Who murdered the beautiful Nell Cropsey? That’s a question that’s been vexing folks in these parts for a century. It’s a question that popular Travel Channel show, “The Dead Files,” came to Elizabeth City to answer last January.
The fruits of their labor will air on the Travel Channel Friday, 10 p.m.
Cropsey was murdered, but the identity of her murderer was never definitively determined, according to Bland Simpson, author of the book “The Mystery of the Beautiful Nell Cropsey.” In his book he detailed the night she went missing and the suspects involved in the case.
She was last seen on the porch of her house, with her beau Jim Wilcox. Nell’s body was missing for some time before it was found floating in the Pasquotank River near the Cropsey house.
Simpson, an Elizabeth City native and professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, painstakingly researched the story of Cropsey for the book and will be featured in the television episode.
Although there was always some doubt, most people have believed that Jim Wilcox was guilty of the crime. In fact Wilcox was convicted of it, then pardoned due to a lack of evidence. He would eventually take his own life over it.
Simpson has said that while everyone has his own theory, no one can say for certain who killed Nell Cropsey.
Regardless of who murdered Nell, one thing seems to be for certain, her house on Riverside Avenue is the location for many a reported haunting, including by the current owners, the Caruso family. That’s where “The Dead Files” comes in.
The show pairs a former New York City homicide detective, Steve Di Shiavi, with a psychic medium, Amy Allen. Working on the mystery separately, using their own unique talents, the pair tries to determine the answer to mysteries such as what happened to Nell.
“Things can be explained today that couldn’t be explained years ago,” Di Shiavi said of working cold case mysteries.
Di Shiavi, who sat down with the show’s creator Jim Casey for an interview earlier this year, grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., a block away from Cropsey Avenue, named for the very family that moved to Elizabeth City more than 100 years ago.
Casey explained that Di Shiavi and Allen work independently of one another to unearth information about cases such as this locally infamous murder.
Di Shiavi comes at it as a trained detective working a cold case and Allen uses her psychic gifts to determine what took place in the house.
Casey says Allen takes her role quite seriously. She is sequestered from the location of each mystery and not told where she is headed until she arrives.
She is given no opportunity, according to Casey, to uncover any prior knowledge of a case.
While Di Shiavi is doing his investigation and research, Allen will be inside the location, essentially feeling for psychic energy.
Casey and Di Shiavi say she has touched on some very interesting and frighteningly accurate notes in the past, communicating with restless souls that reveal information to her that proved accurate once they were compared with Di Shiavi’s findings and known facts about the case — remember, she isn’t given prior knowledge of the case before she steps into the picture.
But what happened while she was inside the Cropsey house? Well Casey says that would be giving away the episode and suggests folks tune in Friday. However, the reason they came to Elizabeth City was because of Ryan Caruso’s own experiences in the house.
In an interview earlier this year, Caruso said his family moved into the house knowing the history and understanding that incidents of hauntings had been reported there. He was 13 when they moved in and when he first met Nell’s ghost.
“The first one,” Caruso said in the interview, “we had just moved in and my younger brother didn’t want to take a shower in our shower/laundry room because it is pretty eerie and creepy and so my mom asked me to take a shower in there to prove that it was fine.”
But that shower only proved what Ryan’s brother Norman had suspected, that it was indeed eerie and creepy.
When Ryan Caruso got into the shower he recalled feeling as though he was being watched. He said the room grew inexplicably cold and his hair stood on end.
“I had this really crazy feeling to turn around and she (Nell) was standing in a corner of our laundry room.”
She was dressed in a Victorian-era dress. Her hair was pulled up in a tight bun and she had a bruise on the side of her forehead.
There would be two more episodes where Caruso would see Nell. In the most profound haunting episode she shook his bed and asked for his help.
Those stories reached the folks at “The Dead Files” office in Los Angeles, most likely through the Internet after the home was most recently featured in the annual Ghost Walk event last October. The producers of the show vetted the story and found it compelling enough to include it in this season’s line up.
Neither Casey nor Di Shiavi would go into any detail about the episode. Nor would they offer up any hints as to the outcome.
They would say, however, that at the end of the show, as with all episodes, Di Shiavi and Allen would sit down with the family and compare their findings.
“Our goal is to bring answers to the people that we’re there for,” said Casey. “In this case it’s Ryan (Caruso).”
So you’ll have to tune in to find out.
In Elizabeth City the Travel Channel is found on Time Warner channel 44. For folks in Camden, Currituck, Perquimans and Chowan Counties you can tune into Media Com’s 52. If you have Direct TV, it’s channel 277.