Crackdown on Crime: Murder of mother remains unsolved after 14 years

One of our first reports on the murder of Tera Tracy
Published: Feb. 4, 2014 at 1:40 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 8, 2014 at 1:40 AM EST
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The scene of the crime: The Pantry in Castle Hayne.
The scene of the crime: The Pantry in Castle Hayne.
Tera Tracy was murdered on December 24, 1999.
Tera Tracy was murdered on December 24, 1999.
Diagram of defensive wounds and cuts to Tracy's hands from autopsy report; source: Office of...
Diagram of defensive wounds and cuts to Tracy's hands from autopsy report; source: Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
Tracy was stabbed multiple times in the head and chest, according to the autopsy report;...
Tracy was stabbed multiple times in the head and chest, according to the autopsy report; source: Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

WILMINGTON, NC (WSFX) – More than a dozen years have passed with no answers and no justice for the family of a mother who was murdered on Christmas Eve in 1999.

Tera Tracy, 25, was murdered while working at the Pantry in Castle Hayne. The case remains unsolved.

Her family, though, remains confident her killer will be found.

"We're too close after 14 years," Ethel Greimann, Tracy's aunt, said. "I think it's time to put it to rest."

On the last day of her life, Tracy celebrated her son's seventh birthday. Then, she clocked into work at the Pantry on Castle Hayne Road.

Tracy lived across the street from the gas station/convenience store with her husband, Paul, and their four children.

"The reason she got that job and chose that job was because it was convenient," Janice Hamilton, Tracy's mother, said. "Because she lived right across the street, she could walk to work. She didn't have to worry about transportation. Her husband was home from his job so he could be at home at night with the kids."

Hamilton said Tracy never felt unsafe at the store, because it was so close to her home.

But just feet from her front door, someone took her life.

A customer stopped by the pantry around 3:15 a.m. An hour later, another customer found Tracy dead.

The attack was brutal. According to the autopsy report, Tracy was stabbed multiple times in the head and five times in the chest, hitting her heart and lungs. Cuts and defensive wounds on her hands revealed that Tracy fought for her life.

The cause of death was determined to be the trauma to her head with the stab wounds to her chest acting as contributing factors.

"I unfortunately got to see her, the way she was, and it's hard for me to fathom that there's someone out there that cruel," Greimann said. "I can't even imagine what she must have gone through."

"She had no idea that when she went to work that evening that she wouldn't be coming home," Hamilton said. "She fought for her life and I'm sure what was running through her mind was her children."

Hamilton believes the killer was someone who Tracy knew, given that Tracy's keys were found in the door, indicating to Hamilton that she let someone into the locked store.

"She opened the door for someone," Hamilton said. "She wouldn't open the door to a stranger."

Her killer took less than $50 from the cash register.

Just 16 months after Tracy's murder, Hamilton lost her other daughter, who was killed by a drunk driver on Memorial Day.

Of coping with the untimely deaths of both of her daughters, Hamilton said, "Some days are better than others." She said her two sons helped her to keep going.

The loss of Tracy was made even greater for Hamilton, because she said since her death, she's lost touch with her four grandchildren.

After the murder, Tracy's husband moved from Castle Hayne to Jacksonville, Hamilton said.

"They didn't just take my daughter," she said. "They took my family, my grandchildren. I lost actually five."

The Tracy case file is right next to Detective Ken Murphy's desk, along with boxes that contain the files of seven other cold case murders in New Hanover County.

Murphy said he is constantly revisiting the case file, hoping to find the one clue that will help crack the case after all these years.

After taking another look at the file, he said there are a few more "persons of interest" who he would like to follow up with. However, he said he feels that it is going to take someone coming forward with information to find Tracy's killer.

"We've had some success with cold cases because you get a call out of the blue and that's all it takes," he said.

Murphy wouldn't elaborate on the evidence in the case. He wouldn't even disclose the murder weapon, because he believes it's a key piece of evidence.

Hamilton and Greimann are confident that Tera's killer will be caught.

"They need to know we're not going to give up," Greimann said. "We're never going to give up. Not ever."

"I want to come face to face with them," Hamilton added, saying she hopes someone comes forward with information on the case. "I still believe that there's someone out there that really knows and I hope they have a heart because mine has been torn in pieces."

If you have any information that can help detectives, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-531-9845. You can remain anonymous and could get a reward of up to $5,000.

Additionally, when the crime was committed, the Pantry offered a $30,000 reward. However, Kelly Propst, a spokesperson for the Pantry, sent us the following statement when we asked if the reward was still valid:

"After a number of years, we do not have an official record of the reward for information leading to a conviction in Tera Tracy's murder and I'm afraid it is null at this time. However, our thoughts remain with Ms. Tracy's family and if there is any additional information we may be able to provide to law enforcement that is not on file, we're glad to work with local authorities to support the investigation as best we can."

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