New Details in Murder of UNCC Student

New Details in Murder of UNCC Student

Posted: Jun. 9, 2008 4:30 p.m.
Updated: Jun. 9, 2008 7:05 p.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is based on an exclusive interview with Sgt.
Fred N. Tindall of the Mount Holly Police Department. The interview was
conducted on June 5, 2008, one month after the murder of UNC-Charlotte
student Irina Yarmolenko.

A Brother's Mission.

Call it keeping busy, call it coping, Duke graduate student Pavel Yarmolenko
does whatever he can to help solve the case.

He created Spanish and English fliers that can be seen posted on trees in
the back country area where his 20-year-old sister, Irina "Ira" Yarmolenko,
was found murdered along a Catawba River bank in Gaston County.

The fliers indicate a $10,000 reward is being offered for information
leading to the arrest of Irina's killer or killers.

The crime scene is at the end of a hard-to-find trail, which is walked by
people who know the area well and go to the river for fishing, kayaking and

According to investigators, Irina did not know the area well and had no
known ties to the Mount Holly area.

Mount Holly Police Timeline: Day One.

On Monday, May 5, around 1:20 p.m., Mount Holly Police told NC WANTED they
received a call about a body along the Catawba River, just north of the I-85
bridge and near the exit to Mount Holly and Belmont.

The person who called 911 said passing jet skiers had spotted a body lying
beside the driver's side of an older blue Saturn. The vehicle appeared to
have slammed against a tree stump preventing it from reaching the water.

The caller also reported that the driver's side door and left rear passenger
door were open.

Mount Holly investigators, along with other agencies, struggled at first to
guide everyone to the remote river bank. "One of the problems we had early
on was locating the crime scene," Sgt. Fred Tindall told NC WANTED.

"Looking at the way the car was left, somebody would have had to know the
area, period, to know about that remote trail leading to the crime scene,
and to know how to get to it. This is not something you're going to run up
on. To find it, you have to go to an all-grass right-of-way to enter the
trail, then if you make a left-turn, you ease down a long flat dirt path
that gradually steepens to a 45-degree angle leading into the river, where
it was possible to fish at the river and place a canoe in the water. It's at
the back of a new development [Water's Edge] under construction and not in
plain sight of the nearby construction workers," Tindall explained.

Tindall added that investigators had to approach the crime scene by land and
water, and soon realized they were dealing with a homicide.

"To me, it looks like someone was trying to submerge the car, conceal it,
and if it had gone under, we may never have found that car until the next
drought. That tree stump stopped the descent," Tindall said.

Tindall said investigators discovered items in the car, including a wallet
containing a UNC-Charlotte student I.D. and items too sensitive to release
to the public at this time.

To preserve as much evidence as possible, investigators processed the car's
exterior right away, then hauled the car to a secure location.

The female body was removed and by that night, Monday, May 5, the victim's
body was identified as Irina Yarmolenko, a Ukrainian-born student attending
UNCC as a sophomore.

As with all murder investigations, the first hours are the most critical,
and this case was attracting a lot of media attention. CBS News and Greta
Van Susteren with FOX News were making the story a national fascination.

Investigators knew they had to notify the next-of-kin without losing time in
the investigation. This meant asking Carrboro police to notify Irina's
immediate family, who live in Carrboro despite their Chapel Hill mailing

Once that happened, investigators were able to interview Irina's friends on
the UNC Charlotte campus.

They soon learned Irina was a special person, an excellent student with good
grades, well-liked and kind. The bumper sticker on her car displayed the
phrase, "Coexist" with each letter symbolizing a different religion as a
gesture of religious tolerance.

"Ira was a free-spirit, loved the outdoors, hardly ever drove her car,
mostly rode her bike or walked on campus, so driving her car was unusual.
She had an exam later that day at 5 p.m. on campus," Tindall said.

Irina had just celebrated her 20th birthday on May 2, just three days before
her murder.

Investigators say her friends had thrown a party for "Ira," but in keeping
with her character, Ira had cooked for everyone at her own party.

After her birthday meal, Ira and her friends visited an art studio in
northern Davidson County. Her friends said they had a good time, and
returned to campus, ending the night on good terms.

Day Two.

The next morning, Tuesday, May 6, a post-mortem report was conducted and it
was confirmed Irina had been asphyxiated. Investigators are withholding
details that would reveal whether she was choked or something was used to
block her air passage.

Her car's interior and trunk were processed for evidence, including hair,
fluids, latent finger prints and blood.

Sgt. Tindall pointed out that UNCC officials were helpful and cooperative to
help them find locations on campus. The university also posted the reward

But the campus interviews were not providing useful leads.

Investigators determined Irina did not have a current boyfriend at the time
of her death, so they interviewed her ex-boyfriends and former casual dates,
but determined all relationships had been parted on good terms.

Irina's closest friend at UNCC, Mary, and her cousin Natalie, a UNC-Chapel
Hill student, gave no indication that Irina had been stalked, or had
rejected any people interested in dating her.

