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Trial nears in 2003 case that terrified NC town

Friday - 1/11/2013, 5:51pm  ET

Associated Press

SHELBY, N.C. (AP) - Bobby Fisher knew something was wrong.

It was late summer of 2003, and police in this North Carolina town had just found the body of his 85-year-old aunt in her bed. They said Lottie Ledford died of natural causes, but Fisher suspected something more sinister.

The funeral director told Fisher about bruises on the woman's face. There were other troubling details: Ledford's front door was left open, which was out of character for a security-minded woman with two guns. The phone line was cut.

Fisher and his wife pressed police to dig deeper, but authorities insisted there was no foul play. It wasn't until the bodies of two more elderly women were found in their homes over the next three months _ under conditions eerily similar to those of Ledford's death _ that Shelby police realized they might have a serial killer on the loose.

Nearly a decade later, Ledford's death remains unsolved, as does that of a second woman, 87-year-old Lillian Mullinax, found several months after Ledford's. It is only now that a suspect in the third case, involving the death of 79-year-old Margaret Tessneer, is going on trial.

Jury selection in the rape and murder trial of Donald Borders, 53, of Cherryville, is scheduled to begin Monday.

The coming trial has reopened old wounds for survivors of all three women and other residents of this tightknit city of 20,000 about 50 miles west of Charlotte. And it has raised questions about whether any of the cases will ever truly be resolved.

"I can't tell you how frustrating this has been," said Bobby Fisher's widow, Barbara Ann Fisher. Her husband died in 2005. "It killed my husband. All he wanted was answers. He wanted justice for Aunt Lottie and the other victims. I'm not sure we'll ever get that."

Shelby Police Chief Jeff Ledford, no relation to Lottie Ledford, said police were looking for evidence that would link Borders with the deaths of the two other women, but it's not clear they have found any.

Fisher has no doubt: She believes Borders killed all three women. "In my heart I know he did it," she said.

Meanwhile, Borders proclaims his innocence in Tessneer's death.

"He told me he didn't do it," his uncle Taft Borders told The Associated Press. "I believe him."

Borders' attorney, David Teddy, did not return telephone calls requesting comment.

Court records show Donald Borders has been arrested more than a dozen times, accused of robbery, breaking and entering and other charges.

But Taft Borders said his nephew was a "good person."

"He was hard-working. He dreamed about being a writer. But after he graduated high school, he went to work," he said.

Borders toiled in textile mills, got married and had two children. By 2003, he was homeless and living on the streets of Shelby. He was interviewed by police in 2004 about Tessneer's death because they thought he might have seen something, his uncle said. He was arrested five years later, in December 2009, based on DNA evidence.

"He says he's keeping faith in God and hopes to get a fair trial," Taft Borders said.

Regardless of the trial's outcome, the deaths of the three women in rapid succession more than nine years ago have forever changed the town of Shelby, a community of longtime residents that once thrived with textile mills before much of the local production began moving overseas two decades ago.

It began on Aug. 23, 2003, when Lottie Ledford's niece, Becky Fisher, went to her home for a visit and found the front door unlocked. Inside she found the body.

"I had known Aunt Lottie for 40 years," Barbara Ann Fisher told the AP. "Her door was always locked. She'd open the blinds to look to see who was at her door before she let somebody in. Aunt Lottie just didn't open that door to anybody."

Police said it appeared Ledford died of natural causes. But Bobby Fisher began to think otherwise after the funeral director urged him to look at the body. Fisher immediately noticed the bruises on her face.

"It looked as if someone had taken two fingers and pinched her nose and held her across her mouth," Barbara Ann Fisher said.

A medical examiner ruled Ledford died of a heart attack but noted the bruises.

Bobby Fisher didn't accept that _ especially after he discovered that a phone line had been cut _ but he couldn't convince authorities.

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