Crime & Courts

Who killed Samantha Josephson? Suspect’s family, friends say cops have the wrong man

How the Samantha Josephson death investigation unfolded

University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson was kidnapped and killed when she got into a car she thought was her Uber ride. See how the investigation unfolded and how the community responded to her death.
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University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson was kidnapped and killed when she got into a car she thought was her Uber ride. See how the investigation unfolded and how the community responded to her death.

The family and friends of a 24-year-old Clarendon County man say he couldn’t have been responsible for kidnapping and killing Samantha Josephson.

Nathaniel David Rowland was “passed out” at a house party the night Josephson was abducted in Five Points, said Trey Elmore, a cousin who lives in Texas. Someone else had taken his car.

“I don’t believe it was him in the car,” Elmore told The State. “They only assumed that because he ran (when he was pulled over the next day).”

Police say Josephson, a 21-year-old student at the University of South Carolina, was abducted around 2 a.m. March 29 after she climbed into a black Chevy Impala, thinking it was her Uber ride. Instead, police say, it was Rowland’s vehicle and he activated the child-safety locks to prevent any escape attempts. That afternoon, she was found stabbed to death on a dirt road close to where Rowland grew up in Clarendon County.

About 24 hours later, police spotted the same Impala just blocks from Five Points and tried to pull the vehicle over. Rowland got out and fled on foot, and was caught shortly after, police say. Officers found blood inside the car, along with bleach, wet wipes and germicide. They also found her cellphone.

According to police, Samantha Josephson was last seen by friends between 1:30 and 2 a.m. Friday at 715 Harden St. in Five Points. Surveillance photos provided by Columbia Police

Even so, Rowland’s family contends he could not have been responsible. Rowland’s father, Henry, told WACH Fox that his son realized his keys were missing the following day.

“He checked his pockets when he woke up … and he didn’t have his keys,” Henry Rowland told WACH Fox. “So he walked outside to try and find the vehicle. He found the vehicle, opened the door, saw his keys and saw all the blood in the vehicle.”

Rowland is being represented by Fielding Pringle, chief public defender for Richland and Kershaw counties. She declined to comment.

In the hours leading up to Josephson’s abduction, Rowland posted to Facebook about a dozen times. His final post that night — a comment about his basketball skills — came at 12:23 a.m., about 90 minutes before Josephson climbed into the Impala.

The very next post came at 5 p.m. the following day — an hour after two young hunters found Josephson’s body on a dirt road in Clarendon County. The post read, “I’ll love to do it (with you) but (I’ll be damned) if I can’t do it without (you).”

‘I am not your typical, everyday person’

People have swarmed Rowland’s public Facebook account — commenting on every post, on every photo — calling for his torture and death. Many comments are racist in nature, with one featuring an image of a noose. Facebook has not yet taken down or deactivated any part of Rowland’s profile.

And in Clarendon County, where 48 percent of the population is black and 47 percent is white, according to census data, people believe this case is feeding the racist caricature that portrays black men as inherently violent and criminal.

At least a dozen Clarendon County residents interviewed by The State asked that their names not be used, fearing the same backlash Rowland and his family have received on social media.

A neighbor, 62-year-old Eartha Ham, watched Rowland grow up.

“He has always been a very good boy.”

At some point, Rowland created a Google website to describe his love for basketball, his best friends and his family dynamics.

“In conclusion, I am Nathaniel David Rowland and I am not your typical, everyday person,” he wrote on his site. “Just like a champion, when I get knocked down I have no problem getting right back up.”

From student to ‘monster’

Prior to last week, the most serious crime Rowland had ever been accused of was selling a stolen Playstation 4 to a Columbia-area pawn shop in October, according to court records. That case is still pending in court. He was also fined for transporting alcohol in a motor vehicle in Sumter County, and received a handful of speeding and seat belt tickets in Richland, Lexington, Clarendon, Orangeburg and Sumter counties. But Rowland has no record of violent crime, and that leaves friends and family wondering how this could happen.

Rowland was enrolled at S.C. State from 2014 to 2017, according to Sonja Bennett-Bellamy, vice president for institutional advancement and external affairs. The school has had no association with Rowland since 2017, and he did not graduate, Bennett-Bellamy said.

The school did not respond to a request for additional information about Rowland’s enrollment, including his degree program.

A GoFundMe page proclaiming Rowland’s innocence was set up to help pay for his legal fees. By Wednesday, it had raised $240 in seven donations. But the account has since been deactivated.

On the other hand, Josephson’s father, Seymour, called Rowland “a monster” during a Tuesday vigil in her hometown of Robbinsville, N.J.

It’s rare for someone with no record of violent crime to suddenly commit such a heinous act, said Kendell Coker, assistant professor of clinical and forensic psychology with the University of New Haven in Connecticut. But it isn’t impossible.

“Generally, you’re not going to just one day snap and decide you’re going to kill people. Although, that can happen,” he said.

Coker, who isn’t familiar with the case and doesn’t know the people involved, said research shows people who commit violent crimes could fall into two common categories — the predator or the opportunist.

An opportunist may not be looking to kill, but if someone climbs into the back of their car, the opportunity has presented itself.

It’s impossible to know until someone has the chance to sit down and evaluate Rowland, and until then, there will always be questions about his past, as well as his motivation for allegedly killing Josephson.

“Not everyone is caught and arrested for the crimes they commit,” Coker said. “We also know that people are sometimes falsely accused and wrongfully convicted of crimes as well.”

Staff writers Teddy Kulmala, John Monk and Isabella Cueto contributed to this report.

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