Crime & Courts

7 of South Carolina’s most notorious killers

The boat ramp where Susan Smith's car rolled into John D. Long lake.
The boat ramp where Susan Smith's car rolled into John D. Long lake. File photo/AP

Todd Kohlhepp, with authorities alleging that he might be connected to the deaths of at least seven people, is set to go down as one of South Carolina’s most notorious killers. Another whose trial is just getting under way – Dylann Roof, charged in the killings of nine church-goers in Charleston – also could be added to that list if he’s found guilty.

Here, a sampling of some other notorious South Carolina killers.

Lee Roy Martin

 

On Feb. 8, 1968, Martin called the editor of the Gaffney Ledger and told him where to find the bodies of two women he strangled and dumped in the woods. He threatened to kill more women until he was “shot down like the dog I am.”

Martin, known as the Gaffney Strangler, was convicted of four murders and was sentenced to four life terms.

In 1972, he was stabbed to death in his cell.

 

Pee Wee Gaskins

 

The convicted serial killer was executed in 1991 for killing a fellow inmate in a murder-for-hire scheme.

Authorities linked a total of 14 murders to Gaskins, more than any other man in South Carolina.

Most of his victims in the 1970s were buried in shallow graves in southern Florence County where Gaskins was raised. Victims included a pregnant mother, a 2-year-old girl and four teenagers. The 14 victims, who were all acquaintances, ranged from ages 2-45 and included his niece. They were shot, stabbed, strangled or drowned.

 

Susan Smith

 

More than two decades ago, the Susan Smith case entrenched the nation’s attention into the small town of Union in Upstate South Carolina.

RELATED: Exclusive: Sincerely, Susan: Union mother convicted of murder 20 years ago defends herself

VIDEO: Corresponding with convicted killer Susan Smith

On Oct. 25, 1994, Smith told law enforcement officials she was stopped at a red light at an intersection on Main Street in the town of Union, when a black man forced her out of the car at gunpoint and drove off with her two small sons in the back.

After a week-long manhunt for the two boys and the would-be suspect, Smith confessed to letting her car roll into the cold waters of John D. Long Lake with 14-month-old Alex and 3-year-old Michael strapped into the backseat.

The nation was riveted by Smith’s story and many were shocked by her confession. Her lie about a black man hijacking her car caused ripples of racial anger for decades.

“I was a good mother, and I loved my boys ... There was no motive as it was not even a planned event. I was not in my right mind,” Smith said in a letter to The State last year.

 

Larry Eugene Bell

 

Larry Gene Bell would be called a serial killer, a sadist, a psychotic by police, prosecutors and defense lawyers, respectively, as the manhunt and eventual execution by electrocution unfolded over a decade.

Bell kept the dark secrets of why he committed murder. He took a vow of silence in the hours leading up to his Oct. 4, 1996, appointment with the chair, which he believed was made of the same “true blue oak” as Jesus Christ’s cross. Bell had delusions of being Christ and had told mental health doctors the chair’s 2,000 volts of electricity would allow him to ascend to God’s throne. Bell rejected the option of lethal injection.

He was convicted of snatching Shari Smith, 17, while she checked the mailbox at her family’s Red Bank home. Later, Debra Mae Helmick, 9, was playing with her 3-year-old brother at their home in Richland County when she was pulled screaming into a vehicle. Bell was suspected but never charged in the 1984 disappearance of a Charlotte woman.

A crowd cheered as the hearse carrying Bell’s body left Broad River Correctional Institution. One of his defense lawyers said, “We have executed a sick, delusional, psychotic man.”

 

Richard Valenti

 

The Folly Beach man was convicted of killing two girls – Sherri Jan Clark, 14, and Alexis Ann Latimer, 13. They were reported missing in May 1973. He approached the teenagers with a gun, forced them under his house and hanged them. Their bodies were found a year later buried in the sand dunes in front of Valenti’s house.

He was sentenced to consecutive life sentences.

Valenti also was charged with strangling and burying 16-year-old Mary Earline Bunch in February 1974 and with attacking five other young women. Those charges were dropped after he was sentenced to life, but he admitted to the crimes.

 

Patrick Tracy Burris

 

Patrick Tracy Burris spent his last days taking drugs, law enforcement officials say.

He shot five people to death in Cherokee County in the summer of 2009. But investigators at the time said they didn’t know whether Burris shot his victims for drug money – or if the career criminal was motivated by the desire to kill.

He died while trading gunfire with North Carolina police.

 

Jerry Buck Inman

 

A judge sentenced Jerry Buck Inman to death in April 2009 for raping and killing a Clemson University student.

In May 2006, Inman entered Tiffany Souers’ off-campus apartment through an unlocked door. He woke Souers about 1 a.m. and tied her hands after she fought with him. He then raped the student and strangled her with a bikini top. Souers, a rising junior from St. Louis, was majoring in civil engineering and was known for her charity work. She was found dead by a roommate.

During his trial, Inman maintained that he deserved to die and wanted to be executed. But he later appealed the sentence; the state’s Supreme Court upheld it in 2011.

Contributing: State staff writers, The Greenville News, The Associated Press

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