A 19-year-old woman is killed after returning home from a Christmas party.

Smiling Rhonda Hinson

Rhonda Hinson

Police and EMT wheeling the covered body of Rhonda Hinson into the back of an ambulance

She was shot with a rifle while driving home

CASE DETAILS

During the holiday season, office Christmas parties are a traditional way of easing into the festive spirit. The night of December 22, 1981, marked the first company Christmas party for a 19-year-old girl named Rhonda Hinson. Rhonda had recently graduated from high school in Valdese, North Carolina, and was celebrating her first job as a clerical worker for a local steel company. At midnight, Rhonda left the party with two girlfriends. After dropping off her companions, Rhonda planned to make the 10-mile drive to her home, where she lived with her parents. At exactly 1:00 AM, Rhonda’s mother, Judy Hinson, awoke from a sound sleep with a strange premonition:

“I woke up feeling panicky, scared, because I felt like something had happened to Rhonda. I felt like Rhonda was dead. I felt like she had been in an automobile accident.”

A man at the drivers side door of Rhonda's car

A witness saw a man at Rhonda’s car

Rhonda’s car was discovered just a half a mile from her home. The driver’s door was open, and a few feet away Rhonda was found dead. She was lying on her back and her arms appeared to have been deliberately placed at her side. Tests showed that Rhonda Hinson had been killed by a single bullet, fired by a high-powered rifle. This bullet was fired with such force it passed through the trunk of her car, through her seat, and penetrated her heart. The murder of Rhonda Hinson at first appeared to be a random act of violence. But as the investigation proceeded, disturbing clues began to surface suggesting that Rhonda may have been murdered by someone who knew her.

In high school, Rhonda was a popular girl, an expert tennis player who had many close friends. But several weeks after her graduation, she began to behave strangely. Though normally happy to drive alone, Rhonda began to ask her father to accompany her on trips into town. And on one of these trips, she made a disturbing statement to her father Bobby Hinson:

“I said what is it Rhonda. I said no matter whether it’s good or bad tell me. And she said I’ll think about it. And she never did explain, never did tell me why, what it was you know. She’s afraid to tell me.”

Rhonda's room in pristine condition left the exact same way Rhonda had it while she was alive

Rhonda’s mother keeps her room exactly the same

Her mother also recalled an uncharacteristic conversation shortly before Rhonda’s death. According to her mother, Rhonda wanted to know if it was acceptable to date a married man:

“I said, Rhonda there’s never a time that it’s all right to go with a married man. The only thing that comes from that is people getting hurt.”

Rhonda’s comments suggested that she was under some kind of personal pressure. According to Special Agent John Suttle of the North Carolina FBI, the police investigation began to uncover evidence that someone may have been stalking Rhonda on the night of her death:

“Between 12:15 and 12:30 on the morning that Rhonda Hinson was murdered, a witness drove under the Interstate 40 bridge on Mineral Springs Mountain Road. She observed a blue Chevrolet facing in a northerly direction with two white males in the vehicle.”

A bronze and stone commemorative gravesite for Rhonda Hinson

Rhonda’s gravesite

The car was parked next to the same off ramp that Rhonda used to exit. It was spotted 30 minutes before the fatal bullet was fired and just 200 yards from where her body was found. Later that evening, another witness traveling down the same road passed a similar blue car, with a single man at the wheel, speeding away from the murder site. As he continued down the road, the witness saw Rhonda’s vehicle parked at the same spot where her body was found. A woman was slumped over the steering wheel and a man was standing at her door. The witness was unable to get a close look at the man, and drove on, assuming the couple was drunk. With so few clues to go on, police put their witness under hypnosis and asked him to recall more details about the murder scene. This is an excerpt from the actual audio tape from the hypnotized subject:

“A Chevelle. It looks blue, ‘70 model, I believe. Looks like the front end of it has been messed up. It’s in primer—the primer is grey… He’s not a big guy. He’s about six foot or 5’10”… He’s about medium build… Sort of a dark brown haired guy…”

Surprisingly, the witness also recalled seeing a second car parked down the road from Rhonda’s vehicle. The car was a black or dark blue Trans-Am. Some believe that car may have been driven by the murderer.

Many years have passed since that Christmas party ended in tragedy. But Rhonda’s mother still keeps her daughter’s room exactly the way it was when Rhonda was alive:

“I can almost imagine Rhonda still in there. We have a baby doll that she had years and years ago, we’ve kept that out. We’ve kept some of her trophies out. The grave marker, I think says it all, on the grave marker there are ‘Always a ray of sunshine.’ That’s the best description that we have of Rhonda. It’s a perfect description.”

A $20,000 reward is being offered in this case.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season two with Robert Stack and season seven with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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21 Comments

  1. Avatar

    C Stone

    In a small town like this I can’t imagine not being able to find the culprit. Something is being covered up.

    Reply

  2. Avatar

    Bill Blaski

    Rhonda case does not get the emphasis it needs. Was this a jealous lover? A deer spotlighter in the woods who misfired? What about kids shooting at vehicles? I nominate this to have an extra set of eyes, or the new unsolved mysteries.

    Reply

  3. Avatar

    scott

    I have not seen any speculation as to how close the shooter was when making the shot. Was she traveling up or down hill? most shooters aim at the rear window not the trunk. to make that shot the shooters gun and the trunk had to be on an even level. also the bullet had to be strong enough to penetrate steel and not one seat back but 2 seat backs to strike her. the shooter had to be a marksman with possibly military or police training.

