Hello, my loyal true crime readers!
I am excited to present a guest post by true crime writer Greg Fox. In this post, Greg examines who killed Susan Shearin Clary and her unborn child in the small eastern North Carolina town of Weldon in May 1983. Get ready for a shocking story as Greg delves deep into the intrigue of this little-known unsolved murder and the search for answers – and justice.
Enjoy the guest post! ~ Christine
The Morning Of: Who Murdered Small-Town Girl Susan Shearin Clary?
On viewing the Facebook page “Who Murdered Susan Shearin Clary” you see mostly faded photos of a young Susan Shearin smiling back at you. She appears as a child from a different era. One of small-town America and a safe, modest upbringing.
Other pictures show Susan and her older brother Mike over the years, enjoying themselves at home and at family gatherings. An undeniable bond between the siblings comes through in these pictures.
There are family snaps of her birthday parties at various ages.
Her official high school graduation headshot from 1980 displays Susan fresh-faced and grinning in cap and gown.
A wedding photo jumps out at you. It’s a more mature Susan looking directly at the camera ready to commence one of life’s biggest commitments. Clutching a bridal bouquet, she’s wearing a classical looking white gown with a long veil. There is a girl next door quality that emanates. Very much an understated, natural beauty – typical of many women of her generation. Tragically, as she posed for this wedding snap, Susan was unaware she had just over a year to live.
Susan would be described glowingly by one of her many cousins as “like an angel on earth – she was a sweetheart.” In researching Susan’s untimely death and short life with those knew her it soon becomes obvious that she was an unlikely victim of homicide. She was considered a popular young lady from a highly regarded family. No vices or anything untoward in her background could be identified. Add to this the fact that Susan’s murder was the first homicide in Weldon in decades leaves you trying to make sense of what occurred and why.
As time moved on after her murder the town was genuinely shaken by the notion that a killer remained unidentified in their midst – and that continuing uneasiness would serve as a reminder of that bleak time in the spring of 1983.
Susan was adopted. Her parents Herman and Maurice (pronounced More-ree-cee) were unable to conceive. Maurice had tragically lost twins earlier during a complicated pregnancy, leaving her unable to become pregnant. Susan also had an adopted brother Michael who was three years older. Herman was a prominent businessman in the region working as a manager for Bi-County Gas Producers. He also was at one time a Weldon City Commissioner, Vice-Chairman of the Weldon School Board, and a Deacon at Weldon Baptist Church. Maurice was a busy working mother for the most part and lived for her children.
The family was middle class by Weldon standards and lived in a large home on Sycamore Street. They regularly vacationed at Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. However, Susan and Michael were not spoiled, and both children, at Maurice’s insistence, worked part-time jobs from the time they started driving at 16 years.
One of her closet childhood friends Lynette Earley remembers Susan as a happy and funny girl who could be reserved at times. “Susan played the flute in the high school band. She was smart – we were both in the ‘junior achievement’ program in the last two years of school. Susan had also qualified for membership to the National Honor Society,” she said.
Lynette went on to explain, “We skipped school on a regular basis. Not days, but classes. We would tell the Principal that I had left a textbook at home and therefore Susan had to drive me home to retrieve it. Keeping in mind her dad was on the school board. So we were able to skip school without having a problem. Also, we would go get donuts and bring the Principal back some donuts and he would write us a note (for the teacher) that said we were on a school office task. She (Susan) was really fun to be around.”
Then, Lynette added, “We did all the usual teenage stuff together. In our later school high years we spent more time in Susan’s car driving around the town than doing anything else. Meeting friends from area schools at the Pizza Hut parking lot was considered entertainment.”
In describing Susan’s plans after high school Lynette said her friend was happy to stay close to home. “Susan really was a small-town girl. She seemed happy with the idea to get married, have kids, and be near her family.”
Lynette routinely visits Cedarwood Cemetery in Weldon to sit beside Susan’s grave and lament the loss of her close friend. “I talk to her – and cry. I want her to be at peace. I tell her how much I love her and how much she is missed. I have also asked Susan to tell me what happened to her.”
