DOBSON — Investigators have fielded hundreds of responses since a stepped-up effort began in March to solve the cold-case murder of a 14-year-old girl found dead in Surry County 35 years ago this month.
And Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson said Monday that the probe into the killing of Ronda Mechelle Blaylock has moved to a “fairly critical” stage.
“We’ve made some pretty good progress on it,” Atkinson said.
The renewed effort to bring the murderer to justice was announced on March 30 in conjunction with the formation of the multi-agency Ronda Blaylock Homicide Task Force. It includes the Surry County Sheriff’s Office, Stokes County Sheriff’s Office, N.C. State Bureau of Investigation and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
This occurred after new developments emerged surrounding the case that has languished unsolved since the victim’s body was found on Aug. 29, 1980 on a rural road in the Pilot Mountain area.
Atkinson seemed to hint Monday that a breakthrough in the investigation could be near due to the progress made. “But, we’re at a fairly critical moment, and I just don’t want to say anything other than that the investigation is continuing — but we’ve made some substantial progress.”
Public has responded
Ronda was a student at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem when she disappeared on Aug. 26, 1980. She was walking a friend home after school near Rural Hall Bowling Lanes when they accepted a ride from a stranger driving a blue Chevrolet pickup. Ronda’s friend was dropped off unharmed at the railroad tracks near the intersection of Tuddle Road and Priddy Road and without any indication Ronda was in any danger.
The girl’s parents, Rebecca and Charles Blaylock, desperately attempted to find her when she failed to return home. That evening they reported to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office that their only child was missing.
Three days later, passersby discovered her partially clothed body in a heavily wooded area near Sechrist Loop Road in Surry County, 18 miles from where numerous witnesses in Rural Hall saw Ronda and her friend voluntarily get into the pickup.
A medical examiner indicated that she was viciously assaulted and stabbed to death.
“We feel good about the progress that we’ve made,” Atkinson added Monday. “It’s a very active investigation and we’ve still got folks that are actively working it every day and we’re going to continue that until we bring it to a resolution.”
When the task force was formed, it was hoped modern crime-solving technology, including DNA testing — coupled with old evidence in the case being in “excellent” condition — would serve to bring the killer to justice.
In addition, investigations have sought to generate new information from the public through news reports about the cold case and signs soliciting tips which were placed at area locations such as post offices.
“I’d be scared to put a number on it, but there have been hundreds of bits of information on it,” the sheriff said of people contacting authorities in response.
Some of that information has been more helpful that others, but overall the reaction has been “exactly what we hoped it would be,” Atkinson said.
He said anyone with potentially valuable disclosures is still urged to come forward, even if they think their input might not be useful. Authorities would rather field non-helpful tips rather than taking a chance on a critical tidbit not being received to fill out the big picture, according to Atkinson.
“You don’t know where that final nail in the coffin is going to be,” he said. “But I feel much better about where we are now than I did when we started.”
Atkinson has said the new emphasis on the cold case could prompt someone to come forward with key details they might have withheld for years.
Confidential or anonymous contact with the task force can be made through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the task force hotline (336) 401-8971.
Suspect, vehicle details
Taking into account that his appearance has changed in the years since, eyewitnesses have described the driver of the blue pickup as a white male with a tan, possibly in his late teens or early 20s, tall and weighing 165 pounds.
He had straight brownish hair feathered on the sides and light facial hair. The suspect listened to a rock radio station, and smoked cigarettes. He wore a black T-shirt, faded jeans, white tennis shoes, aviator-style sunglasses and a baseball cap.
Witnesses have said the blue 1970s-model truck was immaculate, except that the passenger-side mirror was missing and the rear tires did not match the front tires. The truck had snow tires on the rear and whitewall tires on the front. The cab had a bench seat.
A CB radio was mounted underneath the middle of the dashboard and the word “Chevrolet” was on the steering wheel. A white camper shell covered the bed of the truck. The vehicle could have been borrowed when the murder occurred or sold afterward.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.