Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The True Story of Thomas Jabin Berry

The Safest Place on Earth

When Janet Siclari's brutalized body was discovered slumped against a sand dune outside of the Carolinian Hotel in August 1993, just days before Hurricane Emily struck the Carolina coast, there had been six murders in the history of Nag's Head. Janet Siclari became the seventh.

Carolinian Hotel
Carolinian Hotel

For four and a half years, the case remained unsolved, until a hit in a state DNA database connected a suspect with the crime. For the first time in North Carolina history, a killer would be identified, and a murder solved, through a "cold hit."

Established in the 1830s as an idyllic family vacation spot, Nag's Head, N.C., is rich in history and folklore. Local legends maintain Blackbeard buried his treasure beneath its sands, and the Wright Brothers first took flight fifteen minutes to the north.

While the exact origin of the name Nag's Head is uncertain, one local legend suggests that shipwrecked Englishmen, upon seeing it, were reminded of a high point on Scilly Island also called Nag's Headthe last spot of land that the seamen would have seen before voyaging on to the New World. Another favorite tale told by locals attributes the name to land pirates, who would fasten lanterns around the necks of their horses and then walk them up and down the beach so as to resemble ships close to shore. Upon seeing what they believed to be other merchant ships, unsuspecting vessels would be lured toward the beach, run aground, and be pillaged.

Once Nag's Head was characterized by numerous sand dunes that towered over its magnificent ocean beaches, but Jockey's Ridge is now the last of the great moving dunes. Legend has it that the original Nag's Head Hotel met its demise in the 1870s when the sands below its foundation shifted, leaving the "Unpainted Aristocracy," a mile-long stretch of cottages, to stand sentry against the northeasterly winds. Stately cottages built from lumber scavenged from the shipwrecks once so commonplace along the shore, the Unpainted Aristocracy have been left in the natural, unpainted state from which they take their name both as a testimony to the informality of the resort and to the futility of resisting the salt-and-sand-laden winds of the area.

It was here that Janet Siclari and her brother Robert spent so many vacations. They had been going to the Outer Banks since they were kids, and had always felt safe there. With just under 3,000 people living in the area, nothing bad could ever happen in Nag's Head. Or so they thought.

 

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