Cold case: Decades after Charlotte woman was found murdered, daughter pushes to rename street in her memory

Martha McIllwaine was 29 years old when her body was found in a Charlotte pond.
Martha McIllwaine was found dead on April 17, 1999. Her case remains unsolved.
Martha McIllwaine was found dead on April 17, 1999. Her case remains unsolved.(Family photo)
Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 10:17 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Nearly 23 years after a Charlotte woman was found brutally murdered in a pond, there is a renewed push for answers and to keep her memory alive.

Martha McIllwaine, a mom of three, was found floating in a pond on April 17, 1999, in Charlotte on Oakwood Drive.

Police, at the time, said children out fishing had made the gruesome discovery.

The 29-year-old had been reported missing weeks before.

“It’s been very hard, she left behind three children...devastating. I wish no other family to experience this,” her family said during a story that aired on WBTV.

One of those children left behind was Latorya McIllwaine.

“I miss her,” Latorya said.

She was only 12 years old when her mom, Martha, was murdered.

Now, at the age of 36, she is working to make sure her mom’s name is never forgotten.

The idea came about, she says, during a balloon release at the pond where Martha was discovered.

“I did a balloon release on the 23rd anniversary of the day it happened,” Latorya said. “While I was standing out there, I felt like a part of my mom was still there. I could feel her there, her presence. In the back of my mind it seem like she was telling me to do something. I know no one else can do it, I’m the only one here. I feel like I’m obligated to do something to figure out what happened to my mom.”

She is now petitioning to change the name of Oakwood Drive between Cochrane Drive and Cindy Lane to Martha Place.

In order for a request for a street name change to be made, signatures of 75 percent of property owners on the street is required within 90 days.

“It will mean that there is something to remember her name and she wont’ be forgotten,” Latorya said. “And what happened to her won’t be forgotten either.”

While Martha McIllwaine’s murder was part of a series of murders across Charlotte during late 1998 and early 1999, police were never able to link the five similar cases.

All involved Black women with similar ages.

In Martha’s case, no arrests have been made.

“If anyone has any information what happened to my mom, please come forward. It’s not too late. My family deserves answers,” Latorya said.

She says she remembers her mom as being family-oriented.

“One of my best memories, she had cookouts all the time. People would come over, family and friends,” Latorya said. “She would always tell me and my brother to do the latest dance moves in front of embarrassing.”

Her goal now is to get Oakwood Drive changed in memory of her mom. She says she is just beginning the process of sending out mailers to encourage property owners to sign.

“It would mean so much to my family to have a street named after my mother,” she said.

If you have any information on this cold case, call Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.

Related: Mother arrested in DeKalb County cold case 23 years after son’s death

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