Friends of Tiffany Williams on Friday remembered a fashionable, bubbly mother with a huge smile, as neighbors reeled from the shock of a gruesome crime. Meanwhile, investigators continued trying to determine what led Williams’ boyfriend to allegedly beat her to death and set her remains on fire in a barrel in rural Chester County.
“We always used to giggle because she was so tiny she could fit in my 4-year-old’s clothes,” said April Dyer-Stephenson, 32, who had been friends with Williams since 2004. “That’s one thing I always remember – her smile, her laugh, her big blue eyes. She could light up the room with her smile.”
That bright smile was extinguished when, warrants state, John Vincent Coddington, 22, beat and kicked Williams to death at the townhouse they shared in Fort Mill. Deputies in Chester County found Williams’ burned remains inside a barrel at a home on Rippling Brooke Drive after York County authorities searched the Fort Mill apartment, said Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse of the Chester County Sheriff’s Office.
Police were alerted to the crime when two men – one of whom lives at the home in the 900 block of Rippling Brooke Drive where the burned body was found – went to the Rock Hill Police Department on Wednesday to “report a possible homicide in Fort Mill.”
Rock Hill police called York County deputies Wednesday. Detectives searched the home and began an investigation that culminated Thursday with the finding of the body by Chester County deputies and Coddington’s arrest on a murder charge.
Coddington remained in jail without bond Friday afternoon. The York County Coroner’s Office said Williams’ cause of death is pending, and the case remains under investigation.
Deputy 16th Circuit Solicitor Willy Thompson said the office has not fully reviewed the case, and declined comment on the case itself or any potential punishment for conviction.
Under South Carolina law, both physical dismemberment and torture are considered aggravating factors that prosecutors can use to seek capital punishment.
‘Fashion and makeup and being beautiful’
Dyer-Stephenson met Williams in 2004 while the two women, both pregnant at the time, were taking a birthing class. They started talking and “clicked” after each complimented the other’s jacket.
“She was very into fashion and makeup and being beautiful,” Dyer-Stephenson said. “She was a really good person, inside and out. She had a little bit of bad luck – everybody goes through their trials and tribulations.”
That bad luck included the deaths of both of Williams’ parents in the past three years, Dyer-Stephenson said. That didn’t stop Williams, whom she described as generous, helpful and “very clean,” from coming to clean her house when Williams found the struggles of being a single mother difficult.
“She always tried to help others, even when she had nothing,” Dyer-Stephenson said, adding that lately, Williams was trying to “turn over a new leaf in life.”
“She was gradually getting away from the bad things in life,” she said. “She was trying to better herself by going into a condo with this new guy.”
That “new guy” was Coddington, whom Dyer-Stephenson described as “a very jealous man.” She never met Coddington but said he was jealous because Williams “had a lot of friends.”
“Everyone knew and loved her,” she said. “Everybody I’ve spoken with pretty much doesn’t know who he was. This was a fresh relationship.”
Cassie Bright went to Rock Hill High School with Williams, whom she described as bubbly and always smiling.
“I never saw Tiff in a bad mood,” she said. “My heart is broken. Tiffany didn’t deserve this at all.”
‘Shocking and brutal’
Coddington said at a bond hearing late Thursday that he worked at Harris Teeter. A Harris Teeter spokesman said Friday that Coddington had worked since 2011 at the store on Celanese Road in Rock Hill.
Neither Coddington nor Williams had a prior criminal record, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.
Coddington’s Fort Mill neighbors were stunned Friday to find that they had been walking past an accused killer for days. Deshara Mitchell, whose townhouse is in the same building as the unit Coddington and Williams lived in, called the killing shocking and unthinkable.
“I never saw him, but my husband saw him a few times,” she said. “We never would have guessed that he was a killer. The scariest part is that he was here for days, and there may have been a body inside there.”
On Friday, people brought home groceries, waited for children to get off school buses and walked dogs. Most were relieved that Coddington remains jailed without bond, but a few were distraught that Coddington had come and gone near them for so long.
“I have seen him a few times at the mailboxes – this just is shocking and brutal,” said Evelyn Gasdek, who lives across the tiny parking lot from Coddington. “He had these tattoos up his arm. But you never knew anything like this.”
Other neighbors now understood why they had seen police cars in the area for several days up through Thursday, because police had declined to tell residents what they were doing and why as surveillance and investigation went on.
A retired police officer who lives in the building next door said when he saw all the police, and then detectives and crime scene technicians, he knew that police were dealing with a murder.
Another neighbor on the next street, Bridgett Cole, said that the normally quiet neighborhood is filled with people ranging from retirees such as her to young parents with kids, and she knew something was up with all the police activity.
“But murder?” Cole gasped. “This is stunning.”
Funeral fund set up
Dyer-Stephenson said she and Williams stayed friends until she moved to Orlando, Fla., at which point they “separated a little but kept in contact.” She set up a GoFundMe page to cover the cost of Williams’ burial. About $600 had been raised as of Friday afternoon.
“The family’s been going through hard times,” she said. “It seems like every time she was getting to that level she was able to get herself together, something else happened.”
Recently, Williams’ sister came to visit Dyer-Stephenson and they took a picture together, which Williams commented on.
“She said we looked gorgeous and she wanted to see me,” Dyer-Stephenson said. “That was our last conversation – we needed to have a reunion.”