Down by the creek: Danielle Locklear's high school romance ends in murder
01/11/2018 1:23 pm PST
Danielle Locklear was a 15-year-old girl had just started high school and attended her first dance with the first love of her life. But everything was about to change.
A young freshman girl in love with a senior boy. She sneaks out of the house to see him, and is never seen alive again.
Danielle Locklear was beautiful, vivacious, without an enemy in the world -- except, it would turn out, for one.
What was Danielle like growing up?
"Mischievous, she was a firecracker," said Rowna Fowler, Danielle's mother. "You always found her in something, but she was always one of those types where she never let anything pass her by."
In the summer of 2013, the sun was still shining on 15-year-old Danielle Locklear. The sparkling-eyed teen spending the warmer months at her grandma's house, two hours from home in idyllic Hope Mills, North Carolina, surrounded by a big loving family of grandparents and aunts.
"She had a beautiful smile and an infectious laugh," said Danielle's aunt Chena Simmons. "We felt that, OK, we have one more person here that didn't mind getting her hands dirty, that didn't mind work."
After a summer at camp, Danielle's freshman year begins. She asks to enroll in high school up north with grandma. She'd grown close to her new friends in Hope Mills. Especially one friend, a handsome high-school senior named Je'Michael Malloy.
"I thought he was a nice kid. I mean he was quiet, very quiet, I guess around me, he was, because I'm the mom," Rowna tells Crime Watch Daily.
"He was very introverted, but that was OK, it's the makings, seemingly, of a very good and respectful kid," said Chena Simmons.
Danielle's aunt Chena Papa saw Danielle light up whenever her new boyfriend was around.
"When she first met him, she fell head over heels, she was in love, she was putting hearts everywhere, all of her notebooks had 'Je'Michael, Je'Michael Malloy, Danielle Malloy,'" said Papa.
But there was someone else vying for Malloy's attention: Dominic Lock.
"Dominic Lock was Je'Michael's best friend, they were tied at the hip," said Hope Mills Deputy Police Chief David Servie. "They had plans of doing the military thing together."
But for now, Dominic was the third wheel in Je'Michael and Danielle's budding love story.
"His friend Dominic seems like a person that is easily told what to do," said Rowna Fowler.
When they're alone, Danielle and Je'Michael's "ups" were good, like homecooked meals at Danielle's house and nightly cellphone chats. But the "downs" were deep.
Danielle wrote a Facebook update reading: "I feel no love because some people are too busy with other friends to pay attention to their girlfriend."
"They had broken up around Christmas time. A week later they were back together," said Chena Papa. "So everything was fine."
Fine, until a night near the end of the school year in March 2014. Danielle's mom Rowna, back home in Myrtle Beach, N.C., gets the phone call every mother dreads.
"My sister said 'Danielle is missing.' I'm like, 'What do you mean she's missing?'," said Rowna. "I'm panicking. You know, when someone tells you your child is missing you go into a whole 'nother mode, and get to my mom's house, and apparently she had left the house that night."
The last person to see Danielle was her grandfather.
"She asked my stepfather could she walk a folder down the street to a neighbor, supposed to be homework or something, and he gave her permission to leave, like 'Well, hurry up and come back,'" said Rowna.
Police were called, and a missing-person report was filed.
"For a few days everybody was praying and hoping that maybe she did just run off, maybe we really don't know her like that," said Chena Papa.
But Danielle's Aunt Chena can't rest until she finds her, so she investigates on her own, starting with a rumored secret place near grandma's house.
"Where I'm living, where my home is in Hope Mills, there's a creek back there that these school kids hang out, and I didn't know it was a hangout back there," said Darline Heegel.
By the light of day it's a teen hangout. But when night falls, the dense brush surrounding the muddy waters hides something darker. And neighborhood kids are whispering: It's a place Danielle Locklear was last seen alive.
"I went there the next day around the same time and looked at the woods and said 'This is like a scene out of a horror movie,' I wouldn't even walk back there, and she voluntarily walked into the dark woods? No, no way," said Chena Papa.
Chena ventures deeper down the creekside dirt trails and sees something that stops her heart cold.
"I see 'Help' scratched on the ground," said Chena.
