Mother was found shot to death at Pine Cliffs outside Havelock

”Someplace out there, somebody is going to burn in hell some day.”

Such are the sentiments of Joe Tajc,stepfather of Amelia Betts, a woman brutally murdered a year ago at the Pine Cliff Recreation Area.

The body of Betts, a Cherry Point veteran and the mother of a 10-year-old girl, was found near the restroom facilities by a man walking his dog at the Pine Cliff Recreation Area near Havelock on March 21, 2016.

The 34-year-old single woman had been shot six times with a 9-mm pistol and was left lying face-down on the ground. Her car was in the gravel parking lot nearby.

The fatal wound had been to the right side of her head, an autopsy report would later state, but she had also been shot in the chest, shoulder, elbow, hip and side. Seven bullet casings were found at the scene.

It was 8:13 a.m. on March 21, 2016, when the walker found her. Thirteen hours earlier she had been alive, leaving the Kangaroo convenience store on East Main Street in Havelock at the end of her work shift. Twelve hours earlier, at 8 p.m. she was to pick up her 10-year-old daughter from her ex-husband’s house, but she never arrived.

One year later her death remains a mystery. If suspects or a motive are known, investigators aren’t revealing them. They don’t want to hinder the investigation.

“It’s an ongoing murder investigation,” said Capt. John Whitfield of the Craven County Sheriff’s Office. “There are a lot of agencies that are cooperating with our investigation.”

One of the mysteries is that Betts was not known to be connected in any way with a lifestyle that would likely lead to such a death.

A toxicology report cleared her of any alcohol in her system, and she was found fully clothed. The only items removed from her body were a cell phone, keys, and a bottle of allergy relief pills. According to Tajc, “The cops said Amelia had a really simple, clean life. They couldn’t detect anything which she would have been involved with.”

Along with sheriff’s investigators, Tajc, who lives in Tucson where Betts grew up, came to the area after her death to try to make sense of the crime and to seek closure.

“Everyone said that she’d had a really good day,” he said.

She was to drive east to Newport to pick up her daughter from her ex-husband.

“She had an acrimonious relationship with her ex,” Tajc said. “If she was going to be late, she had to call him; if she was going to be early she had to call him.”

She didn’t call him. She also didn’t head east. Instead she ended up west, at Pine Cliff Recreation Area. Around 7:20 p.m. someone in the Cherry Branch subdivision nearby heard gunshots.

“It still doesn’t make sense,” Tajc said, “that she went all the way to the park to sit there a couple of minutes then drive all the way to Newport.”

Tajc, who became Betts’ stepfather when she was age 6, said he has tried to figure his way through the puzzle. There were no recent calls on her phone. Had she gone home to grab something and gotten stopped? Had she received a call at work that lured her to the spot? “You speculate all day long,” he said. “It’s easy: We watch cop shows all day long. You dream up all kinds of scenarios.”

Betts grew up in Tucson before joining the Marine Corps. She served at Camp Lejeune before moving on to the base at Cherry Point where she was a Integrated Maintenance Management System clerk. She married — “they were too young,” her stepfather suggests — and divorced. When she left the military, she elected to stay in the Havelock area so that her daughter’s custody could be shared between herself and her ex-husband.

Denise Cornwall, who knew Betts before she started work at Kangaroo when she worked for Dunkin Donuts in Havelock, said she knew Betts for a short time and remembered that “she seemed to be a great mother.”

Betts’ Facebook posts seem to center around her child. Her obituary at Munden Funeral Home described her as “a caring and loving mother who cherished every moment that she shared with her beautiful daughter.”

Tajc said she and her exhusband had grown closer over the years as well, “now that they understand each other better.

“She was a tough, independent girl,” he said, but she was also “very sweet ... (a) very bright, inquisitive girl that everybody liked.”

He added that she had a temper. “Her morals were sraight-up, and if you did something dishonest she was pissed.”

In March, 2016, he told the Havelock News, “She was an average student but with an insatiable curiosity and great sense of humor. She had many friends and was somehow always the center of attention.”

Betts’ husband was cooperative in the investigation, and investigators said there was no record of hostility between the two. More than 50 people were interviewed during early stages of the investigation, along with searches of Betts’ home and car and the area where her body was found.

“It’s frustrating when you don’t have a quick answer to cases,” Whitfield said when interviewed about the case in July 2016. “But cases don’t always have quick answers.”

As the one-year anniversary of her death rolls around, that fact is made only more clear.

Tajc is convinced the answer is out there, waiting to be seen and undestood.

“There’s something right in front of everybody,” he guessed, “some innocuous little thing.”

He said he is satisifed with the work that Lt. Dan Garden, the sheriff’s office investigaor in charge of the case, is doing. “He’s done as much as he can,” he said. “I think he’s been working hard at it.”

He prays that his daughter’s killer will be found and will spend the rest of his life in prison.

“I was really looking forward to what could be,” he said of his relationship with his stepdaughter. “Her mother’s been crushed for a year and has had one hell of a time. I hope we get answers someday.”

The sheriff’s office is still seeking help and any advice in the investigation. Anyone with information can call Whitfield at 636-6646.