“She made me laugh constantly, always.”
-Denise Evans-Klucas, Naomi's friend.
It was the 26th of January 2003. A Sunday. Forty three year old Pastor, Aaron Estes, reported his wife, forty four year old Naomi Carpenter Estes, missing. They lived in Concord, near Charlotte, North Carolina, United States and had three children, ranging in ages from 15 to 21. They had lived there for over four years. Aaron told police that Naomi left the house to go to work but she didn't make it to work that evening and he was worried about his wife as it wasn't like her to go anywhere without letting him know where she was going.
Aaron and Naomi had been married for twenty four years. They met in church school, both of their families were close and were lifelong members of Bethel Assembly of God in Perrysburg, Ohio. After a brief stay in California, Aaron and Naomi returned to Ohio and Aaron became a youth minister and Naomi enrolled at college and graduated with a nursing degree. She worked at Toledo Hospital but they decided to move to Concord when she was offered a job at Carolinas Health Care System in Charlotte.
Even though that particular move was their eight move in a twenty year period, they seemed to settle well there and were highly regarded in the community.They worked together as co-pastors of First Foursquare's children's ministry and Naomi also continued working at Carolinas Medical Center University. She was a nurse in the surgical unit there. Naomi's disappearance was completely out of character. And when Aaron reported Naomi missing, everybody wanted to help to try to find her.
Aaron told police that he first became aware that his wife was missing when hospital officials at the hospital where Naomi worked called him. She didn’t show up for work and they rang the house to see if she was home. She wasn’t. Aaron said that she left the house around 5pm to drive to work. Their children, Daniel, Andrew and Ariane, were at a party and were not home at the time. Naomi was due at work that evening. Aaron told police that nothing unusual happened that day. It was Super Bowl Sunday, they went to church earlier that day and Naomi spent a few hours that day napping as she had to work the overnight shift. But Naomi never showed up for her shift at Carolinas Medical Center.
The fact that Naomi left the house at 5pm didn't make sense to police if she planned to go straight to work as her shift was only due to begin at 7pm and the hospital was eight miles away. Had she made plans to go somewhere else first?
The next day, the 27th of January, a farmer out checking his animals on his rural farm saw a car parked in a field. It was Naomi's blue 2001 Chrysler Concorde and it was parked on a dirt road off Flowes Store Road. When he went over to the car, he saw Naomi's body inside, lying on the back seat.
When police arrived , they discovered that Naomi had been strangled and "sustained severe blunt trauma to her head." She had been viciously beaten and then strangled to death.
Just one day after Naomi's body was found, her husband Aaron was arrested and charged with murder.
Members of Concord's First Foursquare Church, where the couple served as youth ministers, were in shock. One of the members, Bill Little, said:
“It's hard for us to comprehend; they looked like the ideal couple. They were dedicated to each other's work in the church. She was like his left hand, you might say.”
And some people, who thought the arrest was some kind of mistake, soon discovered that there was no mistake when Aaron confessed that he was the person who killed Naomi.
Aaron told police that when Naomi woke that day, it was around 4.45pm, they argued about their finances. He told police that he hit her twice with a marble rolling pin.
Aaron was charged with first degree murder and as such, the option was open for the Prosecution to seek the death penalty. Some of Naomi’s family were in favor of the death penalty but also did not want Naomi’s three children to have to sit through the ordeal of a Criminal Trial. Naomi’s brother, Jim Carpenter, said:
“We would like to see him get the death penalty, but we would prefer he would plead guilty, get life in prison, and not put their kids through a Trial.”
The County Prosecutor, Roxann Vaneekhoven, argued that Aaron's acts were so atrocious and cruel that the death penalty should be sought. She believed that he killed Naomi to avoid being charged with a lesser offense. She also believed that there may have been some financial motive. She was confident that the Prosecution had a strong and solid case:
“The weight of evidence against him is strong at the scene. And based on his statement to the police, not only did he confess, but he cleaned up and destroyed evidence after the crime was committed.”
Aaron's Attorney, at his Indictment hearing, told the Court that he was looking into the possibility that Aaron's cancer medications may have played a part in his actions that day and they may raise that possibility in his Defense. Aaron had late-stage non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and was on medication. He was prescribed drugs to treat inflammation, depression and anxiety and his Attorney looked at how those medications may have had an impact on the decisions he made that day.
That Defense was not raised at the Trial as at a later date and before his Trial began, Aaron pleaded guilty.
Based on his confession, Naomi’s injuries and the evidence found inside the home and car, the Court heard some of the details in relation to what happened to Naomi that Super Bowl Sunday afternoon.
The Court heard that Aaron struck Naomi inside their house with a marble rolling pin twice. He was afraid that if he sought medical help for her, he would be arrested so instead of calling for help or driving her to the hospital, he wrapped her in a comforter, dragged her to her car and placed her in the backseat of her car. He then drove to the rural farm where her body was later found.
When Aaron got to the rural farm, Naomi was still alive so he struck her with a rock and strangled her with the seatbelt. He then tried to stage a robbery and possible rape scene by partially undressing her, he pulled down her pants, and he scattered the contents of her purse around the car.
When Aaron got home, he removed the white gloves he had been wearing and washed his clothes and the comforter that Naomi had been wrapped in. He tidied up and washed the dishes and put the marble rolling pin back in the cupboard.
The Court heard the details of Naomi’s injuries. The County's Medical Examiner ruled Naomi's cause of death was strangulation. The Autopsy found that even after Naomi was beaten with the marble rolling pin, and later struck with a rock, she remained alive until she was strangled to death with her seatbelt. There were contusions all over Naomi’s face and she had skull fractures and there were strangulation marks around her neck. She had suffered a violent beating and death.
As Aaron had entered a guilty plea, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After his conviction, Aaron spoke to Oprah. His version of events was different to what he told police in his confession. In his interview with Oprah, he claimed that he woke Naomi up for work and when she came downstairs, she asked where the children were. According to Aaron, that was the beginning of an argument. He claimed that she “went off” and told him he had problems and asked him why he wanted to be alone.
According to Aaron, Naomi was very upset and she accused him of having problems. She told him he was a miserable person and had no reason to be depressed. According to Aaron, they struggled and fought and Naomi swung the rolling pin at him so he ran upstairs. Naomi ran after him and jumped on him on the bed and they continued fighting. He gained control, hit her and caused her to bleed. He told Oprah that he doesn’t remember hitting her with the pin.
While most people who knew Aaron and Naomi were shocked at the events that took place that day, the 26th of January, there were others who saw them argue at times and believed that Aaron had a dark side. There were red flags in his past too.
When they first married, Naomi worked in the family business at Dudley's restaurant and Aaron worked at several churches. He also did some street preaching. A few years later, in 1992, they moved to Selma in California where Aaron joined an Assembly of God church there. But within a year, Aaron was suspended.
When they moved back to Ohio from California, Aaron was admitted to a rehabilitation program administered by the church. There were also accusations that he had an extramarital affair and was dismissed from his church in 1993. But as Naomi’s mother, Betty Carpenter, said “You don't know what goes on inside a home” and that’s true of every home and even though there were red flags and flashes of a dark side, there was no indication that there was an immediate risk to Naomi’s life that day.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
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- Sandra Pupatello
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