A man was arrested in North Carolina almost exactly 30 years to the day after admitting to the murder of former Orange County maintenance worker John Stagner, who had lent the man money and given him and his family a place to stay.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Team brought charges against Ronald Cates on August 10, 2022, exactly 30 years after he killed John Stagner.
During that incident in 1992, Cates allegedly beat Stagner to death. Stagner was discovered the next morning when his wife went to wake him for work and he was cold to the touch with head trauma.
During the investigation into Stagner’s death, detectives learned that he and Cates were close acquaintances. Friends and family of both individuals described Stagner as a caring individual who would often lend power tools and other items to Cates, who would not return the items. Cates instead pawned the items for money in order to purchase drugs.
When Stagner finally confronted him, Cates attacked and killed him.
Cates was interviewed the following day, August 11, 1992, as well as one week later, and provided statements that were inconsistent with those of his family members.
Authorities say that the case went cold for multiple years and in 1995, in front of multiple family members, Cates admitted to killing Stagner during a suicide incident. At the time, detectives say that police were limited with evidence and technology, and did not have enough evidence to charge Cates.
In 2020, after OCSO opened its cold case unit, a family member of the Cates family contacted the sheriff’s office. Several detectives began looking into the case again and spoke to family members, daughters, and the wife of Cates. The family members overwhelmingly expressed that Stagner had been good to the family, lending them money and giving them a place to stay when they were in need.
In March, additional, extensive interviews were conducted with family members who expressed that they had lived in fear of Cates for decades because he was “very abusive.”
In April, after Cates was Baker acted into a hospital in North Carolina, he asked to speak with a nurse and proceeded to tell her that he had killed someone in Florida in 1992. A security guard listened to Cates and, after looking up the case on the Orange County Sheriff’s Office website, contacted the Salisbury Police Department. A police officer obtained a 10-minute confession from Cates on his body-worn camera and he was arrested on August 5.
Cates is currently incarcerated at the Rowan County Jail.
The OCSO cold case team has solved 13 cases in the past two years, with one dating back to 1984.