Search warrants give new details in Bianca Tanner homicide investigation

cwootson@charlotteobserver.com hjeffrey@charlotteobserver.comJune 16, 2014 

  • Know something?

    Anyone with information about the disappearance of Bianca Tanner is asked to call 704-432-8477 to speak directly to a Homicide Unit detective. Detective Jolly is the lead investigator assigned to the case. The public can also call Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600 or visit the Crime Stoppers website at charlottecrimestoppers.com. Tipsters are eligible for a reward up to $5,000.

    Tanner was last seen wearing a red tank top, black shorts and black flat shoes.

  • Know something?

    Anyone with information about the disappearance of Bianca Tanner is asked to call 704-432-8477 to speak to a Homicide Unit detective. Detective Jolly is the lead investigator. The public can also call Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600 or visit the Crime Stoppers website: charlottecrimestoppers.com. Tipsters are eligible for a reward up to $5,000.

    Tanner was last seen wearing a red tank top, black shorts and black flat shoes.

Two days after Bianca Tanner went missing, police searched her apartment near uptown for evidence that the teacher had been assaulted by her boyfriend, Angelo Smith, the last person to see her before she disappeared.

No one has been charged and police have not named a suspect. But a search warrant released Monday shows police turned their focus to Smith, searching his car, going through his trash and trying unsuccessfully to get information off his cellphone.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police obtained the warrant after investigators interviewed Tanner’s 3-year-old son. The boy told investigators Smith had struck Tanner with a belt and “hurt Mommy in the face.”

“Mommy got a spanking with the belt,” the search warrant quotes the child as saying. “Angelo kicked Mommy’s butt and made her cry ... Angelo is mean to Mommy.”

Smith could not be reached for comment on Monday. No one answered the door at the couple’s home on Druid Circle, and letters had begun to pile up in the mailbox.

Tanner’s disappearance on June 8 was initially treated as a missing person’s case, but police upgraded it to a homicide on Thursday. In announcing the change, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe said some of the witnesses have been untruthful, but he wouldn’t say which ones.

Smith reported Tanner missing on June 8. He later called the 3-year-old’s father to pick up the boy, family members said. The child is now safe in Greensboro, they said.

At one point after Tanner was reported missing, Smith voluntarily went to police headquarters, where officers asked if they could search his cellphone, according to the warrant.

“Mr Smith started deleting information from the phone,” the search warrant said. “It is unknown what information Mr. Smith deleted.”

Investigators searched the apartment on Druid Circle and Smith’s red Ford Mustang. They took into evidence a laptop computer, foam bedding found in the trash outside, a gold earring, also in the trash, papers and notebooks, a bottle of Captain Morgan rum and two torn photographs.

On Monday, a police spokesman said the investigation stretches as far away as Virginia, and that investigators haven’t narrowed the case to Charlotte or to Smith.

“Nothing is narrowed at this point,” CMPD Capt. Brian Cunningham said. “We’re still looking for all the help we can get, including from the community.”

Accusations of violence

Smith has been accused of domestic violence in the past and has one outstanding charge of assaulting a female.

Police conducted a background check on Smith, which showed the warrant for domestic battery in Arkansas. In that case, the search warrant says, Smith’s girlfriend at the time reported he “threw her onto the bed and covered her face, both mouth and nose, with his hand, smothering her.”

Arkansas authorities have not requested that out-of-state police agencies extradite Smith to the state to face those misdemeanor charges, Cunningham said.

Smith’s criminal record includes several charges in Greensboro over the past decade. He was charged with simple assault in 2004 and assaulting a woman in 2011.

In 2004, he was charged with burning a schoolhouse and in 2013 he was charged with damaging property.

All the charges were ultimately dismissed.

Two women have previously filed restraining orders against Smith.

In 2011, Smith’s then-wife, Devona Smith, filed a temporary restraining order against him after she said he caused her “extreme emotional distress and bodily harm caused by overreacting.”

Authorities ordered Angelo to stay away from her home and job.

In 2007, Kristen Croskey-Freshwater, Smith’s girlfriend at the time, told a judge that Smith became angry when he spilled juice on the carpet and she refused to clean it up.

Croskey-Freshwater left the apartment, according to the order, but Smith came after her, first gesticulating, then grabbing her.

“He then pulled me by my hair out of the pool & dragged me onto the cement,” Croskey-Freshwater wrote in the restraining order. “Then he threw me over the gate and when I tried to run, he threw me into the bathroom by the pool area where I slammed into the sink.”

“On 9/21/07, Angelo slapped me twice & strangled me for over an hour.”

Neither woman could be reached for comment.

The night in question

Neighbors told police they heard Smith and Tanner arguing late June 7, a Saturday, and into Sunday morning.

The couple was new to the bottom-floor apartment about a mile north of uptown Charlotte.

Tanner, 31, moved to Charlotte on May 29 from Greensboro, where she had taught at Reedy Fork Elementary since 2007. Her family says she wanted to be in a bigger city.

Tanner was pursuing a job with Project LIFT, which seeks to improve educational opportunities for students at West Charlotte High and its eight feeder schools.

According to the search warrant, Smith told investigators he received a text message around 11:46 p.m. June 7 while the two were at the apartment.

Smith said the text caused a “small argument.” Tanner, who Smith said had been drinking, left the apartment wearing a tank top, shorts and black flat shoes. She was carrying a small bag, he said.

Smith reported her missing about 12 hours later, at 12:37 p.m. June 8.

A week later, family members combed the Druid Hills neighborhood, knocking on doors and stopping cars in the street to see if anyone had seen Tanner.

But family members reported that there had been no activity on Tanner’s debit card or cellphone or social media activity since her disappearance.

Staff researcher Maria David contributed.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson

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