The long arm of the law reached down to the Gulf Coast to bring a suspect back to Surry County to face charges in the 1992 cold case murder of Nona Cobb.
“The fact that we are here today is a testament to the men and women who did not give up,” Sheriff Steve Hiatt said at a press conference Thursday.
Warren Luther Alexander, 71, was arrested in Diamondhead, Mississippi on March 15 by the local police after detectives from the Surry County Sheriff Criminal Investigation Division along with the NC State Bureau of Investigation flew to Mississippi to interview Alexander.
Surry Detective Mark Ward and SBI Agent Josh Hawks then accompanied Alexander back to North Carolina where he is currently a guest of Sheriff Hiatt with no set bond. Alexander has been charged with murder in the death of Nona Cobb. She was found on the side of Interstate 77 on the morning of July 7, 1992.
“After 30 years, there has finally been an arrest in the murder of Nona Stamey Cobb. Today’s progress proves the power of partnership, persistence, and the potency of DNA,” North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said Thursday in Dobson.
“These cases take uncountable hours. The number of people who have spent their time professionally to try to solve this case is truly impressive and is reflective of their dedication to trying to deliver justice to the family.
“The Surry County Sheriff detectives and the SBI did not give up on Nona’s case. When one lead did not pan out, they went back to the DNA evidence and pursued another. They spent countless hours never giving up, always keeping Nona’s family in their hearts and minds.
AG Stein made it clear to criminals everywhere that Alexander should be an example and a warning, the technology continues to improve. “The case underscores the importance of DNA, that’s why we are working hard to test the thousands of untested sexual assault kits in law enforcement offices around the state, and I appreciate the legislature passing Survivor Act, and appropriating $9 million to outsource all the remaining backlogged kits for testing.”
“With partnership, with persistence, with the power of DNA – we are sending a clear message to the victims and their families that you all matter, and the justice system will not stop fighting for you. To the rapists, no matter how long ago you committed this crime we will not stop coming for you. To the public at large, we will do everything in our power to keep you and your loved ones safe,” Stein said.
In April of 2021, special agents from the SBI’s Cold Case Investigation Unit and investigators from the Surry County Sheriff’s Office returned to the physical evidence in the case which was re-examined to include DNA. While working with Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick, founder of Identifiers International LLC, agents were able to identify Alexander as a suspect in Cobb’s murder using DNA.
Surry County Sheriff Captain Scott Hudson provided additional context for the events surrounding Cobb’s murder. She had last been seen alive by a female witness at the I-85 rest stop in Cleveland County. The witness said she saw Cobb get into a black Peterbilt tractor trailer with a white male. The witness was able to describe the driver.
After having found her body, an autopsy on Cobb determined the cause of death to be strangulation.
In 1992 DNA evidence obtained from swabs of her body along with other items were sent to the lab for testing, “a forensic source of DNA was located among the swabs taken from Cobb and her clothing,” Hudson said.
Intrepid investigators from Surry County Sheriff’s Office and SBI reexamined the case and evidence in 2021. Original DNA evidence was resubmitted for further testing and examination. When asked during the press conference if any new DNA evidence had been uncovered, Hudson replied no, adding, “Through advancements in DNA technology, and investigative techniques, this led to the discovery of a suspect,” and his subsequent arrest in Mississippi.
“This investigation remains ongoing. While this may be an old case, this is a new phase in the investigation because there may be other victims,” he added. “We are asking anyone with info whether a law enforcement agency with an unsolved homicide where a woman’s body was found along the side of the interstate, or someone who may have other info and insight into this. We ask you to contact SBI Hickory Office, or the Surry County Sheriff.”
“With an open investigation, we are always going to continue any investigation to make sure that due diligence is done, and that no stone is left unturned — nothing slips through the cracks,” Det. Ward commented. “From this, we hope other agencies will see this and have similar cases that they will contact us about. This is how this arrest will help. I have already (been contacted) once, and I am not going to discuss that.”
“Hopefully, these calls will come in, and if it’s there it’s there, and if not, we’ll move on to the next one. This is far from over there is a lot of work to be done.”
“We are bringing justice to the family, but more importantly we are bringing justice to Mr. Alexander for what he did,” SBI Director Bob Schurmeier said. “I can tell you standing here, that this cold case illustrates the dedication and determination not just of the men and women of SBI, but the partnerships that we have through this state, with Surry County, and with the nation – the FBI worked this case as well.”
Another open warning to criminal elements, “I can tell you that forensic genealogy for us is a game changer. It is incredible, it helps us connect the dots with people around the country, family members across the country, who help us identify these suspects who think they got away. Science is helping to combine with good law enforcement work to bring justice to so many.
“I want to send a clear message, hear my words: the men and women of the SBI in partnership with sheriff’s’ departments across the state and around the country will seek out justice for the cold cases we have on our books.
“We will work, day and night, to pursue the suspect who think they may have gotten away with it 20, 30, 40 years ago. I want to assure you that we are working hard.
Behind Sheriff Steve Hiatt were active and former members of the sheriff’s office, but many of the people who worked on this cold case could not see the end results of a suspect in chains, and a family who Hiatt said he hopes can find some closure.
Much credit and thanks were offered to the agents, detectives, and officers who have worked this case. It was noted the groundwork done in 1992 lead to the arrest of Alexander with no new leads or evidence, no comfort to those who did not make it to see the case to its end.