1986 murder mystery: Who killed Randy Hockabout?

1986 murder mystery: Who killed Randy Hockabout?

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Optimist Park, the scene of the crime. Optimist Park, the scene of the crime.
Police search the victim's car for clues. Police search the victim's car for clues.
Randy Hockabout with his daughter. Randy Hockabout with his daughter.

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – It's one of the oldest unsolved murders in Wilmington.

Randy Hockabout, a 30-year-old father, was killed in Wilmington 28 years ago.

Some memories of Hockabout bring joy and laughter to his sister, Patricia Rongotes. But thinking about his death brings tears to her eyes.

"I was allowed 29 years with him," she said. "It's 28 years later. That's half of my life now that he's been out of my life."

The crime

Hockabout kissed his mother before leaving the house January 24, 1986.

"He came over to the couch and then he took my face like he always do and he kissed me and said, ‘Mama, I love you more than anything,'" Barbara Hockabout said. That was the last time she saw her son.

The next day, police found his body in Optimist Park on Front Street. He was beaten to death.

File video from that day shows officers collecting evidence but they were never able to crack the case and his killers are still out there.

Possible motive

Police believe it is likely that whoever killed Hockabout targeted him because he was gay.

"He died of a horrible death and they enjoyed what they did when they were doing," she said. "I just can't believe there are people out there like that."

Rongotes said her brother had a difficult time coming to terms with his sexuality and for years he tried to hide who he was.

"It was hard on him being gay," she said. "He didn't like being gay. He wanted to know what was wrong with him. Why God wouldn't heal him to be straight."

Rongotes said he tried to live as a straight man. At one point, Hockabout got married and had a daughter. Eventually, he and his wife divorced.

Her brother came out in the early 80s, sometimes dressing in drag. He appeared in a series of stories that aired on WECT News, where he talked about life as a gay man in Wilmington.

Rongotes said some of her family members were shocked but she and her mother stood beside him.

"He was Randy. If he wanted to dress up and do a show, we supported him," she said. "We went out to the gay bars with him, mamma and I and he came to the straight bars with us."

Those are the memories that bring laughter to Rongotes and her mother.

The pain comes when they think of how and why he was taken from them.

The investigation

Detective Lee Odham is leading the investigation into this cold case. He said recently, the Wilmington Police Department's cold case unit, which includes two retired FBI agents, reexamined the Hockabout case.

Odham said they are following a few leads and also recently conducted new interviews with people connected to the case.

In terms of evidence from the scene, Odham said they are determining which pieces would be best to send to the state crime lab for testing.

Remembering Randy

Saturday, Hockabout's family held a memorial service for Randy at Optimist Park, where they released balloons and honored his life. His daughter, Carrie, who was 8 at the time of his death, was there.

Rongotes hopes the memorial will help bring attention to her brother's case.

Hockabout's mother is urging anyone with information to come forward.

"Please, please let us know who killed my son," she said. "I want to know. I'm 80. I don't want to die without knowing. I couldn't rest in peace."

If you have any information that could help police solve the case, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-531-9845. You can remain anonymous and you may get a reward of up to $5,000.

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