Sheriff: Child Found Dead in 1987 Died During Dog Attack

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Nicholas Benjamin Loris, 6

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — A mother who was the only suspect in her 6-year-old son’s death from nearly 25 years ago has been cleared, as Forsyth County deputies say he was strangled during a dog attack.

The body of Nicholas Benjamin Loris was found on Feb. 21, 1987 by a neighbor in a wooded ravine outside a home on Friendship-Ledford Road, located about 150 yards away from the boy’s Davidson County home near the Forsyth County line.

The Medical Examiner originally ruled his death as a homicide by strangulation, but the case went cold over the years.  Evidence from the scene was reviewed again by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office in 2003 and 2004 — but still — no new leads were found.

“This was not a witnessed case. No one saw this occur,” Forsyth County Sheriff Bill Schatzman said.

After years of reviewing evidence and interviewing the same people several times, Betsy Watkins, the boy’s mother, was the only person ever identified as a suspect in her son’s death.

“They assumed because it was strangulation it must have been done by another individual,” David Freedman, Watkins’ attorney said.

Watkins was in the middle of a divorce and custody battle when Loris was killed. Her other son, Alex Loris, who was 8-years-old at the time, moved to live with his father after his brother’s death and hasn’t spoken to her since, Freedman said.

Authorities reportedly delivered the news to Alex Loris this week.

Watkins never commented on her status as a suspect under the advice of her lawyer.  Investigators seemed confused when she held a vigil on the 24th anniversary of Loris’s death.

However, after consulting medical and forensic experts from across the country, investigators found that Loris’s injuries were consistent with those sustained from a typical dog attack, deputies said.

Deputies said photographs taken from the scene were enhanced using modern technology.  The enhanced images revealed ligature marks on the boy’s neck containing patterns that matched his clothing.

“There were marks on his throat consistent with the hoodie cutting off his windpipe,” Freedman said.

With a fresh perspective, detectives determined that Loris died when he was strangled by the clothes he was wearing when they were “pulled tight around his neck during the dog attack,” deputies said.

“He had been inside eating breakfast; Went outside to play; He reported there were two dogs he was playing with and went back outside and she never saw him again,” Freedman said.

North Carolina’s Chief Medical Examiner changed the manner of Loris’s death to “accident due to complications from a dog attack” on Jan. 5.

“She is very happy to have closure and she is happy to let everyone know — as she has all along — that she was not involved at all,” Freedman said.

“I hope people learn from this not to jump to conclusions,” he continued.

Deputies said local authorities worked with the FBI’s Forensic Crime Lab as well as the SBI in solving the case.

“Techniques and experts and methods certainly not available in 1987 are available today and that is what we pursued,” Schatzman said.