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Suspect charged in Bonnie Neighbors' 1972 murder

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SMITHFIELD — A Johnston County family and a retired state investigator who has worked the county’s longest cold case can both breath a sigh of relief. The man who allegedly kidnapped and murdered Bonnie Neighbors was arrested Monday in Bradenton, Florida.

Larry Joe Scott, 65, a former Benson resident, was charged with first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping. Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell said there’s no evidence Neighbors and Scott were acquainted and declined to offer a motive, saying the case is still under investigation.

Scott is being held in Bradenton, awaiting extradiction to Johnston County.

Neighbors disappeared on Dec. 14, 1972, after leaving her home on N.C. 50 to pick up her second-grader, Ken, from school. When Neighbors didn’t show up, school officials called to report she and her 3-month-old son, Glenn, missing.

The search for Neighbors and her baby son was larger than any seen previously in the area. Searchers came from all over the state. Some rode horseback while aircraft including helicopters searched the skies.

The search ended when Neighbors’ body was discovered on a cot in a vacant, concrete migrant housing building off what is now Holly Grove Church Road.

The baby was found huddled beside his mother’s lifeless body. His cheeks were chapped and his diaper full, but authorities at then-Betsy Johnson Memorial Hospital reported he was otherwise unharmed by the below-freezing temperatures.

Bizzell was accompanied by District Attorney Susan Doyle, State Attorney General Josh Stein, SBI Director Bob Schurmeier, and State Crime Lab Director John Byrd.

In the audience was retired investigator Roger Allen, the State Bureau of Investigation agent who was originally assigned the case and has pursued it for nearly half a century. Before the press conference, Allen was heard telling a colleague, “I never thought I’d live to see this day.”

Bizzell said when he called Allen to inform him of the arrest on Monday, Allen cried.

The case was considered closed until Bizzell formed a cold case squad in 2007 and reopened the investigation. While the probe didn’t immediately produce a suspect, it did clear a person of interest.

“I felt we’d be able to ultimately find the killer,” said Bizzell. “Ken Neighbors believed that if we were patient, we’d ultimately make an arrest. But unfortunately, he passed away before this day came.”

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