Suspect arrested in death of Kannapolis woman

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 24, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — Deputies arrested 61-year-old Marlene Postell Johnson of 136 Lilac Mist Loop in Mooresville early Wednesday morning, in the death of Shirley Goodnight Pierce, about 12 hours after Pierce was discovered.

Family and friends say Pierce was a kind, giving woman who would’ve celebrated her 63rd birthday next month. Instead, authorities say Pierce was found dead inside her home Tuesday morning, the apparent victim of a homicide.

Johnson’s relationship to Pierce was not immediately released by deputies. She was arrested and placed in Rowan County jail shortly after midnight under no bond.

Investigators with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office received a call at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday regarding a suspicious death at 117 Evandale Road, where Pierce lived. Minutes later, investigators were on the scene and discovered Pierce was deceased. Investigators responded and began interviewing neighbors and collecting evidence, as well as talking with friends and family members. Family, friends and neighbors remained at the scene through the afternoon awaiting information from investigators.

Investigators, wearing protective covers over their shoes, went in and out of the home, as family stood along the roadway comforting one another.

Evandale is located off South Enochville Avenue. Investigators say the Kannapolis incident is not connected to Saturday’s homicide where two cousins were shot to death near Cleveland.

A neighbor, Laura Hunter, who lives across the street from Pierce, said Pierce’s fiance, Chuck Reeves, found the woman in the bathtub. However, officials have not confirmed who found Pierce or where she was found. Hunter’s husband, Sam, spoke with Reeves after he found Pierce.

“She was a wonderful neighbor. She was a true neighbor. She will be missed,” Laura Hunter said.

Laura said Pierce lived by herself and she and Sam would check on her from time-to-time.

“This is a quiet neighborhood and this is the first thing that’s ever happened,” Laura said.

She estimates Pierce lived at the Evandale home for 15 or 20 years. The Hunters have lived in their home for more than 40 years. They didn’t initially know what happened, but suddenly heard fire trucks in the neighborhood. The couple saw an ambulance and then saw investigators.

“I knew there was something wrong,” Laura said.

The Hunters described Pierce as a woman who “walked out of the house looking like a movie star.”

The neighbors would often talk over how the other was maintaining their yard. Laura said she’d often call Pierce over to look at something new Laura was doing in her yard.

She said Pierce always maintained her own yard and took pride in its upkeep. Pierce would even mow her lawn at night, if she needed.

Pierce’s oldest sister, Ann Barnhardt, said her sister would call her and ask if she could mow her lawn while Pierce was at work.

Barnhardt said being the older sister she looked out for Pierce, a promise she made to their mother before she died in the mid-1990s.

“She called me mama,” Barnhardt said of her sister.

Sometimes during their conversations, Pierce would say “yes, mama” to Barnhardt, she said with a smile.

“I will miss her,” she said.

Barnhardt admitted she didn’t look like Pierce, but Barnhardt’s daughter did.

“Now she looks like Shirley,” Barnhardt said pointing to her daughter.

Shirley Pierce worked as an executive assistant for Martin Foil, head of Tuscarora Yarns, a position she held for nearly 11 years, her family said.

Before working at Tuscarora’s Mount Pleasant headquarters, Pierce worked as an administrative assistant for Humpy Wheeler, former president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“She was a fine sister. She and I had a lot in common,” Barnhardt said.

Once investigators spoke with family members for the final time at the scene just before 5 p.m., many of them hugged one another and quietly left. Authorities say additional details will be made available during a morning press conference today.

Anyone with information is asked to call Lt. Chad Moose at 704-216-8687 or Crime Stoppers at 1-866-639-5245.