Bronya McCarson Owenby wonders why she isn't dead.
Four other women - including one in High Point - who crossed the path of Leslie Eugene Warren lost their lives. Police say there may be others.``I think I feel kind of lucky, because I spent so much time with him by myself,' Owenby, 25, said of her ex-boyfriend last week as she sat in the kitchen of her mobile home.
These days, people in these hills talk of little but Leslie Warren, who has confessed to killing four women. Even most who knew of his troubled juvenile years say they didn't think they'd lead to this.
``I just never would believe this would happen,' said Carl Russell Warren, an uncle in Campobello, S.C., with whom Lesley Warren once lived.
Two years ago, Owenby says, she and Leslie Warren became friends and, later, lovers.
They spent days together in these rural hills southwest of Asheville. He sent her roses, fixed her frozen water pipes, brought a drawing kit for her 6-year-old son.
And even though Warren carried a weapon, used marijuana and cocaine and drank beer frequently, he was never mean, Owenby said.
``He treated me like he really cared about me,' she said.
Owenby said she didn't know Warren's other side. That secret would surface with his arrest July 20 in High Point as an accused serial killer.
Owenby said she stopped dating Warren in January and later married Jerry Owenby. Looking back, she wants to know why Warren didn't kill her, too.
``There were plenty of opportunities for him to hurt me, but he didn't do it,' she said.
She paused. ``Maybe he loved me like he said he did.'
But police say Warren, 22, of Candler, has confessed to killing four women: Patsy Diane Vineyard, 20, of Sackets Harbor, N.Y., in April 1987; Velma Faye Gray, 42, of Travelers Rest, S.C., on Aug. 27, 1989; Jayme Denise Hurley, 39, of Asheville, on May 25; and Katherine Noel Johnson, 21, of High Point, on July 15.
He is being held without bond in the Buncombe County Jail.
Vineyard's body was found in Lake Ontario a month after she disappeared from her home. She was the wife of a soldier at Fort Drum, N.Y., an Army base where Warren then was stationed.
Gray was abducted from the side of the road after she wrecked her car in South Carolina. Her body was found later in Lake Bowen.
The discovery of Hurley's body in a shallow grave near Candler July 18 led to Warren's arrest two days later.
He then confessed to murdering Johnson and leaving her body in the trunk of her car in a High Point parking garage. A mutual friend had introduced them hours before at a company picnic.
Hurley may have known him best. A former counselor at the Juvenile Evaluation Center in nearby Swannanoa, Hurley had tried to help Warren when he was sent there in his teens for a break-in and an assault.
Now Hurley's closest friends and former co-workers, LuJuan Gibson and Catherine Jenkins, wish she hadn't cared so much.
``Leslie knew Jayme trusted him and cared about him,' Jenkins said. ``This was the one person for sure who cared about him. Why harm someone who was like that to you?'
They may never know the answer.
Murders are considered serial when three or more fit a pattern without apparent motive. While police won't say whether the victims were sexually assaulted, they've labeled the murders ``sexual homicides' that gratify the killer in a sexual way, Asheville police spokesman Alan Hyder said.
Owenby said she was with Warren when a South Carolina detective first questioned him about the death of Velma Gray.
``He was calm,' Owenby said. ``He said he didn't know what they were talking about.'
Owenby said she realized later that she was with Warren a few hours before Gray was killed. The day before, she said, they had taken a tractor-trailer without permission from the South Carolina trucking company where Warren worked. They went joy riding in Candler, he took her home and left, she said.
Warren's childhood Lesley Warren was born Oct. 15, 1967, the son of Douglas Eugene Warren and Phyllis West. His brother, Laron Ray, was born three years later.
The marriage soon became troubled. The couple split when Leslie was about 4 years old.
Leslie stopped playing as much and rarely talked about his father, his mother told The Asheville Citizen. ``It was like he stepped out of this world into another one,' Phyllis W. Murray said.
After that, Warren rarely saw his father. They sometimes passed each other on roads and in stores without speaking.
Warren's mother remarried, and he spent part of his childhood living in Candler with grandparents Lesley and Merle West. They declined to be interviewed.
``Leslie never really had a childhood,' his uncle, Carl Russell Warren, said. ``He had to grow up fast, and the hard way, without a daddy and most of the time without a mamma.'
He was sent to the Juvenile Evaluation Center in eighth grade after he broke into his cousin's home. A year later, counselors sent him to Broughton Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Morganton, because they feared he would slit his wrists, his mother said.
Records at Enka High School show that Warren spent 33 days enrolled there between August and October 1983, assistant principal George Drake said. He attended only 10 of those days before school officials withdrew him.
During those two months, Lesley Warren raised a warning sign.
A few weeks shy of his 16th birthday, he tied up neighbor Betty Pressley in her home and held her at gunpoint. Luckily, a friend of Pressley's arrived and rescued her.
Pressley declined to be interviewed last week.
The incident put Warren back in the Juvenile Evaluation Center.
Hurley, Warren cross paths The daughter of Lee and Mildred Hurley, Jayme Hurley had grown up in Asheville and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville with a bachelor's degree in psychology. She had helped care for her mother, bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis, until her mother died in 1984.
