‘Her house is full of blood’: Hear 911 call that started a Columbia murder investigation
Joan Staub once took a member of the Hells Angels into her Rosewood area home.
That the person was part of a notorious gang was less important to Staub than the motorcyclist’s basic need for a place to stay. That’s an example of the depth of Staub’s compassion, her older sister Angela Sellers said.
Staub took in many others who would come and go, teenagers in particular, neighbors said.
Staub stood 4 feet, 9 inches tall, but her selflessness had no boundaries, according to her family and others who knew her. Despite physical limitations caused by a childhood illness, she helped people with household chores such as mowing lawns. She embodied the idea of being neighborly.
“If she went in a store, almost everybody she went by would know her,” said Betty Chabot, Staub’s sister. “If you weren’t a talker, you were when she was done with you because she was going to talk to you.”
On Aug. 9, inside the home that indiscriminately housed people in need, Staub was found dead. Police and others say the killer was someone Staub had helped, a sometimes volatile and often homeless woman well known in the Rosewood community.
As an infant, Joan Staub wasn’t expected to live, a doctor told her family.
Born Joan Tucker, she contracted meningitis at 5 weeks old, her sister Sellers said. She survived the disease though it crippled her hand, created issues in her leg, stunted her growth and left her without feeling in one side of her body.
Staub wasn’t supposed to walk either. But she took her first steps around 3 years old, her sister said. When Staub learned to tie her shoes with only a hand, the will that it took resounded through her family.
“She taught us a lot from that,” said Sellers. “In our mind, she wasn’t crippled but we were crippled. … She had more strength than I would have had.”
A child wasn’t to be in Staub’s future, everyone thought. Yet her son was born in 1990.
Growing up near Chesterfield, Staub was one of six children to parents who were longtime members of Thompson Creek Baptist Church. Her sisters, Sellers and Chabot, believe it was from their mother and father that Staub inherited the quality that many in Columbia’s Rosewood community knew her for — a willingness to help others.
Sellers remembered her parents taking in people who needed a place to stay. Despite having little expendable income, their mother was always making meals for people who were unwell, Chabot recalled.
“Joan was just like her,” Chabot said.
Around 2003, Staub moved to Huntington Avenue in Columbia’s Rosewood neighborhood with her husband and son. She came to Columbia to help take care of her husband’s ill aunt, Sellers said.
But her generosity wasn’t limited to family. Staub shared her concern for people and their well-being when she’d walk through the neighborhood.
Savannah Downing, who lives on Huntington Avenue, remembered when she got back from a trip one day and her trash cans were at the road for pickup. She hadn’t put them there. Her roommate told her that Staub probably did it.
“She does that for everyone,” Downing remembered her roommate telling her.
When Staub took her little dog Skippy on strolls or walked to get groceries, she always checked on people, Downing said.
“She was proud of how well she knew everyone.”
When Danny Collins, a neighbor of Staub’s, broke his hip at the end of May, Staub, even with her own mobility issues, also took his trash cans to the road, unasked.
“She would do things,” Collins said. “She normally didn’t wait for anybody to ask her to. … If somebody needed help, she would try to offer.”
Many in Rosewood got a fresh lawn cleaning or cut from Staub, again unprompted. Mark McEwan, who lives two houses down from from Staub, said she helped him out because his wife was confined to bed with multiple sclerosis and required his care.
“She (Staub) had a leaf blower. She’d blow my yard and not charge me,” McEwan said.
Another way Staub gave was by lending her home to people who seemed to most need a place. Collins and McEwan saw Staub take in seemingly homeless teenagers and older people over the years.
“She would take just about anyone in,” Collins said. “If they needed a place to stay, she’d let them stay two or three days.”
Staub’s empathy didn’t mean you could bowl her over. She enforced her rules inside her home. When the Hells Angels member who she took in started disobeying house rules, like no drinking, Staub had some words for him.
“She told him to sit down and shut up and listen,” Sellers said, “and he said ‘yes, ma’am.’ ”
One of the people who stayed with Staub, and who became a close friend, was Peggy Bowers.
Peggy Roberta Bowers was known as a Rosewood fixture by people in Columbia’s southside neighborhood, often seen walking around the Publix grocery store parking lot, Family Dollar or community streets. “Rosewood Peggy” was her nickname to some. Sometimes she’d introduce herself as “Peggy the Can Lady,” because she would pick up cans and other items from the streets.
