1.12 Darryl Hunt Pt.1

In episode 12 of Bow to Fate we discuss part one of the wrongful convictions of Darryl Hunt.  Darryl was convicted of the rape and murder of Deborah Sykes on August 10th, 1984.  He was also convicted for the murder of Arthur Wilson on September 17th, 1983.  Both of these convictions were eventually overturned and Darryl Hunt was released from prison.  Darryl Hunt became the face of the racial injustice movement in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  This is a two part episode so be sure to join us next time for the final segment.   If you enjoy this episode please visit our website bowtofate.com to stay up to date with current events and episodes.


Hello and thanks for listening to Bow to Fate- a podcast focusing on true crime with an emphasis on the flaws in our justice system.  This episode we are going to talk about Darryl Hunt.  He was convicted of the rape and murder of a white woman, Deborah Sykes that happened on on August 10th, 1984 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  This case is credited with exposing the racial inequality in Winston-Salem and brought a lot of attention to the area.  

Deborah Sykes was working for the Winston-Salem Sentinel at the time of her murder on the morning of August 10th, 1984 she did not show up to at 6am for her shift as a copy editor.  While she and her husband had just moved to Winston-Salem 5 weeks either, she had already established a reputation of a reliable employee.  By 7am her co-workers were worried enough to start looking for her.  They called her husband, Doug.  He checked to make sure her car was gone from the driveway.

Because they were still in the middle of the move from their home in Tennessee to Winston-Salem, Deborah was staying with her mother, while Doug wrapped up the financial side of the move in Tennessee.  That week however, they were staying with Doug’s parents home in North Carolina.  Doug and Deborah had been high school sweethearts, and the phone call worried him.  He called his sister who worked for the police department to find out if there had been any accidents and then decided to head to Winston-Salem.  They had plans to meet after work to close on their new home, so he thought he would go there, see that she was fine and then kill a few hours until the closing.  

While Doug was driving to Winston-Salem, Deborah’s co-workers had found her car, parked in the usual spot about two blocks from the paper.  It was a popular area to park, situated between the street and the tall grass of the neighboring park.  Her co-worker’s feared that she was accosted at the back door of the building.  They searched the area and the building itself in hopes of finding her.  When they came up empty they called the police again.  

It was around 11am when Doug Sykes arrived in Winston Salem.  He saw Deb’s car parked in her usual spot and breathed a sigh of relief, she had arrived.  He walked to the Sentinel, but when he arrived Deb was not at her desk.  Deb’s manager brought Doug into his office while they awaited any word on Deb.  Co-workers had searched the two block stretch from Deb’s car to the Sentinel building but found nothing.  It was not until after 1pm that a factory worker on his lunch break discovered Deb’s body, just off the path situated in the undergrowth of the neighboring park.  Deborah Sykes had been found raped and stabbed 16 times, she was just 25 years old.  

Listen to Fred Flagler Deborah Sykes Editor describe the day from the documentary the Trials’ of Darryl Hunt: 

-01. Fred Flagler TofDH

The Winston-Salem police department has been heavily criticized for the Sykes case.  At 6:53 on the morning of the murder, a 911 call was received by a gentlemen calling himself Sammy Mitchell.  The caller reported an incident stating “I just seen a lady with some guy jumping on her down here”  There was confusion on where exactly the caller was, back and forth between the caller and dispatcher.  Finally the dispatcher sent a care to Claremont Avenue about 2 miles from the scene of the attack.  The caller urged the police to come quickly stating “I think somebody ought to go see because she was hollering pretty hard.”  

When the officer arrived on Claremont Avenue, he found nothing out of the ordinary and went on with his day.  After the body was discovered around 1:30pm that day they tried to make up for lost time, they sent almost every detective they had to the crime scene and to the paper to collect names.  When news of the murder broke, two witnesses came forward.  At 6:20AM the morning of the murder, William Hooper was heading in to work at the local Hanes plant and he saw a white woman walking along the sidewalk with two black men.  One man shook his fist at her while the other kissed her.  Mr. Hooper would later say that he did not think that she was in any trouble, he just thought that she was a white woman “gone bad.”  

