About 150 people participate in West Ashley search for missing mom Gayle McCaffrey

Crews search in a heavily forested area north of Drayton Hall on Highway 61 Thursday morning. Andrew Knapp/Staff

For the first time, deputies and rescuers planning to search an area off Ashley River Road are acting on clues that indicate the forested land is significant in the case of missing West Ashley mother Gayle McCaffrey.

About 150 searchers were participating in the effort, including 60 staffers from The Citadel.

McCaffrey worked at the military school as the director of finance for its facilities. She was a runner-up for employee of the year 2011, an honor announced recently.

The 12 agencies participating in the effort are mostly from Charleston County, but also include Summerville Fire and Rescue, according to the sheriff’s office.

Maj. Jim Brady of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said the search had not yielded any results as of 2 p.m. He said a scaled-down party of searchers is expected to return Friday if nothing turns up.

Crews have once before canvassed the private property across from Drayton Hall, but they had not been acting on any tips or information that led them there.

Starting about 9 a.m. today, they returned with tools necessary to search what Sheriff Al Cannon has called a “challenging” piece of property. He said dive teams would assist in the endeavor.

The land is about 100 acres and is not visible from any public road.

Cannon said during a news conference this week that cellphone activity from both Gayle and Bob McCaffrey’s phones led them to the location.

Motorists should expect police activity in the area through mid-afternoon, said Maj. Jim Brady, a spokesman for the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. Some of the crews will set up outside the St. Phillip AME Church at Ashley River and Bees Ferry roads.

According to the sheriff, the land is a dumping ground for materials such as concrete. It includes machinery activity and features some small bodies of water.

Deputies have conducted searches on two separate days in the six weeks that McCaffrey has been missing. The efforts have included about a half-dozen areas, all near Ashley River and Bees Ferry roads and within a few miles of the woman’s home on Limestone Boulevard.

Cannon said the investigation has been classified as a homicide. Her husband was named Wednesday as the suspect in the death.

The mother of two was reported missing March 18, a day after the couple had a disagreement. The sheriff said Bob McCaffrey had been pursuing a love interest at the time and had traveled to see the woman in Greenville County the night before he reported his wife missing.

Gayle McCaffrey’s Jeep, her wedding band and her children were left behind.

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.

Andrew Knapp is editor of the quick response team, which covers crime, courts and breaking news. He previously worked as a reporter and copy editor at Florida Today, Newsday and Bangor (Maine) Daily News. He enjoys golf, weather and fatherhood.