She was born in 1951, court records show. Before becoming Peggy Bowers, she was Peggy Johnson, according to a 2009 marriage announcement in The State. She has family in Aiken and maybe in North Carolina, people close to Bowers said. Other court documents show she was living in Rosewood as early as 1997 and possibly earlier.
McEwan, Staub’s neighbor, was also familiar with Bowers. She reminded him of “an ex-textile worker,” meaning she seemed from a rural background, impoverished and marginalized.
She was also known to frequently be homeless.
Kyle Laughead was in high school during the late 1990s when he would see Bowers wandering Rosewood, maybe digging in people’s trash cans. He got the sense she’d been around a while.
“As I grew up, I’d see her walking down the road and we’d converse,” he said.
Many in Rosewood got gifts from Bowers that she found on curbs. Bowers gave Julie Beth Sweet a beat-up bird bath with an angel on the side.
“She said she was to watch over me,” Sweet remembered.
Sweet lived in Rosewood for 10 years and knew Bowers well. When Sweet would have parties in her yard, Bowers would more than likely find herself stopping by to talk at the edge of the driveway.
“She’d walk by every day and say, ‘Hi,’ and we would talk,” Sweet said. “She always called me, ‘Sissy.’ She wouldn’t let anybody mess with me. She was very protective.”
Sweet, like others, also remembered times when Bowers’ would be irrationally defensive of herself and others. She would snap into anger, screaming and arguing with people who were unfamiliar to her.
While people in Rosewood had many stories of Bowers being a pleasant person, the same people said she could be volatile and vindictive. While much about Bowers remained a mystery, people in Rosewood who knew her believed she dealt with mental health issues. People close to Bowers said she sought help from MIRCI, an organization that assists individuals with mental illness.
The State contacted MIRCI, but the organization said all records of people they serve are confidential.
“She was mentally ill and she was at her best when she was under (a mental illness service provider’s) care,” Debbie McDaniel wrote on social media. “Then she got (mad) and wouldn’t let them help her anymore.”
McDaniel described herself as a longtime friend of Bowers who tried to work with her. When contacted by The State, she declined to be interviewed.
McEwan said Bowers often stayed in abandoned houses.
Court records show that Bowers was prone to conflict. Six people in the Rosewood area filed for restraining orders against her for stalking or harassment from 2002 to 2009.
Bowers was evicted from Rosewood rentals four times between 2000 and 2007, according to court records. Stephie Bridgers knew of other times Bowers was forced out of the place she stayed.
Bridgers, owner of a Rosewood coffee shop, met Bowers in 2016. Bridgers started helping Bowers out with getting groceries and other tasks.
Bridgers wasn’t afraid to let Bowers hang around her kids. But after a year and a half, Bridgers said it felt like Bowers was taking advantage of her kindness. Bowers refused medication that was being offered by a mental health service provider, Bridgers said — medication that would have made her better able to deal with daily life.
“There was a good part of it at the beginning,” Bridgers says of her relationship with Bowers, “then it got abused. … So I stopped (helping her) as much.”
Bridgers said she came to believe that Bowers was protective of others who helped her until the people who assisted her found out she was only using them, then she would move on to someone else for help.
But as Rosewood community members knew, the selflessness of one neighbor — Joan Staub — seemed boundless.
Help and home
On Aug. 9, Bowers called 911 and said the front door of Staub’s Huntington Avenue home was open and that inside Staub was “covered in blood.” Bowers, who was living with Staub at the time, seemed distraught that morning as police arrived. After entering the home, officers found Staub’s body. The coroner said she died from head injuries.
Bowers and Staub met shortly after Staub moved to Huntington Avenue in the early 2000s.
Bridgers said she suspected the two met strolling through the neighborhood. McEwan remembered Bowers showing Staub and her husband her good side, being friendly rather than confrontational. Staub started letting Bowers use her house to try to sell the stuff Bowers picked off the road.
“Somehow every week they seemed to get stuff from wherever and put together and have yard sales,” McEwan said. “That went on for at least 10 years.”
When Staub and her husband had an old church van, they’d give Bowers rides to the grocery store or help her run other errands, according to neighbors. Staub gave Bowers a place to live.
