February 24, 2014

Couple charged with murder in Heather Elvis case

A couple whose home was searched in connection with the Heather Elvis case will be charged with murder, Horry County Police said at a press conference Monday.

An area couple is facing murder charges after being accused of killing 20-year-old Heather Elvis, whose body has not been found.

Tammy Lorinda Moorer, 41, and Sidney St. Clair Moorer, 38, each was charged Monday with murder after being charged during the weekend with kidnapping, indecent exposure and obstruction of justice.

The couple was being held at J. Reuben Long Detention Center pending a bond hearing, now set for the week of March 17, before a circuit court judge, prosecutors said.

The two have been held since Friday, when police served search warrants at a home on Highway 814 and removed them from that home.

“We have had some additional evidence that we located during the search that led us to, giving us probable cause for, the murder charge,” Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes said, but declined to give specifics about the evidence found.

In arrest warrants released Monday, police said that on or about Dec. 18, the couple kidnapped and murdered “Heather Elvis with malice, forethought” at the Peachtree Boat Landing. The 20-year-old’s car was found parked at the boat landing on Dec. 19 by an Horry County police officer on patrol.

On Saturday each was charged with two counts of indecent exposure and one count of obstruction of justice, and Sunday a count of kidnapping was added against each.

Few details of Elvis’ whereabouts or how she was killed emerged from a press conference Monday at the M.L. Brown Public Safety Building in Conway. The information released painted a picture of the Moorers being suspects from the start, who police followed as they left the state and who kidnapped Elvis.

Elvis was last seen the night of Dec. 17 and last heard from Dec. 18, according to authorities. Volunteers from across the region have helped on several searches for Elvis in wooded areas of Horry County and near Peachtree Landing.

A vigil that was arranged after news of the murder charges was held Monday evening at the landing.

Social media’s role

Social media also played a role in keeping the community informed of searches and vigils for Elvis as well as details about the Moorers and their interactions with the young woman.

Elvis also was the subject of a segment on HLN’s nationally televised program hosted by Nancy Grace and her family appeared on several other national television shows making pleas for information regarding her whereabouts. Large posters, billboards and paper-sized fliers can been seen for miles around Myrtle Beach featuring the woman’s smile, a contact number to help identify her whereabouts and a reward that has reached $30,000.

Rhodes said the more than two-month investigation was necessary.

“We needed to secure a good case. That’s basically what it boils down to,” she said. “From the very beginning, when we sat down with the Elvis family, we really did go through the process of explaining it to them. We told them that there were going to be highs and lows and disappointments on your part in that we’re not moving as fast as you think we should, and it has come to fruition. There are times that we did not move as fast as the Elvis family would have liked us to.”

Rhodes said the department paid particular attention to the Moorers early on, even keeping tabs of their social media pages, where the Moorers talked about trips they were taking out-of-state.

“Throughout the process of the investigation, when the Moorers did leave the area, we were very much aware of where they were at all times, so we were coordinating with other agencies throughout the course of the investigation,” Rhodes said.

In a Facebook posting on Jan. 17 by Tammy Caison Moorer, which has since been made private, the 41-year-old woman said that her husband had an affair with Heather Elvis and reported she was being harassed by Elvis’ family members about the affair.

In a posting on the social media site from Feb. 20, Tammy Moorer also wrote that her husband had cooperated with Horry County police during their investigation and they had previously allowed police to inspect their home before Friday’s search warrants were served. In that posting, she said that police served three warrants for the couple’s telephones, video surveillance and one of their vehicles at the couple’s home and Tammy Moorer’s parents’ home.

The strategy

Horry County Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said when the case got to his office, it was a matter of strategy to get the Moorers in custody on the lesser charges of indecent exposure and obstruction of justice before investigators brought in the U.S. Attorney’s General Office, the S.C. Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to build a case on the bigger charges.

“The stuff that was found at the house, if we didn’t have a lot of stuff already from two months ago or six weeks ago, it wouldn’t have been that much,” Richardson said. “But it has added to things we already expected. So we were able to find some extra stuff after what we already knew to be obstruction of justice and indecent exposure.

“Certainly there was a lot of strategy involved. In one way, this case is similar to others in that the more you look, the more you dig, the more you usually get. We started off with a baseline and that was us being capable of saying we can prove beyond probable cause that these two did, in fact, obstruct justice and public nudity,” he said. “As we added to it from the search warrant, we found we could get the kidnapping charge. We ran that by a judge and the judge said, ‘Yes.’ So then after we did that, we looked at some more stuff and then we said, ‘Alright, we think we can get the murder charge.’ We showed that to the judge and, of course, we got an arrest warrant.”

The indecent exposure arrest warrants for the Moorers, released Sunday, showed the Moorers are accused of exposing themselves in public between Dec. 17 and Dec. 18 at 1325 Celebrity Circle and in Conway at Atlantic Avenue and Century Circle. The obstruction warrants also showed that Sidney Moorer impeded or interfered with the investigation into Elvis’ disappearance by providing false, misleading or inaccurate information regarding Elvis’ disappearance and their activities in the early morning hours on Dec. 18, which caused the agency to divert resources.

The obstruction of justice warrant for Tammy Moorer is almost identical, but said she provided false information about her and her husband’s activities Dec. 18.

Richardson said he wants the public to know kidnapping doesn’t necessarily mean someone being taken to another location.

“Keep in mind, kidnapping is simply keeping someone from being able to leave,” Richardson said. “We have this idea that you put a bag over their head and take them out of state,” he said. “Anytime you’re unable to leave, it is a kidnapping. I think it would be improper to say we found her blouse or we found her toothpaste or whatever.”

He said the fact that the Moorers, who appeared in court Monday, have different attorneys is pretty common when spouses are arrested together.

“Anytime that you’re charged with the same crime, you may very well have a different interest than your partner,” Richardson said. “They may have something that they need to talk about or talk with their attorney about that is adverse to his wife and the wife may have something that she wants to talk about that is adverse to the husband. For that reason, both of them have somebody that is able to come in and represent their particular interest.”

The latest charge

On Monday, Tammy Moorer was represented by Florence-based attorney Patrick McLaughlin and Sidney Moorer was represented by Myrtle Beach area attorney Kirk Truslow. Both attorneys waived their requests for a bond hearing on the kidnapping charges after Donna Elder, senior solicitor with the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, said the state would be filing murder charges. The couples’ attorneys declined to comment after the hearing.

Richardson said he is not concerned about charging the Moorers with murder without having recovered Elvis’ body.

“We’ve got enough to charge them with murder without a body,” Richardson told The Sun News after the press conference. “It’s always easier if you have a body, but we’ve tried cases several times without a body. The main thing about getting a body now is more about peace for the family.”

Rhodes said the road to convictions is still a long one.

“We realize that this is only one step in the process,” she said.

“We are continuing the investigation because our ultimate goal is to locate Heather. We’ve crossed one hurdle and we still have numerous more to go. We recognize that.”

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