Serving Kenly, Selma, Smithfield, Princeton & Pine Level since 1973

Autopsy can’t explain woman’s death

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.

A Johnston County Sheriff's Office investigator spreads crime scene tape in the backyard of a Harper Street home on Dec. 31. Authorities say the body of a missing 71-year-old woman was discovered there in a shallow grave.
A Johnston County Sheriff's Office investigator spreads crime scene tape in the backyard of a Harper Street home on Dec. 31. Authorities say the body of a missing 71-year-old woman was discovered there in a shallow grave.
Drew C. WIlson | Times file photo

A state medical examiner couldn’t determine how a 71-year-old woman died after her body was discovered in a shallow grave behind a Wilson home in December.

Kathy Thomas had been missing since late November from her home outside Kenly. While her autopsy report concluded that she had no traumatic injuries, Thomas’ body was moderately decomposed.

Thomas’ official cause of death was ruled undetermined, according the state autopsy.

Johnston County sheriff’s deputies arrested and charged 51-year-old Kenneth Wayne Lamm in connection to Thomas’ death the day before her body was found on Dec. 13.

Lamm is a convicted rapist and registered sex offender in North Carolina.

Lamm told detectives he buried Thomas in his backyard after finding her dead in her own bathtub, according to her autopsy report. He allegedly told investigators he didn’t know what to do, and removed her body from her N.C. 222 West home and buried her behind the Harper Street home.

A sexual assault test was performed, according to evidence preserved during her autopsy.

Lamm’s criminal history spans three decades, including two convictions of second-degree rape, two convictions of committing a second-degree sex offense, committing a felony crime against nature and various property crimes, most which were in Wake County, according to N.C. Department of Public Safety records.

Lamm served less than half of a 50-year-sentence when he was convicted of sexual offense and rape charges in 1994. He was released in April 2012.


Investigators have said Lamm stayed at the Harper Street home often with his then-girlfriend. The sex offender registry listed an Althorp Drive address in Wilson as Lamm’s home.

Authorities issued a search warrant at the Althorp Drive home where they seized purple latex gloves and four articles of clothing with “suspected bleach,” according to an inventory list attached to his search warrant.

Lamm also allegedly told detectives in an interview that he had been with Thomas on Nov. 24 — a day after her sister last heard from her, according to the search warrant.

He also claimed he had “sexual intercourse with Thomas that day at her residence,” the search warrant states. It’s unclear how Lamm and Thomas knew each other.


Johnston County sheriff’s deputies conducted a welfare check at Thomas’ home after she was reported missing on Nov. 30. Her doors were unlocked. Clothes were in washing machine filled with water, but hadn’t been washed, according to a search warrant. Thomas’ vehicle was also in the driveway with four flat tires, court documents indicate.

Thomas’ neighbor, who called authorities requesting they check on her welfare, told officials Thomas would always let someone know if she was going away for a long time. She also said Thomas would have never left her cat alone if she were traveling, according to court documents.


In January 2013, former Wilson insurance agent Bonnie Smith accused Lamm of breaking into her home and sexually assaulting her. She reported the incident to Wilson police. But several days later, detectives charged Smith with filing a false police report. That charge was dismissed in November 2014.

In a 2013 interview with The Wilson Times, Smith said she let her dog outside on the night of Jan. 2, 2013, and left her front door closed but unlocked.

When she walked into her bedroom, Smith said a man rushed out of her bathroom, threw a blanket over her head and grabbed her. Smith said the man bound her legs and arms and placed duct tape over her face. She said he sexually assaulted her and threw her into a bathtub filled with scalding water. Smith said she started fighting with everything she had.

The man told her to lock herself in the bathroom and wait a half hour before calling police so he could make his getaway, Smith said.

She previously said she waited a few moments and opened the bathroom window, then went outside. Smith ran to a neighbor’s house and frantically rang the doorbell. But no one answered. That’s when she ran to the next house and alerted a neighbor, who let her call 911, Smith previously said.

Later, Smith said, she noticed cash from her pocketbook and several other items missing from the home.

After she reported the alleged incident, Smith said that Lamm approached police claiming to be her boyfriend, according to a previous interview. Smith said that was untrue and that she only learned of the man’s name after police turned the case over to her attorney during pretrial discovery after she was charged.

She said she didn’t know the man she accused of attacking her, but she recognized him as a man who had previously approached her at her home and offered to cut her grass.

Lamm was never charged in connection to the alleged sexual assault, nor was he considered a suspect. Police said at the time they investigated Smith’s claims thoroughly and found them to be false.