When Staub’s husband died in 2014, she opened her home up more to Bowers. Staub’s house on Huntington Avenue became Bowers’ residence on and off for the next couple of years.
“They seemed to be best friends,” said Eric Stockard, a Rosewood business owner. “When I saw Joan, Peggy was typically with her.”
In 2016 and most of 2017, Staub let Bowers stay at her home full time.
Staub’s friendship and the stability of a home, even if occasional, helped Bowers, neighbors and close acquaintances said. Even if Bowers stopped staying at the house for whatever reason, Staub would have her back.
Staub’s influence might have been rubbing off on her housemate. McEwan said Staub and Bowers together started helping him out on various house chores like yard work since his wife needed extra care.
Others close to the pair said that Staub’s charity in taking Bowers in had turned into a friendship. When Bowers was around Staub, Bowers’ good side showed, friends and acquaintances said.
But their relationship was also one with the potential for conflict.
‘She was meant to be God’s miracle’
Before Staub was killed, Bowers confided in Bridgers, the coffee shop owner, that the pair often collided.
“She would say, ‘We don’t get along, we fight,’” Bridgers said.
While Staub was “very kind and sweet and loving,” she also had strong beliefs about how people should behave in her home, said Sellers, Staub’s sister. That strong will is the same strength that let her overcome adversity.
“Until they (people staying with Joan) did something she didn’t approve of or something they shouldn’t have, she’d have them in her house,” Chabot said. “If you get to drinking or bothering someone else who was supposed to be there, then she’d make you get out.”
Bowers left Staub’s home in late 2017 to move to Aiken with relatives. When she returned to Columbia in mid-2018, Staub welcomed her into the home despite their previous clashes.
“Maybe she (Staub) needed help herself and Peggy needed help, too, so that’s why she let her move back in,” Sellers says. “We don’t think she (Staub) trusted her (Peggy).”
Other issues may have factored into the disputes between Staub and Bowers, particularly after she moved back in. Chabot said she believed Bowers was giving a small amount of money to Staub to help with bills and groceries.
“I can think maybe she wanted her money back,” Chabot said of Bowers.
The police incident report indicated the two women had a dispute over $100.
Chabot said she thinks her sister became afraid of Bowers — that maybe Staub wanted her out but was scared of how she would react given her quickness to anger.
On Sept. 17, Bowers was charged with murdering Staub.
Investigators have not found a motive for the crime, according to Staub’s sisters. The sisters said they doubt if they’ll ever know why Staub was killed. They do know this, though: The charge against Bowers is the highest form of betrayal.
“She was meant to be God’s miracle,” Sellers said of Joan Staub.
Staub’s death and Bowers’ arrest rocked many in Rosewood. Community members expressed horror at the accusation. For those who knew the two, some where shocked but others expressed no surprise at all.
For McDaniel, who was close to Bowers and knew her “good side,” her emotions fought between doubt and acceptance.
“I just keep hoping against hope that it’s not true,” McDaniel said.
Bridgers said she believes Bowers’ sometimes confrontational and defensive personality may be attributed in part to trauma she suffered when she was younger. Bowers confided in Bridgers about her past, including the childhood trauma.
Bowers is being held with no bond at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center. The Richland County Public Defender’s office is representing Bowers and declined to comment on the case. She is set to be in court for a first appearance next week.
With Staub, community members bitterly questioned how anyone could harm such a caring person. But it seemed everyone understood why she helped Bowers, who so many people cast off.
Staub never cast off herself and she refused to do so to anyone else.
“It didn’t matter what trial and tribulation she was going through,” Chabot said of Staub. “She never put that on anybody else. … She went on and just helped people.”
Staub’s two sisters remembered a time when Staub was going to cut someone’s grass in Rosewood. Her lawnmower broke before she could start. So all 4 feet, 9 inches of her took a trimmer and did the whole yard.
“I said, ‘Joan you weren’t able to do that,’” Chabot remembered. “But she did. Whatever it took to help anybody, she did.”
From what her neighbors in Rosewood and her family knew about Staub, people’s burdens were no weight to her.
As her obituary read, “She loved and helped everyone in any way she could, no matter who they were and where they came from. It was that love that gave her life in the first place.”