25 years of reporting in ENC: The search for answers and justice in 1997 Havelock double murder

HAVELOCK, N.C. (WITN) – Friday, November 18th marks 25 years since two store employees were brutally killed in Havelock and the investigation into what happened continues to this day.

The attack at Woodson Music/Friendly Pawn is a crime, unlike any, investigators say they have ever seen. There have been suspects over the years, but no arrests, and the case remains unsolved.

As I continue to mark 25 years at WITN, this remains the biggest unsolved murder case I have reported on. On this somber anniversary, we’re re-examining what happened, where the investigation stands, and why there is hope this case will be solved.

Just off Highway 70 in Havelock sits the Slocum Village Shopping Center. At the far end is the Nightmare Factory. Twenty-five years ago this spot was home to a real-life nightmare.

Major David McFadyen of the Craven County Sheriff’s Office was the district attorney back then. He says, “As I entered the store I really had no idea what I was going to be faced with. Both victims were bound, their heads had been covered, and they had both been bludgeoned with golf clubs.”

One of McFadyen’s first calls about the double murder was to the SBI agent in charge of the coastal division, Tony Cummings, now the chief deputy at the Craven County Sheriff’s Office. Cummings says he “Was totally surprised at how violent and callous the condition of the victims were in.”

Investigators believe 19-year-old James Smith and 37-year-old John Mattmiller were closing for the night on November 18th, 1997, when they were murdered with golf clubs the suspect or suspects found in the pawn shop, which was also robbed.

For the families of the victims, it’s as if time has stood still.

Ninety-one-year-old Willard Mattmiller, a retired Marine, is John’s father. “Every year it’s no easier. He’s been missed every Christmas, every Thanksgiving. My wife passed away and I think the death of my son was part of it.”

John’s brother Daniel says, “Grief can be 25 years old but it still feels like yesterday. It just doesn’t go away.”

They remember John as someone who had a good sense of humor and was a people person. They have never been able to make sense of what happened. Daniel says, “A lot of people really liked him. Ah, he was a very generous and kind-hearted person.”

Willard recalls, “I think everybody liked him because he was such outgoing and everything. He kind of lit up the room whenever he went in it with people.”

What happened to John and James shook the community. Tony Fischer lived in Havelock when the murders occurred. He says, “It’s hard to imagine that somebody is capable of doing such a brutal and horrible crime.”

Today, Fischer is a lieutenant with the Havelock Police Department and leading the investigation, which he says has had solid leads and evidence, and twists and turns.

He says the person or persons responsible, stole the video from the store surveillance system from the night of the murders. It has never been found.

Jewelry, guns, and cash were also taken that night, some of which have been recovered. Fischer says, “They worked diligently to trace and work backwards from the items and were able to identify some of the hands or path that some of those items did take.”

He wouldn’t comment further on where that has led but says there have been persons of interest over the years. When asked if there are still persons of interest, he replied, “There are.”

While this crime is 25 years old police are still hoping for a break in the case, and are working on a tip that just came in last month.

Fischer says, “We’re still evaluating it, we’re still following up on the tip, um, so where it goes from here is still really too early to tell.”

Another part of the investigation is evolving technology that could bring about a DNA match. Fischer commented, “We still submit, we still evaluate all items of evidence that were on scene and we’re optimistic that something will develop.”

Those who worked the case in the early days and years are as well. McFadyen says, “Time has passed but the investigators are still active and we’re very hopeful that it will result in arrests and convictions.”

Cummings believes, “There’s information out there that we probably have not heard and that would help us and we ask that those people come forward and help the family gain some closure.”

And as families mark another year without their loved ones and without answers, they believe, that one day, they will get them. Willard says, “I hope it will be solved. Everybody wants something solved like this.”

Daniel has a message for those responsible. “If someone thinks they’re gonna get away with murder I wouldn’t bet on it. The cops, they just don’t give up. It can be 25 years. The truth comes out.”

Do you have information on this double murder that could be helpful to investigators? If so, they would like to hear from you. You can call Havelock Police at 252-447-3212 or Craven County Crimestoppers at 252-633-5141.

Next month I’ll continue my look back at my 25 years at WITN so be sure to be watching for details on that report soon.

To watch and read my October report on the fun, laughs, and bloopers you can click here.

To watch and read my September report on my biggest interview you can click here.

To watch and read my August anniversary report on the worst hurricane I covered you can click here.

To watch and read my July anniversary report on my favorite places in ENC you can click here.

To watch and read my June anniversary report on the impact of CMN on lives and a hospital you can click here.

To watch and read my May anniversary report on the biggest mystery I have covered you can click here.

To watch and read my April anniversary report on working through and covering a pandemic you can click here.

To watch and read my March anniversary report on familiar faces and changes through the years you can click here.

To watch and read my February report on my most impactful story you can click here.

To watch and read my January report on my first story I ever covered you can click here.

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