Whoever took Julia Ann Mudgett from her home and drove off in her car made mistakes that Charleston County deputies hope will lead them to a sex offender sitting in their jail, an agency official said Thursday.
With 53-year-old Jerry Lee Manigault behind bars on unrelated charges, the Charleston County Sheriff's Office will continue to examine the evidence left in Mudgett's Hollywood home and in her car, Maj. Eric Watson said, and attempt to tie it to him.
Detectives developed Manigault as a suspect after "several" people phoned in tips that he had been driving Mudgett's Hyundai in Bluffton within days of her disappearance early last week, Watson said. He also lived about a quarter-mile from her Toogoodoo Road home.
"He had met the victim in the past," the sheriff's spokesman said. "We don't know how many times, but he knew of her for quite a while."
Manigault, a sex offender since 1997 who was imprisoned until April for burglary, also is a suspect in the slaying of 70-year-old Polly Ann Mitchell. Her body was found Monday in her home in Bluffton, the same Beaufort County town where witnesses said Manigault was driving Mudgett's car. He was arrested there Monday.
The maroon Hyundai ended up abandoned at a Jasper County boat landing about 23 miles north of Mitchell's house.
Manigault has not been charged in Mudgett's disappearance or Mitchell's death. Loved ones have presumed that Mudgett also was killed, but authorities have not found her body. Investigators did not embark on any further searches Thursday, Watson said.
Instead, they focused on forensic evidence, including DNA, found at Mudgett's house and other clues from her car.
The detectives have tried to interview Manigault, but Watson said he has not cooperated.
Since late last week, they have said that something had happened at Mudgett's house, but they would not publicly go into detail about what they found. Watson said Thursday that the disorganized scene made the investigators think that the perpetrator had not thought out the crime before committing it.
He wouldn't say when their case might lead to charges. Manigault is being held for failing to re-register as a sex offender after he left prison last month and on a drug charge because Watson said he had cocaine on him when he was captured in Bluffton.
"Eventually, hopefully, as the evidence comes together, we'll have enough to pursue him," Watson said. "With these kinds of cases, we have to take time to cross our T's and dot our I's."
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.