Was it some kid's prank? Or a desperate plea? Then something else.
"As we're exiting the trail I look down and I'm like 'This is her sock,'" said Chena. "And it was rolled like it had rolled off a foot."
If it was Danielle's sock, where was the other one?
The entire town of Hope Mills, North Carolina was in a frantic search to find 15-year-old Danielle Locklear. The family had a weird feeling whoever took her might still be in their midst.
The only clues: a single word, "Help," scrawled in the mud and a single sock found by the side of a creek the day after Danielle disappeared.
"That was one of the first times in the case where there was a real concern that she had met with foul play," said Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West.
But the eerie clues don't lead to Danielle. So as days turn into weeks with no sign of the missing girl, Hope Mills Deputy Police Chief David Servie ramps up the search, calling in the FBI.
Danielle's family has little to do but wait, worry and beg for her return. At every search party, suspicious glances are cast in all directions -- even toward Danielle's high school senior boyfriend Je'Michael Malloy, the boy who loved Danielle as much as she loved him.
"Je'Michael was at the search, balloon release, come by the house, hugging me. I cried on his shoulder, everything. You are looking at any and everyone," said Danielle's mother Rowna Fowler.
In fact, Je'Michael tries to offer his own bizarre tips based on what he says was Danielle's state of mind.
"She told me that she wanted to kill herself and drown herself in cold water, and I was like 'First of all, she's missing right now, why would you even think like that?'" said Danielle's aunt Chena Papa.
But Je'Michael's best friend Dominic Lock is nowhere in sight.
Then, just as all hope seems lost, an off-duty cop calls dispatch from a bridge a stone's throw from Danielle's school near the South River on the Cumberland County line.
"A detective from the Montgomery Sheriff's Department was on his way home and he looked out over the creek as he drove across the bridge and saw some something just didn't look right to him," said Deputy Chief Servie. "It ended up being Danielle."
After 23 days, the young girl's sludge-covered body was pulled from the still, brown water, bound by nylon rope tied to cinderblocks.
"Once Danielle was taken out of the river is when you could clearly see the rope tied around her waist and the cinderblocks attached to it," said Servie.
The 25-pound blocks were a crude but failed attempt at weighting her down in the muddy water.
And one more final gruesome detail: a single sock forced deep into her mouth. The sock matches the one her aunt found on the shore.
"Asphyxiation was given as Danielle's cause of death. During the autopsy they found where a sock had been forced down Danielle's throat," said Servie.
It's a horrific sight that breaks the heart of even a veteran cop like David Servie.
"I was just like, 'This is horrible. Look what they've done to her.' There was no way her family would be able to have any type of an open casket or anything like that," Servie tells Crime Watch Daily.
Soon after, Danielle's mom Rowna gets the tragic news.
"That night my cellphone rang and it was FBI," said Rowna. "And I knew something wasn't right, and she said 'Well, we have a body.' I said 'Well, I understand you probably can't answer the question,' but I said 'Just at least look at me in my eyes,' and I said 'Is it her?' She didn't say nothing, because I knew."
Police examine Danielle's body, the rope and the cinderblocks.
"I remember looking at the cinderblocks, I just thought those were very unique cinderblocks, small rocks and pebbles in them, and they were thin, and you would usually see them around a really old house or something like that," said Servie.
The location of the body tells Servie where to look next: it's nearly a mile from someone Danielle knew very well -- Danielle's boyfriend Je'Michael Malloy.
"I learned a long time ago there's no such thing as a coincidence," said Servie. "The next day we executed a search warrant at Je'Michael's house."
Servie and his investigators turn Je'Michael's place upside down, looking for anything that would tie him to Danielle Locklear's murder.
On Je'Michael's property, they find rope that matches the one that bound Danielle. And neatly stacked next to the garage, they found distinctive cinderblocks speckled with pebbles -- a match for the ones at the lake.
"When I saw those cinderblocks at Je'Michael's house, I knew we were at the right place. I knew it. There was no doubt in my mind," said Servie.
Then they find Danielle's cellphone tossed onto a highway median a short distance away.
"And there was a voicemail on there. I guess when they were arguing, he said 'If you come around me I will kill you,'" said Rowna Fowler.
