WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Friday, law enforcement officers continued their search for Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk. The Wilmington woman first went missing on April 5th one day before her 54th birthday. Search teams combed through a stretch of land in Pender County where human remains were found earlier this week.
Police first thought those remains believed belonged to Vannewkirk, however, they announced Thursday that the remains likely belong to someone else. Police say, James Bradley, 51, is still facing a first degree murder charge for Vannewkirk's death and that Bradley is now a suspect in the second homicide.
"I was driving down the rood, and they told me and I just had to pull over, I was in shock," Shannon's brother Shawn Dayton said. "To have her gone again, it's just gut wrenching."
He said the past month has been a horrible roller coaster ride for his family.
"First she is missing and that devastates us all, then you find out they don't expect a good outcome if they do find her, then they have a suspect, then they find her and they make an arrest and you feel kind of good about that, and then you lose her again," Dayton explained.
He said his family was just starting to find some closure, and the news that the body likely is not Shannon stunned them all.
"They were starting to make arrangements for Shannon," said Dayton. "It's just, they are just devastated, but you know, we aren't going to give up hope, we aren't going to stop looking."
Shannon's boss, Steve Mott, said the area they were searching was part of his farm where Vannewkirk and Bradley had both worked in the past.
Nicole Capps lives directly above James Bradley's, now vacated, unit in Harbor Place Condominiums.
Capps said she noticed Bradley was acting strange the day police took him into custody.
"He shaved his head, all of his facial hair, and he had his suitcase packed so it's almost like he was changing his identity," Capps explained.
She suspects that Bradley was preparing to leave town. Soon after Capps noticed the strange behavior, she received word he had been caught. Prior to Bradley being taken into custody, Capps said that she had seen detectives at his unit a handful of times.
"They already pretty much knew they had him in the bag is what the detective told me," Capps explained. "They just were ready to find the body."
That's not the only thing Capps said she learned from law enforcement.
"That's what the detective told me – there was a lady that came up missing in the old neighborhood he lived in before he moved here, and they couldn't find the body to her to tie him to that one, so it's almost like there were two missing ladies in the same area that he was involved with and they couldn't find the bodies, so I guess that might be the lady they were talking about," elaborated Capps.
Looking back, Capps said it's definitely unsettling knowing the accused murderer lived below her unit.
"It's just odd to be around somebody that killed someone or be that close to somebody who killed before and had just done it," explained Capps.
Now, the neighbor just hopes the whole situation will soon come to an end.
"I just hope they figure out - if that other lady - if he had did that to her," Capps said.
Some neighbors that wished to remain anonymous said that Bradley was a pleasant man around the neighborhood.
Chief of Police Ralph Evangelous said the autopsy results on the human remains found earlier this week are not those of missing woman Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk. The news came as Evangelous addressed the media Thursday. He said they are still searching for Vannewkirk's body, and her disappearance is still being investigated as a homicide.
DA Ben David said the first degree murder charges against James Bradley will remain, because he is the lead suspect for the murder of Vannewkirk, and now of the remains found. The identity of those remains found on have still yet to be released.
Evangelous said further testing will be needed to completely rule out the remains as Vannewkirk's.
Deputies with the Pender County Sheriff's Office teamed up with officers from the Wilmington Police Department in the discovery of human remains on Hoover Road in Hampstead Tuesday morning. The body was found in a wooded area past the Castle Bay neighborhood, according to officers.
The Chief of the Wilmington Police Department said law enforcement believed the remains belonged to Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk, who has been missing since early April.
Authorities said James Bradley, 51, is the prime suspect in Vannewkirk's death. Tuesday night, he was arrested at the intersection of 17th Street and Shipyard Blvd. during a traffic stop and charged with first degree murder.
Police said the arrest happened without any trouble. They said he was a person of interest in the case from early on and became a prime suspect as the investigation continued.
Police said Vannewkirk and Bradley knew each other, and Vannewkirk's friends claim the 54-year-old worked with Bradley at Mott Landscaping.
