This story was first published in the Border Belt Independent .
Mandy Chardoudi was sitting in a Robeson County courtroom over the summer when she heard for the first time a chilling detail about the murder of her mother, Pamela Roberts.
A Lumberton police officer dropped off Timmy Ledwell, who had been found lying drunk in the street near a bowling alley, at Roberts’ home before dawn on Nov. 17, 2018.
The officer, William V. Cummings, said in a prepared statement four days later that Ledwell had directed him to the home on McPhail Road. Instead of escorting Ledwell to the door to find out if he was welcome there, Cummings said he pulled away in his patrol car as Ledwell stood at a door at the side of the house.
About an hour later, 59-year-old Roberts was dead, stabbed seven times in a small bathroom where she had retreated in hopes of escaping Ledwell, her ex-boyfriend.
“I was completely shocked,” Chardoudi told Border Belt Independent. “I knew if (the officer) had done something different, my mother would still be here.”
After a four-week trial, a jury found Ledwell, 52, guilty of first-degree murder on July 22 and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The verdict was a relief to Chardoudi. But her outrage toward police intensified when she learned about Angie Little, who was attacked by Ledwell 17 years ago under eerily similar circumstances.
At Ledwell’s request during an interaction with police, a Lumberton officer drove him to Little’s home one day in September 2005. The pair had dated on and off, but their relationship had ended.
When Little realized that Ledwell had arrived, she called police to retrieve him. He then rode a bicycle back to her home, kicked in the front door and stabbed her more than 20 times in front of her children.
“My oldest daughter forced him off of me,” said Little, now 48.
As part of a plea deal, Ledwell served more than 10 years in prison for the attack and was released in March 2017 — 20 months before Roberts’ death.
Little attended Ledwell’s trial in the Roberts case, sitting through long days of witness testimony and legal wranglings before she took the stand to tell her own story.
Inside the courtroom, Chardoudi and Little struck up a friendship. They talked about the trauma one man had inflicted on both their families. And they bonded over their anger toward a system that they say failed them and their loved ones.
“Immediately we just formed a connection,” Chardoudi, 42, said.
Now, Chardoudi says she wants police to implement policies to prevent officers from taking people to homes without checking whether they live there and ensuring the safety of those inside.
Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeill told the Border Belt Independent this fall that he did not recall the circumstances surrounding Roberts’ death. He did not respond to a follow-up email and could not be reached for further information, including whether Cummings, the officer who took Ledwell to Roberts’ home, was disciplined.
McNeill, who has served for 15 years as police chief of the southeastern North Carolina city, said Lumberton officers typically don’t transport people who aren’t under arrest.
“If we transport anybody and for whatever reason,” he said, “we check them out to make sure they don’t have any warrants on them. … It’s a bad idea to drop anybody off if you don’t know more about them.”
In North Carolina, new police officers undergo training for dealing with people who are publicly intoxicated, said Nazneen Ahmed, a spokesman for Attorney General Josh Stein’s office. Options include taking someone to a health care facility or shelter, his or her home, or the home “of another person who is willing to accept them.”
“Law enforcement officers are often called upon to deal with persons in mental health and medical crises, particularly when social services in their community are underfunded and overburdened,” Ahmed said in an email. “Officers use their best judgment to involve EMS and hospital facilities, family and friends, and social services to meet the needs of the person in crisis.”
Two lieutenants with the Lumberton Police Department were preparing for the town’s annual Christmas parade at about 3:45 a.m. on Nov. 17, 2018, when they found Ledwell lying “partially in the roadway and partially on the curbing” on Godwin Avenue, according to court records.
Lt. Vernon Johnson noticed a strong smell of alcohol and a hospital band on Ledwell’s left wrist, records show.
“His eyes were glassy and his speech was slurred,” Johnson and Lt. Mike Smith said in a statement that became part of the trial record.
Worried that Ledwell might get hit by a car, Johnson asked the watch commander if another officer was available to take Ledwell home. In court records, Cummings said the commander told him to take Ledwell “to an address somewhere off of 7th St., unsure of exact location.”
“Mr. Ledwell also stated that he had just left the hospital, but did not state why and also stated that he had been drinking almost the entire evening,” Cummings said.
The officer said he patted Ledwell down to check for weapons but didn’t search the backpack he was carrying. Ledwell then gave Cummings turn-by-turn directions to the home on McPhail Road.
“Mr. Ledwell stated to me that he has lived at this residence with a family member, but did not say who,” Cummings said.
Damien McLean, chief deputy of the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated Roberts’ murder, said deputies had responded to alarm calls at the home several times between 2010 and 2018. A breaking and entering was also reported there.
Roberts did not have a domestic violence prevention order against Ledwell, McLean said.
‘She was trying to leave’
Chardoudi believes her mother was being abused.
After Roberts’ death, Chardoudi said, a notebook was found in the house with information about domestic violence shelters and airline flights.
“She was trying to leave,” she said, “and (Ledwell) was just not going to let her leave.”
Chardoudi said her mother first met Ledwell while visiting Robeson County with a friend. She suspected Roberts, who had struggled with an addiction to prescription pills, was using drugs again.