Trailing behind Hooper by a quarter hour, Thomas Murphy was also on his way into the Hanes plant, he slowed down when he saw Deb, a woman he had seen before, walking along the road with a black man.  He wrote in a police statement that the black man had his arm around her shoulder and they were walking along holding each other like they were drunk, about 100 feet down the road he saw another black male walking in the same direction.  Murphy was sure that the woman was not struggling and she was not calling out for help.  

Soon after the discovery of the body, police tied the 911 call to the murder.  Some of the officers recognized the name the caller gave, Sammy Mitchell.  Sammy was not a stranger to trouble with the law, but when police went looking they came in contact with Darryl Hunt first.  The mistakenly believed that Hunt was Mitchell’s brother, because they had been tied to the hip for so long.  They asked Hunt about the 911 call and he told them that Mitchell had not made the call and had been with him all morning, for the time being that had sufficed.  They moved on to other endeavors. 

William Hooper recognized Sykes picture from the newspaper, but was unable to ever identify the two men from any of the photo or live line-ups.  He never identified Darryl Hunt as one of the two men he saw that morning and he ended up being a witness for the defense in the trial of Darryl Hunt.  It was suspected that William Hooper never believed that Darryl Hunt was one of the men he saw with Deborah Sykes the morning of her murder.  

Thomas Murphy was able to identify Darryl Hunt as the man he saw, but first he went on stakeout with police at the crime scene.  He spent hours with detectives reviewing photos and driving around town to see if he could recognize the men he saw.  He was not asked to make a written statement until two weeks after the incident.  

Twelve days after the murder, the police finally learned that the caller was really a man by the name of Johnny Gray, he gave the dispatcher a false name because he didn’t want to be involved in the case, but his conscience got the better of him when he was at a bus station and saw who he thought was the attacker.  He ran to the nearest police office and identified himself as the 911 caller, he directed police to a man he saw at the bus station.  Police took Terry Thomas off a city bus and searched him.  They found a small amount of marijuana in his possession, not much but enough to bring him in for questioning.   

On August 22nd, 1984 detectives had their first real suspect in custody.  Terry Thomas sat in an interrogation room, while detectives took a statement from Johnny Gray.  Gray relayed his perception of the events that had conspired on August 10th and told detectives that he was sure that the man in the interrogation room across the hall from him was the man he saw attack Deborah Sykes.  He told police that he would gladly be their only eye witness and testify to the fact that Thomas raped and murdered Deborah Sykes on the morning of August 10th.  

When detectives entered Terry Thomas’ interrogation room they felt fairly confident that they had their man, unfortunately that confidence would soon fade.  When Thomas learned why they were questioning him he had a rock solid alibi.  On August 10th Terry Thomas was in jail.  After checking the records, they were back at square one. 

Over the course of the investigation, police would give Johnny Gray 3 separate polygraph tests.  He only showed deception on two of the questions in all the tests he had been given.  When Gray said that he did not recognize the assailant on top of Sykes and when he claimed not to know Sammy Mitchell before August 10th, 1984.  

On August 29th, Sammy Mitchell and Darryl Hunt walked into the Winston-Salem police department.  Detective John Dalton, the lead investigator of the Sykes murder had left his card for them a week prior.  The crime-stopper’s tip line had produced a few tips that Hunt and Mitchell were bragging about the murder.  Sammy Mitchell was familiar with law enforcement, but Darryl Hunt was only 19 years old.  Detectives were keying in on him because Sammy had a prominent beard at the time and none of the witnesses had mentioned seeing a man with a beard.  

