Between 1988 and 1993 I was the Program Coordinator for Centerplace for the Homeless in Columbia, S.C. Centerplace had multiple agencies under one roof and helped serve the needs of thousands of homeless people per year. Circa 1992 I had a client named Celeste (names have been changed for my own protection in this instance). She was 21 years old, recently married, and had a baby. She wanted to talk to me one afternoon and by the time I went to the waiting room area to bring her into my office she was gone. About two weeks later I was watching the evening news and saw where law enforcement in another county had discovered the body of a young woman face down by a large lake. I had a gut feeling she was “one of ours.” By the following day the body had been identified via dental records as Celeste! I contacted the detective working the case in the other county and met with him and his partner off and on for weeks as they worked her case. They basically reached a dead end, but I had suspicions of my own and never forgot about Celeste’s murder. The following year a 14 year old was placed in my office by her juvenile court officer for volunteer work. One day as I was warning her about the dangers of being a young woman trying to live on the streets and mentioned Celeste’s murder, the 14 year old piped up and said, “Oh, Celeste Adams-Smith?” I said, “Yes.” The 14 year old continued, “Oh, Samantha I KNOW who killed Celeste, but he’s dead now too.” I had the 14 year old explain more to me and she told a story no 14 year old should have ever been a witness to – of a young man named “Boo” who was paid $2,000.00 or $3,000.00 by Celeste’s own father to kill his daughter. The 14 year old was a witness after the fact – observing “Boo” arrive back to a friend’s home soaked in blood and recounting the night’s events. As I listened in shock and horror, the 14 year old casually said, “But, Boo got killed in a drive by and he’s gone now.” I asked the 14 year old if she would explain what she had just told me to law enforcement. Since she was under-age her mother had to give permission for her to do so. Law enforcement later shared with me that the mother refused to allow the child to testify, etc. and the case was dropped again.
I know why Celeste’s father paid Boo to have her killed. Her father had been molesting her for years – even into adulthood. Her baby was not her new husband’s baby, but her father’s baby. Before DNA evidence became available it was not so easy to prove a case like this one. Celeste had threatened to finally tell on her father. She wanted to move on with her life with her young husband. Her father knew that DNA testing would prove he had impregnated his daughter. Celeste lost her life due to chronic sexual abuse. She lost her life because she wanted to be free from it and was ready to speak her truth. Her father was never charged or arrested.
In 1994 I was no longer working at Centerplace, was working another job and had stopped to get gas on my way home.. A handsome man stepped out of a faded Camaro and looked me up and down. He said, “You look like a little baby doll. Would you like to help celebrate my birthday?” I shook my head and said, “No, thank you.” I walked in to the store to pay for my gas. I told the young female clerk, “If that man in the Camaro walks in here and asks you to help celebrate his birthday tonight, please don’t go with him. You might not make it home alive.” I walked back to my car and the handsome man smiled at me and winked. I got in my car and locked the door. The handsome man wanting to celebrate his birthday was Celeste’s father. As far as I know he is still walking around a free man in South Carolina. I will never, ever forget Celeste. Her story will always haunt me.
Next week I will share another story. In the meantime, if you or someone you know needs to talk about a recent rape or sexual assault, or sexual abuse as a child, call The Family Violence Crisis Line at: (828) 682-0056. You do not have to press legal charges, but it is never too late to be heard. We can heal from sexual violence. In the State of North Carolina we are all mandated reporters of suspected or known child abuse and neglect. Call Yancey County DSS to report sexual abuse of a child: (828) 682-2470. After hours, weekends, or holidays, call the Yancey County Sheriff’s Department at (828) 682-2124 for the DSS on-call CPS Social Worker.
Samantha L. Phipps, executive director
FVC of Yancey County, Inc.