LUMBERTON — The East Lumberton area where two bodies were discovered Tuesday has been spotlighted by Lumberton police in recent months in order to discourage criminal activity, according to law enforcement.
The house at 505 Peachtree St., where the first decomposing body was discovered, is a short distance from where a second body was found in a trash can. The house is on a list to be demolished and is going through the condemnation process, said Burnis Wilkins, a City Council member.
The Peachtree Street house was known to authorities as a place where drug use and prostitution took place, according to law enforcement. The Lumberton Police Department had installed bright, LED flood lighting in the area to discourage prostitution and other criminal behavior.
“We’ve got to get rid of a lot of these dilapidated properties that are used for criminal activity,” Wilkins said.
Robeson County tax records show that the parcel of land on which the house stands encompasses the block between East Fifth, Peachtree, East Seventh and Willow streets. The parcel is owned by local attorney Woodberry L. Bowen, according to public records.
Bowen told The Robesonian he is unaware of moves to condemn any of the nine properties he has on that block.
“I have absolutely no knowledge of that,” Bowen said. “505 was an abandoned building. As far as I knew the place had been boarded up.”
He has cooperated with law enforcement efforts to enter the house to process the scene, Bowen said. He plans to refurbish the house, as he recently did to an adjacent property, and offer it for rent again.
“In that area, the prostitution. It is adversely affecting our ability to rent properties,” Bowen said. “They are all over and they are getting worse.”
The small, single-story home is fronted by an untreated wooden porch. Three sides of the building have recently been painted Carolina blue. Large pieces of lumber now are nailed across each entry point, including windows. The yard is littered with the former contents of the house, including a toilet and a sink.
A “suspicious odor” led police officers to the house on Peachtree Street on Tuesday, according to a Lumberton Police Department spokesman.
While police officers, State Bureau of Investigation agents and an investigator from Robeson County District Attorney’s office were processing the scene, a bystander discovered a second body in a trash can at 702 E. Fifth St., Capt. Terry Parker said. Officers then secured that area and worked both scenes.
The bodies were were taken to the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s office for autopsies.
“At this time we can’t speculate on causes of death due to the conditions of the bodies,” Parker said. “We are in the process of identifying the ladies found.”
The investigation will take time, he said.
The identities of the bodies have not been made public.
“It was one of the worst scenes I have seen in a long time, and perhaps the worst I have ever seen,” said Erich Hackney, and investigator with the District Attorney’s office and a City Council member.
The Lumberton Police Department is asking anyone with information concerning either investigation to call Detectives Evan Whitley or Dereck Evans at 910-671-3845.