By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on October 26, 2020
The Oct. 26 news of the arrest of a suspect in the LeeAnn Fletcher murder case — coming almost exactly three months after the Kitty Hawk woman died — marks a major, but not final development, in what has been an ongoing public drama on the Outer Banks. The suspect’s guilt or innocence will now be determined in a court of law.
The arrest of John Curtis Tolson in Maine, announced without fanfare in a three-sentence news release by District Attorney Andrew Womble, comes after months of a relentless campaign spearheaded by LeeAnn Fletcher’s first cousin and close friend, Trisha Cahoon.
That effort, which took the form of a march to a police station, the ubiquitous #JUSTICEforLeeAnn hashtag, crime scene videos and countless social media posts, was designed to keep pressure on law enforcement to arrest Tolson and to prevent the case and the cause from slipping out of public view.
In a brief interview with the Voice after learning of the arrest, Cahoon was barely able to control her emotions.
“I’m happy, and I’m excited, and I’m glad there was no incident” in arresting Tolson, she said, lauding, in particular, the work of the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), which was called into the case in September.
Referring to the persistent effort to keep a focus on what happened to LeeAnn Fletcher, Cahoon added: “I feel like if I hadn’t done what we did, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Cahoon’s Facebook page has been functioning as a kind of ground zero for shining a spotlight on the case. That spotlight has included: a #JUSTICEforleeann march to the Kitty Hawk Police station; a Gofundme campaign; the sale of #JUSTICEforleeann bracelets; and a video that features the 911 call (reportedly made by Tolson) and a tour of LeeAnn Fletcher’s home with Cahoon pointing out blood spots along the way and showing the viewer a badly bloodstained bed.
These efforts also included some sharp criticism of the Kitty Hawk Police force and District Attorney Womble for what LeeAnn Fletcher’s family and friends considered an insufficiently focused or aggressive investigation.
That pressure was enough to prompt a July 27 statement from the Kitty Hawk Police and an Aug. 10 statement from Womble that acknowledged what the DA called “recent public scrutiny” of the case and that asked the public for patience during the investigation.
In that statement, Womble also said he was awaiting an autopsy report from the Virginia Medical Examiner’s office before making any decision on whether to pursue criminal charges.
One apparent turning point in the investigation came on Sept. 9, when the SBI was asked to join the investigation by Womble, a move that was welcomed by Cahoon and others involved in her efforts.
About a month later, on Oct. 12, the DA’s office confirmed that it was in possession of the long-awaited autopsy report. One day later, the Voice reported that the autopsy report concluded that the cause of LeeAnn Fletcher’s death was “complications of blunt force trauma to the head with hepatic cirrhosis with clinical hepatic failure contributing.”
The manner of death, according to the autopsy, was “undetermined,” one of five possible choices along with homicide, suicide, accident or natural.
For her part, Cahoon felt vindicated by that report, which she said indicated that the “patient died from something other than natural causes.” About two weeks later, Tolson was in custody.
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