Then the following month, Tessneer’s body was discovered by family members who had dropped by one morning to check on her. This time police treated the house like a crime scene.
A medical examiner ruled her death as ‘‘undetermined’’ but noted that she had bruises and was raped.
Fisher knew the Tessneers. So when he heard about her death, he talked to her family. What he heard was disturbing — and familiar.
When he came home, he sat down and shook his head. ‘‘He told me, ‘Barbara Ann, it’s the same thing.'’’
And then in November, the decomposed body of 87-year-old Lillian Mullinax was found by a neighbor checking on her whereabouts after newspapers began piling up on her porch. The cause of death was undetermined.
Telephone messages left for Tessneer’s daughter Libby and her husband, Tommy, who found her body, were not returned. A family member said they didn’t want to talk about the case. Mullinax’s family lives outside of Shelby and could not be reached for comment.
Word of the deaths and the similarities between them began to spread in the town: The three women all lived alone. Their homes were within two miles. They were all found in their beds with their phone lines disabled and doors unlocked.
‘‘Everyone was afraid, I'll tell you that,’’ said Betty Marlowe, 74.
‘‘You don’t think something like that would happen here,’’ Marlowe said. ‘‘But it did. We were on edge for a long time. No one knew if it would happen again. It just stayed on your mind for a long time.’’
Barbara Ann Fisher said she thinks daily about Ledford and her husband, who fought so hard to bring the case to the public’s attention.
‘‘This has been a nightmare for us — and all the families,’’ she said. ‘‘It still hurts. But I doubt we'll ever really know what really happened.’’