Weldon, located in Halifax County, is about 90 miles northeast from Raleigh – the capital of North Carolina. Known as the “Rockfish Capital of the World” Weldon sits just to the east of the I-95. Roanoke Rapids can be found on the western side of the interstate, directly opposite. Some regard Weldon as an “interstate” town. Roanoke Rapids has had economic growth and good fortune in recent decades whilst Weldon, with a population hovering around 2000, has suffered a prolonged economic downturn.
In earlier times, though, Weldon was a go-ahead place. White settlers, mostly English colonialists, had originally came to the area in the early 1700s. By the mid-1800s it was a major railway hub in the southeastern United States with five different railroads heading in all directions. Situated on the Roanoke River, in 1823 a canal over seven miles long was built adjacent to Weldon township, which served as safe passage to watercraft bypassing the rocks and rapids of the main river. The waterway opened trade with Virginia and helped stimulate business opportunities. Textile and paper production were growth industries in the region and the town prospered. The main street developed into a hive of activity with privately owned small businesses, including any number of specialist clothing stores owned by local Jewish families.
Sammy Shearin, Susan’s cousin, says of Weldon, “In the ‘60s and ‘70s there would be not a better place in the world to live.” But over time it started to decline as the manufacturing base in the region diminished, the new highway system bypassed the town, and the next generation of residents left the county for greater opportunities.
In the award-winning and intellectually challenging TV drama series True Detective Season 1, the philosopher-detective Rustin Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey) makes a nihilist observation to his partner Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) about the current landscape of a Louisiana town as they walk through an empty carpark adjacent to the county coroner’s office: “This place is like someone’s memory of a town – and the memory is fading.” What had happened to the southern town: a faulty local economy, natural disasters, poor management of the city by elected officials, or perhaps something more sinister? Will Weldon continue to remain a cautionary tale for other small southern towns whose best days are long past?
After graduating from Weldon High School in June of 1980, Susan enrolled at Halifax Community College. During the spring of 1982 she married her sweetheart, local man Tim Clary, in a ceremony at Weldon Baptist Church, who she had been dating for the past two years. Clary from Roanoke Rapids worked at the Champion Paper Mill, a major employer in Halifax County. Susan was employed as an Assistant Clerk at the Town of Weldon’s tax collection office. By November 1982, Susan, aged 20, was pregnant with her first child. She confirmed excitedly to family and friends that the young couple had already named their unborn child, a boy, Chad Ray.
The newlyweds lived in a rented house at 937 Washington Avenue in Weldon, just on the outskirts of the town limits. Washington Avenue is one of the main thoroughfares through the township. At the northern most end of the road it meets the Weldon Historic District where the Weldon Police Department and Post Office are located. The Weldon Elementary School site is no more than 250 meters to the north of the Clary residence. Going south the avenue passes through South Weldon to meet Highway 301, adjacent to the Roanoke Cotton Company. Built in the early 1900s, the couple’s single level, three-bedroom rental sat on a half-acre block. The front porch sits less than 10 meters from the roadside.
Today the house is pretty much unchanged from what it looked like in the eighties. A gravel driveway down the side of the property leads to a free-standing garage. Typical of the other houses in the area there is no real fencing to speak of. The property backs onto a wooded area or easement which blocks visibility to the neighbors to the rear, whose houses sit on Sycamore Street – running parallel to Washington Avenue. Both sides of the house have a tree line where the property line would be located thereby obscuring the view of the immediate neighbors.
The mystery of what occurred at the Clary home on Washington Avenue on the morning of Monday May 16, 1983 has caused speculation for decades.
Susan was due at work at the town hall by 8:30AM. Her husband Tim was believed to have left the house earlier in the morning to visit his father. He stated to investigators he went to his father’s property in Roanoke Rapids to assist in building a garage at the home. Tim has confirmed to police many times over the years that when he departed home just before 7:00AM Susan was still in bed asleep. She was due at work at 8:30AM. Out of the ordinary routine for a weekday, Susan was to meet her mother mid-morning to sit down with a local realtor. This appointment was to take place at Maurice’s work office where she was employed by an insurance broker.
