A private investigator says he knows what happened to Cole Thomas — a Florida man who went missing in Benson three years ago — and that at least two of the four men previously arrested in the case may not be off the hook, even though their charges were dropped.
Thomas’ parents hired Smithfield private investigator David Marshburn to find out what happened the night their son disappeared in hopes of bringing his killers to justice.
Thomas went missing from an intersection in Benson on the night of Thanksgiving 2016. His body was never found and many theories have surfaced over the course of the investigation.
Thomas’ truck was found at the intersection of East Morgan and North Elm streets in Benson. The driver’s side door was open and the keys were in the ignition.
Julian Valles Jr., 34, of Dudley, Jeremy Brian Carpenter, 42, of Taylor Falls, Minnesota, Rudolfo DeLeon Jr., 27, of Mount Olive and Anthony Riddell James, 26, also of Mount Olive were identified as suspects in the case and arrested. Charges against the four have since been dropped, but investigators continue to keep their eyes on them.
At a recent memorial service in Benson, Marshburn revealed that he thinks two of the men, previously arrested, were not involved in the murder of Thomas, but the other two were — and one of them was set up to take the fall.
Marshburn made the comments at the service in front of the Benson Police Department.
“We have the four that were arrested,” Marshburn said. “Two of those four we know are not involved in the death of Cole, they’re just going to be framed for [being a] part to it. We do know that. It’s been told to us. It’s been said over and over again.”
While he did not name the two men, specifically, he did say he believes one of the remaining two was, at the very least, partly responsible.
Marshburn says he believes he knows what happened the night Thomas disappeared.
DeLeon, who was a passenger in the vehicle, Valles and Thomas were participants in what he describes as an interstate drug deal, according to Marshburn. Thomas was the driver and Valles brought money from Minnesota, where the men were working, to buy drugs, Marshburn said.
“We do know that it was a drug deal involving mostly one of them,” Marshburn said. “Cole was the driver and apparently he got in the middle of some drug deal, and there was much more drugs than what was ever said.”
According to police reports, a bag of what is alleged to be methamphetamine, was transported from a residence in Mount Olive with the intention of selling it. Instead, according to a statement by Valles, Thomas began acting erratically, fearing police he allegedly threw the drugs out the window of the vehicle.
“Julian came down here with other people’s money,” Marshburn said. “So there’s a lot more money and a lot more drugs involved.”
One of the many mysterious elements of the case revolves around the location of Thomas’ cellphone, something family members have repeatedly said he would never leave behind voluntarily.
According to Marshburn, the phone was tracked to several locations before the trail ended in Mount Olive.
“Just recently we did obtain information and we found out they lied to us about where Cole’s phone was and where it had been all the time,” Marshburn said. “It made it’s way from Mount Olive to Benson, out of Benson, back around, back into Benson, then back to Mount Olive.”
Marshburn says the main reason why investigators — both private and those in law enforcement — are having trouble getting anyone to finally tell what happened is because they are afraid of the consequences of their actions.
“It’s just that we would like to get Cole’s remains but these guys are such cowards, they’re not going to give it up,” he said. “They’re so afraid of jail. You’re not afraid to kill somebody, but you’re afraid to go to jail, that’s the problem. I find it very cowardly and I’ve offered myself, I’ve offered anything, but yet these guys won’t come off it.”
Marshburn said one of the suspects has opened up about the case and family members want to make it very clear, they are aware of what happened and want the people involved to take responsibility; at the very least, they want to be able to bring their son home, Marshburn said.
“The dad (Chris Thomas) wants them to know, of the four, one of those four did come forward and spilled the beans and told us everything,” Marshburn said. “One of them still fails to tell us anything, still denies, denies, denies. But the slip up was, he did basically tell us in an indirect way what happened and he’s still keeping quiet.”
But pressure to talk may end up coming from the ones trying to keep him quiet.
“We know they (the other suspects) made the comment they were going to frame him for it, which is fine,” Marshburn said. “He should understand that and come forward anyway. He’s just afraid to go to jail for what they’ve done, so that’s where we’re at.”
In addition to the lack of finding Thomas’ remains and all of the other obstacles put up to keep investigators at bay, Marshburn said the involvement is likely beyond the four suspects, at least indirectly. Outside influences may also have a hand in keeping the truth hidden, he said.
Calling it a multi-jurisdictional case among the more difficult to solve, Marshburn said investigators still have to use what they know and create the best case possible for prosecutors.
“We’re trying to get to where we’re building a case, building blocks, up, up, up, up,” he said. “If we never get Cole’s remains, at least we can build that case on circumstantial (evidence) and try to help the justice department with some information if we can. But they have to do their investigation and we have to do ours.”
Benson Police Chief Kenneth Edwards, who Marshburn credits for his help and the help of his investigators in the case, said he can’t officially comment on an open investigation. He did say he welcomes any and all pieces of information on the case and encourages anyone who has any knowledge to come forward.
“This is a very challenging case and any information we receive we take very seriously,” Edwards said. “We encourage anyone with any knowledge of what happened to Cole Thomas to come forward and speak with us.”