Families, investigators keep cold cases alive across Lowcountry
SUMMERVILLE — Gloria Boone remembers hearing two pops that night nine years ago — the sound of the gunshot that pierced a car windshield, and the other bullet that sank into her youngest child's chest.
Some unsolved cases
On the night she died, Donna Florence's screams echoed off a highway overpass in Charleston.
“God help me!” she shouted. “Somebody help me!”
Her cries were heard but went unanswered. Passers-by found her body hours later in a weed- and litter-filled patch beside a chain-link fence at Meeting and Lee streets. Florence had been stabbed to death and mutilated, her head nearly severed from her partially clothed body. She was 29.
Nearly 14 years have passed since Florence's death on July 19, 1997, but the case has produced few leads. Investigators suspect that she met up with someone she knew and went willingly to the spot where she was killed. For now, the identity of her killer remains a mystery.
Danny Kelly was just a few hours shy of his 26th birthday when someone pressed a pillow against his head and fired five bullets into his skull on Oct. 3, 1969.
The young sailor died on a blood-soaked bed in his West Ashley apartment, taking his killer's identity with him.
Investigators never found the weapon, eyewitnesses or a motive in Kelly's killing. And many of those involved in Kelly's life have died or disappeared, including his widow.
Investigators have long been intrigued by Kelly's acquaintance with a former Charleston County police officer suspected of being a hit man who killed several people while wearing a badge. That officer, Leonard Lee Crowe, was one of the last people to see Kelly alive. But now he too is dead.
Patrick McCall, a 42-year-old construction worker, left a Ladson bar at 2 a.m. on June 20, 2001, to return to his home just a few yards away. What happened next remains an enduring puzzle.
At 1 p.m. that day, a mail carrier found McCall's body lying face down in the water at the end of a remote boat ramp near the Edisto River, more than 40 miles from his home. McCall had been bludgeoned to death with a large blunt object, his skull fractured in several places.
McCall was known as a cautious, street-smart man with an uncanny sixth sense for danger. In the weeks before his death, something appeared to be bothering him, and he reportedly tried to buy a gun for protection. But the exact nature of that threat remains as elusive as the identity of his killer.
Elliot Davis, a 31-year-old visitor from Georgia, was gunned down by robbers on April 24, 1994, while walking with his girlfriend near the corner of Church and Chalmers streets. The killing attracted wide attention, as Davis was the first tourist killed in Charleston in more than 25 years.
Davis and his girlfriend were taking an after-dinner stroll when three men confronted them and demanded money. Davis, who was carrying $2,931, refused to part with his cash. So the robbers shot him and ran off as he collapsed on the steps of the Dock Street Theater.
Police poured scores of man-hours into the investigation, but clues proved frustratingly difficult to find, even with the aid of a $10,000 reward offered by Davis' family.
Sherwin Gittens, 27, was found dead in an idling sport utility vehicle on Interstate 526 near Daniel Island on Oct. 2, 2001. The Goose Creek man had been restrained and shot in the right temple. A police officer found Gittens dead on the back seat of the green Lexus LX 450 at 5:19 a.m. Gittens was bound from behind with two pairs of handcuffs, and duct tape covered his head and face.
A passing motorist saw a light-colored vehicle parked behind the Lexus an hour or so before the body was found, with at least two people milling about. But police had few clues to work with, and no arrest was made in the killing.
Alexander Glover, 24, had been an avid gambler since his teens, and he was good. Pool. Dice. Cards. He played them all, and he won.
Glover was on his game the night of Dec. 2, 2007, and he ended up on a winning streak playing dice in a room at the Studio Plus Hotel in North Charleston.
That night, Glover was shot in the groin, stripped of his cash and belongings and left to bleed to death in the room where he had been gambling.
A man who had a reputation for robbing people emerged some time later as a suspect in the shooting. But 30-year-old Reginald Belton was gunned down himself the following year, leaving Glover's death an unsolved case.
Then, she heard a deep chuckle.
“I heard this laughter,” she remembers. “It sounded like the devil.”
The devil, whoever it was, killed 21-year-old David Boone as he listened to music in his old gray Nissan right there in his parents' driveway on Pawley Drive. Then the devil left in a white truck.
That's all the Boone family knows, though they suspect someone out there knows more.
“We can remember exactly what happened that day,” said David Boone's sister, Antawon, who went out with her three young children to find her little brother collapsed and dying near his car.
“We can even remember what we were wearing. If we remember, there are other people who remember.”
David Boone's case is Summerville's only unsolved killing. His death numbers among dozens of so-called cold cases around the Lowcountry, investigations that never turned up enough evidence to make an arrest at the time. So, time passed.
