A killer on the loose. Nervous residents on high alert.
Gaffney has seen all of this before.
A serial killer’s shooting rampage in this small town in Cherokee County has stirred memories of Lee Roy Martin’s killing spree in 1967-68. Martin, called the “Gaffney Strangler,” was convicted of murdering four women and sentenced to life in prison.
Martin was stabbed to death by another inmate, Kenneth Rumsey, on May 31, 1972.
State Sen. Harvey Peeler was a student at Clemson University when the Gaffney Strangler killings paralyzed his hometown. He said the five homicides in the county last week were “eerily similar to that time.”
“It brings out three emotions all at once: sadness, fear and anger,” said Peeler, R-Gaffney. “It’s just unbelievable. There’s no rhyme or reason.”
Martin claimed his first victim, Annie Lucille Dedmond, on May 20, 1967. But her husband, Roger, was tried and convicted of her murder.
On Feb. 8, 1968, Martin called Bill Gibbons at the Gaffney Ledger. Gibbons was managing editor of the newspaper at the time.
Martin gave Gibbons a list of names and directions to where victims’ bodies could be found.
First on the list was 20-year-old Nancy Carol Parris, whose husband had reported her missing the night before. Her body was found beside a bridge.
Next was 14-year-old Nancy Christine Rhinehart. Her body was found buried under a brush pile, with one bare foot sticking out.
The last name on the list was Dedmond’s. Martin wanted people to know her husband was innocent.
Martin called Gibbons again four days later, this time with a warning: There would be more.
The next day, the Gaffney Strangler killed his final victim. Martin murdered 15-year-old Opal Diane Buckson after kidnapping her from her school bus stop.
Two days later, police arrested Martin.
Gibbons, author of the book “Martin: Profile of ‘The Gaffney Strangler,” said during a telephone interview Saturday night that the emotions generated by the two killers are the same, but the situations are different.
“We knew what (Martin’s) motive was. He was after young women,” Gibbons said. “This fellow here has killed men, women, young and older, all in different parts of the county.”
Clyde P. Thomas, pastor of Cherokee Avenue Baptist Church, where two of last week’s victims — Stephen Tyler, 48, and his daughter, Abby, 15 — were members, said the shootings reminded him of the painful time more than 40 years ago.
“There’s an indelible memory in my mind of going to the bus stop, and parents being there with shotguns in their hands,” Thomas said.