"But we were able to piece together some of her movements in the hours
before she was murdered," Sgt. Fred Tindall told NC WANTED.

Reconstructing her final hours.

Investigators were able to confirm that Irina was at her Hunt Village
apartment until about 9:45a.m.on the day of her murder.

She was spotted via surveillance video from 10:17 a.m. to 10:21 a.m. inside
her bank, where she deposited some checks.

In another surveillance video, Irina was seen at 10:33 a.m. stopping by the
Goodwill store just north of the UNCC campus to make a donation of clothing.

"In looking at the Goodwill surveillance video, Ira was wearing the same
clothing that was found on her body at the crime scene. She arrived at
Goodwill by herself and left by herself, and it appears she was heading back
to campus," Sgt. Tindall said.

Sgt. Tindall said after she left Goodwill, Irina drove to her former
workplace, Jackson Java.

"The manager at the coffee shop [Jackson Java] said Ira stopped by in the
10:30 range then left about 10:50a.m. The manager did not notice anyone
leaving with Ira, approaching her or following her," Sgt. Tindall explained.

Investigators tell NC WANTED, on the day of her murder, Irina was in the
process of bringing closure to her life at UNCC. Irina had recently resigned
both of her part-time jobs, handing in "positive" resignation letters to the
computer lab where she worked assisting students on campus, and to the
Jackson Java coffee shop. Investigators said she indicated in those letters
that she enjoyed working there and had to leave to attend UNC-Chapel Hill as
a junior in the fall semester.

"Ira indicated she was sad to leave her friends behind at UNCC, but she was
looking forward to attending UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall," according to Sgt.

Irina departed the coffee shop at around 10:50 a.m and her body was found
around 1:20 p.m.

Analyzing the evidence and Irina's travels on May 5.

"Our best bet in this case will be to get back good results from the DNA
testing at the lab," Tindall told NC WANTED.

When asked where Irina may have been headed that day, and why she was in
this out-of-the-way area in Mount Holly and Gaston County, Sgt. Tindall
vented respectful frustration.

"I'd like to know why she was murdered. But as each day passes, it gets
tougher as the clock works against us, and until we can determine a motive,
it's going to be difficult to get this case solved," he said.

Sgt. Tindall, along with many others, has been working countless hours for
over a month, but the case remains unsolved.

"That's the million dollar question as to where she was headed. It's a
little over 20 miles from the coffee shop to the crime scene," Tindall said.

"The shortest route would have been if she drove south on Hwy. 49 to the
Hwy. 29/49 connector, then took the entrance ramp to southbound I-85. Then
she would have driven over the bridge crossing over the Catawba River
entering Gaston County and would have taken the Belmont/Mount Holly exit,
made a right turn, and then accessed that new development area via YMCA
drive, and turned just before she reached the Stowe Family YMCA building.
At that point, she would have turned left onto a small access road called
Park View Drive, taking her to the back of the new development under
construction, which is near the entrance to the trail leading to the crime

Tindall confirmed to NC WANTED that the manner of death was asphyxiation and
added that "her body was in good shape when we found it. No signs of
physical attack, nor did it appear she was punched or hit with closed fist
or blunt object."

The SBI lab is working to expedite the results of forensic evidence, Tindall

"We can't say right now whether Ira was a specific target or she was the
victim of a random crime. We can't determine the motive either. She wasn't
known to carry much money, and we've not detected any use of her bank cards
or debit cards. And whether or not she was sexually assaulted is unclear
until we get more lab tests back, along with the complete autopsy report
from the Medical Examiner," Tindall said.

"It looked like her car hit that tree stump at about 30 m.p.h. The airbag
did not deploy, which makes us think the ignition was not on. There were no
skid marks or spin marks on the ground, and there was no evidence the brakes
were locked or were used to stop the vehicle."

Waiting for lab results. Hoping for a resolution. Every agency doing its

NC WANTED has learned the agencies supporting Mount Holly Police in this
investigation have included Gaston County Police, Charlotte-Mecklenberg
Police, NC SBI, FBI-Charlotte, U.S. Postal Inspectors and the UNC-Charlotte

"We're a small agency and we've put in a lot of hours, so we've needed the
cooperation from numerous agencies. In my 27 years on the force, on a major
case like this, other agencies in the Gaston County and Charlotte areas have
always been great to respond," said Tindall.

"This is definitely a who-dun-it and we're gonna end up earning our money on
this one if we solve it. I pray every night they find an unknown sample of
DNA on the evidence we've turned in, and the scientists will find a match in
the DNA database and be able to give us a name."

The final Medical Examiner's report has not yet been released and critical
evidence is still being tested.

It is possible investigators like Sgt. Tindall of Mount Holly Police may
soon get a break in this case.
A $10,000 Reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest in
this case. Anyone with information about the murder of Irina Yarmolenko can
call the Mount Holly Police Department at 704-827-4343.

If you have information on this unsolved case of Chapel Hill resident Irina
"Ira" Yarmolenko, you can also call NC WANTED toll free at 1.866.43.WANTED
or click on "Report a Tip" Your identity can be kept confidential.