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Arson could have erased evidence in missing man’s case

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BAILEY — Four months after a Wilson man mysteriously vanished more than a decade ago, suspicious fires destroyed a mobile home belonging to the family of the last people to see him alive.

Travis Lamont Lynch, 21, dropped off the face of the earth on Christmas Eve 2003. He was last seen alive with his girlfriend who lived on Claude Lewis Road near Middlesex.

When detectives began to seriously question the girlfriend’s family about Travis’ whereabouts, a family-owned mobile home near Bailey was incinerated in an uncanny set of circumstances.

The Nash County Fire Marshal’s Office investigated the incident as an arson case, but with no clear determination being made.

Within a stone’s throw of Bailey-Middlesex Community Park at 8104 Stoney Hill Church Road, there’s no sign today that the mobile home ever existed.

The properties on Claude Lewis Road and Stoney Hill Church Road are owned by the members of the Whitley family, according to county tax records.

Sean Fontae Whitley was the mobile home’s occupant when the fires occurred, according to investigation reports.

Whitley, 46, is serving federal prison time on drug convictions. Housed at Butner Correctional Institution in Granville County, Whitley is due to be released in August 2021, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Detectives with the Nash County Sheriff’s Office explained the sequence of events surrounding the fires.

Maj. David Brake took a minute during a recent interview at the sheriff’s office to verify the information with Jeff Lucas, a retired detective who’s still involved in the investigation.

“Let me call Lucas, he’s up on that part of the case,” Brake said.

After speaking with Lucas, Brake confirmed the mobile home ­— which didn’t have electricity — caught fire April 23, 2004, but didn’t completely burn down. Then a few days later, it was engulfed in flames a second time. After the second fire, the mobile home was destroyed.

Either the alleged arsonist was successful or no evidence existed because investigators couldn’t find anything after the fires, said Lt. Jeff Sherrod, a supervisor in the sheriff’s Criminal Investigation Division.

“We’re not confident no evidence existed, but none was found after the fires,” Brake said.

Anyone with information about Travis’ fate is asked to call Maj. Miste Strickland at 252-532-4574. A $20,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest in the case.

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