Talking about David, his mother said, is like digging him up and burying him again. Yet she and her children talk, in hopes that someone will remember that night and will decide to talk too.
People around town knew Boone as the neighborhood grass-cutter, the kid who entered the Alston Middle School talent show as a drummer but had only buckets to play — and won. Not only did his death gnaw at his family and community, it stuck with the investigator assigned to solve it.
When the detective died a few years after Boone did, he was buried with Boone's photograph in his coat pocket.
Years can pass
Cold cases haunt the living across the Lowcountry. Detectives come to know families of the dead, and the relatives and investigators often grow old together as years pass without resolution.
The Charleston County Sheriff's Office lists seven unsolved or active murder cases since 2006, while Berkeley County counts none so recent, and Dorchester County has two open cases. The North Charleston Police Department lists 26 active cases since 2006, and the Charleston Police Department has 18 unsolved killings.
Those Charleston city cases include David Boone's uncle, John Jenkins, a Vietnam War veteran who died homeless, gunned down in the early morning hours in front of St. John's Episcopal Church in 2010. Residents in the East Side community knew the 67-year-old Green Beret as “Pap,” who, despite his own circumstances, mentored boys in the community that he called “the village.”
Gloria Boone said she asked her brother to move in with them in Summerville, to come in off the streets. He told her he couldn't, that he had to wait for his orders.
“He was always in the jungle in his mind,” she said.
Gloria Boone's brother met the same fate as her son, a name on a file that torments families and frustrates detectives.
All Charleston city cold cases until 2007 fall to the hands of Sgt. Mike Gordon, who retired from the department in 2008, then came back to work unsolved murder and rape investigations, thanks to federal grant funding. He and a small group of volunteers pore over files dating to 1969, focusing on those cases with strong physical evidence.
In some cases, new technology for DNA testing could redirect old, otherwise stale investigations. Gordon said he spends much of his time these days looking into the murders of five young black women killed along the King Street corridor in the 1990s, all found dead in abandoned homes or behind isolated buildings with evidence of sexual assault.
Gordon invests in the idea that people change over time. Divorces shift alliances, and criminals doing time on other charges might speak up about old cases in order to strike a deal with prosecutors.
“A lot of things can happen to witnesses, to suspects, that might make them more inclined to talk now than they were 10 or 15 years ago,” Gordon said.
Child's death unsolved
Detectives with the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office keep copies of their unsolved killings in their cruisers. Lt. Tony Phinney said they flip through the pages, trying to shake loose new ideas in their downtime.
“We kind of live with it,” he said.
His department's most active cases include the nearly 13-year-old case of Stephanie Thompson, a 42-year-old woman found strangled and partially nude in some woods near an industrial park.
Detectives also still push for new clues on the 1980s abduction case of two women, Linda McCord and Sarah Boyd, and Boyd's toddler daughter, Kimberly, last seen heading home from a gospel concert in Walterboro.
At the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, detectives work cold cases on slow days, and two part-time deputies focus only on unsolved cases. Sgt. Derek Boyd said a case remains active until the leads dry up.
Then the detectives meet to exhaust all possibilities. After that, they meet with prosecutors or state investigators before declaring the case inactive.
Perhaps the most high-profile unsolved case in recent memory, 5-year-old Allison Griffor's October shooting death, remains very much active, Boyd said. Investigators continue working a few strong leads, he said, and Sheriff Al Cannon announced last month that federal authorities had taken a role in the case.
Jennifer Griffor, Allison's mother, keeps tabs on the investigation through regular contact with a victim's advocate. The frightened family moved out of state after the shooting, but calls investigators to check in on the case from time to time.
“We're trying to live our lives, and then, when we start to feel really sad and curious, we will call them,” Griffor said.
Allison was shot through the family's front door in West Ashley as she slept in her bed near her two brothers, ages 7 and 2 at the time. The family moved and bought new furniture, and Jennifer Griffor found a job, but life is far from normal with their middle child's case unsolved.
Jennifer Griffor said her husband struggles with telling people about where they are and what they are doing while the killer remains at large. He also hasn't been able to pull a steady paycheck.
“We're probably going to have to rely on family again until he finds work,” Jennifer said. “We had hopes to move forward, but it didn't go the way we wanted.”
Gloria Boone, David Boone's mother, understands that challenge of moving forward. Her family has left town every Christmas since her son's death, to get away from the house where he died, yet she talks to him before each trip.
“Come on, David,” she says, as the rest of the family heads out for vacation.
David Boone would have been 30 years old this summer, but nearly a decade after his death, his mother still cannot look at his photograph.
But Gloria Boone wonders what her son would look like now. What he would be doing now.
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/allysonjbird.