Too Close To Home: Michael Hayes – Winston-Salem



Clockwise from top right: a still from WXII 12 footage of the memorial, Hayes in 2012, Hayes during his 1989 trial, and a spread in which the original New York Times report was published.

Ella-Brooke Morgan, Co-Editor-In-Chief

(West Forsyth High School to Old Salisbury Road – 20 minutes)

Profiling the most twisted criminal cases in North Carolina.

Trigger warning: Discussions of deteriorating mental health and gun violence

“I thought they were demons,” Michael Hayes said when asked by officers why he fired those deadly shots, injuring nine people and killing four. “I recognized them because they had red, sunken eyes, and they had a sulfuric stench about them, like they had come up from the pits of hell.”

Hayes is notorious in North Carolina and national lore for his rampage on July 17, 1988. From a vantage point on the side of Old Salisbury Road, dimly lit at the midnight hour, something in 24-year-old Hayes broke. Having just purchased a new .22-caliber rifle, a “mission from God” compelled him to eliminate the “demons” manifesting themselves in human form. A teenage girl, a father, a young man and a young woman paid with their lives.

Hayes, allegedly facing drug and mental health issues since he was 13, had slipped into the vestiges of reality until he no longer had any concept of it. He went from job to job, eventually landing at his parents’ moped shop, where he was accused of stealing funds. Police reports from neighbors and multiple accounts of behavior piled up.

On that fateful evening, Hayes’s reign of terror started at approximately 11 p.m. when he shot Jeffrey Parks, a survivor, in the mouth. While ambulances swarmed to the parking lot where Parks collapsed, Hayes moved on to his next potential victim. A witness to the crime–who escaped unhurt–was confronted by Hayes, who was still standing on the side of the road. The witness claims Hayes aimed the gun at him and forced him to stop, saying, “He asked me, ‘Are you ready to die? Are you ready to meet your maker?'”
Confusion over which police department would respond to the crime primarily held up the slaughter’s end – Edwards’ Moped Shop was located near the Forsyth-Davidson County line. “I have a strong feeling things were mishandled,” the witness said; a report from the Winston-Salem Journal also alludes to the departments’ being “unable or unwilling” to handle the situation. Despite this, law enforcement was able to subdue Hayes by approximately 11:45 p.m.

By the time Hayes was sent to trial in 1989, the attention surrounding the case had transformed into a “media circus,” making it incredibly difficult for officials to find an unbiased jury. The stances were clear-cut from the prosecution and defense; the prosecution painted a detailed picture of a “calculating killer,” while the defense moved toward the ‘insanity defense’ which constitutes that a defendant should be declared ‘not guilty’ by ‘reason of insanity.’

Hayes’s case was featured on the 48 Hours episode “Murder or Madness,” during which host Erin Moriarity was able to secure an interview with the killer’s wife, Brenda, whom Hayes married during captivity. “When I met Michael, the thing that struck me was how tender he was,” Brenda said. “[It was the] look in his eyes.” According to the episode, she “finds it hard to believe he was ever capable of such rage.”
In the same segment, Hayes shared his daily routine at the hospital with viewers. He discloses that he slept with a large teddy bear that he calls a “facsimile,” or “exact copy,” of Brenda during his stay there.

To the community’s shock–and resentment–Hayes was found not guilty but was promptly sent to Dorothea Dix State Mental Hospital in Raleigh. He was quickly diagnosed with a schizo-personality disorder, and doctors prescribed Hayes medication for the condition. According to psychiatrists, he improved rapidly enough to be released from the institution, despite reportedly having “escaped” from Dorothea Dix (this claim was later disproven).

His request for release was granted in 2012 when he was set wholly free from legal bounds for the first time since the shooting. He attempted to live a normal life by working at a gas station but had to leave the job due to a barrage of death and bomb threats sent to the store.

Since gaining his freedom 10 years ago, Hayes has largely tried to “move on,” and has had no more notable offenses added to his record.
“At some point, the story has to come to an end,” Hayes’s attorney, Karl Knudsen, said.