In the early morning hours of Dec. 23, 1981, less than a mile from her North Carolina home, Rhonda Hinson (19) died from a single gunshot. She was the daughter of Bobby and Judy Hinson and sister to Robert.
The bullet came from a high-powered rifle. It traveled through the trunk of her car, through the backseat, through the driver’s seat, and penetrated her lungs and heart.
Authorities found Rhonda Hinson lying in a ditch beside the open driver’s door. The motor was running. The car apparently rolled backwards across the opposite lane into a ditch near the top of the grade after Rhonda was shot.
This is the Cold Case of the Month for August.
Authorities saved Hinson’s sweater. Touch DNA was found in the armpits. It did not belong to Hinson. They entered that profile in state and national DNA databases but so far they have not found a match.
There is a simple explanation for that: the profile belongs to someone who never committed a crime. Most likely it belongs to the person who found Rhonda’s car, opened the door to help Rhonda, pulled her out, placed her next to her car, saw the bullet wound, got scared and left.
Maybe the authorities should make it clear that finding a profile match isn’t the same as proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the profile carrier committed a crime. DNA alone does not point to guilt. It just shows someone was on the scene. DNA alone cannot tell you why someone was there. The same counts for the prints found on her car door. That could easily have been from the same Good Samaritan.
Murder or accident
Several witnesses saw cars in the area in the early morning hours. There is also information online about Rhonda Hinson’s out of character behaviour: being afraid to drive alone, asking questions about affairs with married men, etc. Together with the bullet’s angle, it has fueled the idea that Rhonda’s might have been a premeditated murder. I don’t think that’s true.
It is very well possible that she had a crush on a married man and fantasized about an affair. She was after all just nineteen years old. But think about it. Even if she had an affair with a married man, it is pretty extreme to set a killer on a teenager.
I think that Rhonda was the victim of senseless but accidental fire. Someone with a weapon was either goofing off or hunting. The shooter was not aiming but did accidentally hit Rhonda. Maybe Rhonda startled a hunter. He turned and accidentally fired. Maybe people were around shooting in the air for fun. Were there complaints from area neighbors about perceived fire work noises, gun fire, etc?
The steep hill demands the skills of a seasoned marksman to make that shot given all the angles. Or, it was a freak accident.
To show you that freak accidents do happen, a friend told me to look up the Nancy McEwen case. It was solved by the NYPD Chief of Detectives, Al Seedman.
In 1967, Nancy McEwen suddenly drifted off the Belt Parkway (NY) into the median strip. A police lieutenant in the car behind her pulled over. He found her slumped forward. He called for an ambulance. McEwen died at Coney Island Hospital. Doctors found a small gunshot wound on the side of her head.
McEwen had only one car window open and no windows were shattered. Seedman deducted from distance and speed that the shot came from Sheepshead Bay or the nearby area. Most likely, this was an accident and not an intentional shot.
Authorities searched the dunes and marshes for a possible shell casing. When that wasn’t successful, Seedman told his detectives to look for people who owned boats. They found a local gas station owner who was on his boat that morning taking target practice at a floating beer can. One of his bullets ricocheted off the water’s surface and killed McEwen.
A grand jury ruled it this an accident, and did not bring homicide charges. The shooter was fined $100 for violating firearms laws with the rifle.
An impossible angle yet it happened.
Alternatives and conflicts
If you are leaning to murder then you need to consider Rhonda Hinson’s plans:
- who knew she would be at the party AND
- that she had planned to stay at her friend’s house after the party AND
- who was mobile enough to move when Rhonda changed her mind and instead drove home?
Around midnight, Rhonda and two friends left her office’s (Hickory Steel Company) Christmas party at the American Legion Hut in Hickory. Around 1230 am, Rhonda dropped off (or walked back) her friends, changed her mind about staying over, and drove back home.
There is conflicting information about a phone call. In some articles it says that Rhonda called her boyfriend. I am not accusing him. I just wonder if he had heard any gossip about Rhonda having an affair with another (married) man. Did she call from her friend’s house? One paper also stated that her boyfriend didn’t want her to go to that party. Why? Was the man she had a crush on at that party too?
After leaving that friend’s house, Rhonda drove her beige Datsun 210 two-door west on Interstate 40 and exited on the Mineral Springs Mountain/Highway 350 off-ramp. She turned right (north) and drove up a steep hill toward her home. At that moment a high-powered rifle projectile entered her car.
Your last possibility: mistaken identity. Let’s check this.
There is conflicting information about the cars used by Rhonda. Rhonda left her parents’ home driving her own Datsun to go to her friend’s house. Some articles however say that she left her Datsun there only to take another car to go to the party. If so, why? Whose car was that? Who drove? Could this then be the mistake based on the car description? No, because when Rhonda was shot she drove her own car. But why the switch of cars if that happened at all?
If you have any information about the Rhonda Hinson case, please contact Lt. Becky Weatherman of the Burke County Sheriff’s Office at (828) 438-5506, or Crimestoppers at (828) 437-3333. You can email the Sheriff’s Office too: [email protected]
In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight old cold cases. These posts are not an in-depth analysis. Often more information is online or in newspaper archives. The goal of these posts is to get the cases back in the spotlights, to get people talking again, and if anything to make sure that we do not forget the victims. Just because their cases are cold does not mean that we can forget about them.
If you have any thoughts about the Rhonda Hinson case I encourage you to post them on your social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc.) Every time that we mention Rhonda online we enhance her digital footprint. We must make sure that she keeps her web presence if we ever wish to find answers in her case. You can help by linking to or sharing this post.
Thank you for remembering Rhonda Hinson with us.
Wikipedia on Albert Seedman
Hat tip BC