About the Author: John W. Taylor is a former U.S. Secret Service agent who writes in the true crime genre and is host of the true crime podcast “Twisted.” He has published two true crime books, Umbrella of Suspicion: Investigating the Death of JonBénet Ramsey and Isolated Incident: Investigating the Death of Nancy Cooper in 2012 and 2014, respectively. John currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.
A little after midnight on September 7, 2012, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (“UNC”) student Faith Hedgepeth and her roommate, Karena Rosario, returned home from the university library. After getting ready, they drove to a local nightclub, The Thrill. While there, they met several friends and acquaintances. The music was loud, and they took advantage of the opportunity by singing and dancing. However, Karena was not feeling well. Around 2:30 a.m., the club’s surveillance cameras captured Faith and Karena leaving The Thrill while talking to two males.
Faith put Karena to bed when they got home a little before 3:00 a.m. At 3:40 a.m., Faith sent a text to a former boyfriend of Karena’s, Brandon [last name omitted]. It stated:
Hey b. can you come over here please. Karena needs you more aha [than]. You know. Please let her know you care.
Apparently, Karena did not fall right to sleep, or stay asleep, because she called Brandon four times between 3:45 a.m. and 4:15 a.m. She then texted another male friend, Jordan [last name omitted]. Though she apparently did not feel well at the club, at approximately 4:30 a.m., Karena left the apartment with Jordan. She left the door unlocked with Faith asleep. Jordan drove Karena to 103 West Longview Street in Chapel Hill to see Jacob [last name omitted], who was likely a romantic interest of Karena’s. She allegedly stayed at this location until midmorning. Around 11:00 a.m. that morning, Karena and her friend Marisol Rangle returned to the apartment she shared with Faith. At 11:01 a.m., Karena dial 9-1-1.
Operator: Durham 911, where is your emergency?
Karena: Hi, um, I just walked into my apartment…and my friend she’s, like, she’s unconscious.
Karena began the call with the polite introduction, “hi,” which demonstrated no sense of urgency. Many experts, who analyze 9-1-1 calls, cite this type of beginning as a sign of deception. There are also studies comparing truthful to deceptive callers, which also supports this theory. However, it is also a somewhat autonomic response. When people are under a high degree of stress, they subconsciously default to what they know. Most people naturally begin a call by saying “hello” or “hi,” not shouting out requests. The ability to think creatively in stressful situations is highly limited.
Karena followed by stating, “…just walked into my apartment,” which told the operator that she recently arrived at the apartment. This statement provided Karena with an alibi. It also explained why she did not know what happened, thus providing context to her statement.
Karena referred to it as my apartment, even though she shared it with Faith. Faith only recently started living with Karena, and it was a temporary arrangement; therefore, it was reasonable that she saw the apartment as just hers.
After explaining how she came upon the scene, Karena described Faith as unconscious, which is an adjective defined as, “without awareness, sensation, or cognition,” or “not awake; out cold.” It was an odd word choice as someone had clearly beaten Faith to death. On some level, Karena knew that Faith was dead. However, she chose a word that was technically correct, but failed to accurately convey Faith’s current condition. It was a misleading description, though there is no indication she tried to intentionally mislead the operator.
Karena’s first statement failed to fully answer the operator’s question. Usually someone avoids answering a question because they do not want to answer it. The operator repeated the question, but phrased it more specifically.
Operator: Okay, what’s your address, ma’am?
Karena: I live at Hawthorne at the View. Um.
Karena provided a vague description of her current location. This was the second time the operator asked this question without receiving an adequate response.
Operator: Give me the address.
At this point, the operator demanded the answer. She was likely confused as to why the caller failed to provide the address.
Karena: I just moved here. I might forget it. Oh my God. It’s, um, 5639 Old Chapel Hill Rd. in Durham.
Now we know why Karena avoided providing the address prior. She could not remember it. Once the operator received the full address, she returned to the status of the victim.
Operator: Okay, you say your friend is unconscious?
Karena: She’s unconscious. I just walked into the apartment and there looks like there’s blood everywhere. I don’t know what’s happening.
Though the first time Karena stated that she “just walked into the apartment” was a reasonable set-up to what happened, this time it was not. It was not asked and it was not directly relevant to Faith’s condition at this point. She also restated I rather than we, which would have included Marisol in the story. She continued by saying that “there looks like there’s blood everywhere.” Karena appeared unable to acknowledge or accept the fact there was blood throughout the room, which is consistent with someone who is in shock or disbelief. Regardless, her statement downplayed the situation.
In the first of many times, Karena indicated that she did not know what happened. However, during this statement she used the present tense, “I don’t know what’s happening,” compared to “I don’t know what happened.” To Karena, the events were still happening. The call continued:
Operator: Listen to me. Is she breathing?
