CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A manhunt is underway for 40-year-old Vurnel Smith Jr. who police said is being sought in connection with a double homicide investigation early Thursday in north Charlotte.
Officers responded to a house on Red Clay Lane near West Sugar Creek Road around 4:30 a.m. after an injured woman drove herself to Carolinas Medical Center-University about 30 minutes earlier and frantically alerted authorities to the crime.
Police said the woman was badly hurt but will survive. According to a police report, she was struck in the head with a metal object and tied up inside the home before managing to escape.
(Click PLAY to watch CMPD's press conference held at the scene)
When officers arrived at the house, they found one person dead inside.
That victim has been identified as 65-year-old Jacquline Gordon-White.
"This is a domestic incident gone bad," Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Maj. Gerald Smith said.
Detectives learned that a second victim, 69-year-old Rufus Gordon, was missing from the home.
A short time later, officers who went to CMC-University found a man they believe to be Gordon dead in the trunk of the car that the woman had driven to the hospital.
"We're looking to positively identify that victim in the trunk of the car. But we are no longer looking for Rufus Gordon at this time," Maj. Smith said.
The two victims were husband and wife.
Channel 9 was at the hospital as police surrounded the car in which the man’s body was found.
After collecting evidence, the vehicle, which was parked directly outside the emergency room entrance, was towed away.
Officers do not believe the woman who drove herself to the hospital was aware there was a body in the trunk.
Officers said they are actively searching for Vernul Smith.
Police said he is likely driving a 2017 black Honda CRV with North Carolina tag PAS-9116.
If anyone sees that vehicle or knows the whereabouts of Vernul Smith, they are urged to call 911 immediately.
Neighbors told Channel 9 reporter Mark Becker that they think Gordon was the father of the woman who drove herself to the hospital.
Eyewitness News spoke with a man who did not want to be identified but said that Smith and his wife lived at the home and that the woman’s parents had just moved in with them.
The neighbor also said he saw Smith on Wednesday and that Smith was talking about wanting to leave his wife and appeared to be very agitated.
"He wanted me to start cutting his grass, because he was leaving his wife because they weren't getting along," the neighbor said.
Detectives said the crime is domestic in nature and that everyone involved is related to each other.
Channel 9 was the first news station to arrive at the scene and saw a large police presence at the home.
Neighbors told Channel 9 they were shocked after learning about the crimes. They said Red Clay Lane is typically a pretty quiet street filled with lots of families.
Police have not released a cause of death.
The slayings mark Charlotte's 52nd and 53rd homicides of 2017.
Domestic troubles and Smith's criminal past
Channel 9 spoke to Smith's family members who said they have called him but his cellphone is turned off.
One cousin, who is one of Smith's closest friends, said Smith feared his wife was cheating and that led to turmoil between the couple.
Channel 9 looked through court documents and discovered that in October 2016, Vurnel Smith's wife asked for an order of protection against him. She said Smith threatened to kill her, her brother and her daughter.
In January, she said he choked and hit her more than once and told her if she left him he would kill her, according to court documents.
In court papers filed two weeks ago, Smith's wife said that he showed up at her job in north Charlotte drunk.
Smith's family members said his wife ordered him to leave their home.
Smith used to live next door to Marsell Russell in Harrisburg before he got married. She said he was a good neighbor and trustworthy.
"He didn't bother nobody. No, he did not bother nobody," Russell said.
Smith left the Harrisburg home in 2015 around the same time he was charged with breaking into a woman's home and raping her. That case has not gone to trial.
Check back with wsoctv.com for updates on this developing story.
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