Unexpectedly, Susan did not arrive at the appointment. Maurice immediately phoned Susan’s work to see if she forgot about their meet-up. A town hall worker informed Maurice that her daughter had not come into the office that morning. Concerned, Maurice called her husband Herman and asked if he could go check on their daughter at her Washington Avenue home.
When Herman arrived at the Clary residence at approximately 9:30AM he immediately noticed the rear door of the house was open. Upon entry into the main bedroom at the front of the property he encountered a nightmarish scene. Herman found his daughter unresponsive, lying face up on the bed. She was naked, heavily pregnant, with a bra wrapped around her neck.
The medical examiner’s report would later state she most likely died due to asphyxiation secondary to strangulation. It was unlikely that the bra was utilized to manually strangle Susan. She had not been sexually assaulted although she did have a bruise to her temple indicating some type of recent physical assault.
Frantic, Herman placed Susan on the floor and commenced CPR. With Susan remaining unconscious and not breathing, he quickly phoned emergency services and alerted them to the tragic circumstances.
When EMTs and police and arrived at the home they were confused by the layout of the crime scene. Firstly, there was no obvious forced entry into the dwelling by an assailant. No evidence that the house was ransacked in any way. On inspection by investigators, no items appeared to be stolen from the residence. There was physical evidence that indicated Susan likely struggled with her killer in another room of the house before being forced into the main bedroom. Interestingly, the double bed had been repositioned in the bedroom and a large footstool had been moved out of place.
Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the crime scene was that there were two firearms, believed to be handguns, placed on top of different dressers in the bedroom. Neither gun had been fired and they looked to be wiped clean of any fingerprints. Both guns were owned by Tim Clary and were usually hidden within the household for safety reasons.
Investigators noted the young couple owned a large dog – a Doberman – which from all reports was aggressive and loud. Neighbors would tell police that they had not heard the dog bark that morning.
A Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrapper lay next to the bathtub, indicating that Susan had probably consumed some chocolate. It is believed only one of the chocolates had been eaten. The bathtub appeared like it had just been used, with remnants of water in the tub. Susan’s mother Maurice later confirmed a morning bath and some Reese’s chocolate were part of her daughter’s morning routine – which usually began at around 7:30AM.
To date no one has ever been charged with the murder of Susan. The investigation continues to sit with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office headed by Sheriff Wes Tripp. In an interesting side note, Tripp worked part-time with Susan at Taylor’s Fish House in Roanoke Rapids whilst they were both in high school. If the Sheriff’s Office does have definitive material evidence from the crime scene pointing to a specific suspect then they are keeping this information tightly under wraps.
One investigative theory has stuck to the case file, however – that the crime scene was “staged” to make what transpired at the Clary house look like a break-in gone wrong or home invasion scenario. “Staging” occurs, according to John Douglas and Corinne Munn in the Crime Classification Manual (1992), when someone purposefully alters the crime scene prior to the arrival of the police in order to either redirect the investigation away from the most logical suspect or to protect the victim or the victim’s family. While delving into the nature of homicide scene staging in Crime Scene Staging Dynamics in Homicide Cases (2016), Dr. Laura Pettler found that most staged homicide scenes involve the killing of an intimate partner. Her research indicates that most crime scenes that are staged occur within the home environment. Further, she confirms that in most of these cases the cause of death was either strangulation or blunt force trauma.
But did this assessment of possible “staging” at the Clary residence prejudice the thinking of local detectives over time, inviting a narrow investigative focus or “tunnel vision?” Is it plausible due to the peculiar nature of the crime scene that the detectives misinterpreted the physical evidence at 937 Washington Avenue? And was it even possible to make a valid assessment given the crime scene was rumored to be inadvertently altered by Herman Shearin and first responders in their valiant attempt to save Susan and the unborn child?
