The identity of a decomposing body found in woods in West Ashley remained a mystery late Wednesday, but police quickly quelled speculation by stating who they said it is not.
The body is not that of Gayle Mc-Caffrey, a missing woman whose home is only about a mile from where the body was found, Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis said.
A man looking for turtles found the body about 5:15 p.m. in woods between Bees Ferry Road and a road beside the West Ashley Walmart. Vehicles traveling to and from Walmart kept the road busy while authorities probed woods nearby.
At about 7:25 p.m., the body was carried beyond the yellow crime-scene tape police extended between trees back to a white van parked near the road. The Charleston County Coroner’s office made no comment. Francis said after speaking with a deputy coroner that the office likely will be able to say after an autopsy today the gender and race, and perhaps even the identity, of the body.
He said it was not yet known how long the body had been in the woods.
A crowd of reporters and photographers, and numerous curious shoppers, gathered as police worked. Some who live nearby said wooded areas not far from the site have been searched for McCaffrey, feeding speculation that the search for her had just come to an end.
But after some initial work at the scene, investigators concluded that McCaffrey had not been found.
Francis said investigators remained uncertain whether the body was that of “a black or a white, a male or a female.” But without stating why, he said investigators were sure “it is not Mrs. McCaffrey.”
Jeff Andres and Shari Hatchell were among local residents who came to Walmart on Wednesday evening and stopped to see what brought all the police cars to the area.
“I was taken aback when I saw all this,” Andres said, pointing to the police cars and the coroner’s vehicle. “It kind of makes you a little nervous.”
Andres said he has seen homeless people in the area where the body was found.
Hatchell said authorities were seen recently searching for McCaffrey off Sanders Road, which joins Bees Ferry Road close to where the body was found Wednesday.
Regardless of who was dead in the woods, it is sad to know that a lot of time passed and no one noticed, she said.
“Just think how many people have passed up and down this road every day,” Hatchell said.
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office is heading the search for the 36-year-old McCaffrey, whose husband reported her missing March 18.
Had there been any indication the body was McCaffrey’s, the Sheriff’s Office would have been alerted, Francis said.
“If it was Mrs. McCaffrey, the county would be here because it’s the county’s case,” he said.
McCaffrey’s husband, Bob McCaffrey, told the Sheriff’s Office he last saw his wife on March 17 at their Limestone Boulevard home. He said he drove to the Upstate town of Travelers Rest to clear his head after an argument at home, and that when he returned the next morning the couple’s children were sleeping but his wife was gone.
Investigators said Gayle McCaffrey’s car and personal belongings were still at the home. Despite several searches in the Lowcountry, no sign of her has been found.