It was June 24 of 2012 when firefighters discovered the body of Crystal Gayle Bell on the back deck of a house on Macon Price Road, said Norman Smith, of Private Intel, which is based in Sampson County.
Smith is also a former Northampton County Sheriff’s Office detective who has been working the financial leads in the case since soon after her death.
At the time her death was discovered, firefighters had been dispatched to Macon Price Road on what turned out to be a vehicle fire. The car belonged to Bell.
What firefighter’s discovered was Bell’s body. She had been shot to death, Smith said, six times to be exact.
Financial gains motive explored
In notes which give an exhaustive summary of the case, Smith writes, “Upon the initial investigation, law enforcement fixated solely on Shawn Edward Robinson. Robinson was the boyfriend of Crystal Gayle Bell and father to their infant daughter.”
Smith said Robinson fully cooperated with law enforcement. “He found and voluntarily turned over a laptop belonging to Crystal Bell. He has incurred a great deal of expenses since the death of Crystal Bell. The expenses range from the memorial service, child custody issues surrounding this tragedy, and most importantly, seeking justice for his daughter by finding the person that murdered her mother.”
It was Robinson who hired Smith and the PI discovered “a business (and personal) relationship between the victim and Dennis Carter.”
Smith said there was no motive and no opportunity from which Robinson could gain from her murder.
Smith noted in the summary that despite Carter, whose middle name is Jerome, being married, he “had been posing as the husband of the victim just two weeks prior to her murder while house hunting in Greenville.”
In her will, Bell wrote, “I have devised all of my estate, both real and personal, of every kind and nature … including all property over which I shall have power of appointment … to my friend Dennis Carter.”
Asked why she would will her entire estate to a person she described in the document as a friend, Smith said, “I believe she was coerced into doing that.”
A phone number listed as belonging to Carter had a disconnected message when dialed.
Bell noted in the document she had not devised any property to her mother or to Robinson, who she described as her friend. “I trust that my friend Dennis Carter will transfer to them such of my property, if any, as he deems is appropriate.”
Bell’s mother and Robinson never received any of her assets, Smith confirmed.
Settlement from Anthem Drive fire
Smith said, according to a real estate agent, Carter and Bell said she would be receiving a $100,000 settlement for a house fire which occurred on Anthem Drive in October of 2011, a case which was investigated by the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office.
The house off Zoo Road was Bell’s residence at the time although on the day of the blaze she was giving birth to her daughter who she had conceived with Robinson.
There has never been an arrest in that case.
The new house she was going to buy, however, was sold to someone else, a person who Smith initially believed was an acquaintance of Carter, an accusation the eventual purchaser now denies. “Some of the paperwork pertaining to the sale of the home appears to be fraudulent and there are many questions surrounding the sale,” Smith said.
Records, Smith said, show Bell received the $100,000 in insurance money, going to the bank and requesting she be given cash. “Phone records show that she spoke with Dennis Carter before and after her trip to the bank. Bell also asked her boyfriend, Shawn Robinson, for $25,000 to furnish the new home. Robinson transferred it into her account. Bank records show that she immediately withdrew the $25,000.”
Smith said at the time of her death, Bell “was walking around with $125,000 in cash and Dennis Carter is the only person that had knowledge of it … It is very unusual for a woman as young as Crystal Bell to have a will and equally unusual for a non-family member to be the sole heir of the estate.”
- Bell's will. Bell's will.
- Carter Carter
- Two photos of Bell and Robinson's daughter, Miracle. Two photos of Bell and Robinson's daughter, Miracle.
- A vigil held soon after Bell's death. A vigil held soon after Bell's death.
Warren County deaths
Carter, Smith said, has allegedly been the suspect in two deaths in Warren County in which he profited indirectly from insurance money.
Bell met Carter approximately six months after Glinda Pulley and her son, Tyler, were killed in Warren County in 2011.
Smith said Pulley left insurance benefits to Carter’s mother. Carter had power of attorney over his mother’s business affairs. He collected more than $700,000 from the insurance policy.
In interviews with Pulley’s family it was confirmed that she and Carter had a romantic relationship.
According to the interview with Pulley’s family, Carter is a “very charismatic charmer who knows how to get to the heart of women by enticing them with business opportunities.”
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has said the death of Pulley and her son appear to be a murder-suicide.
Dr. Maurice Godwin, of Godwin Trial & Forensic Consultancy in Fayetteville, disputes this finding and in a 2011 crime scene analysis wrote he believed photographs indicate a struggle occurred beside Glinda’s bed. Several items were found in disarray, which tend to support this theory.
For example, the telephone was knocked off the bedside table and was lying off the hook in an upside down position. Glinda’s ring was found near the phone, on the floor, wedged between the carpet and the wall molding. This finding likely indicates some force was used to propel the ring into that position and knives on the bedside table were used to gain entry into the bedroom due to the door being locked.
Smith said Carter has also filed several suspicious fire claims. “The Department of Insurance has investigated him in several structure fires. In all of these cases, there is strong financial motive for Dennis Carter.”
The fires include one in Whitakers in 2007 in which no money was collected, one in 2009 in Stokes County, in which no money was collected, and one in Northampton County after Bell’s murder at a house which was owned by Carter’s brother and no insurance money was collected.
Smith has conducted a face-to-face interview with Carter and the private investigator said he was very guarded and unable to explain why he was posing as Bell’s husband.
He was also unable to explain why he had given two different alibis on the date her body was discovered.
In one story he said he was in Alabama and in the other he claimed he was in Pitt County. His exact whereabouts on the date Bell’s death was discovered remain unknown.
He is a contractor by profession and at the age of 52 has has lived in Edgecombe, Halifax, Johnston, Nash and Pitt counties.
Northampton County Sheriff Jack Smith said, when asked about Norman Smith’s investigation into the matter, “What we’re doing is looking at everything. We don’t have an official position. We’re looking at everything. Nothing is off the table.”
Sheriff Smith said Lieutenant A.B. Roye has spoken with Norman Smith numerous times. “We’re looking at everyone who was in contact with her as well as strangers. I hate what happened to this young lady. It’s just a shame.”
Norman Smith said, “I am communicating with the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office. So far the communication has been good. We share many of the same theories. Where we differ is they’re still looking at any and everybody and I’m focused on motive, opportunity and who benefited from the death.”
Norman Smith said his contact with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has been one-sided. “Their policy does not require them to work with me, but in the scope of this entire investigation they should be the lead agency in this case because the evidence spans across five counties and two SBI districts.”
Smith said the evidence he has collected during his investigation should be treated as credible. “They can’t discredit it. The only thing we have is my facts and we have the SBI’s suspicions which they can’t back up.”
Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office at 252-534-2611, Norman Smith at 910-308-3722 or by fax anonymously and toll-free at 866-596-8905.