RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTW) - Autopsy reports give a few more details about the deaths of two women found dead in Lumberton in the spring of 2017. However, the autopsies could not determine a cause of death, according to the reports from the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
One autopsy related to the death of Rhonda Jones whose body was found in a trash can at 702 E. 5th St. in east Lumberton on April 18, 2017. The other autopsy related to the death of Megan Oxendine whose body was found a few blocks away about six and a half weeks later on June 3, 2017.
On the same day Jones's body was found in April, the body of Christina "Kristin" Bennett was also found in the same vicinity, inside a home at 505 Peachtree St. The autopsy for Bennett has not been released.
N.C. autopsies involved in criminal investigations are not released until the criminal investigation is deemed complete. So although the autopsy findings may have been available to investigators relatively soon after the bodies were found, the results were not released to the public until Aug. 31 & Sept 2, 2018. Toxicology results generally take ten to twelve weeks.
Autopsy for Rhonda Jones
The naked body of Jones, 36, was found face-down in a residential trash can containing trash. Medical Examiner Karen Warwick described the body as decomposed. There were small cuts on her face, and her nose was broken. It was unclear whether those injuries were caused by being placed in the trash can or by some other cause.
There did not appear to be any disease that caused her death.
Toxicology analysis showed trace amounts of:
- benzoylecgonine (metabolite of cocaine)
- chlorpheniramine (an antihistamine)
- dextromethorphan (cough medicine)
- fluoxetine (a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor [SSRI] that's the active ingredient in Prozac and other medicine generally prescribed for mental health)
- norfluoxetine (a metabolite of fluoxetine, a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor [SSRI])
Ethanol was also detected, but the medical examiner said it was likely a result of decomposition.
Because neither injuries nor drug levels could be determined as the cause of death, "the cause of death remains uncertain" according to the report. The report left open the possibility of death caused by suffocation.
"The possibility of external factors contributing to the death, such as an asphyxial injury by neck or chest compression or covering the nose and mouth, cannot be excluded. At this time, the cause and manner of death are best classified as undetermined."
The autopsy was performed on April 19, 2017, and Warwick signed it on April 30, 2017. Toxicology results came back ten weeks later on June 27, 2017. The final review/release of the autopsy was signed and dated August 31, 2018.
New detail in discovery of Bennett's body
While an autopsy for Bennett has not been released, the discovery of her body was mentioned in the autopsy for Jones. While investigators had said Bennett's body was found inside a home on Peachtree St., they released few additional further details.
The following sentence in the autopsy summary for Jones revealed an additional detail about where Bennett's body was found: "This case is associated with another female who was found on the same day in a television cabinet in a nearby abandoned house."
Autopsy for Meghan Oxendine
The naked body of Oxendine, 28, was found outside an abandoned home, partially concealed by a cedar tree, covered with tree branches and roof shingles. Medical Examiner Jennifer Altman said there was no apparent natural disease or physical injury that caused Oxendine's death.
As with Jones, decay of the remains also made a determination about Oxendine's cause of death difficult.
Toxicology analysis showed trace amounts of:
- cocaine and metabolites
- morphine (potentially reflecting heroin use)
Ethanol was also found but may have been due to decomposition.
The medical examiner could not link any drugs in Oxendine's body to her death.
"While the toxicologic findings indicate the use of illicit drug(s) at some point, no definitive association between such drug use and the decedent's demise can be made with any reasonable degree of certainty," the report read.
The medical examiner said subtle findings indicating a cause of death "may be difficult to clearly discern or reliably exclude with reasonable certainty given the condition of the remains." The examiner specifically mentioned that "putative asphyxial insult" - commonly called suffocation or other loss of oxygen - would be difficult to determine.
"The cause and manner of death are best classified as undetermined," the report read.
The autopsy was performed on June 6, 2017. Toxicology results came back eleven weeks later on August 22, 2017. The autopsy was not signed until the final review/release was approved on August 28, 2018.
In January of 2018, the FBI announced a reward of up to $30,000 for information that helps determine the circumstances that led to the deaths of Bennett, Jones. and Oxendine. Agents have gone door to door in the area asking people to come forward with any information in the case.
Again, the autopsy for Bennett has not yet been released.
Oxendine was friends with Jones and spoke to WBTW's sister station WNCN (CBS17) in an interview one day after the bodies of Bennett and Jones were discovered.