But did that angry teenage rant tell the whole story?
"If this were me, I'd be losing my mind at all these cops on my property executing a search warrant," said Hope Mills Deputy Police Chief David Servie.
But not Je'Michael Malloy.
"Je'Michael was just cool as a cucumber," said Servie. "He began to ask questions about our police canine. 'What kind of dog is it? How old is it? Can I play with him?'"
But armed with physical evidence, Chief Servie knows it's time for cops to ask Je'Michael Mally and his best friend Dominic Lock questions.
Only under the heat of interrogation lights does the truth emerge.
Je'Michael coldly relates how he broke up with Danielle for good at the creek.
"We were fighting. And next thing I knew, she wasn't breathing. And I freaked out," Je'Michael says during the recorded interrogation.
His best friend Dominic Lock was just 70 yards away during the incident, and tells investigators he was shocked when Je'Michael came running up from the creek alone.
"After a while he had came back to me and he told me she's dead. And I asked him, 'What are you talking about?' And he ran down there and I ran after him, and she was just laying there on her stomach," Dominic Lock tells police in a recorded interrogation session.
Dominic says he was still in shock when Je'Michael asked him to help with Danielle's body.
"He was like, 'She's dead and she wasn't supposed to be out. We're both going to get charged with murder.' And he's like, 'We need to get rid of the body,'" Dominic tells police.
At that point Dominic admits he helped Je'Michael move Danielle up the creek bed. Je'Michael took over from there.
"Threw her in the car. Went back home. That's when I got the cinderblocks and the rope, tied her up and put her in the river," Je'Michael tells police.
Je'Michael claims he freaked because Danielle lied and told him she was pregnant.
"I think to get his attention. I can't say that she wanted him to stay with her other than that these were teenagers coming to the end of a relationship," said Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West.
And a baby just wasn't in Je'Michael Malloy's plans.
"It was a very cold interview," said David Servie. "Je'Michael didn't show any emotion until he began speaking about his potential career in the military was now ruined. That's the only time he cried. I just thought 'Wow, that's what he's upset about.'"
But Je'Michael's matter-of-fact account doesn't fully tell the tale of Danielle's horror. That comes from Danielle's grieving mom Rowna, who tells Crime Watch Daily the heartbreaking reality of how her daughter died.
"They had a heated argument out there in the woods, then she turned her back to him, and then he came up behind her and that's how he choked her to death," said Rowna. "So he ran back to the car and told his friend she's dead."
And the sock? Dominic tells investigators it was one final act to silence Danielle.
"His friend said he could not stand the sound that my daughter's body was making, I guess the gasses being expelled, and so they took her boots off and took a sock and shoved it in her mouth," said Rowna.
"The car was like, smelling," Dominic told detectives. "He said 'Put the sock in her mouth.'"
With Danielle Locklear silenced forever, they had just one more despicable act.
"They put her in the trunk of the car," said Rowna. "They got cinderblocks and nylon rope. They tied her ankles to cinderblocks and tied the other two around her waist. They took her to a river right down around there and tossed her in the river."
Je'Michael Malloy pleads guilty to murder in the second degree. Dominic Lock, for his role in dumping Danielle Locklear's body, pleads guilty to accessory to murder.
"It's a horrible story," said Bernard Condlin, Dominic Lock's public defender. "He knew exactly what he did was wrong. He knew why it was wrong. He knew it was wrong when he was doing it, and that's why he accepted the plea that he did."
Before his sentencing, Je'Michael Malloy makes one last attempt to save his own skin, offering an apology to Danielle's heartbroken family.
"I know there's nothing that I can do or I can say that's going to bring her back. But I do want to apologize for the actions that I have made. I know 'sorry' doesn't cut it," Je'Michael said in court.
Je'Michael Malloy is sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in prison.
Dominic Lock is sentenced to six years behind bars.
Danielle's mother will spend the rest of her life haunted by her daughter's savage murder.
"A lot of people, they'll ask me 'How do you get over it?' You don't. You just move on," said Rowna.
Danielle Locklear's mother says her daughter's killer has sent her several letters from prison. Most of them remain unopened. She calls them garbage.
Je'Michael Malloy will be eligible for parole when he is 43 years old.