Authorities capture suspect in AMBER alert case; mother and daughter found safe
ST. STEPHEN — Deandrene W. McHoney walked alone down a dirt road at dawn Monday, on her way to meet a former boyfriend whom she had accused of trying to rape her 13-year-old daughter four days earlier.
McHoney, 36, had fled Telly Darnell McClam’s home on Thursday, telling her family she was terrified of him and his jealous, controlling ways.
But she saw no choice but to meet with him Monday when he showed up in an idling old Hyundai outside the home where she was staying on rural Grass Lane, relatives said.
That’s because McClam had told her on the phone that he was holding her 17-year-old daughter LeAndre Jenkins in the car and would harm the girl if she refused to see him, her family said.
So McHoney swallowed her fear and trudged down the dirt road to meet him. Moments later, the Hyundai sped away with mother and daughter inside, spawning a statewide Amber Alert, a multi-county search by law enforcement and a police manhunt that stretched well into the night. McClam was captured around 10 p.m., according to authorities.
Shortly after 2 p.m., word spread that McHoney and her daughter had managed to escape from their captor in neighboring Williamsburg County. As their relatives raced to the scene to be with them, police and sheriff’s deputies swarmed the area and combed a thick stretch of woods for McClam, a 36-year-old ex-con and registered sex offender.
The episode occurred during the final week of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in South Carolina, which began with the killing of a Sangaree woman and her 8-year-old daughter, allegedly by the mother’s boyfriend.
The Palmetto State has long struggled with attacks on women by their male partners. A recent report from the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center ranked South Carolina first in the nation in the rate of women murdered by men, with its rate more than double the national average.
McHoney, who was separated from her husband, had been dating McClam for about a year or so, relatives said, and the relationship had been increasingly tumultuous.
McClam, who reportedly worked at a car wash, had a history of violence and a rap sheet dating to 1996 that included convictions for unlawful possession of a pistol and a sawed-off shotgun, according to State Law Enforcement Division records.
In 1999, he was sentenced to 15 years behind bars after pleading guilty to burglary and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, court records show. He got out of prison in March 2012.
On April 8, St. Stephen police charged McClam with attempted murder and kidnapping in connection with an attack on McHoney.
In that incident, McClam allegedly rammed a vehicle into the back of McHoney’s car while she was driving because he was upset she was going to a family cookout, a police report stated.
After she complained to police about the attack, McClam allegedly abducted McHoney later that day and drove her to Williamsburg County, where he eventually let her go, St. Stephen Police Chief John Waters said.
Police arrested McClam, but McHoney later recanted her allegations, so the charges were dropped before the case could go to trial, Waters said.
Dion McHoney, Deandrene McHoney’s estranged husband, said she returned to McClam following that incident and McClam convinced her to drop the charges after McClam made threatening remarks about how he would cause harm if she didn’t drop the case.
McClam and Deandrene McHoney were still dating until Thursday, when McHoney told police that McClam had assaulted her and her 13-year-old daughter, according to an incident report.
McHoney told police she heard her daughter scream from the living room, the report stated. She rushed into the room and McClam grabbed her and her daughter both around the neck and threatened to rape her daughter, the report stated.
Then, McClam apologized to them and said he was high, according to the report. McHoney told police he also said that “someone must have put something in the cocaine he was using,” the report stated.
McHoney comforted McClam until he fell asleep and then she and her daughter snuck out of the house and went to stay with relatives, authorities said.
Dion McHoney said he and his estranged wife pushed St. Stephen police to arrest McClam but investigators told them more evidence was needed to make an arrest. “They didn’t do nothing,” he said.
Waters said police didn’t have enough evidence at that point to pursue a charge.
McHoney’s family said they knew McClam wouldn’t let her go.
McClam reportedly showed up early Monday at the Pepper Mill Way home of McHoney’s mother, Johnnie R. Jenkins, and waited for her to leave around 5 a.m. for her job as a school bus aide. That left LeAndre, a Timberland High School student, alone in the house and McClam grabbed her, authorities said.
Jenkins said she returned home and found pry marks on the door.
A short time later, McHoney got a message that her eldest daughter was trying to reach her. When McHoney phoned her, she reached McClam. She started shaking, covered the mouthpiece and said, “He’s got my daughter,” said a woman who was in the home with her at the time. The woman would not give her name, saying she fears for her safety.
McHoney agreed to step outside the mobile home and meet McClam at the end of the road, family members said. In a flash, she was gone.
McHoney’s mother said she received a call from McHoney at around 11 a.m. after a statewide AMBER alert was issued.
Jenkins said McHoney told her not to call the police and that everything was fine and they were safe. Jenkins said she also told her McClam didn’t feel comfortable driving them back during daylight but that he would drop them off Monday night. But Jenkins said she could hear McClam in the background during that phone call and assumed he was forcing her daughter to make the call.
Family members anxiously huddled outside the Grass Lane home for much of day hoping the situation would end peacefully.
“It’s devastating,” Dion McHoney said. “I’m just trying really hard to cope with this right now.”
Shortly after 2 p.m., they received another call from Deandrene McHoney. She told them that deputies were following the car she was in and that she and her daughter were trying to escape from McClam in Williamsburg County, family members said.
Police said McClam jumped out of the car along Council Road and ran into thick woods. As police scoured the area, paramedics were called in to the check on McHoney and her daughter. Family members, who raced to the scene, said the pair apparently escaped serious injury.
A short time later, family members followed a cruiser from the area to be reunited with the pair at a private location. The hunt for McClam went on long into the night, with the aid of police dogs and helicopters.
“We do consider him armed and dangerous,” said Capt. Rick Ollic of the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, which obtained two warrants to arrest McClam on kidnapping charges.
Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson said his investigators were looking into bringing possible sexual assault charges against McClam as well.
As darkness descended, his mother, Margaret McClam of St. Stephen, sat in her car parked along the roadway, unwilling to believe what authorities were saying about her son.
Dave Munday contributed to this report.