When she joined the staff of the Juvenile Evaluation Center in 1976, she became known as a lively woman with a zeal for life, her plants, her cats and her students.
Gibson, a staff psychologist and later program director, and Jenkins, a social worker, remember the holiday dinners Jayme cooked for center students.
``For some, that was the first time they ever had that, that they ever sat down to a set table and passed dishes,' Gibson recalled.
Gibson and Jenkins say they can't discuss the specifics of Warren's diagnosis or treatment. But they described him as a quiet kind of loner, intelligent, polite, well-mannered and sincere.
Jayme Hurley noticed him because he was brighter than most.
``He liked to read and had read some pretty adult novels,' Gibson said. When Hurley brought books to students, she selected particular books for him and others.
``There was no kind of romantic involvement at all,' Gibson said. ``But he manipulated Jayme to the point where she trusted him. As professionals, all of us missed any kind of warning signs about him.'
Hurley, Jenkins and Gibson all left the center in 1988, when the burnout of social work caught up with them. Hurley started a maid service and worked in a wholesale floral shop. Gibson became a psychologist for Buncombe County schools. Jenkins left for restaurant work in Florida.
It wasn't unusual for students to stay in touch after they left the center. And Jayme Hurley trusted Warren enough to give him her telephone number.
Warren's uncle, Carl Russell Warren, visited him at Broughton and later at the Juvenile Evaluation Center. At age 16, Lesley Warren went to live with his uncle, his aunt and their two sons in Campobello, S.C., for almost two years.
``We never had any problems with him,' Russell Warren recalled.
At age 18, Lesley Warren joined the Army and served at Fort Drum near Watertown, N.Y. He married a woman he'd met in South Carolina, and later they had two children.
``I was pretty proud of him when he went into the service,' Russell Warren said. ``I thought he was getting straightened out.'
While at Fort Drum in 1987, he was questioned about Vineyard's death, but was not a suspect then. Convictions for larceny and unauthorized absence gave him a bad conduct discharge.
Back in Candler, Warren worked briefly at the Pisgah Valley Market, where Bronya Owenby met him. He then worked as a long-haul truck driver with AmCan Transport Service in Anderson, S.C., from May to September of last year.
Owenby said she dated Warren from June 1989 until January of this year. He wasn't living with his wife then, and Owenby remembers him getting served with divorce papers in August or September.
``He wouldn't accept them,' Owenby said.
He also talked about Jayme Hurley.
``He talked about Jayme being his counselor and wanted me to meet her,' Owenby said. ``He said she was real nice and that he liked her a lot.'
Hurley's disappearance Warren visited Hurley's house once last summer to let her know he was doing well, Gibson said. He also had telephoned her in March.
Gibson and Jenkins said they had warned Hurley about trusting a former student too much.
``She said that I didn't understand, that Lesley was one of the students she knew and had made a difference for, and she trusted him,' Gibson said.
Hurley disappeared from her home early Friday, May 25, just before the start of Memorial Day weekend. She left her car in the driveway, her house lights on and the doors locked.
When Gibson returned from a trip Sunday night, she went to Hurley's home to find a group of concerned friends and Hurley's brother. When she saw Hurley's three beloved cats unattended, ``I knew Jayme was in trouble,' she said.
That day, someone Gibson won't identify pointed the police to Lesley Warren.
Warren was arrested May 29 and charged with stealing Hurley's pocketbook and failing to produce title to a motor vehicle. Her pocketbook was found in his van.
Investigators suspected he killed Hurley, but couldn't prove a homicide had occurred. They searched the French Broad River for her body, without success. Warren was released June 7 on bond from the Buncombe County Jail.
Asheville police contacted the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Department in South Carolina, seeking background information on Warren. They realized they had a common suspect in the death of Gray and disappearance of Hurley.
Despite rumors circulating in the community, police have declined to say how they found Hurley's body July 18.
``We interviewed several people, and several things happened at once that led us to the body,' said Detective Don Babb of the Asheville police.
Lives shattered Despite their son's alleged actions, Warren's parents say they still love him, and ache for the victims.
``It's painful for me right now,' said Doug Warren, Lesley's father, who lives in Tennessee and works at the American Vault Co. in Candler. ``I walk into a store and everyone hushes. You know what they're talking about.
``I guess I'll just talk to him and tell him that if he needs me, I am here for him.'
Leslie Warren's wife, Tracy, has disconnected the telephone at her home in Spartanburg, S.C., and efforts to reach her for comment were unsuccessful.
Carl Russell Warren believes his nephew may have killed to get attention. He hopes that God and the victims' families someday forgive him.
Bronya Owenby said she does not believe Warren is insane.
Hurley's family and friends buried her last week, next to her mother in Ashlawn Cemetery in Asheville. For Gibson and Jenkins, it was the hardest day of their lives.
``We identified with 'The Golden Girls,' ' said Gibson, referring to the TV series about older women who share a home. ``We used to say we'd get a house at the beach, that we'd always have rock 'n' roll, and we'd never be old.