Steve Mott of the landscaping company said he was shocked and devastated when he learned police believed Bradley killed Vannewkirk. He said he never would have expected it, and at first even told police he didn't think Bradley was involved in her disappearance.
Mott said he hired Bradley from a temp agency and was not told anything about his criminal background, he also said he never asked about it. Mott said while Bradley was working for him, Bradley admitted he had been convicted of murder and served a life sentence. He said he chose to keep Bradley on as an employee despite the news.
"If I would have done a criminal background check and they would have told me he'd gotten out after serving a 25 year sentence for murder I still would have hired him," said Mott. "If they let him out [of jail] then they are supposed to make that decision and I would think they wouldn't have let him out if they thought he would kill someone again. So, I would probably have done the same thing over again."
According to Mott, police found the remains around a farm that both Vannewkirk and Bradley had been working.
While Vannewkirk was last seen April 5, Mott said Bradley came into work on Tuesday, April 8 and acted very business-like and seemed like he didn't know she was missing.
"He was very business-like with no emotion. He called out Monday, and said he had to take care of personal things. Tuesday he came to work and worked all day." Mott said on Wednesday, April 9 police came to him and said they had evidence and believed that Bradley could have been Vannewkirk's killer. Mott said he fired Bradley immediately.
"When they showed me the details they had, I was positive that James had killed her, I'm still 100 percent sure that James killed her," said Mott. He said the news is devastating.
Mott said police told him Bradley was interested in and 'fascinated with' Vannewkirk, who had worked for the landscaping company for 10 years. He said Shannon was a good worker and always pushing for them to be more green and environmentally friendly.
The landscaping owner said the news is very upsetting and is thinking about closing his business because of it.
"Shannon was the heart of this business," said Mott. "I just don't want to do it anymore."
Bradley appeared calm in the courtroom on Wednesday as he made his first appearance before a judge. He asked for a court appointed attorney and was placed under no bond.
State records show this is not the first time that Bradley has been charged with first degree murder. He was convicted in 1990 of first degree murder.
According to an article from the Fayetteville Observer, Bradley pleaded guilty to murdering his stepdaughter, Ivy Gipson, in 1988.
Detectives said he strangled the second grader after an argument over the family's TV set. He reportedly told detectives he left her body in the dumpster and it was later uncovered from a nearby landfill.
At the time, Bradley was sentenced to life in prison, but according to state records was released on parole in February of 2013 - 23 years after his conviction.
Now, he is back in jail just a little over a year after he was released, charged with murder in Vannewkirk's death.
Thom Goolsby, a local attorney and State Senator said the laws changed in 1994. Before 1994 criminals could be released early even if they were sentenced to life. Now, criminals sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder will die behind bars.
"Now, life means life, before 1994 it did not and that's what happened in this case," said Goolsby. Meaning, if Bradley had been convicted four years later, he would still be behind bars today.
"This is one of those cases that shows you the reason we need the rule," Goolsby said. "Here is a lady that's been murdered by a former first degree murderer, it's awful and there is no excuse for it. The state has failed this lady, we failed her, we failed the jury that convicted this man, and we failed the little girl that he beat and strangled to death. We failed everyone and it's awful."
Shannon's brother, Shawn Dayton, said his family was stunned when they found out police now do not believe the remains belong to Shannon.
"I was stunned, I just really don't know what to think or say," he said. "It's like a roller coaster ride but I totally have faith in what [the police department] is doing. They are going to find her."
Family members and detectives have been searching for Vannewkirk since she was reported missing April 5. She was last seen at the Husk Bar in downtown Wilmington the day before her 54th birthday.
Friends of Vannewkirk said she had gotten her hair done, and reportedly told her hairdresser that she was going on a date that night.
"My heart grieves for Shannon and all her loving family," said Vannewkirk's friend Joyce Fernando. "My prayers, thoughts and love are with them. The WPD has done an amazing job."
Stay with WECT as we continue to follow this developing situation.