Mitchell and Hunt told Detective Daulton that they spent the night of August 9th with Cynthia McKey, one of Mitchell’s girlfriends, at her home. They said they left McKey’s house the morning of the murder in time to take the bus downtown to the Hall of Justice, where Mitchell had a court date on an assault charge. Daulton also asked Hunt where he had been the day before, August 28th, trying to figure out whether Hunt was the man Thomas Murphy, the witness Dalton was doing surveillance with, had seen downtown. Hunt told him that he had been with his girlfriend, Margaret Crawford, at the Motel 6.

The next day, Detective Daulton found Margaret Crawford at the courthouse, where she was appearing on a prostitution charge.  According to Daulton’s report, she told him that the two men had been with her on August 28th, and she also said that they were with her on the morning of the murder. To make matters worse, Daulton said Crawford told him that if either man needed an alibi for any other date she would give them one for those, too.

On September 6th Detective Daulton put together a photo lineup from Polaroid pictures of Darryl Hunt and six other men.   Thomas Murphy looked at the photo lineup and asked to see Hunt in person. 

There were several issues with the photo line-up, Detective Daulton should not have been the one to show Thomas Murphy the pictures, because he knew that Hunt was the suspect and could easily have influenced Murphy’s choice. Especially since Daulton and Murphy had what seemed like a working relationship at this point.  The background in the picture of Hunt was brown and the background in the other Polaroids was pale gray, which drew the eye immediately to Hunt’s picture.  Despite this for the police, Murphy’s identification of Hunt marked the moment when everything started to fall into place, for Hunt it would be the beginning of his worst nightmare.  

Two days after the photo line-up the Winston-Salem police took a call about a shooting when they arrived both Hunt and Mitchell were there. A man named Dennis Speaks was screaming at Hunt, calling him the “Twin City Rapist.”

A police report quotes Speaks as saying to Hunt. “You raped that white newspaper lady and killed her. Why don’t you confess and get it off your chest?”

Speaks later said that the fight started with Mitchell because both men were involved with McKey.  It is clear from an interview he gave to State Bureau of Investigation agents in 1986 that he didn’t have any reason to link Hunt to Sykes other than gossip, but at the time it was the proverbial nail in the coffin.  

On September 10th, Detective Daulton called Johnny Gray, their only eyewitness, to come to the station for a  photo lineup. This time Johnny Gray picked out Hunt’s picture.

September 11th, Detective Daulton arrested Darryl Hunt’s girlfriend, Margaret Crawford. The CrimeStoppers tip line was buzzing with rumors spreading that Hunt was under the microscope.  Everyone was trying to collect on the reward money.  One of the callers told the police that Crawford was a minor who had run away from home. It turned out that Margaret Crawford was only 14 years old and she was living under and assumed name.   She also had a warrant for larceny and failure-to-appear charges.  This time rather than offering to provide an alibi, she implicated both Hunt and Mitchell in the murder.  

Crawford later said that she remembers feeling threatened, even thinking that she might be charged with the murder.   She said she gave Detective Daulton what he wanted to hear. Detective Daulton wrote two statements, and Crawford signed them. 

In the first statement, Crawford claimed that Hunt and Mitchell had spent the night of August 9th with her at the Motel 6 which is approximately five miles from the murder. The two men called a taxi and left about 6 a.m. the morning of the murder.  Crawford also claimed that  Hunt came back to her room about 9:30 with grass stains on his pants.

In her second statement she said that two weeks prior she and Darryl were at the Motel 6 and they were watching CrimeStoppers on the news and she said to Darryl ‘I wish I knew who killed that lady because I could use the money,’ and Darryl said that ‘Sammy did it and he fucked her too.'”

Detective Daulton arrested Darryl Hunt later that night on a charge of taking indecent liberties with a minor.  According to Daulton’s police report, Hunt confirmed that he had been with Crawford the night of August 9th and that they left her room together the next morning and spent the day with Sammy Mitchell, getting drunk. The problem was that Hunt has always said he spent the night at Sammy’s girlfriends house the night before the murder.

