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A Gruesome Killing Scars a Small Town

By Carl Langley
EdgefieldDaily.com Guest Columnist

web posted December 4, 2007
GUEST COLUMN – Part three of a four-part story

With Tim and his pal parked in a state penal facility, it appeared that life would return to normal, or what passed for normal in those days. But things were going to get worse. Much worse. The little petty crimes that had been inflicted on the town for several years turned into horror. A gruesome killing changed the town forever, splitting families and turning friends against friends.

On a balmy May evening in 1981 the town police chief, who if hit in the head with a 2x4 would take five minutes to fall down, rushed down to the athletic field where 11- and 12-year-olds were playing baseball. He went to see the mayor, who was operating the concession stand. He always ran to the mayor when he was confused, and he was confused quite often.

The mayor liked to operate the concession stand because it gave him a clear view of the field and he could sort out the local criminal element that came down to the field in hopes someone would drop some money out of their pockets or lose a wallet. Or maybe they could even lift some poor soul’s wallet. With them, anything was better than honest work.

The town’s misfits began hanging around the ball field in larger numbers after hearing that a 10-year-old had found a wallet with $1,800 in it and took it to his mother. His mother, an honest woman with a heart of gold, took the billfold to the mayor and it was returned to the owner for a $20 reward paid to the lad who found it. The 10-year-old grew up to be a banker and years later the mayor remarked that the bank was lucky to get someone like that. The ones who hung around the ballfield and would refuse to turn over such a find grew up to become convicts or fugitives from the law.

Moments after he reached the concession stand, the police chief remarked, “You got to come with me mayor, I have something to show you.” The mayor left the hotdog and popcorn concessions to a couple of his friends and got in the patrol car. The police chief drove to the town dump, nearly two miles away. There, the mayor saw a burned Mustang, and inside the smoldering car was the evidence of a crime.

A young man had been tied to the car’s steering wheel and was doused with gasoline. He then was set afire. The fire burned through the ropes tying him to the wheel, but the doomed teen-ager managed to get out of the car. He had crawled several yards down a dirt path, and large swatches of burned skin littered the path. It was later found that because he refused to die he was hit in the head with a heavy board and his lifeless body thrown back into the car.

By the time the mayor reached the scene the coroner had been there and ordered the remains gathered up and transported to the county morgue. Investigators were going over the scene and daylight was fast disappearing. The mayor learned that the gruesome discovery was made by a woman who had gone to the dump in late afternoon to discard an old rug.

From that terrible moment days turned into weeks and investigators were rounding up suspects for questioning. Five suspects finally chased down by the police were keeping quiet, but an investigator with the sheriff’s department and a town policeman came up with the damning evidence. A piece of drapery fabric and a scorched pair of blue jeans proved to be the vital links to solving the gruesome killing.

The drapery fabric had been thrown over the victim as he burned and a fragment was recovered. It was sent to an FBI lab and within a few days it was identified as the same type material used in a certain model of mobile home. The scorched jeans were found in the ductwork of a mobile home owned by one of the suspects. The drapery material was traced to a mobile home where two panels of drapes were missing. The jeans belonged to one of the five suspects.

While the suspects squirmed under the detective’s intense questioning, he made a casual remark to one of them. The comment was like an electric shock. “You are squirming now, but you’re going to really squirm when they strap you in that chair up in Columbia and throw that switch,” the detective said as one suspect shifted about in his chair. The detective had singled out the teen-ager as the weakest link in the chain and he turned out to be right.

The boy began talking and told the investigators how the killing was planned and carried out. The ringleader was a female with a bad attitude. She had once remarked to a policeman that she could control anyone in town “with what’s between my legs and a few Qualudes.” She was bad news, and she was defiant about it all.

After the first one cracked and began singing, the other three males under her control began talking, and they pointed to her as the mastermind behind the crime. Their confessions were just what the police needed. Six months after the arrests they all were brought into court and a judge handed down jail sentences for all four. The terms ranged from youth detention to 20 years.

The girl, who was covered up with tattoos, demanded a trial. She got one. She went on trial dressed from head to toe in long blouses and skirts to hide the tattoos that covered most of her body, and she put on a Little Miss Muffett appearance for the jury. It was all for naught. She was found guilty and sentenced to life.

The mayor, rather wisely, didn’t attend the courtroom appearances for the four young males nor the trial of the ringleader. He had a near uncontrollable urge to choke the life out of the suspects and was advised by friends to stay away from the courthouse. He grabbed his Jim Beam bottle and settled in to await the results.

While the five sat in jail, their parents scolded and damned the mayor, the police and everyone else involved in the case. The saddest part is that the parents never would admit that their children were guilty of a merciless, heinous crime against one of their own, a young man who had never bothered anyone.

By the time all of them had been sent to jail, the mayor had gotten his federal grant, less the $330,000 the school board hijacked, and built the town hall. He promised he would never again vote for a school bond issue and to this day he has kept that vow.

His plans for an underground city hall, which would have become a state landmark, failed for lack of funding. He got in his last word by declining suggestions to put up a commemorative plaque in the town hall to recognize his and the council members contributions to community progress. The mayor said the town hall would have been an even more impressive building but for the school board’s greed.

I don’t like plaques naming politicians as instruments of community betterment,” the mayor said at a dedication ceremony for the town hall a year after the murderers had been sentenced. The mayor said the building belonged to the citizens of the town and all had an equal share in building it. It was a bright moment after some dark days.

The dedication ceremony was significant in that many of the town’s citizens attended the event, but absent were the parents and friends of the ones who had joined together to commit murder.

The mayor’s term ended a few months after the dedication, and the torch was passed to a councilman who was the mayor’s best friend. The councilman was stricken with a fatal blood disease three years later. If he had lived the town would not have become engulfed in a scandal that arose from the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to build a sewer system.

The merciless killing of the young man who meant no harm to anyone was a dark stain on a town that once showed promise for growth. And the stain was made even darker by a mayor who ran roughshod over the citizenry with a failed sewer program and stole the taxpayers’ blind. He escaped with a short jail term, proving that justice is sadly lacking at times..

On his last day in office, the mayor, who had held the post for eight years, told his successor that everyone in a small town should be required to hold public office for at least 30 days. It was his parting shot at those who had refused to lend a hand during the town’s darkest times. He recalled to friends a visit a citizen of the town paid him about a month before his tenure ended.

The citizen told the mayor he wanted to apologize for sitting at home and letting him carry the fight to the criminal alone. “We let you down mayor, and I am sorry about that,” the man said. The mayor remarked, “I knew when I went into office it would be a lonely job at times, and I don’t blame you one bit. You didn’t ask for it.”

(To be continued)

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