOLVED: ‘Ambush-style’ murder in Castle Hayne in 1998


CASTLE HAYNE, NC (WWAY) — A night that started as a family cookout, ended with a murder almost twenty years ago.

“He was real easy going loved animals, children, everything,” Renee May said.

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Renee May said her baby brother Michael Whaley simply loved life.

“He was a good husband, father,” May said.

Reasons that make his murder so difficult to understand.

“It was devastating,” May said.

It was February 25, 1998.

Detective Justin Varella with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office said Whaley had just finished grilling out for his wife and two children.

“He went outside to put the grill away and lock up his garage for the night,” Varella said.

Varella said Whaley’s neighbor called 911 a few minutes later.

“He was on his porch and he heard gunshots and he went over to see what the matter was and ended up finding his neighbor Mr. Whaley had been shot and killed and was face down on the ground,” Varella said.

Varella said Whaley was shot at close range in between his house and a shed.

“He was shot multiple times with a shotgun,” Varella said.

Varella said Whaley’s wife and kids, Lauren and Austin were still inside the home.

“His wife had just taken the laundry out and was in the bedroom folding clothes for the evening and I believe her son was helping,” Varella said.

May said this detail stuck out to other family members later in the investigation.

“They were saying that it could have been Austin, because I think Mike had told him to go out there and put the grill up and I think the mother said, ‘No, I need him to do this or that and it was something like fold clothes or something,'” May said.

May said something else stuck out that night about where it happened.

“Right over there from that door to that light,” May said.

May said the light above the shed was not working that night for the first time ever.

“Everything was very strange,” May said.

“One of the things you have to look at in a homicide investigation is what would drive sometime to commit this crime and in the Whaley case, it’s really a mystery as to why this man was killed,” Varella said. Varella said several theories have come up over the years.

“There was information that there was either a family member or a neighbor that lived close by that maybe did have some enemies and maybe was in a bad way with some bad people,” Varella said. “The mistaken identity theory comes in.”

Varella said another theory also came up.

“Maybe this was a random gang initiation,” Varella said.

Varella said he does not know if those theories are actually feasible, but he does know something else.

“It wouldn’t have been difficult for someone to have hidden in the area in order to commit this ambush style of murder,” Varella said.

Varella said one neighbor did report hearing something.

“Heard some loud voices or some commotion and then, actually heard a vehicle actually speeding off from the area,” Varella said.

Varella said no one actually saw the car, so they do not know what kind of car it could have been.

“I can tell you that there is someone out there that knows the story behind what happened to Michael Whaley,” Varella said.

After 20 years, he said they are still looking for that story.

“I’m hoping that this will prompt some people to come forward that may not have thought about this case or may have had information back in the day and they were worried about coming forward,” Varella said.

“We just want someone brought to justice for it,” May said. “It’s not bringing him back. It’s just justice.”

May wants justice for her brother, a hard working man and father and closure for his family.

“A key piece of evidence that would bring the person to justice or persons,” May said.

They want answers behind the shotgun, the light that wasn’t working, and the deadly ambush on February 25th 1998. That night in Castle Hayne remains unsolved.