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The Toledo Blade
Published: Friday, 2/7/2003
BY GEORGE J. TANBER, BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ann Blake Tracy, Ph.D., Executive Director of the International Coalition for Drug Awareness confirmed that Aaaron Estes was taking the SSRI antidepressant Paxil at the time of the murder.
Why was Naomi Estes killed?
That question is foremost on the minds of authorities in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, near Charlotte, where the body of the Toledo native was discovered Jan. 28 and where her 43-year-old husband, Aaron Estes, remains jailed.
Authorities said he admitted strangling his wife, the mother of their three children ranging in age from 15 to 21.
Family and friends here in the Toledo area and in Concord, N.C., where the couple lived 4 1/2 years, also want to know what happened on the afternoon of Jan. 26 before Mr. Estes called authorities to report his 44-year-old wife missing.
Members of Concord’s First Foursquare Church, where the couple served as youth ministers, say they are stunned.
“It’s hard for us to comprehend; they looked like the ideal couple,” said Foursquare member Bill Little. “They were dedicated to each other’s work in the church. She was like his left hand, you might say.”
But some members of Mrs. Estes’ family said the couple frequently clashed during their 24 years of marriage and that there is a dark side to Mr. Estes revealed to few.
“When all the facts are revealed people are going to be surprised,” said Cabarrus County District Attorney Roxann Vaneekhoven, who is lead prosecutor on the case.
Aaron Estes has been arrested in connection with his wife’s death. Friends say the minister had a troubled past.
The surprises continued yesterday, when a California church official told The Blade that Mr. Estes was dismissed from their church after an extramarital affair in 1993.
“Aaron had a moral failure in Selma with another person, not his wife,” said the Rev. Ray Rachels, the church’s Southern California district superintendent.
Patti Knight, Mr. Estes’s sister, said she was distressed about reports and rumors that her brother had extramarital affairs. “It’s not true,” she said. “Even if it were, what happened is horrific enough and it doesn’t need to be sensationalized.”
Complicating matters, the couple’s families have each been lifelong members of Bethel Assembly of God in Perrysburg, where Aaron Estes and Naomi Carpenter met in church school and married in August, 1978.
Eight months before their marriage, Aaron’s father, Richard Estes, was shot and killed while driving a taxi in central Toledo, a moonlighting job he took to pay off a car he had bought from Naomi’s older brother, Earl, Jr.
“It was devastating to Aaron,” said Eric Heffelfinger, best man in his wedding and a fellow 1977 graduate of Eastwood High School near Pemberville. “He always had a bright, cheery attitude.”
Mrs. Estes, a 1976 Libbey High School graduate, had a similar disposition.
“She made me laugh constantly, always,” said Denise Evans-Klucas, Naomi’s closest friend.
In the early years of their marriage, Mrs. Estes worked in the family business at Dudley’s restaurant on Reynolds Road. Mr. Estes worked at several churches and did some street preaching before founding a central city mission, Solid Rock Church. He had been inspired, in part, by his father, who also had been a roving evangelist.
“We’re looking for the poor, the afflicted, those who are hopeless and at the end of their rope,” Mr. Estes, the suspect, said in a 1988 interview with The Blade.
The Solid Rock mission was under the auspices of the Assemblies of God church in which Mr. Estes said he became a licensed minister in mid-1988. Several members of the Carpenter family said Mr. Estes had unspecified problems with some Solid Rock members that resulted in his undergoing counseling.
“That is an internal church matter that I am not authorized to talk about publicly,” said Rev. Robert Crabtree, superintendent of Ohio Assemblies of God.
In 1992, the Estes family moved to Selma, Calif., where Mr. Estes joined Rev. Kurt Langer, a former Toledoan who was a youth minister at an Assembly of God church there. Within the year, Mr. Estes was suspended, Mr. Rachels said.
The pastor said Mr. Estes was asked to return to Ohio, where he was admitted to a rehabilitation program administered by the church.
“My understanding is he fell out of that program, so he was dismissed,” Mr. Rachels said.
Mr. Crabtree said he is not authorized to talk about Mr. Estes’s tenure at Selma, but confirmed that Aaron had his ministerial credentials revoked there.
Once back in Toledo, Mr. Estes became youth minister at North Cove Church of God in West Toledo. Mrs. Estes enrolled at Owens Community College.
She graduated with a nursing degree in 1996 and went to work at Toledo Hospital. In August, 1998, the family moved to Concord after Mrs. Estes obtained a job at Carolinas Health Care System in Charlotte, their eighth move in 20 years.
In Concord, the Estes family appeared to find stability. Mrs. Estes shined at Carolinas Health Care, hospital officials say.
“She was an exemplary nurse,” said Scott White, a hospital spokesman.
Mr. Estes also was well thought of at the 750-member Foursquare ministry, as was his wife, who was a fellow youth minister.
“The children loved them very much, and their ministry increased tremendously under their leadership,” Mr. Little said.
In March, 2001, Mr. Estes was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, according to friends and members of both families.
Ms. Knight, a nurse, said her brother has been on medication for cancer, pain, depression, and anxiety for two years.
Friends and family say there was no warning to the events of Jan. 26. The Esteses attended church, as they always did.
Mrs. Estes never showed up for work that night. Alarmed, hospital officials called Mr. Estes, who reported his wife missing. He told sheriff’s deputies that Mrs. Estes had left home about 5 p.m., though she was not scheduled to work until 7 and the hospital was only eight miles away.
A farmer found her body about 1:30 p.m. Jan. 27 in the backseat of her car parked on a rural road. Sheriff Riley said the cause of death was strangulation. Mrs. Estes’s head and face were severely battered, he added.
Mr. Estes confessed on Jan. 28 and was charged with first degree murder the next day, authorities said. Bond was set at $1 million because Ms. Vaneekhoven said she considers Mr. Estes a flight risk.
Mr. Estes has had no previous felony arrests. He had a driving while under the influence of alcohol charge in Toledo in 1989 that was later amended to reckless operation, according to court records, and a DUI in December in North Carolina, Ms. Vaneekhoven said.
Seventeen members of the Carpenter family and nearly as many Estes family members traveled to Concord and stood side-by-side at Naomi’s funeral, where some 1,100 people paid their respects.
“They have lost a son. We have lost a daughter. There is no problem between the Esteses and the Carpenters,” said Earl Carpenter, Sr., Naomi’s father:
Aaron’s fate if convicted, however, is another story.
Naomi’s family “would like to see him get the death penalty, but we would prefer he would plead guilty, get life in prison, and not put their kids through a trial,” said her brother, Jim Carpenter.
At Mr. Estes’s indictment on Monday, his court-appointed attorney, Jim Gronquist, indicated he might use Mr. Estes’s numerous prescribed drugs as a defense.
Ms. Vaneekhoven said she believes the prosecution has a solid case.
“The weight of evidence against him is strong at the scene. [And] based on his statement to the police, not only did he confess, but he cleaned up and destroyed evidence after the crime was committed,” she said.
Members of the Carpenter and Estes families, still searching for answers about why Naomi was killed, realize they may never know.
“You don’t know what goes on inside a home,” said Naomi’s mother, Betty Carpenter.