James Bradley, the suspect in the death of Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk, was in court Thursday and Friday mornings for a probable cause hearing.
Bradley has been charged with Vannewkirk's death, but prosecutors had to prove probable cause to a judge for the charges to stay applicable, since Vannewkirk's body has not yet been found.
A judge said Friday there is more than enough probable cause to proceed in the murder case.
Thursday, prosecutors presented cell phone records of Vannewkirk and Bradley and also showed surveillance video. Several witnesses also were called to the stand including the lead investigator, an FBI agent, Vannewkirk's boss, and Vannewkirk's mother.
The prosecution started the second day of the hearing with a request to play an audio recording of Bradley and detectives.
Inside the courtroom, Bradley's feet were shackled and his hands were free. He appeared to be taking notes on the testimony. He focused on what was happening in the courtroom, but at times seemed to fidget by tapping his foot or rocking in his seat.
The lead investigator in the case was one of the witnesses called to the stand. The investigator said during early interviews with James Bradley, he admitted to having an interest in Vannewkirk and claimed they went on a date, however, the investigator said Bradley explained that "she was in love with Steve [Mott]." Mott employed both Vannewkirk and Bradley at his company, Mott Landscaping.
The lead investigator said the first time Bradley was interviewed he said he saw Vannewkirk last on Thursday, April 3, which was two days before her disappearance.
The investigator said when they interviewed Bradley at a later date, the story changed. He said Bradley then admitted that he, in fact, picked Vannewkirk up downtown the night she went missing.
That's when Bradley says the two got into a heated argument while driving around Greenfield Lake. According, to the investigator Bradley said the two were arguing about Vannewkirk's relationship with her boss, Steve Mott. Bradley claimed he could treat her better than Mott did.
The investigator said Bradley told officials Vannewkirk got out of the car in the Greenfield Lake area, ran away, and he never saw her again.
The lead investigator said cell phone records and video surveillance do not put the two in the Greenfield Lake area at that time. Instead, he said cell phone records put both of them near Bradley's Home on Flint Drive.
Additionally he testified, that in an interview with one of Bradley's acquaintances, she told investigators that Bradley reportedly told her Vannewkirk was at his home on Friday or Saturday.
The investigator previously pointed out that Vannewkirk's phone only signaled near downtown Wilmington on Friday, and only near Bradley's home Saturday night.
Around 7 or 8 p.m. that night, both Vannewkirk's phone and Bradley's phone stopped sending signals which would reveal their location. The lead investigator said that meant the phones were either turned off, broken or the battery was taken out.
He said Bradley's phone started sending signals again around 7 a.m. Sunday morning.
The investigator said cell phone records also illustrated between April 1 and April 5, Bradley and Vannewkirk had 17 phone conversations, and went on to say Bradley never tried to contact Vannewkirk after April 5.
The investigator also said that in a later interview, James Bradley admitted to cleaning his truck three times from Saturday, April 5 to the Wednesday of the following week.
During his testimony the lead investigator also described how they found the body of Elisha Tucker, a woman who had been missing since August 2013. Originally, investigators believed the remains to be Vannewkirk.
The lead investigator said they wanted to search the land in Hampstead where both Vannewkirk and Bradley worked for Mott.
When they got to the property, they said they saw section of dirt that looked like it had been moved recently. When they dug into the dirt they found two black bags. The bag at the bottom about three feet deep in the ground contained the remains of Tucker.
Steve Mott testified that the only way onto the property was through a main entrance, which then forks off into two separate areas that can only be accessed by the main entrance.
Each access has a cable that runs across it, serving as a gate. The cable is locked by a combination lock. Mott said only he, Bradley and one other man had access to the combination.
Mott explained the Bradley usually unlocked the gate most mornings. "I rarely open the gates," Mott said.
The judge ruled that the evidence surrounding Tucker cannot be used in this case. David said he wanted to link her homicide to Bradley to illustrate the reason they cannot locate Vannewkirk's remains is because "[Bradley's] getting good at hiding bodies."
David wanted to point out that Bradley was convicted of the 1988 murder of his stepdaughter Ivy Gipson. He said both Tucker's homicide and Gipson's murder had similarities. However, the judge ruled that evidence cannot be allowed in this case.
Vannewkirk's employer, Steve Mott, was the second person to take the stand. He testified that Shannon had been working for him for about 10 years at Mott Landscaping.
Mott said before Vannewkirk started working for him, they had a romantic relationship. That relationship continued on and off until Vannewkirk went missing on April 5. He said they usually saw each other about once a week outside of work.
Mott testified he last spoke with Vannewkirk around 7 p.m. on April 5.
He said that Vannewkirk told him she was looking forward to the next day when she was having lunch with her mother and also made plans to see Mott later that day.
Mott explained they tentatively had plans to hang out on Saturday night, but they did not end up working out. Mott said when he tried reaching out to Vannewkirk on Sunday, however, she never responded. He said it was not like Shannon to not show up.
Mott also testified about suspected murder James Bradley, explaining he hired Bradley from a temp agency and Bradley worked for him for about a year.
On the stand, Mott said, "Bradley volunteered information about his past," and that he reportedly told Mott he was sent to prison for a life sentence for murder.
Mott testified that Bradley made it appear as though the murder dealt with some type of jealousy issue involving his ex-wife and was under the impression that Bradley had killed a man.
On the stand, Mott said both Bradley and Vannewkirk visited his property off of Hoover Road "quite often" where the remains of Elisha Tucker were found.
During his cross examination, attorneys asked Mott why he didn't tell police in an initial interview that Bradley had discussed his prior murder charge with him.
Defense attorneys also asked Mott about his relationship with Vannewkirk.
"Do you recall telling officers she wanted more of a relationship with you?" Mott responded by saying, "she wanted more of a steady relationship than what we had."
Roberta Lewis, Vannewkirk's mother, also testified. She said she was in constant communication with her daughter and spoke with Vannewkirk about three or four times a day before she went missing April 5. Lewis went on to say that Vannewkirk would usually call her "no matter what."
Lewis said they had plans to go out for a birthday lunch on Sunday, April 6. She tried calling Vannewkirk that day, but it went to voicemail. She also said Vannewkirk was not home, so Lewis left her daughter's birthday presents on the porch and went home to Southport.
Lewis said Vannewkirk didn't call that night, and that's when she knew "something was wrong."
Lewis said she returned to Wilmington on Monday and Vannewkirk still wasn't answering her door. She requested a police officer open the door and found Vannewkirk was not there and nothing inside the home was disturbed or missing. Lewis said Vannewkirk had not packed a bag and has been missing ever since.
Lewis said Vannewkirk was mentally fine and was working hard on taxes for Mott's Landscaping. She said "she wasn't going anywhere" and was making plans to potentially move in with her and act as her caretaker.
If probable cause is determined, the murder case of Shannon Rippy Vannewkirk continues and the charge of capital murder will remain. Bradley will remain in custody without bond. If no probable cause is found, David says Bradley will go free.
David adds this is not the first North Carolina murder case without a body.
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