Jose Roman Cauih Perea woke to find the body of the prostitute he hired. That's what police think happened in a grisly strangulation Friday of a woman later found in the bushes by a Rantowles Creek boat landing near Ravenel.
A law enforcement task force captured Perea on a bus about 5 p.m. Monday in Harlingen, Texas. He was headed for the Mexican border, Charleston County sheriff's Maj. John Clark said.
Perea, 28, is believed to be an illegal alien. Authorities were concerned that if he made it out of the country, he could emerge under a different name and extradition would be a hit-or-miss proposition.
Perea will be brought back to Charleston County to face a murder charge, Clark said.
Helen Lynn Hancock's family on Monday mourned their loved one and made arrangements for a private funeral later this week. Her friends, who saw her walk into a mobile home off Remount Road on Friday afternoon, said they are tormented by feelings of guilt. They wish they had been more persistent when they knocked on Perea's door and Hancock didn't come out.
That she was a prostitute was no secret to her family or to Hanahan police.
Hancock, 40, worked Remount Road between Doscher's grocery store and the Hot Spot convenience store, Hanahan police Lt. Michael Fowler said.
"She's one of those we'll arrest, she'll serve her time and she's back out on the street," he said.
Her cousin, Lauree Kelly, said it was drugs that turned Hancock to a life of prostitution, but the church was trying to bring her back. Just two or three weeks ago, Hancock gave up the drugs, went to church, walked up to the pulpit and turned her life over to Jesus, Kelly said.
"She was very proud of herself," said Hancock's friend, Dana Hughes.
But after weeks of being clean and walking the straight and narrow, Hancock on Thursday left the home off North Rhett Avenue where she had lived all her life, and she never came back. Perea lived in a mobile home park off Remount Road, less than a mile away. There is no sign at the entrance. Decrepit mobile homes line the dirt roads, and a flock of chickens and several feral cats roam freely among heaps of trash and tall weeds.
Hancock partied with her friends Friday afternoon, outside on the lawn, right across the street from Perea's mobile home. She drank beer, took several hits of cocaine and turned a couple of tricks, Dennis Aumock said.
He said that a man came over about 3 or 4 p.m. and asked Hancock for sex, and they went into the man's mobile home. An affidavit states that man was Perea.
Aumock and Hancock's friend, Tracy Goodwin, became concerned when Hancock hadn't come out after more than an hour. Aumock knocked on Perea's door several times but got no answer, he said.
"I really feel bad about it. It hurts," Aumock said through tears, his face wracked with guilt. "I could have done something to stop it. I should have prevented it."
Goodwin said she also feels guilty.
"That's a messed up way to go," she said. "We were right here."
Perea's roommates told investigators that Perea was high on drugs or alcohol, fell asleep and woke to find Hancock dead, authorities said. The next morning, a woman walking her dog found Hancock's body off Bulow Landing Road in southern Charleston County.
An affidavit states that Perea later told his roommates that he killed Hancock, and he showed them the body. The roommates fled from the mobile home in fear and on Sunday told their pastor what happened.
Perea's sport utility vehicle was found late Sunday night or early Monday morning elsewhere in North Charleston, Clark said. Authorities learned he was on a bus, which was tracked to Texas and intercepted about 10 miles from the border.
Hancock, who attended Hanahan High School, was the mother of two grown children. She is survived by her sons, her parents and a brother and sister. McAlister-Smith Funeral Home of Goose Creek is handling her arrangements.
"She was a very loving mother and a very loving daughter," her cousin Kelly said. "She really wanted to go back to college. Helen just wanted to have a normal life."
Perea is from Honduras and was in the country working construction, his friends said. They said his Mexican wife left him a few months ago and returned to Mexico.
The search for illegal migrant workers can be problematic, Sheriff Al Cannon said. They live in transient communities and do business in a shadow economy where it's difficult for investigators to find and maintain contacts who will talk to them, he said.
Authorities have not yet caught the suspects in the 1995 Mother's Day murder of a migrant worker who was bludgeoned to death and run over by a truck during a fight on Johns Island, Cannon said. For the Sheriff's Office, dealing with problems in communities has evolved from incidents in which immigrants are victims to more incidents where they commit crimes.