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On-foot true crime tour offers look into the 'dark side' of Chapel Hill history

Cars wait at the intersection of Franklin Street and Columbia on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020.

On a chilly Friday afternoon, a small group met outside an eerie restaurant to begin a journey through “the dark side” of Chapel Hill’s history. 

The group was taking part in a Chapel Hill true crime tour, which explores tales of murders on and off UNC’s campus. 

The group’s guide was Andy Nason, owner and head tour coordinator of Triangle Walking Tours. 

The company offers various on-foot history tours of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. Nason was inspired to start offering tours of his own after the praise he received as a tour guide at the City of Raleigh Museum and Pope House Museum. 

Nason recently added true crime tours of each city to his repertoire, which was inspired by his fiancé, who enjoys true crime. He agreed, as he says the subject is history adjacent, which he emphasizes on the tours. 

“One of the things that I bring is that because of my background as a historian, I tend to focus a lot more on the historical context of the time period and how the crime itself is reflective of a greater zeitgeist, so to say, a greater significance within the era in which it took place,” Nason said.

After shaking the hands of each guest and giving a short introduction, Nason led the group to the first location. 

A short walk brought them across the road from a seemingly ordinary building on Rosemary Street. That perception was quickly broken as Nason began a story about the murder of a UNC student at the location about a decade ago. 

With the cadence and detail of a lawyer presenting in court, Nason dove into the case, including thorough descriptions of the people involved and the events that led up to the murder. The story covered details spanning from the night of the crime in 2012 to more recent discoveries. 

As the tour continued, the group moved down the sidewalk to a second location on Rosemary Street, which was a bookstore at the time of the crime. The third location was a former print shop, now a busy Franklin Street storefront. 

These second and third stories didn’t feature students, but rather other residents of Chapel Hill.

“I chose that particular case because it gave a new look at how Chapel Hill is as a town, that while the university is a major — and in this case the definitive — factor on what made Chapel Hill unique during this time period, that it, as a result, gave rise to a community outside of its own,” Nason said. 

Nason told stories of a deadly Great Depression feud on Franklin Street, as well as a potential political assassination at a bookstore. The latter was the most interesting of the tour to guest Thida Lorvan, whose true crime fandom turned her to the tour. 

“True crime isn't really a lot of things people talk about, so it was nice to learn about it,” she said.

In contrast to the heavy topics, Nason tried to lighten the mood and chat with the group during the walks between locations. 

He answered questions about history in the Triangle and discussed local restaurants, thinking back to his experience as a Chapel Hill student himself. 

Possibly the most difficult story to hear came at the end of the tour. Surrounded by the Coker Arboretum, Nason told the story of a student murder from 1965. 

This last story was the most interesting to UNC graduate student Yash Johar.

“I enjoyed the tour,” Johar said. “I'm not a true crime fan myself, but I heard about the tour in one of the local libraries and then decided to just know more. And I think it was really interesting learning about how unique these crimes are especially, and how it also reminded me that these things can go really hidden. So it was really nice knowing about what has been historically happening around the campus.”

Nason said that he likes to usually end the tours with a quote that represents how a lot of people feel. 

“It's been a pleasure being with you today,” he said. “I love ripping out people's hearts and stomping on them.”

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