Editor’s note: This story contains graphic descriptions of grisly crimes. Mountain Xpress doesn’t generally report such stories, but we felt that the brutal nature of the crimes, the depth of community concern and the larger issues raised justified doing so in this case. Although much of the material quoted here is public record, we’ve also chosen to omit the names of the living victims and to change other speakers’ names, in order to protect them.
Since Lewis Kyle Wilson‘s arrest last November, rumors have run wild. Charged with brutally assaulting and kidnapping a prostitute, the Asheville resident has also been dubbed by police a “person of interest” in an unsolved 2006 murder and several similar assaults in West Asheville near the French Broad River.
The Asheville Police Department is continuing to investigate the murder and three assault cases, and Wilson is being held on a $115,500 bond. To date, he has not been charged in either the murder or the other two assault cases.
Search warrants obtained by Xpress shine some light on both the details of these cases and on what actions Wilson has—and hasn’t—actually been accused of or connected to at this point.
Arrested Nov. 26, 2008, Wilson, a 31-year-old carpenter, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury with intent to kill and with first-degree kidnapping after a woman said he forced her to perform oral sex and stabbed her in the head on Nov. 19. By her account, she then bit his penis and managed to escape, calling the police from a nearby house. Later that day, the APD searched Wilson’s home at 86-1/2 Craven St. and several adjacent properties, seizing items that included bags of hair, handcuffs, leg irons, guns, saws and a small box of teeth.
On Dec. 8, the APD executed a second search warrant for the same area, identifying Wilson as a “person of interest” in the murder of prostitute Kelly Lane Smith and in the cases of two other prostitutes who’d reported being attacked and raped there in May and August of 2008 respectively. Smith was last seen on July 29, 2006. Some of her dismembered remains were found several days later in two separate locations—both less than a mile from Wilson’s residence. Both women in the assault/rape cases gave a description matching Wilson’s vehicle—a gold/tan-colored, extended-cab pickup with a camper top—and the woman assaulted in the May incident later identified him in a photo lineup.
Meanwhile, the news of Wilson’s arrest has been a bombshell to those who knew him.
“This was someone who came to our parties, was a baby sitter to our children and repaired our houses. It’s wreaked complete havoc on all of us,” says Asheville resident Morgana Davis, who says she’s known Wilson since 1999. “To hear those allegations … there’s a lot of trust issues now, a lot of people questioning themselves.”
What the warrants say
All information in the following timeline comes either from the search warrants or from the APD.
• July 29, 2006: Kelly Lane Smith, a local prostitute, is last seen by her friends.
• July 31, 2006: The APD receives a call from employees at Highwater Clays on Riverside Drive about skeletal remains found in the French Broad River behind the business. Investigation leads to the recovery of a human skull, two tibiae, two kneecaps, a partial left foot and a lower jawbone. According to the warrant, “The remains were clearly dismembered and cut into smaller parts, and most of the teeth were missing from the jaw.”
• Aug. 7, 2006: The APD receives a second call, this time about human remains found in a culvert near the intersection of Roberts and West Haywood streets. A right and a left hand and part of a left arm are recovered. Fingerprinting and DNA analysis reveals that these remains and those found July 31 are Smith’s.
• May 11, 2008: A prostitute is picked up by a white male in a tan, extended-cab pickup. By her account, the man takes her to 64 Craven St., where she is “assaulted and raped both vaginally and anally,” the warrant states. He threatens to cut her throat and throw her body in the river. She manages to escape.
• Aug. 6, 2008: Another prostitute is picked up by a “white male in a gold-colored, extended-cab pickup with a camper top and taken to 68-1/2 Craven St.” According to her statement, she is beaten severely about the face and head. The man knocks her unconscious after she refuses anal sex, then drops her off beside the road after she comes to.
• Nov. 19, 2008: At 12:40 a.m., the APD responds to a call from 16 Brownwood Ave., less than half a mile from Wilson’s residence. Another prostitute, badly injured, says she’s been assaulted and is taken to Mission Hospitals.
The woman and her boyfriend say they were walking from the Aston Park Towers apartments to the Bartlett Arms apartments when they noticed a “gold king-cab truck with matching gold camper shell repeatedly drive by them.” The truck followed them into the Bartlett Arms parking lot and the driver, according to the boyfriend, asked the woman for oral sex. She initially refused, but after further conversation told her boyfriend she would return in a few minutes. The boyfriend later tells police that the driver was a white male, “possible Mexican,” with black hair and a goatee.
The driver then requested oral sex, according to the prostitute’s subsequent emergency-room statement. While she was performing it in the truck, he struck her in the head and drove her to a place she later describes as “being past the Burger Bar, past the storage buildings and in a gravel lot.” He grabbed her by the hair, forcibly removed her from the truck, dragged her to an abandoned RV nearby and forced her to perform oral sex again while he stabbed her in the head. Trying to defend herself, she injured her hands before biting him in the penis.
Escaping, she made her way about a half mile up Waynesville Avenue toward Brownwood Avenue, where she found a house with the porch light on. The owner called the police, who tried to locate the suspect’s vehicle while alerting local hospitals to watch for a white male with an injured penis.
After taking the victim’s statement, the police leave the hospital and begin searching the Craven Street area for the RV and the truck. They first find a gold king-cab pickup that matches her description; further investigation reveals a “blood trail coming from the RV.” The door on the RV is open; it’s empty, but there is “a large amount of blood inside,” as well as “blood on the passenger door of the truck.”