Hunt says that as he pleaded guilty to the sex charge he wasn’t paying attention to the date. He said, he was just acknowledging that he had had sexual relations with Margaret Crawford that month and therefore he was guilty of the crime.  His admission of guilt was used against him at his murder trial, because it corroborated Margaret Crawford’s statements about his whereabouts the night before Sykes was killed.

On September 12th, 1984, Detective Daulton cemented his case against Darryl Hunt. After an inconclusive polygraph, Detective Daulton brought Hunt to District Attorney Don Tisdale’s office. Don Tisdale was familiar with Sammy Mitchell from an earlier robbery trial.  Tisdale lost that trial and the sting was still there.  

Here is Don Tisdale from on the documentary the Trials’ of Darryl Hunt:

-02. Don Tisdale- First case tried Sammy Mitchell T of DH

Tisdale offered Hunt a deal. If he would rat on his friend, he would not seek the death penalty against Hunt. Darryl Hunt told the District attorney “You’ve got the wrong man, and I don’t know nothing.”

Hunt describes that first encounter with Don Tisdale, in which he says that Don Tisdale offered him the $12,000 CrimeStoppers reward if he would simply flip on his friend Sammy Mitchell.  

-03. DH first meeting with Tisdale offered reward T of DH

Darryl Hunt mistakenly thought that if he cooperated and just told the truth, eventually the police and the district attorney would believe him.  He had no reason to believe that he would be in any trouble, because he didn’t do anything wrong.  He figured that if he just waited long enough eventually everyone would do their jobs and this would just be a story to tell his friends.  

Detective Daulton and District Attorney Don Tisdale were not through yet though.  They brought in Margaret Crawford, thinking that her statements would force Darryl Hunt to confess.  They had it in their minds that Crawford’s accounts held water, because of the mention of the grass stains on Hunt’s knees the day of the murder.  They could not figure out why someone would say that if it was not true.  Crawford played her part that day, she plead with Hunt to confess, but again Darryl Hunt said he had nothing to do with the murder.  

Detective Daulton then organized an in person lineup at the jail. Thomas Murphy was the first to identify Darryl Hunt.  Detective Daulton then brought in Johnny Gray.  Before seeing the prisoners, Daulton handed a notepad to Gray and asked him to write down the number of the man believed he saw on the morning of August the 10th.  Johnny Gray wrote down 1-4.  Detective Daulton would later say that Gray was stating that his number 1 suspect was number 4.  

William Hooper, the other witness, besides Thomas Murphy who saw Sykes with two men the morning of the murder, also saw the lineup, but he couldn’t identify anyone. 

Law enforcement are often accused of tunnel vision in cases.  Eventually there comes a point where they stop investigating a case and start building it.  We are all guilty of this in one way or another, but when investigators stop considering all the evidence and instead choose to focus only on the evidence that helps support their belief it becomes extremely dangerous and creates ripples that we can’t even understand at the time.  This was the case in Winston-Salem as well.  

Two months before Deborah Sykes was murdered a woman named Linda reported that she had been raped several times over the course of six and a half hours.  The final rape happened a football field away from where Deborah Sykes was murdered.  She stated that she was approached by a black man wrapped in a shirt around his hand.  He shoved the object, which she said felt like a gun into her back and told her that she had to come with him.  Over the next several hours he dragged her around a four block area forcing her to perform sexual acts on him and rapping her over and over again.  After it was over Linda told police she walked away from her attacker near the Hanes building and called police.  

Linda described her attacker as a medium complected black male between 5’3 and 5’4 weighing 120lbs.  She thought he might be 25 years old with hollow cheeks and high cheekbones.  He had black hair, brown eyes, and was wearing a silver ring on his left hand.  Police obtained a rape-kit and took her clothes.  They then polygraphed the victim and found her account to be truthful.  A detective drove her around the area looking for a suspect, but found none.  The detective cited a “heavy caseload” as the reason further investigation could not happen.  Linda eventually moved away from the area and detectives closed their case citing their inability to contact the victim any longer.  

