Irina “Ira” Yarmolenko

Ira Yarmolenko

It was a bright, spring day in May 2008 when two jet skiers launched into the calm and tranquil waters of the Catawba River, just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, to enjoy an afternoon on the water. As they skied up-river, Dennis and Brenda looked to their left and noticed a car resting on the banks of the river; it appeared to have traveled down the hillside, coming to rest on the river bank.

“Maybe teenagers ditched a stolen car”, Dennis thought to himself, but then later he began thinking that someone might be in need of help. He and Brenda decided to circle back and investigate; as Dennis inched closer to the vehicle, Brenda followed close behind.

As they got closer to the car, Brenda realized that what she was seeing was the outline of a body lying on the ground in front of her, next to the car’s open door. At the same time, Dennis begins yelling “go call 911! There’s a body lying there”. Brenda let out a scream and then raced downstream to call 911. Dennis skied off in the opposite direction to seek help; the images of what Dennis and Brenda saw that day in May haunts them still…

The Accused

Mark Carver and Neal Cassida

Cousins Neal Cassada (left) and Mark Carver (right), a couple of locals just out fishing that day are described by many as “just a couple o’ good ol’ boys”. Their fishing spot was only 100 yards from where Ira’s body was found.

As the investigation proceeded, prosecutors kept coming back to these two suspects…their accounts of that morning seem to change, and some things, according to investigators, “just didn’t add up”.

Prosecutors soon became convinced of their guilt and both were charged with first-degree murder. On the day before Cassada’s trial, Neal wakes up with chest pains; a couple of hours later, he falls dead on the kitchen floor from a heart attack; was it the weight of being falsely accused or the burden of a guilty conscience that did him in?

Regardless, the D.A. presses forward with the first-degree murder charges against Mark Carver, Neal’s cousin.

Mystery of the Catawba River – Native Indians, the Catawbans, claimed the river possessed a living spirit, a soul, and was in fact “alive”. “She knows and She sees all things” was common knowledge among the Indians. Sound superstitious? It may be, but then again, there could be a ring-of-truth to the natives’ ancient lore; after all, it was the natives’ spiritual connection to nature that allowed them to survive in a wilderness where ordinary men would perish.

Metaphorically speaking then, might the ancient river still possess, even today, some sort of mysterious spiritual force, capable of at least providing clues, revealing what really happened…on her river banks on that tragic spring morning when Ira’s lifeless body was found lying…right there?

Trial of Century

The Prosecutors

District Attorney Locke Bell, and Assistant District Attorneys Stephanie Hamlin and Bill Stetzer, a prosecution team with impeccable records, square off intensely in a drama-filled courtroom, laying out their case for the jury and convinced they’ve got their man, their theory of the crime supported by DNA results.

Locke Bell Stephanie Hamlin Bill Stetzer

Justice for the victim’s family and communal concern for safety hung in the balance. The courtroom was divided along adversarial lines with county prosecutors on one side vowing to deliver justice; Ira’s family sat behind them.

Defense Attorneys

David Phillips and Brent Ratchford

On the other side of the courtroom, seasoned defense attorneys Brent Ratchford and David Phillips go all out to blast holes in the State’s case; they are convinced of Carver’s innocence. Carver’s family sat fixed and worried behind them, praying for Mark’s acquittal.

In the end, it came down to twelve jurors…
the courtroom filled with silence; the jury filed in, one by one, prepared to deliver their verdict…

The Verdict


The State of North Carolina…

Shellie, the clerk of court, received the verdict on a small piece of paper handed to her by the judge. Next, it was her duty to stand and address the jurors: “In the case of The State of North Carolina versus Mark Carver – Guilty of First Degree Murder – this is your verdict so say you all?” The hum of unanimous consent responded “Yes”.

The finale of this epic legal battle leaves the defense team stunned, convinced the prosecution had not proven its case.   Defense attorney Brent Ratchford expresses disbelief that “the jury sat through the same trial he’d just defended.” Some in the community share this sentiment while others are convinced justice was done.

Case on Appeals

Chris Mumma

Innocence attorney Chris Mumma successfully argues that the DNA testing methods originally implicating Carver were outdated, attacking a critical element in the State’s case.

She portrays Carver as physically and mentally handicapped and incapable of committing the crime. Many members of the community vouch for Carver’s character and maintain his innocence.

Mumma claims Carver never got a “defense” in the original trial while the Carver defense team defends its trial strategy as sound. Additionally, the strategy also allowed them to have “the last word” in closing arguments, a highly coveted position among trial attorneys.

The odds of having an original conviction overturned are never good, but Superior Court Judge Bragg sides with Mumma and Carver wins the opportunity to have a new trial.

County prosecutors are now appealing Judge Bragg’s decision. If their appeal is unsuccessful, they must decide whether or not to retry Carver for first-degree murder.

If Mark Carver is indeed innocent, there may be a murderer walking amongst us still. Team Fedora discovers new bombshell information and keeps moving forward…some may be attempting to stop Fedora’s investigation while its primary inspector Ben Cozzo presses on, regardless. What has he found out? Subscribe and find out.

Ongoing Investigation

Dr. Maurice Godwin

Maurice Godwin

Forensic consultant and author, best known in the true-crime podcast world for his contributions to the popular Up and Vanished podcast,  Dr. Godwin weighs in on this investigation in real-time…

Every crime scene tells a story. What is it telling Dr. Godwin?

Jon Buchan, Esquire

John Buchan

Those “in-the-know” know who to turn to when access to official records becomes critical to the story. Famed attorney and author, Jon Buchan is hired and quickly obtains access to sealed records that contain some valuable clues.

Team Fedora

From its Hollywood studios, Fedora’s Inspector Cozzo is committed to delivering the backstories and subplots that are weaving through the story-lines, fulfilling Fedora’s mission. Following fresh tracks and new clues, wherever they may lead, Fedora’s Ben Cozzo never stops…he never stops searching…