A body found floating in a pond Thursday night has been identified as a West Ashley woman who had been missing since last weekend, and authorities say they are investigating the death as a homicide.
Kathryn Keener, 49, was pulled from the murky water behind St. Andrews Presbyterian Church on Bear Swamp Road just before sundown. Her white Toyota 4Runner had been discovered burning next to the pond five days earlier, on the day she disappeared.
With the exception of her cat, Keener lived alone at her home on Bidwell Circle, less than six miles from the pond.
Aug. 1 was supposed to be a joyous day. Her mother's birthday party was set for that evening.
Her mother spoke to her by phone in the afternoon, and Keener asked if she should bring a dish. But when the party started, Keener wasn't there, and no one ever heard from her again.
Relatives went to her home and discovered several details that increased their concern.
Her pet, an indoor cat, was outside. The door was unlocked and the burglar alarm wasn't set. A cigarette had been left burning in an ashtray.
Keener suffered from emphysema and an irregular heartbeat and needed daily medication, but her medicine was still at the house. Keener, her purse and her sport-utility vehicle were gone.
Still, her family hoped she would turn up and waited for her to call.
Most homicide investigations start with a body, but the circumstances of Keener's death forced officials to work backward.
At 5:11 p.m. the day of the party, a white vehicle was discovered ablaze behind the little white church on Bear Swamp Road. An incident report said it burned so fiercely that the license plate and the vehicle identification number were obliterated.
Keener hadn't been reported missing yet. The vehicle was towed away.
Three days later, Charleston police took a missing-person report on Keener.
By Thursday, both the missing-person bulletin and the burned vehicle report were sitting in the detective's division at the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, and investigators made the connection, a report said.
Officials called out S.C. Search Dogs Inc. Aika, a 5-year-old German shepherd with the volunteer organization, and her handler, Bonnie Laidlaw, were soon behind the church. The cadaver dog hit on the spot where the vehicle burned and also at the edge of the adjacent pond, Sheriff Al Cannon said.
"The scene revealed that the suspect(s) may have attempted to push the SUV into the swamp besides the church but were unable to get it past some small trees," the report said.
As darkness fell over the pond, divers went into the water and soon after found Keener's clothed body floating near the center of the pond.
An autopsy was performed Thursday, but officials wouldn't say what caused Keener's death.
"We're treating it as a homicide. We're going to be working it jointly with the city, but the Sheriff's Office is going to be the lead investigative body," sheriff's Maj. John Clark said. "What we're doing is just tracing her movements from the time she was last seen up until the time she was reported missing, talking with friends and family, things like that."
Funeral arrangements will be announced.