Then a few months after the murder of Deborah Sykes on January 1st, 1985 a call came in from a man saying that a woman had come to his apartment claiming she had been raped.  When police arrived they found a woman named Kathleen, wrapped in a blanket sitting on the couch with her pants around her feet.  Her hands were bound behind her back with her bra and her feet had been tied together with her underwear.   

Kathleen told police that while she was on her way to work that morning around 8am a black male started to follow her.  When she neared the elementary school he grabbed her from behind and held a knife to her face.  He then pulled a ski mask over his face a pulled her towards the back side of the school.  He attempted to rob her, but she had no money.  He then forced her to perform sexual acts on him and raped her.  When he was done he tied her up and left the area, a short time later he came back and asked for the time before he was gone again.  

Kathleen said she waited some time before getting up and seeking help at the apartment complex.  Officers collected a rape kit and her clothing as evidence.  Kathleen described her attacker as 5’3, very thin, and wearing faded dirty jeans, a white sweatshirt and a black leather jacket.  She couldn’t identify any mugshots of her attacker but did make a composite sketch of the suspect.  

The next day a woman named Peggy Mathews called to report a person matching the description of Kathleen’s attacker.  She said on December 30th, 1984 a black male about 5’3 to 5’4 approached her and asked her questions about plumbing.  She said the man was directly in her face and he was wearing a large silver ring on his left hand.  She told police she could identify him if  she saw a picture.  

After several unfruitful months and having her view all photographs that fit the description of her attacker, Kathleen did not identify any of the suspects as her attacker.  The detective assigned requested that the case be closed due to lack of leads on May 14th, 1985.

On February 2, 1985 police responded to a reported rape at 8:15am, they found a woman named Regina naked and covered in blood wrapped in a bedspread.  Regina told police that she parked her car around 7:45 that morning and started to walk to work.  She said that a black man approached her with a piston and forced her back into her car.  He forced her to drive around town before telling her to park in a gravel parking lot.  He then went through her purse and took $300 and her watch.  She was then told to strip and get into the back seat.  After unsuccessfully trying to rape her in the backseat, he made her stand outside the car while he raped her.  

Regina said that he had placed the gun on top of the car while he pulled up his pants.  She managed to get the gun aimed at him and pulled the trigger.  The gun did not fire and she reported that he said, “Stupid bitch, it’s not loaded, but I got a knife here to will kill you dead.”  He pulled a knife from his pants, took the gun and struck her with it.  He then put the knife to her throat, she struggled with him and was cut several times.  She eventually took control of the knife and ran to the apartments for help.  

Regina described her attacker as a black man 25-30 years old, maybe 5’5 to 5’9 weighing 125-135lbs.  He had short black hair and a gap between his two front teeth.  Many of the officers and detectives that responded on Regina’s case were also present for the Sykes’ crime scene.  From the evidence at the scene police identified a suspect, Willard Brown.  When they showed Regina a photo of Willard Brown she thought that he may be the man responsible.  Police took hair, saliva, and blood from Brown, but because Regina’s attacker did not ejaculate there was not physical evidence for comparison.  

Regina prepared to complete a voice comparison, however for some reason it was never completed by the police at that time.  They found that Brown was a “O” secreter, however DNA was not prominent in 1985, so the detectives contacted Regina.  They offered to prosecute Brown, but with no physical evidence only her testimony.  Regina decided not to move forward at this time if there was no physical evidence to support her claim.  The case was officially closed in 1987.  When Regina questioned police if her attacker could be the same as the man who attacked Deborah Sykes, she was told that an arrest in that case had already been made and they did not want to cast doubt on Hunt’s guilt.  

If the police were not so focused on Darryl Hunt and listened to the evidence it may have been possible to stop the true perpetrator before Kathleen and Regina were attacked.  On August 24th, 1984 Detective Daulton learned that Deborah Sykes’ official cause of death was a stab wound that nicked the aorta just above her heart.  He learned that DeborahSykes was an “O” Secretor and also found the presence of sperm which they found came from an “O” secretor.  

