Two Lowcountry women, who each lost a father to murder, have spent nearly three decades on aligning journeys, traveling the same South Carolina highway for many years with heavy hearts.
Shirley Ward and Laurel Fox don’t know each other, but the stories of their tragic losses begin around the same time and place — the 1980s in the Lowcountry.
Ward, 62, of Goose Creek, was in her 30s when her father was shot to death in Dorchester County. Kenneth Green of Summerville was convicted of shooting Ward’s father, 63-year-old Martin Cattles, 30 years ago.
In 1983, Green was sentenced to life in prison, and for the past 14 years, Cattles’ children have been fighting to keep him there.
“Even though it brings back all the hurt, it’s worth it to make him stay in jail,” Ward said.
The family has been to every single hearing since Green, 52, became eligible for parole. The hearings take place annually in Columbia, and this year the Cattles family will be back up there on Jan. 30.
“I always think it’s best to go and make a personal appeal,” said Ward’s brother, John Cattles.
It hasn’t been easy for the family to endure watching Green change his pleas over the years, they said.
“He’s sorry one year. Then he didn’t do it another year. His parents are getting old. He uses any kind of excuse,” Ward said.
The apologies don’t feel sincere to John Cattles. “To me, it’s always a crass and demeaning thing,” he said.
Shot for $20?
John Cattles and Shirley Ward, two of eight siblings, still get emotional talking about their father and his murder.
Ward’s husband and brother found Martin Cattles’ body slumped behind the wheel in his truck on Oct. 24, 1982, on S.C. Highway 61 in Dorchester County. They had gone looking for Cattles when he didn’t return from a hunting trip. He also didn’t show up to a birthday party for his grandson, Ward’s son.
According to prosecutors, Green fired his shotgun once at Cattles, who was inside the truck. Green took Cattles’ wallet and a hunting stool, according to investigators. Cattles’ wallet contained $20 in cash and two credit cards, sheriff’s officials said.
John Cattles never got an answer why his father was killed — certainly not over $20, he said. His father, who worked as a general contractor, would sometimes carry his payroll cash. John Cattles wonders if they were after that. Green has never offered an explanation, according to the Cattles family.
No explanation can make up for the moments Shirley Ward has endured, especially when she had to tell her son, who was 6 at the time of his grandfather’s death, about the killing.
“His face was looking out the window. He turned around and said, ‘How can they kill my papa for $20?’” Ward said.
It’s a question that perhaps will always linger for the Cattleses. Regardless of the answer, they are sure they want Green to remain locked up.
Laurel Kohn Fox also has traveled on Interstate 26, but for the past seven years to make a plea to the state parole board to keep her father’s convicted killer behind bars.
“I thought it would get easier. It gets harder because you’re dreading it months ahead of time,” Fox said.
Robert Baker was sentenced to life in prison for the shooting death of her father, Stanley Kohn, in 1985. Baker shot Kohn, 54, and Baker’s ex-wife, Rosalind Baker, 43.
Kohn was the S.C. General Counsel for the Department of Social Services when he was killed. He had started the state’s Volunteer Guardians Ad Litem program in the early ’70s. “I think about my father every day,” Fox said.
Baker, 75, has served 26 years in prison for Kohn’s killing. Baker, who was a professor at Clemson University before he was arrested, was denied parole again Wednesday.
“I do hope he dies in prison, so I don’t have to go every year,” Fox said. “I couldn’t sleep the night before or after. It takes three days for me to calm down. It’s emotionally taxing on all of us.”
Since 1996, murder convicts no longer have been eligible for parole. Unfortunately for Fox and Ward, the law that was passed was not retroactive. So 648 inmates in the state’s prisons who committed killings before 1996 still get a chance at freedom.
For now, Fox feels a slight sense of relief. Meanwhile, Shirley Ward is preparing for another trip to address the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.
In just a few weeks she and her family will plead during a parole hearing to keep her father’s convicted killer locked up.
The two women, who have never met and who have traveled the same nerve-stricken highway to Columbia, will continue holding on to the hope that every year their trips back home to the Lowcountry remain consistently relieving — at least until next year.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.