When she was 11, Chardoudi said, Roberts left her and her two younger siblings alone in the house during a four-day drug binge, leaving them with nothing but instant noodles to eat.
A few years later, in 1994, the family moved from Norfolk, Virginia, to Charlotte when Roberts’ boyfriend got a job with a construction crew that built the Carolina Panthers’ football stadium, Chardoudi said.
Roberts might not have always been the best mother, but when Chardoudi started a family of her own, she embraced being a grandmother.
Life was “normal” for a while, according to Chardoudi. But in 2015, Roberts unexpectedly left her boyfriend of 20 years, cut ties with her family and quit her job at a cafe. She began couch surfing at friends’ homes, including in Lumberton.
“It was gypsy-like behavior,” Chardoudi said. “She didn’t really have a place. Wherever the wind would take her.”
The last time Chardoudi saw her mom was Christmas 2015, but Roberts would sometimes reach out to ask for money. In 2017, Chardoudi said, she got a text message from her mom saying she wanted to go home to Charlotte. Roberts said she and Ledwell were living in her truck that they parked at a Lumberton car wash.
As a single mother, Chardoudi said she didn’t want to expose her kids to drug use. She told her mother she could not stay with her.
Roberts moved in with her boss from a local barbecue restaurant where she was working, Chardoudi said — a one-story white home with a large yard on McPhail Road, just outside Lumberton city limits. She said Ledwell stayed there for a couple of weeks before he and Roberts broke up.
Roberts was sleeping when Ledwell arrived that November morning, Chardoudi said. Her housemate opened the door to Ledwell, who said he wanted to pick up his clothes that were in storage bins. Then he asked for some family photos that were there.
“Mom said, ‘Do we have to do this at 4 in the morning?’” Chardoudi said, recalling details she learned from the trial. “That’s when Timmy lost it.”
Ledwell grabbed a knife from the kitchen and broke through Roberts’ bedroom door, according to Chardoudi. Then he busted through the bathroom door where Roberts was hiding.
“There’s no way she could have gotten away,” Chardoudi said. “There was nowhere for her to go.”
Paramedics attempted CPR, she said, but her mother was gone.
The 2005 attack
Little said she dated Ledwell on and off in the early 2000s after her marriage ended. At first, she said, he was kind to her and became close with her four children.
“There’s nothing bad I could say about Timmy in the beginning,” Little said, “but he just had a habit of going back and forth to prison.”
Ledwell began using crack cocaine when they moved in together, according to Little. Eventually, she cut him out of her life.
But after another stint behind bars, Ledwell reached out again in 2005. Little said she was dating someone new, but she allowed Ledwell to visit with her daughters in the backyard.
The next day, she said, Ledwell called repeatedly.
“I said, ‘Look Timmy, I’m with someone. I don’t want any contact with you,’” Little recalled. “He said, ‘How are you going to keep me from the kids?’ It was just one thing after another and so much that was said on the phone that night.”
When Ledwell later showed up for the second time that day, on a bicycle at 5 a.m., the sound of him busting through the front door was deafening, Little said. One of her daughters, who was eating a Mr. P’s pizza on the couch, ran to the hallway and watched the violence unfold.
Little managed to escape to a neighbor’s home. She said a police officer likely saved her life by tending to a deep wound on her arm, one of many inflicted by Ledwell.
“I was bleeding to death,” she said.
Since Ledwell took a plea deal following the attack, Little never got to tell her story in court.
But over the summer, she traveled from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, 80 miles south of Lumberton, to the Robeson County Courthouse to finally recount the details of that harrowing day.
Little said she wanted justice for herself. But she also wanted to speak for Roberts, a woman she had never met but seemed to understand on a level unknown to others.
“It was like it was my story, but I was her voice,” Little said. “I was the voice for her.”
Fighting for justice
Chardoudi isn’t done seeking justice for her mom. She said she has reached out to dozens of attorneys along the East Coast to ask about potential legal action against the Lumberton Police Department. They say too much time has passed, according to Chardoudi — a frustrating response since she didn’t know until the trial this summer that an officer had dropped Ledwell off at her mother’s home.
In court records, Ledwell’s attorney, William H. Dowdy, said he too wasn’t immediately aware of some of the details prior to Roberts’ death.
He said he did not receive the reports outlining the actions of Cummings, who now works as a detective for the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, and the two Lumberton police lieutenants until five days before the initial trial date. If he had known earlier, Howdy said in court records, he could have prepared a defense of voluntary intoxication.
Howdy declined to speak about the case to the Border Belt Independent, citing a pending appeal.
Meanwhile, months after the trial, Chardoudi and Little stay in touch, and hope to visit each other soon.
“At the end of the day, Mandy’s mom’s story is identical to my story. Except her mom died, she lost her mom and her kids didn’t,” Little said.
Chardoudi says she doesn’t know how she would have made it through the trial without Little by her side.
“It’s a friendship that will always be there,” she said. “This is something out of a bad movie. Who bonds over that? It seems so far-fetched, but it happened.
“It’s one of the positive things that came out of it. I feel like I have a sister, an extension of my family.”
Sarah Nagem is a former News & Observer reporter, columnist and editor who is now the editor of Border Belt Independent. Follow her on Twitter at @sarah_nagem.