Monday, January 30, 2012

East Spencer, NC: Ex-boyfriend made repeated threats to murder victim

EAST SPENCER — The baseball bat Joan Marie Lark kept next to her bed for protection was probably the weapon used to murder her Friday in her East Spencer home, her boyfriend said.

Kerry Wooden, Lark’s boyfriend and co-worker at the VA Medical Center, said Lark, 49, always slept with the bat near her bed. He said he believes Gary Cureton, an estranged ex-boyfriend, used a key to enter Lark’s 110 W. Spencer St. home and then wielded the bat.

Six of Lark’s grandchildren were sleeping upstairs during the attack. They found her body when they woke up for school.

Cureton, who had been hospitalized at Rowan Regional Medical Center for chest pains since his arrest Friday, was discharged Sunday afternoon and served with warrants for murder, first-degree burglary and robbery with a dangerous weapon. He is being held in the Rowan County Detention Center without bond.

Authorities found Cureton Friday afternoon at a house in Kannapolis wearing Lark’s jacket, with her jewelry in his pockets and dried blood on his clothing, said Detective. A.D. Loflin with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.

Family members tried to convince Lark to take out a domestic violence protective order against Cureton, who they said threatened her repeatedly since she kicked him out Jan. 1.

For weeks, Lark brushed off the threats.

“Neither one of us took him very serious,” Wooden said.

But recently, Lark started to consider telling authorities and had saved 33 recordings of Cureton’s threats on her voice mail, Wooden said.

“She wasn’t sure if she had enough evidence,” he said. “She said she wanted it to build up to have a good case.”

Cureton has a history of domestic violence. In 2008, he was convicted of two counts of communicating threats. In 2000, he was convicted of two counts of domestic criminal trespassing and assault on a female.

“I told her to take a warrant out against him, said he’s no good,” said Kathleen Chambers, Lark’s mother. “She said, ‘Oh mama, he wouldn’t do anything.’

“She didn’t have no idea.”

Lark felt sorry for Cureton, her mother and boyfriend said. Lark and Cureton dated for more than a year but broke up in February 2011.

She allowed Cureton to continue living in her house because he was recovering from a serious illness and several surgeries, Wooden and Chambers said.

“She had a very kind heart,” Wooden said.

Lark suspected Cureton of stealing from her and doing drugs, Wooden said, but hesitated to kick him out because he had no place to go and no money.

When Cureton received his first disability check, she finally told him to leave, Wooden said. East Spencer police removed his belongings from her house Jan. 2.

“It got bad then,” Chambers said.

Cureton began calling Lark’s cell phone and home phone over and over, leaving threatening messages, she said. Wooden said Cureton also threatened him on the phone.

Among other threats, Wooden said Cureton told him last weekend he was watching him, Lark and the house.

Since January, Wooden had stayed over at Lark’s house most Thursday nights. He studies biomedical technology at Stanly County Community College during the week and works weekends in environmental services at the VA, where he met Lark last year. She was a front-desk assistant.

But last Thursday, Wooden went home to Charlotte to do his laundry and slept there. Lark had offered to wash his clothes, but Wooden said she already had six grandchildren to take care of.

Wooden said he’d been warning her not to sleep with the TV on — an old habit — for fear she would not hear if someone tried to break in.

When deputies responded to the house early Friday morning, the TV was on, they said.

Authorities said Cureton took $1,000 worth of jewelry, clothes and money from the house.

Lark had 13 grandchildren and custody of the six who lived with her. Lark had two daughters — one with three children and another with 10, including three sets of twins.

Lark was Chambers’ younger of two daughters.

“Joan was my baby,” she said. “I’m in shock. It hurt worse than anything in my life. It would have been all right if God had taken her, but she got killed for no reason.”

Chambers, 65, said she awoke at 2 a.m. Friday with a pounding headache. She was dizzy as she walked down the hall in her East Spencer home and fell several times.

She said now, she feels she was sensing Lark’s death.

Chambers said when she would see news items on TV about a woman dying at the hand of an abuser, she would tell her daughter.

“Joannie, listen to the news. How do you know it ain’t going to happen to you?” Chambers said she told Lark. “Joannie, please take out a warrant. I can’t do it but you can.”

But Lark didn’t see herself as a victim, Chambers said.

“She said ‘Mom, he ain’t going to bother me.’ ” Chambers said, and she would try to believe her daughter. “He proved us all wrong.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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