For nearly 40 years Richard Clint Holmes kept the Edwards-Franklin House safe.
Officials from the Surry County Historical Society, which owns the Haystack Road site, don’t recall a single act of vandalism since Holmes was hired as caretaker.
On January 13, the Surry County Sheriff’s Office received a call.
Holmes, 71, was found dead in his single-wide mobile home on the property with an apparent head injury, and officials shortly thereafter ruled the incident a homicide.
“It was obviously not self-inflicted,” which was confirmed by medical examination, said Sheriff Graham Atkinson, declining to comment further other than to say the head injury was not caused by gunshot.
More than four months later with no arrest and few answers, the victim’s family waits as patiently as possible for justice.
“It’s all I think about all day long,” said Stephanie Holmes, his daughter, who checks in regularly with the sheriff’s office for new information.
“I’m pretty confident they have the man,” she said, explaining that it’s her understanding that the man suspected in the crime is in jail awaiting trial on unrelated charges, and that investigators “just need to prove it.”
Atkinson said he could neither confirm nor deny those details.
“No new information is to be released,” he said, adding that the investigation is still active. “We will continue to pursue this with any resources that we have.”
Noelle Talley, public information officer for the N.C. Department of Justice, confirmed that evidence in Holmes’ case had been submitted to the State Crime Lab on Feb. 23.
“The first type of analysis is complete and in the review stage. The evidence will then undergo additional analyses,” Talley stated in an email.
Stephanie Holmes said she trusts the sheriff’s office and State Bureau of Investigation are doing their best to solve the crime.
“The main thing is why,” she said, with a missing bottle of pain medication the only clue.
Considering her father was a kind man who was generally beloved, “It doesn’t make any sense. I try to put it together in my head and it just don’t fit.”
A Louisiana native, Richard Holmes had moved to Mount Airy in the early 1970s when his first wife was pregnant with their first child, Rhonda Holmes, who now lives in Elkin.
Cama Merritt, former president of the historical society, said the organization had been looking for a caretaker for some time when Richard Holmes applied for the job in the early 1980s.
“We had advertised and not been successful,” she said. “It is so isolated out there in that area. We needed someone there.”
Or as Stephanie Holmes put it, “That house was right in the middle of the worst place in Mount Airy.”
Holmes moved a single-wide mobile home on to the property and was provided electricity and water by the historical society.
In return, he would open the home for tours, perform routine maintenance tasks and generally keep an eye on the place.
“He was very satisfactory as far as we were concerned,” Merritt recalled. “We never had any vandalism when he was there.”
Besides that, “we had a very cordial relationship,” said Merritt, who now lives in Winston-Salem. “He was always very respectful and interesting when we had the chance to have a conversation.”
David Whitfield, vice president of the society’s board of directors, said that Holmes’ good relationship with the organization persisted throughout the years.
“He was a cordial, polite individual,” Whitfield said, but no pushover. “People respected him enough that nobody messed around there. He was ideally suited for that job.”
Whitfield, who is ranger of Raven Knob Scout Reservation located just a few miles from the Edwards-Franklin House, remembered stopping by the property in the evening every so often.
Holmes would always see his lights and immediately investigate.
“I was really impressed with that,” Whitfield said. “He really looked after the place.”
Merritt and Whitfield both said they were shocked to hear that the caretaker had been killed.
“I was flabbergasted,” Merritt said.
Raised on the property, Stephanie Holmes grew up enthralled with the historic site, getting involved whenever possible.
“It’s a really neat place,” she said. “It just amazed me.”
Her father preferred to stay behind the scenes.
He was an avid gunsmith, hunter and “oh my goodness he lived for fishing,” said Stephanie Holmes, recalling her father pulling in a 62-pound catfish from one of his favorite spots.
“If he wasn’t at Sweat Hills he was at Big Jim’s Catfish Pond over in Devotion,” she said. “He just loved being out there with his buddies fishing. He didn’t have a care in the world.”
At home, he took care of more than the Edwards-Franklin House; he took care of everybody.
“My dad’s house was always the place to go when you needed a place to stay,” Stephanie Holmes said. “He couldn’t turn away anyone, couldn’t say no. He didn’t like seeing people with no place to go. He hated to see anyone hurting, anybody hungry or anything. He just helped everybody.”
One of those folks was her mother, Robin Sheets.
Stephanie Holmes said her father helped wean Sheets off of heroin as a teenager.
“I met Sonnie when I was 16 years old,” Sheets said. “Sonnie — that’s what we called him.”
She was 22 when she met him a second time, three weeks clean and a mother of two children.
“He taught me how to love,” said Sheets. “He taught me what it meant to be a mama. He was my hero.”
Sheets said Richard Holmes helped raise her two children and go back to college.
A couple of years later they had a child together — “the love of his life,” Sheets said. “Stephanie was a miracle baby.”
When Sheets and Holmes split up, Stephanie Holmes stayed with her dad.
“He raised me,” she said.
Without his influence, “I’d probably be just like everybody else,” and caught up with drugs, she said.
“He was an indescribably beautiful person, inside and out.”
Stephanie Holmes is married and living in Ashe County. Her 2-year-old son had just begun to say “paw-paw” when his grandfather was killed.
“I’m getting my life back together, I don’t know how to get started without him. I feel like I’m leaving him behind or something,” Stephanie Holmes said. “It’s been really bad for me. I was extremely close with him.”
They talked every day on the phone, “Just typical normal, stuff,” Stephanie Holmes said. Since he died, “I’ve called his house number just for the heck of it.”
At her son’s birthday party, “I had that feeling like we forgot to invite somebody,” she said.
On Richard Holmes’ birthday, March 25, family and friends gathered to celebrate.
“Two of his buddies put some of his ashes in a shell and shot him over Skull Camp Mountain,” Stephanie Holmes said. “He always said that he wanted to be shot out of a gun.”
Sheets and others continue to light virtual candles for Holmes on the online guestbook associated with his obituary nearly every day.
“It’s the last thing you get to do, something my soul needs to do,” Sheets said. “It’s the only thing you can do.”
Whitfield said the historical society is looking for a new caretaker.
“It was sad for us,”Whitfield said. “He had been there so long and was such a fixture. We relied on him so heavily.”
Sheets indicated she had asked the board to consider allowing her to move onto the property and that the board will vote and decide soon.
“It’s just a waiting game now,” Stephanie Holmes said.
It’s not a fun game.
She said she feels unsafe in her home, not necessarily afraid of her father’s killer, but vulnerable in general.
The significance of getting the wrong guy weighs on her, which would “destroy someone’s life,” she said, but she also wants whoever committed the crime brought to justice.
“I would feel better to know he’s locked up for the rest of his life,” she said. “Nobody deserves to die by someone else’s hand. It’s one thing when God decides to take you up, it’s another when it’s a person.”
In the meantime, Stephanie Holmes said, “I play with my little boy to keep my mind occupied. I know that’s what daddy would say to do.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.