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North Carolina Cold Case Unit Has Its First Break: 3 Arrested
On June 21, 1995, Charlene Simmons was murdered in her own home, which doubled as a bar, outside Kings Mountain, N.C. Nobody was charged and the case has remained unsolved. Now, 17 years later, her case has been reopened through the efforts of Sherriff Alan Norman, who has assembled a team to crack cold cases in Cleveland County’s long list of unsolved homicides. This is the first breakthrough of the cold case unit; three men have been arrested, for the murder of Simmons: William Earl Huffstetler, 37, of Blacksburge, S.C; Gator Walter Martin, 42, of Comer, Ga.; and Randy Michael Wagenknect, 40, of Knoxville, Tenn., on charges of murder of the first-degree, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and felony conspiracy. A fourth suspect was deceased by natural causes before these charges were made.
The team has not revealed what evidence gave them the breakthrough. Their main suspect in Simmons’s death is Gator Martin, a former construction worker, who grew up in Florida. Simmons was found stabbed to death at the Log Cabin, the nightclub that doubled as her home. The warrants attest that Martin and Huffstetler robbed her there and threatened her with a knife.
The cold case unit is Sheriff Alan Norman’s attempt at belated justice. “The families deserve to have closure,” he said Wednesday, “You look at the other 10 or so homicides left open in Cleveland County and it makes you wonder how many homicide suspects are still on the streets.”
He set up the unit last year, hiring Jim Hollingsworth, who previously worked with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department; Jimmy West, who previously worked with Gastonia Police department; and Special Agent John Kaiser of the State Bureau of Investigation. Their tactics include re-interviewing those involved in each case, following up new leads, and using the latest forensics, such as DNA technology.