Details of Disappearance VanNewkirk was last seen at The Husk, a bar in the 30 block of south Front Street in Wilmington, North Carolina, at 7:00 p.m. on April 5, 2014. She had gotten a new haircut and a spray tan and was getting ready to celebrate her upcoming birthday, which was the next day. She has never been heard from again. When she missed the planned birthday lunch in her honor, her family became concerned. They had left presents in front of her home on south 5th Street. They returned on Monday and the presents were still there, untouched, so they notified police.
On April 29, James Opelton Bradley was arrested for first-degree murder in VanNewkirk's case. A photo of Bradley is posted with this case summary. He and VanNewkirk were coworkers at Mott’s Landscaping and he had a romantic interest in her. At the time of her disappearance, he was on parole for another murder; he had killed his eight-year-old stepdaughter, Ivy Gipson, in 1988 and served almost twenty-five years in prison. He was released fourteen months prior to VanNewkirk's disappearance.
Bradley and VanNewkirk exchanged seventeen phone calls between April 1 and April 5, but the communication abruptly ceased the same day she disappeared. He changed his story about the day of her disappearance at least three times. In the final police interview before his arrest, he admitted he was in his truck with VanNewkirk on the day she was last seen, but said they got an argument over VanNewkirk's relationship with another man, and she jumped out of his truck and ran away. He has maintained that story ever since.
When police were searching for VanNewkirk's body on land Bradley had often worked on as a landscaper, they found a woman's nude body wrapped in duct tape and trash bags in a shallow grave in a field in Hampstead, North Carolina. At first authorities thought the body was VanNewkirk's, but it turned out to be that of 35-year-old Elisha Marie Tucker. She'd died of blunt force trauma, and her blood was found in Bradley's SUV. In 2016, he was charged with her murder as well.
Bradley was convicted of second-degree murder in VanNewkirk's case in 2017, and sentenced to 30 to 37 years in prison. In 2019, he was convicted of Tucker's murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
VanNewkirk's body has never been found.
- Wilmington Police Department
Updated 1 time since October 12, 2004. Last updated February 23, 2021; casefile added.