Family receives permission to dig up church parking lot for miss - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Family receives permission to dig up church parking lot for missing woman


BOLT, W.Va. (WVVA) The family of a missing Raleigh County woman was given permission to conduct an organized dig at a church parking lot on Monday.

They were looking for Cherise Gwinn Stephens who went missing from the area in 1993. With police supervision, investigators attempted to locate the woman in an old septic tank beneath a Bolt Church.

But on Monday, Stephen's family said the search did not turn up Stephens.

"Thank you to the Church. The search continues but I appreciate all they've done. The support has been unreal," said Tommy Gwinn, Stephen's brother.  "Thank you for the phone calls, friends, and letters. I appreciate everybody's help." 

Gwinn was given permission for the dig by the church after a tip came in suggesting she may be down there. He said police did recover an object from the septic tank that the West Virginia State Police decided to send for examination. 

Gwinn said Stephen's husband, Norman Stephens, never reported his wife missing, but a month after her disappearance, filed for divorce. 

The couple was a member of the church which happened to be under construction around the time Stephens disappeared. 

Anyone with information on Stephens disappearance is asked to call West Virginia State Police or Crimestoppers at 304-255-STOP. 


BOLT, W.Va. (WVVA) Churches are sacred ground for most people, a place of worship and prayer. But one Raleigh County church continues to find itself at the center of an unspeakable crime, the subject of a decades-old fight to find Angela Cherise Gwinn Stephens. 

Friends and family described the 23-year-old as funny, beautiful, and outgoing at the time of her disapperance. Her family knew nothing of problems between her and her husband, Norman Stephens, until an unexpected visit in October of 1993.

"He just went to my parents house and said she just ran off, which 23 years later, she's been in every data base in the country, countless investigations. We'd just like to get closure and justice," said Stephen's brother Tommy Gwinn. 

Gwinn said Stephens' husband, Norman Stephens, never reported her missing, but a month after her disappearance, filed for divorce. 

The investigation was already off to a delayed start by the time family members filed a missing persons report months later. 

"I started out with forty pieces of paper that I would hang up on telephone polls. I started where she would come up missing. I would go back and they'd be tore down," recalled Gwinn, who still posts fliers to this day. 

As investigators started to backtrack, Gwinn said one tip stuck out. It was about a meeting at the Breckenridge Missionary Baptist Church at the time of his sister's disappearance and a church member unusually insistent about filling in an old septic tank after the construction of a new one. 

"One of the members argued about not wanting to mess with it, saying lets just cover it up. What they did was blacktop over it. Why would a person do that?" asked Gwinn. 

Breckenridge Missionary Baptist Church is just down the road from Harmon's Lane, now Harmony's Lane, where Stephens and her husband lived. Gwinn admits he does not know if his sister is in the old septic tank, but he is willing to cover the cost of excavation to find out. 

"I'm just a big brother looking out for his little sister. All I need is a little help. She would do the same for me." 

Elders at Breckenridge Missionary Baptist Church voted several years ago not to allow the excavation without a warrant; a difficult task for investigators without a body and probable cause.

Since that time, many of the Church elders have passed and been replaced. 

The Church's pastor Dewey Lowe said Thursday he has never been contacted by law enforcement, but if the family can present the proper legal documentation, he would be more than willing to assist. 

WVVA News reached out to Norman Stephens at his home in Raleigh County on Thursday, but no one came to the door.

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