Daulton then obtained a warrant for Darryl Hunt’s blood, hair, and saliva on September 13th, 1984.  Hunt was then charged with first degree murder on September 14th, 1984.  

On October 23rd, 1984 the police lab told Daulton that none of the physical evidence was a match for Darryl Hunt.  On November 19th they informed Daulton that Hunt was a “B” secretor.  District Attorney Don Tisdale was then notified, however they decided to move forward with the murder trial for Hunt.  

When news of Darryl Hunt’s arrest for the brutal rape and murder of Deborah Sykes spread through the town of Winston-Salem it hit Larry Little hard.  Little lived across the street from Sammy Mitchell’s mother and knew Darryl from playing basketball at the local YMCA.  Little was the alderman for the North Ward.  He was the founder of the North Carolina chapter of the Black Panther Party and no stranger to the Winston-Salem’s racial inequities.  Little just could not believe that the 19 year old boy he knew from the neighborhood could be guilty of such horrendous acts, so he started asking questions.  

Here is Larry Little from the Trials’ of Darryl Hunt:

-04. Larry Little- Police call him concerned T of DH

Little had some friends who worked for the police, they told him that the case was weak so he kept digging.  The more he learned the more troubled he became.  The composite drawings didn’t remotely resemble hunt.  The police seized two black t-shirts with spider web designs on them from Hunt’s home.  The warrant states that a witness described the t-shirts, however Little could not find any witness description of the t-shirts.  Darry Hunt told him that he bought the shirts just a few days before his arrest and Little confirmed that with the store clerk.  

Little went to visit the two court appointed attorneys who were going to represent Darryl, Gordon Jenkins and Mark Rabil.  He wanted them to know that people were paying attention and the community cared for Darryl.  They asked Larry Little if he would be able to raise some money for Darryl so that they could hire a private investigator.  

From the documentary the Trials’ of Darryl Hunt Mark Rabil talks about the case:

-05. Mark Rabil first appointment T of DH

Little  called on the black community in Winston-Salem for the campaign to free Hunt. He went about organizing community meetings at Lloyd Presbyterian Church, across the street from the apartment building where Hunt had spent so much time.  The great Maya Angelo even spoke for Hunt at a rally, she was of course from Winston-Salem herself.  

When Larry Little decided to look further into the case law enforcement started to accuse him of intimidating witnesses and obstruction of justice.  He tracked down Margaret Crawford, who told them that she only signed statements against Hunt and Mitchell because the police told her they had a witness that could place her at the murder scene.  When they found Johnny Gray, he wouldn’t really talk, but Little figured out that Johnny Gray was actually Johnny McConnell and he had a record, a fact that the police did not know.  

By the time of the trial was about to start, people were abuzz about the black man that was being framed by police for the murder of a white woman.  On the opening day of the trial 200 protesters marched for Darryl Hunt from the church to the hall of Justice.  Darryl Hunt had found his personal crusader in Larry Little, he would never give up fighting for Darryl.  

I am going to leave off here for now and pick up next time with the beginning of Darryl’s trial and the amazing feat to free him from his wrongful convictions.    We still need to discuss the second murder that Hunt was tried and convicted of as well so stay tuned for the next episode. 

I appreciate you taking the time to listen to us today, we are going to continue to bring you quality episodes.  If you haven’t visited our website you can find us at bowtofate.com, where you can find the transcripts for this episode or donate to keep us up and running.  I want to thank DJ Brooks for providing the show with music and artwork, I love you honey.  Don’t forget to like us on Facebook or send a tweet to @Bowtofatepod and if you get a chance please subscribe to our podcast to stay up to date with current episodes.  Feel free to send us an email at bowtofate@gmail.com with your suggestions for upcoming episodes or call and leave a voicemail at 725-222-FATE, you may just end up on the podcast.  Till next time, stay safe and keep listening.