Karena: I don’t know…
After more back-and-forth on Faith’s condition, the call continued:
Operator: Okay. Is she on her back? Or is she on her…laying [sic] on her stomach?
Karena: She’s on her back, but… like, I think she fell off the bed, cause she’s like…off the bed. There’s blood all over the pillows, like – in the comforter. I just don’t know what happened.
Karena’s response provided a lot of information. She utilized the filler word like three times, which indicated a high degree of stress and sensitivity to the subject. Though Karena stated several times that she did not know what happened, she provided a partial theory here. This was a complete departure from the rest of the call where she was completely incapable of conveying even basic information. This departure did not last; Karena fell right back into her autonomic state, void of critical thinking.
Operator: Okay. Alright. Listen to me, alright?
Karena: Is someone coming? Please hurry.
Though Karena never actually asked for help during the call, this was the closest she came. It was not clear if she was asking for help for Faith, herself, or both. Why was Karena not more concerned about her safety? Why was she not concerned that the killer may still be there or could come back for her? Karena continued:
I don’t know what’s going on. Like…there’s stuff in my room that like, was not here before. Looks like someone had came [sic] in here.
Her last phrase was grammatically incorrect, “had came.” She should have either said someone came in here or someone had come in here. If she used the past tense, then she was indicating the person was gone. If she stated had come, then she was stating the person could still be there as the present perfect tense can include past actions that extend to the present. This could mean one of two things. First, it could indicate that she believed the intruder could still be there, or second, she subconsciously included either herself or Marisol in the events that resulted in Faith’s death.
Karena referred to the items in the bedroom as “stuff,” which was a vague and generic description. She felt it was important and relevant enough for her to mention this to the emergency operator, but she failed to identify the items. Why?
Operator: Okay. Okay.
Karena: It [looks like someone has been here] really does.
Karena’s use of really in this statement meant “very” or “thoroughly.” It added emphasis. Emphasis can be genuine, but it is often utilized when a person does not feel the listener fully believes what she was saying. Why did Karena think the operator did not believe her about an intruder? When someone is deceptive, they know what they are saying is untrue. They have not fully committed to their statement, which results in them often thinking the recipient does not believe them either. However, we do not know for certain why Karena grappled with feelings of not being believed.
After more back-and-forth about preserving the scene, Karena stated, “I just can’t believe this. So, someone had to have been in there.” Karena’s statement conveyed her disbelief at what she saw. She also continued to repeat herself throughout the call, which is common when an individual is under high stress. As the call finished, the following exchange took place:
Operator: I just don’t want you to be alone right now.
Yet, Karena was not alone. Marisol was there. She never conveyed this information to the operator, and Marisol made no detectable noise during the almost eight-minute long 9-1-1 call. Throughout the call, Karena struggled to provide basic information to the operator, but Marisol never felt an obligation to assist.
Karena’s statements demonstrated many traits associated with stress; however, many of those same characteristics are also consistent with deception. She failed to answer questions. She used the wrong tense. She utilized filler words during key portions of the call, and she chose to not disclose the presence of another individual. Yet, the most troubling aspects of the call was Karena’s failure to explicitly ask for help. She appeared to have no concern for her safety. Even though Karena likely knew Faith was dead and there was no need for immediate medical assistance, she should not have known the whereabouts of the killer(s). Her life could have been in imminent danger; however, she never specifically asked for help.
Karena and Marisol found Faith lying partially off the side of her bed, nude from the waist down. According to the autopsy performed the following day by Dr. Lauren C. Scott, Faith had cuts and bruising on her head and face and a chipped tooth. She had extensive bruising on her legs, right arm, and hand. Her skull was also fractured. Though it could not be conclusively determined, Faith was likely sexually assaulted as well. Dr. Scott listed the cause of death as “blunt force trauma to the head due to beating.”
Faith was out dancing at a club the previous night, but her blood-alcohol level was minimal at 0.02, according to the toxicology report. Through a sexual assault kit performed on Faith, the police collected semen, which netted a DNA profile. The Chapel Hill Police believe the DNA belongs to the killer, which assumes that the person who had sex with her, killed her.
On the bed next to Faith, police found a note, which was written on a white bag from the fast-food restaurant, Time-Out. It was written in all caps. It said:
IM [sic] NOT STUPID
DNA from the bag and pen matched DNA from the semen collected. Since the bedroom walls were covered with blood spatter, the killer likely beat Faith to death while she was in her bedroom, which she shared with Karena. Even though police found the note within the crime scene, it did not have any blood on it. Therefore, the killer most likely placed the note onto the bed after he killed Faith.
