Unsolved Lake Park death leaves some uneasy

slyttle@charlotteobserver.comMay 6, 2014 

James Martin “Mark” Hudspeth, who friends say was a big Carolina Panthers fan, was found dead April 21 after going jogging in the Union County town of Lake Park.

— More than two weeks after the death of a Lake Park jogger, law enforcement officials are telling anxious residents that the investigation remains a top priority. They don’t yet have the answers that residents want.

However, Union County Chief Deputy Ben Bailey said: “The Sheriff’s Office firmly believes that the community is not at risk.”

James Martin “Mark” Hudspeth, 50, went jogging on the day after Easter, April 21, leaving his home as usual around 9 a.m. When he hadn’t returned two hours later, family members called the Union County Sheriff’s Office.

Early that Monday evening, a sheriff’s deputy noticed a door open on a shed behind Faith United Methodist Church, a few dozen yards from the jogging trail that Hudspeth and other Lake Park residents use. As he walked toward the door, the deputy spotted a man’s body nearby.

It was Hudspeth.

Sheriff Eddie Cathey said investigators have ruled out accidental death. While the Sheriff’s Office will not discuss the condition of Hudspeth’s body, numerous sources said the victim had more than one stab wound.

In a letter to residents on April 24, Cathey said, “Investigators remain unable to determine whether Mr. Hudspeth’s injuries were self-inflicted or were inflicted by someone else. Therefore, at this point, the case is being investigated with no possibility being discounted.”

In the days following Hudspeth’s death, the rumor mill went into overdrive in the Lake Park area.

One woman who runs a day care center near Lake Park said the uncertainty has residents worried.

“We’re not sure what to believe,” said the woman, who didn’t want to be identified for safety reasons. “But it’s a little unnerving to think that someone could have been murdered in Lake Park. We’d like some answers.”

Bailey said he understands that.

“We don’t like not having answers,” Bailey said. “Having an unresolved death investigation is a serious matter to us.”

Lake Park was designed to be a close-knit community. It was developed about 20 years ago by Chris Mathisen, who wanted to create an old-time neighborhood feel. The town sits about a mile northeast of heavily traveled U.S. 74, surrounded by some of Union County’s fast-growing towns such as Indian Trail and Stallings.

Bailey would not say whether detectives are leaning toward ruling the case a homicide, saying the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t want to compromise the investigation. But he said there is no basis for some of the rumors.

“If we believed there were any imminent threat to the community, we’d be going door-to-door to warn residents,” he said. “If I lived in Lake Park, I wouldn’t hesitate to live my life normally, or allow my family to come and go as they please.”

In the days following Hudspeth’s death, some residents reported hearing that gang violence was involved. Cathey and Bailey said there is no evidence to support that.

Bailey noted that a death investigation is not necessarily solved in a day or two. “It’s not like people see on TV,” he said.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle

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