Woman struggles with daughter’s death

By Mike Hixenbaugh
Rocky Mount Telegram
Thursday, July 23, 2009

WHITAKERS — Diana Nicholson wishes she could have done more to lure her daughter away from the world of hard drugs and promiscuity. She struggled against tears this week as she recalled her youngest child’s dogged but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to get clean and off the streets.

If only she had more time, Nicholson wondered aloud, maybe her daughter, Taraha Nicholson, wouldn’t have been killed earlier this year – strangled by an unknown abductor and dumped in the woods.

Telegram photo / Ben Goff

“My baby girl is still here with me,” Nicholson said, clinging to the only photo she has left of her slain daughter. “She’s in my heart, and nobody can take that.”

Investigators knew almost immediately the body discovered March 7 in the woods off Marriott Road belonged to 28-year-old Taraha Nicholson, who had been reported missing from East Rocky Mount three weeks prior. A vaguely distinguishable tattoo of her name was scrolled across her arm.

The woman was only partially clothed, authorities said, and she had been strangled.

Taraha was the fourth of five such victims discovered along the same rural stretch in Western Edgecombe County since 2005.

Diana Nicholson said she lost composure after police called. She paced laps in front of her Whitakers home, contemplating how she would deliver the news to her other daughter and to Taraha’s two young children. She wondered if the hurting would ever stop, she said.

She still wonders.

“Taraha was more than my daughter,” Diana Nicholson said. “She was my sister, she was my best friend. And I want to know who done this to her.”

Many other area families are asking the same. Taraha Nicholson is part of a string of Rocky Mount women who have turned up missing then found dead during the past four years. Each victim, including Nicholson, was a black woman with a history of drug abuse and prostitution, prompting some profiliers to raise questions of a potential serial killer. A sixth body has yet to be identified.

A task force of state and local authorities is looking into the murders in a joint investigation, but officials have remained mum on the possibility of a habitual predator.

Diana Nicholson initially was angry at investigators for “not solving the murders faster,” she said. She for a while contemplated how initial efforts might have been different had her daughter and the other women come from different backgrounds or wealthier families.

“Now I understand they’re doing the best they can,” Nicholson said. “I do think more should be done canvassing and searching in the spots where the girls have turned up. But I know (the investigation) is complicated.”

Diana Nicholson has shifted her frustration instead toward area media reports that she said depict her daughter “only in a negative light,” focusing on her troubled past and publishing her prison mug shot in leu of a family portrait. Nicholson knows her daughter struggled, she said, but she doesn’t want the world to remember her as a drug-addicted deviant. She’d rather her daughter was recalled for her sense of humor and her smile, her quick wit and love for family.

“She was a good girl,” Diana Nicholson said. “She really was.”

Mothers and families of the other victims have expressed similar sentiments. Diana Nicholson plans to do everything she can to help a community group fighting to raise awareness about Rocky Mount’s murdered and missing women, she said. Through that, she hopes to paint a better picture of her daughter and, in the process, warn other mothers to keep closer watch of their own.

More than anything, Nicholson said, she wants Taraha’s two children, 1-year-old Jamarius and 12-year-old Latrevier, to know their mother loved them and that she would have done anything for them – that she was fighting addiction and trying to change for them.

“Taraha was sweet,” Diana Nicholson said, clinging tighter to the framed photo. “She wouldn’t hurt a fly. And she could joke. Wow, could she joke. She could say something and the next thing you know the whole room would be laughing.

“She had troubles out there, but so does everyone. My girl didn’t deserve to die.”

Anyone with information about this case is asked to contact the Rocky Mount Police Department at 252-972-1411.

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