A 19-year-old woman is killed after returning home from a Christmas party.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
A $20,000 reward is being offered in this case.