NEW ZION — About five miles east of Interstate 95 in Clarendon County, a two-lane road cuts through rows of wheat and stalks of knee-high corn.


Oct. 2, 2000

Jeffrey Eady robs a Williamsburg County grocery store at gunpoint.

Oct. 5, 2000

Eady is arrested and charged with armed robbery.

Feb. 13, 2001

Eady escapes from the Williamsburg County jail.

Feb. 23, 2001

Eady is caught and sent back to jail.

May 3, 2001

Eady pleads guilty to robbing the store in Williamsburg County. He is sentenced to 12 years in prison.

May 31, 2001-June 1, 2012

Eady serves prison sentence. During this time he is violent, smuggles contraband, and often masturbates in front of other inmates or visitors. His violations in prison add up to 82 offenses.

Date unknown

Eady is released from prison on community supervision. He cuts of his electronic ankle monitor and doesn’t pay fees. A judge sends him back to prison to finish his sentence. He spends 45 more days behind bars.

Date unknown

Eady gets out of prison and returns to New Zion where his father lives.

May 25, 2013

His father’s cousin, 77-year-old Sadie Brown, moves into their home on 527 Subdivision Road.

May 28-29, 2013

Investigators believe Eady shot and killed Brown on May 28. Someone tells investigators they saw Eady burning a blood-stained shirt in the yard of a Sumter home. Eady is seen driving Brown’s silver Kia.

May 30, 2013

Brown is reported missing to the Clarendon County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators begin looking for Eady for questioning. Investigators believe that Eady went across the street from his home and shot and killed 65-year-old Maybell White at the Oakdale Recycling Center and stole her car, a Ford Focus. Later that afternoon, investigators say he headed south and stopped at D&V Convenience store near Ravenel in Charleston County, where he robbed, shot and killed 37-year-old Crystal Johnson of Adams Run. A multi-state manhunt for Eady begins.

June 1, 2013

Eady is spotted in Bay County, Fla., and tracked down in Mexico Beach. He leads police on a chase but is caught and arrested.

June 2, 2013

Eady is transported back to Clarendon County. After speaking to an attorney and minister, Eady shows investigators where he dumped Brown’s body in a forest near New Zion.

June 3, 2013

Before a scheduled bond hearing, Eady uses his plastic jail wristband to cut his wrist, authorities said. He is transported to a hospital for a few hours before being returned to jail and placed on suicide watch.

It’s easy for outsiders to lose their way on the winding country roads where fields outnumber homes and businesses. It’s a quiet corner of a rural county where life’s pace moves a little slower and big-city problems seem worlds away.

That illusion was shattered in recent days when one of New Zion’s own was accused of murdering three women in a bloody rampage spanning two counties. Inside the corner mini-mart that sits at a four-way stop in the town center, one name passed over and over from the lips of those inside: Jeffrey Eady, Leon’s son.

Many in town remained in a state of shock following the 30-year-old man’s arrest on June 1. Few could fathom how one of their neighbors could have caused such violence and pain.

“He was one of my favorite customers,” said Denise Robertson, the mini-mart’s clerk. “He made me laugh every day.”

Eady, however, had a much darker side. He spent a dozen years away from the small town while he served a prison sentence for robbing a nearby store.

While behind bars, Eady spiraled out of control, descending into a pattern of violence and instability that authorities say didn’t end when he came back home to New Zion.

Life on the farm

At 84 years old, Leon Eady still stands tall, despite the back-breaking work he does in his garden. Rows of podding pea plants lined the field next to his home on a recent afternoon, and his five pigs rooted around in the wooden pen out back. He worked hard for this land, so he works it hard, he said.

“The things I wanted in my life, I couldn’t get it here on the farm, so I went to Baltimore and started climbing up the ladder,” he said, referring to his time as a contractor in Maryland.

He moved back home and bought land when he retired. His 12-year-old son Jeffrey enjoyed helping his father out around the new home, and took to his chores with purpose.

“He would work since he was real small. He could do most anything he wanted to do. Anything I needed around the house. I didn’t have to worry about it,” Leon Eady said.

But peace on the farm was rattled a few years later.

Beginning of the end?

About 8:07 on the night of Oct. 2, 2000, Jeffrey Eady drove about 10 miles from his home to Bryant’s Grocery store in Lake City. Eady, then 17, pulled on a brown camouflage mask, walked into the store and pointed a shotgun at a clerk while demanding cash, according to an incident report.

After the clerk gave him money from the register, Eady demanded cigarettes. He refused two varieties before settling on a pack of Newports. He then ordered the clerk to the ground and slipped out the front door, blasting a round into the ceiling as he left, the report stated.