Former Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Bruce Temple, who retired in 2015, told WRAL TV in 2011 that Clary’s murder “may have been something that happened spontaneously that resulted in her death. It may not have been an intended homicide.” Temple, a long-time law enforcement officer with over 29 years tenure in Halifax County, continues to favor the staging theory regarding the crime scene. “I see the staging as a (post-homicide) response by the perpetrator to the killing of Susan Clary,” he stated. Temple actively investigated the case from 2007 until his departure from the sheriff’s office. It’s a case that continues to stick with him to this day. “I mentioned the Clary case at my retirement party from the sheriff’s office. Being unable to resolve this murder has left me with an empty feeling inside.”
Captain Joe Sealey, the current Investigator with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office, recently confirmed that while there have been no new advancements in the investigation the case file is being regularly reviewed. “The list of suspects has been whittled down over the years. We will continue to revisit the Clary murder on a regular basis to develop new perspectives and follow-up potential leads.”
“Perhaps we don’t seek the truth because it’s too painful. Or maybe we just stop to keep a secret…”~ Anonymous
In 2018, Sammy Shearin told Raleigh-Durham’s CBS17.com, “I would really like to see her husband (Tim Clary) be more cooperative because he could help us put this case to an end. His insight into what may have happened to his wife would be extremely helpful to current investigators.”
Sammy, at his Aunt Maurice’s request, made a personal commitment to continue to look for answers into who killed his cousin and why.
Realistically where would a breakthrough in the case arise after nearly 40 years? Three letters come to mind: D-N-A. Could a usable DNA sample be extracted, for example, from the bra that was wrapped around Susan’s neck? Given advances in DNA technologies in the past decade it may be possible. Using the process of genetic genealogy it’s feasible that a DNA profile from the unknown offender could be extracted from an item at the crime scene and matched to a voluntarily submitted user DNA profile on public genealogy databases such as GEDmatch and Family Tree DNA. Familial links could then be determined by forensic genealogists to identify a viable suspect, utilizing specific case data and information.
Susan’s father, Herman, died in 1997 from a heart attack. The Shearin family believes he never recovered fully from the pain of losing his only daughter. Maurice passed in 2014. Then the only remaining family member, Michael Shearin, died in 2015 after short illness.
Maurice expressed her decade’s old grief in an emotional 2011 interview with news station WRAL, “I’ve got an emptiness that I can’t ever fill.” According to her nephew, Sammy Shearin, Maurice remained committed to finding out the identity of Susan’s and baby Chad’s killer. “Even till the day that she died (in 2014). I mean she carried that burden with her everywhere.”
Any person with information related to the murder of Susan Shearin Clary should contact Halifax County Crimestoppers by Phone: 252-583-4444 or Halifax County Sheriff’s Office by Phone: 252-583-8201.
(Note: Repeated attempts to contact Tim Clary in the writing of this article were unsuccessful.)
“Crime scene staging dynamics in homicide cases” (Petler, L) CRC Press; 2016.
“Find a grave – Susan Shearin Clary” (created by Margaret Gagliardi) https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/105324587/susan-clary (online).
“Halifax county family waiting, hoping for justice 35 years later” (Cutler, A.) – https://www.cbs17.com/news/investigators/halifax-county-family-waiting-hoping-for-justice-35-years-later/ (online); 11 May 2018.
“Halifax town still mourns pregnant woman’s 1983 slaying” – https://www.wral.com/news/local/story/9066067/ (online); 5 February 2011.
“NC-Susan Clary, 19, pregnant, found murdered in bed, unused guns staged at scene, Halifax, May ’83 – Websleuths” – https://www.websleuths.com/forums/threads/nc-susan-clary-19-pregnant-found-murdered-in-bed-unused-guns-staged-at-scene-halifax-may-83.533656/ (online); 21 July 2020.
“1983 Halifax murder of pregnant woman remains unsolved” – https://www.wral.com/1983-halifax-murder-of-pregnant-woman-goes-unsolved/13673832/ (online); 25 May 2014.
“The detection of staging and personation at the crime scene”(Douglas, J. & Munn, C.) in A. Burgess, J. Douglas & R. Ressler eds. Crime Classification Manual. Jossey Bass; 1992.
“Watching true crime stories – Susan Clary (1983)” – https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/watchingrobertpickton88015/susan-clary-1983-t2456.html (online).