A former Salisbury police officer serving a life sentence in a high-profile 1993 Watauga County homicide died on Dec. 23 of natural causes arising from a serious illness, law enforcement sources reported.
Lamont Claxton (“L.C.”) Underwood was convicted in 1997 of first-degree kidnapping and first-degree murder in the death of Viktor Gunnarsson, whose snow-covered body was found in January 1994 near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Deep Gap.
Underwood, 67, died in a hospital while serving his life sentence at Central Prison in Raleigh, said King Police Chief Paula May, who said she was the lead investigator in the Gunnarsson killing when she was working for the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office.
The homicide received international attention because Gunnarsson had been a suspect in the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. Held briefly in Sweden, then released, Gunnarsson had moved to the United States.
Gunnarsson’s death raised speculation about an international conspiracy, but prosecutors painted a more commonplace type of crime: Underwood, jealous of Gunnarsson’s relationship with Kay Weden, Underwood’s ex-fiancee, had abducted and killed the Swedish man.
Prosecutors said Underwood had been a school resource officer at West Rowan High School, where he had met Weden, who was a teacher at the school near Salisbury. Underwood and Weden were in a relationship that ended in December of 1993.
Gunnarsson was last seen alive on Dec. 3, 1993, when he had dinner at Weden’s home.
That night, prosecutors said, Underwood went to Gunnarsson’s apartment, bound him and carried him to the mountains in the trunk of his car. On the Blue Ridge, Underwood marched Gunnarsson into the woods and shot him, prosecutors said.
Then, prosecutors said, Underwood confronted Weden and her mother, Catherine Miller, in a restaurant three days later. Underwood said Miller had ruined his relationship with Weden and that he wished something would happen to her so she would know how he felt.
Miller’s body was found three days after that on the floor of her home. She had been shot twice in the head. Prosecutors chose not to try Underwood for Miller’s death.
Chief May in King said the case still airs as a rerun episode of “Forensic Files,” and was featured on Court TV in the series “The New Detectives.”
May notes that it was widely reported that the Gunnarson case also marked a North Carolina first for admitting mitochondrial DNA evidence into trial.
May said that after his arrest and incarceration, Underwood made death threats against her, another investigating agent and one of the trial prosecutors. May said Underwood was also cited internally for planning an escape.
May said Underwood had a connection to Winston-Salem in that he lived at the Children’s Home from the time he was 5 until he turned 18.