Around 10:25 a.m. the APD obtains a search warrant for Wilson’s residence. Various items are seized during this search, including “two plastic bags of hair, a small box of teeth, knives, saws, guns, handcuffs, leg irons, pornography, computers and cell phones,” according to the second warrant. “Most of the residence is uninhabitable. There is no running water or plumbing, and the interior is gutted of most walls.” Wilson apparently lives in the one room that has heat. “The interior of the house had two open areas in the floor where it appears there has been digging in the dirt foundation. An open crawl space is under the house, and piles of fill dirt are located on the property, along with a burn pit,” the police report notes.
“We will have to wait on the outcome of forensic evidence examination to see if Wilson is actually linked to the death of Kelly Lane Smith. … This forensic examination by the SBI will likely take months or up to a year,” Capt. Tim Splain, head of the APD’s Criminal Investigations Division, tells Xpress in a Jan. 20 e-mail.
• Nov. 22, 2008: APD Detective Paula Barnes interviews a former girlfriend of Wilson’s, who says that during her relationship with him, she “was physically and sexually assaulted on a number of occasions” and subsequently filed a domestic-violence order. “This man is so dangerous,” she tells Barnes, adding that she’s still afraid of Wilson.
• Nov. 26, 2008: Wilson is arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury with intent to kill and first-degree kidnapping in connection with the Nov. 19 attack. He’s also charged with possession of marijuana and psilocybin with intent to sell, possession of drug paraphernalia, and maintaining a house resorted to by persons using a controlled substance.
• Dec. 2, 2008: The prostitute attacked on May 11 identifies Wilson as her rapist in a photo lineup. The prostitute assaulted in August now lives out of state, the warrant reports.
• Dec. 8, 2008: The APD obtains a second search warrant for Wilson’s residence, two adjacent houses and adjoining vacant lots. All these properties are owned by Wilson’s mother, who lives in Chapel Hill; he is responsible for maintaining them.
This warrant identifies Wilson as a “person of interest” in the Kelly Lane Smith murder and the May and August assaults. It also requests the use of cadaver dogs “and, if needed, forensic methods to better examine [these properties] for any possible human remains or blood that may be present.”
The police seize a plastic bag containing a strand of hair and pins, old U.S. coins, foreign coins, a cassette recorder and tape, a digital recorder, film, a flash, a memory card, books, a photo album, a calendar, a wooden box, notebooks and “miscellaneous papers.”
In the wake of these events, many questions remain.
Why didn’t the APD search Wilson’s residence or arrest him after the May and August assaults when, according to the search warrants, the two victims identified both his vehicle and his address.
According to Splain, both victims gave the APD “fragmented information that did not lead investigators to identify Lewis Kyle Wilson as the suspect.” It was only after the November attack “that investigators were able to backtrack and link the past reports” to Wilson, he explains.
The woman attacked in May, adds Splain, declined to “pursue criminal charges in her assault. … She has also been charged a number of times since her report with prostitution and panhandling.”
Meanwhile, the victim in the August attack “is living out of state and refuses to pursue criminal charges in her case also. … She has outstanding warrants for prostitution and larceny.”
Prostitutes are particularly vulnerable to violent crime—and due to the illegal nature of their work, they’re often reluctant to talk to the police.
“It is very difficult to convince a person engaged in the crime of prostitution to willingly aid law enforcement,” notes Splain. “Most have already experienced the doubt and embarrassment that comes with testifying in court … especially in regard to sex offenses. Despite their victim status, their credibility is constantly questioned. Our APD vice investigators and patrol officers regularly arrest the prostitutes, but also serve as a contact and adviser for them … helping them receive assistance and services they may need. Most of the women will report crimes to let us know about what is happening in the street, but they are reluctant to follow through or pursue prosecution.”
Furthermore, says Splain, “Their logic is not what ‘we’ identify with. Most of the prostitute population are substance abusers, are currently or have been wanted by law enforcement, have a variety of mental issues and an unstable home environment. We look at what they do through ‘our’ lens. … They view the world and their actions through a different perspective.”
Davis, meanwhile, who’s known Wilson for nearly a decade, recalls that he always seemed “generous; he seemed nice. Maybe there was something that seemed off, but that may just be looking back on it now. He seemed maybe too eager to help, like he was trying to be someone who he wasn’t.”
And since Wilson’s arrest, she says, “It’s been complete mayhem among our group of friends. For me it brought up a lot of anger, because prostitutes as a population are such targets, because they’re viewed as lesser. It’s going to take a long time to process.”
But another acquaintance, “John,” who says he knew Wilson for several years, has a radically different impression.
“I absolutely believe [Wilson is] capable of committing these horrific crimes,” says “John.” “I am convinced he’s a sociopath. He’s violent, has no regard for his own safety or the safety of those around him, and barely understands right and wrong. He’s a liar and has run several fraud schemes. Yet no matter what he does, he always thinks of himself as a victim.”
“Lois,” who dated Wilson briefly, says, “A large part of the reason I was attracted to him was that he seemed so respected in the community. … He seemed like a cool guy. He was really nice; he told me a lot of things I wanted to hear.”
After the allegations emerged, however, she recalled: “He was very active in the community: He employed people, he was around in many, many different areas. It seems strange that no one noticed anything. After this all came out, the odd thing to me was that most people didn’t seem that surprised. It seemed like a lot of them knew he was off, but he was still this respected member of the community.”
“Lois” also says she found out later that “There were inconsistencies in his stories. He claimed this one girl was his close friend. Then it turns out she barely knew him.”
“Lois” also says she’s taken a lesson from the case. “Look, I understand no one wants to be the bad guy, but I wish someone had told me that there was word he’d abused his girlfriend: Instead, all I heard was what a great guy he was.
“It’s great that we’ve got this open-minded place where people are accepted for who they are, but we have to be careful not to let tolerance stand in the way of protecting the community. People need to tell others what they know.”
To view the search warrants in the Lewis Kyle Wilson case, go to www.mountainx.com/xpressfiles.