Guest Column: One of Manteo’s most brutal murders still cries out for answers

Published 1:19 pm Monday, May 13, 2024

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Editor’s note: John Railey is the author of the new book Murder in Manteo: Seeking Justice for Stacey Stanton. On Thursday, May 16 at 6 p.m. at the College of The Albemarle in Manteo, he will be on a panel on the case with Delia D’Ambra, who grew up in Manteo and created a popular podcast on the case, and Chris Mumma, a defense lawyer from Durham who continues to work on the case. For past coverage of the case, go to

For decades, young women have been coming in growing numbers to the Outer Banks to work. One of them, Elizabeth Stacey Stanton, 28, a beloved resident of Manteo, was found dead in her apartment on Ananias Dare Street on the Saturday afternoon of February 3, 1990. Her neck, right breast and vagina had been brutally slashed, the most horrendous crime in the town since that of Brenda Joyce Holland in 1967, “the Lost Colony murder.”

A rushed investigation, with the tourist season coming on and the Manteo police chief tangling with his governing board, culminated in a rushed charge and conviction in 1991 in Stacey’s case. The questions about Stacey’s case linger to this day. After the conviction, two determined lawyers, Edgar Barnes (now Chief District Court Judge Barnes), who risked his burgeoning law practice in Manteo and, later, Chris Mumma, who had given up her lucrative corporate career to fight for criminal justice in general, sought to answer those questions. Stacey could have been their sister or daughter, a realization that never left the lawyers as they worked the case, having to study her crime scene photos that would forever haunt them.

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She could have been your sister. Or your daughter. She waited tables at the iconic Duchess of Dare in Manteo, charming her patrons with big smiles that belied growing trouble she was experiencing. Even on a tiny island, there are people we think we know but really do not.

Stacey, like so many Outer Bankers, was a transplant, in her case, from South Jersey. Last spring, my wife and I drove up to South Jersey to meet with Stacey’s survivors, who received us warmly. They, too, believe that justice has not been served in Stacey’s case.

The family had long been friends with the late Boyd Midgett of Manteo and his family, and that opened doors for Stacey when she arrived in Manteo in the late 1980s. Stacey did the rest with her warm and welcoming nature.

Stacey’s case took place within a few blocks, taking in the old Green Dolphin pub, the old Dare County courthouse, Stacey’s workplace, her apartment and the rental house of some friends of Stacey’s.

Strong feelings about the case continue to this day.

In writing my book, I drew from the confidential SBI file on the case, hundreds of my own interviews with lawyers, a key suspect and island insiders. Each interview peeled away another layer toward uncovering the hidden truth, often tied to the complexities of race: Stacey was white, and a main suspect was Black.

The problems with the case began with the crime scene, Stacey’s apartment, which was compromised by numerous civilian bystanders tramping through it. The problems continued, with one main suspect, who was white, implicating another, who was Black, and the suspect he’d implicated being illegally moved one night, without a required judicial order, from the Tyrrell County jail to a remote site on Roanoke Island for further questioning.

I reached out in 2023, either in person or through intermediaries, to the key investigators on the case. They declined to be interviewed. Steve Day, the Manteo police chief at the time, had died a decade before. The SBI declined to comment.

In the 34 years since this case began, strong evidence has developed – including recanted testimony and emerging DNA testing – that the suspect convicted in 1991 is innocent. That suspect – sentenced to life but released in 2007 after a new district attorney, the late Frank Parrish, wrote a letter to the parole board requesting his release because of the irregularities in the case – should be exonerated.

On May 16, I will discuss the case with Chris Mumma and Delia D’Ambra, who will bring their own intricate knowledge. Please join us. For more on the event, go to this link.

John Railey can be reached at