Williamsburg County sheriff’s investigators arrested him three days later, but Eady had other plans. He bided his time, then escaped when an opportunity presented itself, authorities said. His freedom proved short-lived, however, and deputies had him back behind bars 10 days later.

Time in prison

In May 2001 Eady pleaded guilty to robbing the store and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

He was far from a model inmate. Prison records show Eady was disciplined for 84 violations, committing offenses every year he spent locked up.

He got into fights, destroyed property, got caught with contraband and frequently masturbated in front of inmates or visitors, according to S.C. Department of Corrections spokesman Clark Newsom.

After serving 85 percent of his sentence, Eady was released to serve the remainder of his time under community supervision. “He basically started violating from the start,” said Peter O’Boyle, spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.

Eady broke his curfew and didn’t pay his fees, O’Boyle said. Then he cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet. He was re-arrested around July 2012, and a judge sent him back to prison the next month to serve 49 days, O’Boyle said.

“At that point he had maxed out and completed his prison sentence,” O’Boyle said. “So there was nothing anybody could do.”

When Eady returned home last year, his father welcomed him and the prospect of having more help around the house. But a simple life on the farm didn’t seem to be enough for Jeffrey Eady, his neighbor, Robert Lowery, said.

“His father is on disability and he would give (Jeffrey) everything. His father was giving him enough and nothing was enough for him,” he said.

First killing

A couple weeks ago the Eadys got company when Leon’s cousin, Sadie Brown, moved into their home. Jeffrey Eady took to driving the 77-year-old woman, who wheeled around a tank of oxygen to help her breathe, to doctor appointments. But some suspected his intentions weren’t entirely noble.

“He knew Miss Sadie Brown had money,” said Lowery, Eady’s neighbor.

Clarendon County Sheriff Randy Garrett said he believes Eady was stealing from Brown, and that on May 28 Jeffrey Eady shot and killed her using a .22-caliber rifle. He moved her body three times before dumping it in a forest nearby, Garrett said.

The same day, Eady showed up unannounced at the home of Denise Robertson, a clerk at the New Zion Mini Mart.

She said Eady knocked on her front door and wanted to talk to her.

“He was pacing on the front porch,” she said. “I didn’t open the door because of the look on his face.”

Instead, Robertson said, she called her boyfriend, who rushed over and tried to ward off Eady by shooting his gun into the air. Eady fled in a silver Kia, according to authorities.

A few days later, a missing person’s report was filed for Brown. While looking for her, investigators spoke to someone who had seen Eady burning a blood-stained shirt in the yard of a Sumter home around the time she disappeared, an incident report stated.

Authorities also learned that her silver Kia was missing, the same car Eady had been seen driving. They decided to talk with him, but by then he was trying to skip town, and a means to do so lay right across the street, authorities said.

On May 30, Eady walked over to the Oakdale Recycling Center, where 65-year-old Maybell White was working inside a small wooden shed, authorities said. Parked just outside was her car, a 2008 Ford Focus.

Eady shot White with the rifle, rolled her body up in a rug, took her keys and cash and stole her car, Garrett said.

Eady headed south and stopped at the D&V convenience store on Savannah Highway, near Ravenel. There, he robbed, shot and killed part-time clerk Crystal Johnson, 37, according to Charleston County authorities. This time, he was caught on a surveillance camera. The manhunt was on.

Two days later investigators spotted Eady in Mexico Beach, near Panama City in the Florida Panhandle. He was driving White’s car when they tried to stop him, but Eady would not give up easily, according to investigators. He led officers on a chase, crashed the car, then ran off before police finally caught up with him, Garrett said.

Inside the vehicle, investigators found the 22-caliber rifle used to kill all three women, Garrett said.

After he was returned to Clarendon County, Eady asked for his minister and an attorney, Garrett said. He met with them, then led deputies to the spot where he had dumped Brown’s body, Garrett said.

On Monday, before a court appearance, Eady tried to slit his wrist with a plastic wristband worn by inmates at the Clarendon County jail, according to Garrett. He spent a few hours at a hospital and was returned to jail, where he remains on suicide watch, facing two murder charges for the Clarendon County killings. A warrant has not yet been served on Eady for the slaying in Charleston County, officials said.

Shake up

Days after his arrest, the community wrestled with what they had lost, and Eady’s neighbor uttered words he thought he never would say about his former friend: “I hope they give him the death penalty.” Eady’s father, Leon, stood outside a small convenience store not far from his home on Monday. As he leaned against a brick wall, he said he believes drugs were his son’s downfall. “He got a hold of something that he couldn’t control,” he said.

Leon Eady wishes there was something he could do, but knows it’s too late.

“I guess it’s something I’ll never understand.”

Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or