By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on August 29, 2020
The ground-floor room in Mary Ann Fletcher’s Southern Shores home feels like a makeshift shrine to her daughter, with burning candles and a large photograph of LeeAnn Fletcher highlighting the setting. Trisha Cahoon, a first cousin and close friend of LeeAnn’s, begins the conversation by replaying a roughly six-minute 911 call made on the morning of July 22 from LeeAnn’s Kitty Hawk home.
“I’m just gonna let you know it’s gonna be chilling,” she warns.
Following that call, LeeAnn Fletcher was found unconscious and immediately flown to Norfolk General Hospital where she underwent surgery before succumbing to her injuries three days later. She was 38 and left behind two children, ages 5 and 14.
The Kitty Hawk Police and District Attorney Andrew Womble’s office have publicly stated that they are investigating the case.
But the three women gathered in the Southern Shores house — Mary Ann Fletcher, Trisha Cahoon and another close friend, Victoria Williams — are very concerned about that investigation. They think there is a clear beating death suspect in LeeAnn’s death, the man who made the 911 call, and more than enough evidence to arrest him. They believe there has not been a real investigation of the case, and to that end, have hired a private investigator who conducted his own probe.
And they have decided that one crucial strategy is to maintain pressure on law enforcement — through efforts ranging from a #justiceforleeann march to the Kitty Hawk Police station to an array of social media posts and videos. They include, among other things, a video tour of LeeAnn’s home that points out numerous areas of blood spots and stains.
This story isn’t an attempt to solve the LeeAnn Fletcher case or assess blame regarding the investigation. But it is a look at the very determined efforts of LeeAnn’s friends and family to keep the case front and center in the public eye — as well as present what they view as important evidence.
Asked what she hopes the outcome of this public campaign will be, Victoria Williams says, “I’m hoping [law enforcement officials] will use the evidence they were given to figure out what happened…Whether it’s an accident or not, I think they’re ignoring it.”
Trisha Cahoon is a passionate advocate in making her case for a criminal prosecution, something that is evident in her Facebook posts and in her detailed discussion of the case. She has also taken her concerns to Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie who met with her, but whose department is not involved in the investigation.
For her part, Cahoon hopes this public campaign leads to an arrest, but notes that “at this point, I’m very unhopeful. I don’t think anything is going to come out unless we go the [North Carolina] Attorney General…and get someone of higher powers.”
“We’re thinking of going to the Attorney General’s office,” she continues.
There is no question, however, that they’ve gotten the attention of local law enforcement authorities.
On July 27, the Kitty Hawk Police put out a statement saying, they “are aware through social media posts that there are many in the community that are very interested in the investigation into Leeann Fletcher Hartleben’s death…we would respectfully ask that all who are concerned please be patient and allow us to conduct this investigation in an objective and thorough manner.”
On Aug. 10, District Attorney Andrew Womble issued an admittedly unusual statement, asserting that, “In light of the recent public scrutiny surrounding the death of Amanda LeeAnn Fletcher…I have decided to release a statement regarding the continued investigation of this matter. At this time, our office is awaiting the official autopsy report from the medical examiner’s office in Virginia. No decisions regarding potential criminal charges will be made by the District Attorney’s Office until we receive this report.”
In a brief interview with the Voice, an official in the Virginia Medical Examiner’s office said that the “cause and manner” of LeeAnn Fletcher’s death is still pending and it is currently not known when that information will be available.
In an email to the Voice, Kitty Hawk Police Chief Joel Johnson referred any additional requests for comment on the case to the District Attorney’s office.
District Attorney Womble stated in an email that, “I have nothing new to report on the death of Ms. Fletcher. I also do not have a timetable for the official autopsy report. We are doing everything within our power to encourage the Virginia Medical Examiner’s Office to expedite the process.”
LeeAnn’s friends and family have hired Raleigh-based private investigator Michael Guadagno to conduct an independent probe of the case, and according to them, he has turned over substantial and significant evidence to the District Attorney’s office.
But much of their campaign, the public facing part of it, has been driven largely by social media. A July 28 #justiceforleeann walk — that featured a pretty good crowd — ended at the Kitty Hawk Police Station and was captured live on Facebook.
There’s also GoFundMe page to raise money for LeeAnn’s family that was initiated on July 27 and has brought in $7,000 in donations to date.
On Aug. 22, Shena Twitty, a director of the nonprofit Dare Minority Coalition and a former school classmate of LeeAnn Fletcher, posted an item on the coalition’s Facebook page announcing that it is raising funds for LeeAnn Fletcher’s two children by selling #justiceforLeeAnn bracelets (they have 300 of them) at $8 for an adult size and $5 for a child size.
Asked about the Dare Minority Coalition’s involvement in this campaign, Twitty told the Voice that, “I feel like people don’t often recognize that women are also minorities.”
“There was absolutely something wrong with the way the case has been investigated,” she added. “There were plenty of things that were done that weren’t done correctly from beginning to end.”
Five days after the Aug. 10 statement from District Attorney Womble, Victoria Williams posted a statement on her Facebook page criticizing Womble’s office and the Kitty Hawk Police Chief Johnson for what she saw as an incomplete investigation. “It’s heart wrenching and unconscionable to watch as our local law enforcement treat a Dare County native, born and raised here, as if she’s inconsequential and her death is being totally disregarded,” she declared.
Williams characterizes the public’s response to what she’s posted as “mostly positive,” telling the Voice that, “I think the majority of the population wants answers too.”
And nowhere has the steady drumbeat of attention to the case been more pronounced than on Trisha Cahoon’s Facebook page. One example — a 25-minute video posted on Aug. 19 featuring Cahoon and Williams that includes the 911 call and a tour of the LeeAnn Fletcher’s home with Cahoon pointing out blood spots along the way and showing the viewer a bloodstained bed.
“You got your video,” Cahoon declares at the end of the tour, looking into the camera. “Now let’s get some justice.”