Families of victims of serial killer Henry Wallace remember loved ones, challenges with investigation

Henry Wallace has admitted to killing 11 women between 1990 and 1994.

For nearly three decades, Dee Sumpter has been living without her daughter.

“Who would want to kill this beautiful, innocent, sweet, kind, loving person, my best friend, my daughter?’” Sumpter told “20/20” in 2022.

Sumpter's daughter, Shawna Hawk, was killed by serial killer Henry Wallace in 1993. After his arrest, Wallace admitted to killing 10 women in Charlotte, North Carolina, and one woman in his hometown in South Carolina, from 1990 to 1994.

All of his victims were young Black women. ABC News is looking into the Wallace case with a "20/20" airing May 13 at 9 p.m. ET.

During the investigation, it was discovered that Wallace had personally known most of his victims and the media dubbed him the "Taco Bell Killer" because he had met or connected with a majority of his victims through working at various fast food chains.

Former Detective Garry McFadden said Wallace would form a friendship or establish a trust with his victims before he would kill them.“[Victims] felt comfortable with him because he portrayed himself as the big brother, as the good friend,” said McFadden. “Henry was like the perfect human predator. He walked into their life, knowing that at some point he's gonna take their lives.”

Wallace had been Hawk's manager at Taco Bell.After her murder, Wallace attended her wake.

“This is some kind of a bold demon here, one like never before. He had the literal gall to show up at a service for someone that he knew he personally killed,” said Sumpter.

In 1997, Wallace was found guilty of nine murders and given nine death sentences. Wallace is still trying to appeal his sentences under North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act, but remains on death row at Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina, awaiting execution.

After her daughter’s murder in 1993, Sumpter created a nonprofit organization called Mothers of Murdered Offspring to bring together families who have also lost loved ones to violent crimes.

In the final days before his arrest, Wallace murdered three Black women in a span of four days. Two of those women lived in the same apartment complex.

One of those women was Brandi Henderson. She was an 18-year-old and living with her boyfriend at the time. The two had recently welcomed a newborn son.

After her boyfriend went to work the evening of Henderson’s murder, she had been home alone with the baby and on the phone with her cousin George Burrell when Wallace arrived at her apartment. According to her cousin, she had invited Wallace into her apartment while on the phone call. He said he didn’t know who it was at the time, but didn’t worry because it seemed like she trusted the person.

“I didn't worry about who was there because she said, ‘Lock the door behind you.’ So she trusted him,” said Burrell, who said he saw news of her murder during a television broadcast that next morning. “I just lost it because I just could not comprehend that I had just talked to her and now she's dead.”

That night Wallace raped and killed Henderson while she held her son. Wallace had tied a pair of shorts around his neck to stop his crying, according to investigators, but the baby survived.

“Once the detective on Brandi Henderson's case got the names of who she would've let into the apartment, he went to see if any of them had any criminal history. Henry Wallace did," said Marsha Goodenow, who was a prosecutor on the case.

Goodenow said that police noticed a distinct hoop earring Wallace wore when they found a previous mugshot. It was the same earring that police had previously caught on bank security camera footage after Wallace had tried to use one of his victim’s bank cards but did not have the correct PIN.

Wallace was arrested on March 12, 1994, the same day the body of his final victim was discovered.

Sumpter said she believes that police missed “obvious connections'' because of the race and status of Wallace’s victims.

“For some unknown reason, they just couldn't connect the dots,” said Sumpter. “There was not a level of caring. This is where the racial disparity comes in. Obvious, obvious connections… in my humble opinion, blatantly ignored.”

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department was severely understaffed and could not support the exploding murder rate of Charlotte, North Carolina.

“We were overworked and we were understaffed and we were doing the best that we could. A lot of those cases were on desks of six homicide detectives in the '90s,” said McFadden. “We didn't have the technology. We definitely didn't have the manpower and we definitely didn't have the resources.”

“It's not that we missed this. It's just that we were overwhelmed with the cases,” he later added.

McFadden said he reflects on the investigation. He said it reinforced the lesson of listening to the families of victims because “they are the voices of the victims.”

“[The murders] should've never happened, but it made us better detectives and it made Charlotte Police Department a better homicide unit,” said McFadden.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department released a statement about the Wallace investigation to ABC News in May 2022. The department stated that although they were overworked and understaffed to handle the surge in homicide cases in the Charlotte metro area at the time.

"The detectives who were assigned to the cases involving the victims of Henry Louis Wallace worked the cases as diligently as they would have any homicide case, with the race of the victim being irrelevant to the attention given to the cases,” said the statement.

The department also noted that following the Wallace investigation, they “added staffing to the Homicide Unit” and implemented regular mandatory meetings of its homicide detectives to discuss cases "in an attempt to better identify related cases.”

Sumpter is focused on making life better for others in honor of a life taken from her. She is continuing to support Mothers of Murdered Offspring, but is not as actively involved anymore.

“I just wanted mothers to come together and join our forces and our hearts. Not allow the anger and violence to rule our lives,” she said. “I fight for my own breath sometimes. I fight to be here living right now.”

Henry Louis Wallace confessed to murdering the following women:

  • Tashanda Bethea, 18
  • Sharon Nance, 33
  • Caroline Love, 20
  • Shawna Hawk, 20
  • Audrey Spain, 24
  • Valencia M. Jumper, 21
  • Michelle Stinson, 20
  • Vanessa Little Mack, 25
  • Jean Baucom, 24
  • Brandi Henderson, 18
  • Debra Ann Slaughter, 35