Since the killer’s DNA was located on the bag and pen, the killer probably did not wear gloves. Yet, with the absence of blood on the note, the killer likely took the time to wash his hands prior to moving the note.
Based on the note’s wording, it appeared that the killer was criticized or disrespected. Jealously was another facet to the note, though depending on how it is read, the jealously could be either felt by the killer, Faith, or possibly Karena. With the formatting, lack of punctuation, and absence of a complete thought, the note appeared similar to song lyrics. Based on the ambiguity of the message, most extrapolations resort to conjecture. Due to its location and DNA match, the note is almost certainly related to the murder, but its context and intent is known only to the killer.
The note’s two most obvious recipients were either Karena or the police. However, the note did not taunt law enforcement or seem to convey any message directed at them. It felt more intimate. The word usage of “stupid” and “jealous” conveyed an angry and personal tone, which tends to support the conclusion that the note was intended for Karena. She was the most likely person to find Faith. The note would seem to indicate that the killing was a consequence of something involving Faith and Karena.
Karena’s ex-boyfriend, Eriq [last name omitted] previously lived with her in the same apartment she shared with Faith. After their relationship deteriorated, he moved out. However, Eriq still wanted to be with Karena. The break-up angered him considerably. During an argument, he allegedly kicked in Karena’s apartment door and pushed her to the floor. After this incident, Faith assisted Karena in obtaining a restraining order against Eriq. In spite of the order, he lived only a few buildings away in the same complex. According to a witness, Eriq told her that he would kill Faith if she got between Karena and him. The police looked closely at Eriq, but he was not deemed a suspect after his DNA failed to match the crime scene DNA.
Both Faith and Karena contacted Brandon shortly before her murder. Both of them may have been interested in him romantically. However, he was also cleared of direct involvement in Faith’s murder via DNA testing.
Jordan, who picked up Karena from her apartment on the morning of the murder, knew Faith was alone, but he was also excluded via the DNA. Jordan took Karena to see Jacob. Jacob claimed to have been at home all night despite phone records indicating his cell phone was near the crime scene area around 4:15 a.m. However, the accuracy of global positioning systems (“GPS”) in phones is far from precise. Without multiple GPS data points identifying Jacob’s location, one ping in that area means little. Jacob was at The Thrill the previous night. He also allegedly made threats against family members in the past. But once again, police cleared him because his DNA did not match the crime scene DNA.
Based on the DNA evidence and her alibi, Karena did not kill Faith, but we do not know the extent of her knowledge regarding what happened. There appeared to be romantic overlap between Faith and Karena pertaining to several men. There is nothing to directly link these entanglements to Faith’s murder, but their presence may be more than coincidental.
Police looked at several other individuals who had contact with Faith at The Thrill nightclub. One individual, Reginald [last name omitted] suspiciously avoided police when they tried to interview him. When law enforcement caught up with him, he claimed that he did not normally cooperate with police. He was also excluded via DNA testing.
On the morning of September 7, 2012 at 1:23 a.m., a friend of Faith’s received a call from Faith’s phone. It went to voicemail. With garbled sound and the absence of anyone talking directly into the phone, it appeared that Faith accidentally triggered her phone to dial. Law enforcement deemed the voicemail undecipherable.
Outside of the official investigation, a company by the name of Creative Forensic Services conducted a forensic audio enhancement of the voicemail. Through some sophisticated analysis, audio experts created an apparent partial transcript of the call.
Per the developed transcript, there appeared to be a physical altercation involving Faith during the voicemail. She can be heard pleading for help and crying out in pain. The sound experts also claimed to hear another female and two males talking. On the transcript, the phrase “I think she’s dying” was listed. Individuals could be heard stating that Faith’s hands were “on fire” and uttering the words “duct tape.” The transcript listed the names Eriq, Rose, and Big Mike. A person rapping could also be heard in the background during the voicemail.
According to the context of transcript, Faith was likely tied up, beaten, raped, and possibly even murdered during the voicemail. However, unless the person was a sociopath, who would be rapping while a woman was being raped and murdered? Further, if the voicemail captured Faith’s murder, at least three people were present when it happened. It is hard to imagine not one of them would turn on the others to save him or herself.
The voicemail contained deteriorated sound and background noise, which required the experts to use sophisticated equipment to enhance some sounds while mitigating others. Did sound experts select words that made sense rather than how they technically sounded? For example, if a person said, “I am sick of eating chicken. I am looking forward to eating some red meat.” If the last word actually sounded like seat, would the sound analysis conclude seat, even though it was nonsensical? Subtle changes to the transcript could take a possibly violent confrontation and turn it into a conversation. Most likely, the voicemail depicted a disagreement or argument between Faith and one or more other individuals. Based on its proximity to her murder, time-wise, it is reasonable to assume there could be a connection. However, since almost every known male who interacted with Faith, even tangentially, has been cleared through DNA, it appears they are not directly connected.
