BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The death of a Myrtle Grove Middle School teacher in 1992 remains unsolved.
Charlene Thigpen taught at Myrtle Grove Middle in the early 90s.
“She had that type of behavior, that aura kids were just drawn to her,” Michael Bowen said.
Michael Bowen met Charlene Thigpen at UNCW long before they both started teaching at Myrtle Grove Middle School.
“We were both athletes there, and she was a standout basketball player there,” Bowen said.
Bowen later became the health and Physical Education teacher at Myrtle Grove. He said Thigpen became a standout teacher.
“It was not uncommon for Charlene to come into school dressed very professional, but carry a nice, new pair of Nike basketball shoes under her other teaching materials,” Bowen said.
He said that always meant one thing.
“She was going to find a kid that’s having academic trouble or behavior trouble and she would normally come to me and say, ‘Can I get a basketball for lunch?’ She would probably beat up on them with a one-on-one basketball game and then have the life lesson afterwards,” Bowen said.
On February 27, 1992, Thigpen went missing. Detectives said the last time she was seen alive, she was heading northbound on Kerr Avenue in the 400 block towards Market Street in her vehicle. Behind her was a blue 1990 Mazda 626 four-door directly behind her.
Detectives said that car belonged to Thigpen’s husband Oliver. Civilian Investigative Specialist Jim Westbrook with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office said the couple was seen leaving their babysitter’s house that day.
“Her car was found abandoned on March 3 in a parking lot next to Hilou Market on Princess Place Drive,” Westbrook said.
On April 23, her body was found in Brunswick County.
“We had laborers out mowing an area where they had power lines off Highway 74/76 just east of Sawmill Road,” Westbrook said. “Their mower accidentally hit a discarded sofa, and that sofa, when turned over, they found the body, and it was in two trash bags.”
Westbrook said Thigpen’s body had been there for so long, the medical examiner could not find a cause of death. He said There were indications in the autopsy that her neck had been damaged, but it was not significant evidence.
As detectives started looking for a suspect, the Myrtle Grove community was in pieces.
“It was a rough day, a for some kids, especially our black population in the school, because she was such a unique figure,” Bowen said. “There’s not that many black female teachers in middle school still to this day, and so it was devastating.”
Bowen said it was news he just could not believe.
“You hear people that say, ‘Oh, they didn’t have an enemy in the world,’ Bowen said. “Charlene was that girl. I mean she never spoke ill of anybody, and she was a strong Christian woman, very involved in her church. You’re just… just dumbfounded as how, how someone can do this to her.”
After 26 years, investigators are still trying to answer that question.
“We are wondering if anybody happened to have seen that car being left there in that particular parking lot or just anything else,” Thigpen said.
In the meantime, Bowen said their star teacher has not been forgotten.
“There’s the Charlene Thigpen Award that we give out each year,” Bowen said.
It is given to a star student who embodies her legacy.
“Several years ago, I thought it would be appropriate because I think she impacted so many black lives that she would be honored that it would just go to a black female that had those same attributes that she did,” Bowen said.
If you know anything, please contact the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office.