Two decades after her disappearance and death, Mary Francis Shipman’s murder remains unsolved.
The mother of three was found dead in a ditch off Braswell Road near Chadbourn on Oct. 12, 1996. A group of people riding horses on a Sunday afternoon found Shipman’s nude, beaten body lying face down in an overgrown area beside the right of way.
“We just don’t know what happened,” said Dalana Shipman, the middle child of the victim, who is now 34.
Dalana was 12 when her mother dropped Dalana and her two-year-old brother Andre at their grandmother’s house on Friday afternoon. Their older sister, Lisa Martinez, had graduated high school earlier that year.
“Mama was going to see some friends,” Dalana said. “She went off sometimes, but she didn’t stay gone. She loved us, and took as good of care of us as she could. She always came back. This time, she disappeared.”
An autopsy later determined Shipman had been strangled and beaten to death at another location before being dumped in the ditch. No suspects have ever been arrested, although several were questioned at the time.
When news spread that a body had been found matching Shipman’s description, Dalana said, the children and their grandmother headed for the hospital. Their reception was not what they expected.
“They said there was no one there by that name,” she said. “Finally a detective came out, and took my grandmother in to identify the body.”
As she came out of the back of the emergency department, Dalana said, she heard her grandmother sobbing.
“She said she couldn’t raise anymore children,” she said.
The Shipman children were taken in by their paternal grandmother, Dalana said. She refused to give up, even after investigators moved on to other cases.
“Somebody out there knows,” she said.
Dalana made no excuses for her mother, whom she said had a drug problem and other issues.
“She wasn’t perfect,” Dalana said, “but she did love us.”
There have been several strange coincidences through the years, Dalana said, including a friend she made in high school.
“We were talking about the murder, and her stepdad was one of the people they questioned,” Dalana said. “It was strange that we came together like that as friends.”
The man left his wife and family shortly after detectives questioned him, Dalana said.
“I don’t know where he is now,” she said.
Dalana said all three of the Shipman children have had problems in the years after their mother’s murder. Dalana said she has to fight to keep a job, and lives in fear of someone hurting her.
“I had a while where I couldn’t control what I ate,” she said. “Now I have that under control, but I can’t find a job.”
Dalana returned to North Carolina from Connecticut several years ago, and settled a short distance from where her mother’s body was found on Grist Road.
Not a day goes by that she doesn’t think of the killing, and wonder what happened.
“There is so much we don’t know, that we can never know,” she said. “It’s hard to move on when you don’t have any closure. I just want to see the person who killed my mother brought to justice.”