The police believe the recording occurred while in The Thrill, as it was consistent with the timeline, and they believe the background noise was music from the bar. Video surveillance from the bar captured Faith leaving the club seemingly uninjured. Therefore, unless the voicemail’s timestamp was wrong, and there is no evidence of this, the voicemail did not record Faith’s demise.
It is possible one or more individuals close to Faith know more than they have told police. The killer could be someone with one or two degrees of separation from Faith, thus avoiding detection from the police. However, if the perpetrator did not have a direct, personal relationship with Faith, then why did he leave the note demonstrating such anger? So many persons around Faith seemed to act suspiciously, yet the DNA excluded them as the perpetrator.
Chapel Hill averages less than one murder a year, which appears to further support the idea that this was not a random act or botched robbery. The murder was likely directed specifically at Faith or possibly Karena. The circumstances of this case point toward to the killer being someone close to Faith. Persons of interest in this case deceived police regarding their activities on the night of Faith’s murder. Other persons police interviewed downplayed their relationship with Faith and refused to provide DNA samples. However, the police compared the crime scene DNA found against any suspects, persons of interest, or even males who were close to Faith. The police have talked to over 1,800 persons and tested hundreds of men against the DNA. No one matched. The DNA in this case has probably saved at least a few individuals from arrest.
During an episode of 20/20, the company Parabon NanoLabs developed a composite sketch of the alleged perpetrator based on the DNA. This is considered new technology and the accuracy of the extrapolations are questionable at best. Parabon identified the individual as a Latino male, with olive skin, and black hair. The company also generated a mock-up of what the perpetrator would look like, though the generated image likely bears little resemblance to the actual killer, as there are too many variables in play. No one has identified any new suspects based on the perpetrator composite.
In 2008, Eve Carson, another female UNC student, was killed in Chapel Hill. Two strangers pulled her from her house near campus in the middle of the night. They robbed her and later shot her multiple times. In this case, her roommate left her alone for only about three hours and during that time, she vanished. Even though the cause of death differed, the two cases have many similarities. Yet, we know they are unrelated because both of Eve’s perpetrators were in prison at the time of Faith’s murder. If complete strangers could rip a girl from her home in the middle of the night under a narrow window of opportunity, a stranger certainly could have entered Faith’s apartment and killed her as well. Both locations were not easily accessible and appeared to be unlikely places for random killings.
The police only mentioned one DNA profile; therefore, it was likely one killer. Additional individuals could have been present during Faith’s murder, but their role would be undeterminable at this time. Solving this case rests almost solely on the crime scene DNA. Without a match to the DNA, a conviction cannot be achieved, as a failure to match the DNA would constitute reasonable doubt. Those closest to Faith, may know more than they have told law enforcement to-date, but the possibility of a random, stranger killing exists. With so many of Faith’s male acquaintances cleared in this case, the possibility that Faith’s demise may have been nothing more than a negative confluence of events tied to an unrelated killer, continues to climb.
- Blythe, Anne, “Court Documents Unsealed in Search for Faith Hedgepeth’s Killer,” The News & Observer, September 5, 2014.
- Boyle, Louise, “Native American UNC student’s murder remains a mystery one month on as family ‘casts doubt on roommate’s ex-boyfriend,” DailyMail.com, , October 8, 2012.
- Dulaney, Chelsey, “Police profile male suspect in Hedgepeth homicide,” Daily Tarheel, , January 8, 2013.
- Gasparoli, Tom, “The 911 Call Transcript is Here,” Gaspo, July 10, 2014.
- Gasparoli, Tom, “Who Killed Faith Hedgepeth?” The News & Observer, August 18, 2015.
- Gibbs, Tamara, “Autopsy Shows Brutality of Faith Hedgepeth Murder,” ABC11, , September 5, 2014.
- Hensley, Nicole, “Killer of a University of North Carolina student left note next to her body,” Daily News, , September 7, 2014.
- Jensen, Billy, “Losing Faith: The Hedgepeth Murder Mystery at UNC,” Crime Watch Daily, , February 16, 2016.
- Northam, Ran, “The Latest Faith Hedgepeth Murder Investigation Details,” Chapelboro.com, , September 4, 2014.
- Scott, Lauren, “Report of Autopsy Examination: Faith Danielle Hedgepeth,” Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Chapel Hill, NC, September 8, 2012.