Windsor, NC

3 Killed In North Carolina Grocery Store Robbery And Police Still Hunt For Unidentified Suspect 29 Years Later

The Vivid Faces of the Vanished
Unidentified Suspect in Be-Lo Grocery Store MurdersNorth Carolina State Bureau of Investigation

The Be-Lo Grocery store was in the heart of Bertie County on Granville Street in Windsor, North Carolina. It was June 6, 1993, on a Sunday, and the store closed at 6:00 pm that day. Shortly after 6:00 pm, the four-member cleaning crew arrived to start their evening shift at the store. The cleaning crew members were Johnnie Rankins, Sylvester Welch, Jasper Hardy, and Thomas Hardy.

No one realized that earlier that day, a man came into the store and hid inside until closing. When the cleaning crew arrived, he came out of hiding with a handgun. The unidentified man forced the store manager, Grover Cecil, and a cashier, Joyce Reason, to the back of the store. He then forced the cleaning crew to join them in an aisle in the rear of the store, reports the Roanoke Chowan News-Herald. Cecil was forced to tie up the cleaning members and Joyce with duct tape and dog leashes. The unidentified assailant then tied Cecil up and piled the victims into two stacks of three, one on top of the other. The gunman fired one bullet through each pile of bodies. Then his gun jammed.

Joyce Reason, Glover Cecil, and Johnnie Rankins died instantly.

The killer walked to a storeroom at the back of the store and returned with a knife. He stabbed Jasper Hardy multiple times in the back and neck. He stabbed the man so hard that the knife he used broke. Thomas Hardy is the only unharmed victim of the attack. He was placed at the bottom of one of the stacks, and luckily, the bullets missed him. When the killer realized Thomas was alive, he begged for his life, and the man spared him. The assailant robbed the store of $3,000 in cash and money orders, took the knife he used, and the store keys, and left. Although he was gravely injured, Sylvester Welch crawled to the front of the Be-Lo Grocery store and called for help.

“It’s still the worst crime scene I dealt with in my 30 years as an agent,” retired SBI Special Agent Dwight Ransome told the Roanoke Chowan News-Herald. “Plus, this crime happened only six blocks from my house….it happened in my town, so it’s personal to me."

The people of Windsor began to speculate. Rumors swirled the man was a disgruntled ex-law enforcement officer or member of the military.

“I don’t think either scenario fits this man,” Dwight Ransome told the News-Herald. “It has always puzzled me that he had only one magazine for his pistol. A person trained in the military or as a police officer always carries more than one magazine. That leads me to believe he wasn’t military or a police officer. All I do know is he is a cold-blooded killer.”

A year after the Be-Lo store murders in Windsor, another Be-Lo store was robbed. This store was located in Hertford, North Carolina. The gunman hid in the store until closing and then tied up the assistant store manager, Dwayne Gilliam. The assailant used duct tape and dog leashes, the same items used to tie up the victims in the Windsor store robbery. He fled with an undisclosed amount of cash, and no one was injured.

The case remains unsolved. Sylvester Welch, the man who crawled to the front of the store for help in the Windsor attack, died of cancer in 2005.

The Be-Lo Killer is described as a black male, a medium complexion, with light brown eyes, and with a slender build. He was between 6'0- and 6'2" and weighed 175-200 pounds. He wore a military-style haircut.

There is currently a $30,000 reward for information in this case.

If you have any information, please contact the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation at 800-334-3000 or the Windsor Police Department at 252-794-3111.

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