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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Donald Eugene Borders: The "Three Women" Murder Case

     In 2003, 85-year-old Lottie Ledford lived by herself in a low-income neighborhood in Shelby, North Carolina, a town of 20,000 fifty miles west of Charlotte. As a younger woman Lottie had worked in the region's textile mills. On August 23, 2003 a relative discovered Lottie lying dead on her bed. Because of her age the police didn't suspect foul play. The Cleveland County Coroner ruled that Lottie Ledford had died of a heart attack.

     Bobby Fisher, Ledford's nephew, believed that his aunt had been murdered. Based upon his own observations and what the funeral director had seen and noted, Fisher knew that Ledford's face and arms had been covered in bruises. (Almost ten years later, in January 2013, Bobby Fisher's widow Barbara Ann, in speaking to a reporter said, "It looked as if someone had taken two fingers and pinched her nose and held her across the mouth.") The fact that someone had cut Ledford's telephone line also suggested homicide. Bobby Fisher pleaded with the Shelby police to launch a murder investigation but they ignored his request.

     On September 20, 2003, six weeks after Lottie Ledford's death, Margaret Tessneer's daughter and son-in-law went to Margaret's house at ten that morning. She didn't live far from Ledford's house. The couple had brought Tessneer a biscuit from Hardee's. The visitors found Tessneer's front door ajar. The couple entered the dwelling where they encountered the 79-year-old lying face-up on her rumpled bed. The dead woman had bruises on her face, arms and legs. Someone had pulled the telephone drop-line away from her house.

     The forensic pathologist who performed the Tessneer autopsy noted the bruises and concluded that the victim had been raped. While he ruled the manner of death in this case homicide the pathologist classified Tessneer's cause of death as"undetermined." 

     On November 10, 2003 in the same part of town a neighbor discovered Lillian Mullinax lying dead in her own bed. The 87-year-old's body was covered in bruises, her front door had been left ajar, and someone had cut her phone line. Following the autopsy Mullinax's cause of death went into the books as "undetermined."

     One didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to conclude that these three elderly women had been raped and murdered in their homes by the same man.

     In early 2004 local detectives investigating Margaret Tessneer's September 20, 2003 death became interested in a 53-year-old man named Donald Eugene Borders. After graduating from high school in 1977 Borders got married, worked in the region's textile mills and fathered two children. But in the 1990s he turned to crime and was arrested dozens of times for robbery, burglary and assault. In 2001 Borders was sent to state prison on a conviction for breaking and entering a home. After his release from custody in January 2003 Borders lived as a homeless man on the streets of Shelby.

     On March 20, 2004, after publicly asking for help in locating Borders, detectives found him living in a homeless shelter in Charlotte. Armed with an arrest warrant pertaining to a matter unrelated to the so-called "three women" murder case, Shelby officer James Brienza took the suspect into custody. Before hauling him to jail Brienza let the prisoner have a cigarette. When Borders finished his smoke Brienza saved the evidence for DNA analysis.

     A state forensic scientist, in August 2004, found trace evidence from Margaret Tessneer's underwear that revealed she had been raped. Following the passage of more than five years a DNA analyst matched the Tessneer murder scene evidence with the saliva on Border's cigarette butt.

     A Cleveland County Grand Jury, on December 28, 2009, more that six years after Margaret Tessneer's rape and killing, indicted Donald Eugene Borders for first-degree murder. He was taken into custody and held in the Cleveland County Jail without bond.

     Borders' trial got underway in Cleveland on January 5, 2013. On January 28, the jury, after deliberating three hours, found the defendant guilty as charged. The judge sentenced Donald Eugene Borders to life in prison without the chance of parole. 
     While Borders was not charged with the murders of Dottie Ledford or Lillian Mullinax, the authorities believed he had murdered and raped these victims as well.

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