    Reply

  4. Avatar

    Candace Lowman Cox

    Valdese, NC is a very small formerly ” textile ” town, lots of small mills located just off I-40 that runs from Wilmington, NC to Barstow, CA. In the early 1980’s, the population was in the 4000’s, as a kid then it seemed huge but as an adult I realize the size. To the author, Valdese did not have a high school in 1981, Rhonda graduated from the consolidated East Burke High School which is east of Valdese and had around 900 students from several small towns and communities back then. To answer the folks screaming about DNA testing…that was not prevalent in small towns then, it did not gain popularity until after 1987 when a case in Florida exonerated a young man of rape. To those who are questioning why all the Chevelles and Trans Ams were not tested, most everyone with those cars were spoken to…again rural area with loads of muscle cars. The rumors around this case are too numerous to mention, facts are what is needed. LE here has multiple filing cabinets full of evidence–there are numerous people who have come in to solve the case from “Unsolved Mysteries” on NBC to psychics. To the person who asked why would anyone be shooting up the street? It is RURAL here, guys getting drunk and driving around to shoot street signs happened back then. Lastly, to the persons who claim to know who did it but cannot find anyone to confess to…call WSOC TV in Charlotte, Dave Faherty…he does investigative reporting in the area and has helped solve cases with his inquiries. There are monetary rewards for actual/factual information leading to the resolution of this case. Rhonda’s parents are getting older and the peace of closure to the rumors would give them a gift like no other.

    Reply

  5. Avatar

    Anonymous

    There is a Facebook page Remembering Rhonda Hinson-1962-1981. It gives a lot of insight to this case.

    Reply

  6. Avatar

    Dan Kuchenmeister

    Seems to me , it was a very lucky shot if you will , going through a trunk and hitting someone in the heart , impossible to do that shot on purpose , I’m not 100% sure the shooter meant to shoot and kill her , Maybe scare to threaten her to keep her mouth shut about something by shooting the car to make it look like the person or persons would kill her if she talked about whatever she knew that she was going to tell her mother . seems she wanted to tell her Mother something weighing heavy on her mind ? If it was that small of town back then surely someone knew of a Chevelle with primer on the front ???? Maybe he even ditched it and is in the back of a barn or in the woods rotting away you would think someone would have come across that Car somewhere through time … I’m just not sure this is a lay and wait killing , how would they know when to park there and wait for her ? she could have been another hour or two coming home if she had stopped somewhere ? they are not going to sit in one spot for hours waiting for her to come home , and there were no cell phones back then to track or have someone communicate with the person or persons involved …that’s just a snibbit of problems I see with this case

    Reply

  7. Avatar

    Anonymous

    I’ve contacted the Burke County Police Department several times by E-mail and I’ve gotten no response. I had a man tell me his stepfather did it and the police there are not interested in hearing more. I think because nobody would know or care about a town called Morganton, NC; this case puts them on “Unsolved Mysteries”, Fox News and gets them publicity. I will not contact them again.

    Reply

  8. Avatar

    Leigh

    Poor young woman. Barely got to start her adult life. It sounds like she had wonderful parents who loved her well. Imagine her mom waking up sure that her daughter was dead, and learning very quickly that her fear was correct. How terrible.

    Reply

  9. Avatar

    Anonymous

    i know who did it

    Reply

  10. Avatar

    Ashley

    I feel I heard a rumor from my dad that she was involved with a cop. And this was covered up due to him being married and in police enforcement. Can not confirm any of this, just hear say.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Jenifer

      I heard the same thing. I sent an email, but no reply.

      Reply

    • Avatar

      Jason

      This makes most sense to me out off all the theories. Driving home, maybe a police car pulled her over. She saw who it was, and sped off. He had a deer rifle (they mentioned “high-powered rifle”) and this person was skilled enough to hit her through the heart in a moving target with one shot?! She was a teenage girl, how would she have enemies?
      Also, I feel in this small of an area, this heinous a crime on a teenage girl, would be solved QUICKLY, or at least some leads. People would howl for blood unless their police dept was crooked/protecting one another.

      Reply

  11. Avatar

    Christine

    I went to high school with Rhonda and remember this case well. I pray her killer will be found. One thing I remember is all guys in the area that drove black Trans Ams or Camaros were questioned. I also remember rumors about the father (a preacher) of her boyfriend being questioned. I believe he moved away to another state with another woman. I am not too sure what clues the police have that point to someone stalking her. The area where this happened is very secluded and does have a lot of random gunfire especially at night by drunks. It would probably help solve the case if more details were released to the public or if the case were highlighted more. Keep in mind at the same time this happened a man in the same town was killed for driving too slow. I cannot remember what Rhonda’s boyfriend drove, sad because he drove me home from school one day but I am sure it was not a Trans Am. He was a super guy and would not do such a terrible thing. I can’t imagine any of her friends doing this either. If it was someone stalking her it had to be related to her job or someone she met post high school.

    Reply

  12. Avatar

    joey

    Any updates yet

    Reply

  13. Avatar

    Bill

    Where are you getting this information?

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Anonymous

      So many areas to start on here. Married tennis instructors, boyfriend home from college which I’m sure he was grilled, look into every vehicle that’s driven by all in attendance at the party as well as everyone in the area that drives a trans am. These are just a few.

      Reply

  14. Avatar

    MY

    My

    Reply

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