Missing mom now homicide case

Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon said in a statement this morning that he plans to update the public on the Gayle McCaffrey case. (Provided)

On the evening Gayle McCaffrey disappeared six weeks ago, her husband was speeding to meet with a love interest he had been pursuing through text messages and cellphone calls, authorities said Wednesday.

It’s one reason why investigators said they have doubted Bob McCaffrey’s story, which is that his wife left him for another man that night, Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon said.

And with the addition of new information, Cannon publicly named Bob McCaffrey as the suspect in his wife’s slaying, though he acknowledged that current evidence wouldn’t support such an accusation.

Bob McCaffrey hasn’t been charged with a crime. His attorney said the sheriff is trying to taint people’s opinion of Bob McCaffrey, and has offered to make him available for more questioning.

“I think at this point, the police are trying to keep the public perception of my guy negative,” attorney Chris Lizzi said. “But they haven’t shown any clear reason why it should be.”

The announcement that the case of the woman who was last seen on St. Patrick’s Day has turned into a homicide investigation affirmed family members’ fears, but it didn’t come as a surprise.

When the family heard that the Sheriff’s Office suspects McCaffrey, family members were split. Many portrayed him as a dedicated father and a decent husband.

And it incensed his attorney, who said his client still clings to the hope that most relatives have abandoned.

“We have always known that she did not leave on her own,” said Helen Banach of Summerville, a sister of Gayle McCaffrey. “But you always try to hang on to that hope.

“This is a continuation of our saga. Now, we just need to get her home so we can bury her.”

Despite naming Bob McCaffrey as the person investigators have suspected for the past six weeks, Cannon said the probable cause needed to arrest him hasn’t been found.

Instead, detectives have pieced together forensic evidence and biographical information about the couple, leading them to think that the farewell note supposedly left by Gayle McCaffrey was bogus, the sheriff said.

And considering inactivity on her bank accounts and credit cards, Cannon said they think McCaffrey is dead.

The sheriff wouldn’t discuss exactly how investigators think she was killed.

“If I did (have probable cause), I’d have him in jail now,” Cannon said. “I think there is a tremendous amount of information pointing to him, but at this point it’s circumstantial.”

Lizzi, Bob McCaffrey’s attorney, said the case never was treated as a missing-persons investigation, a view that has blinded detectives from other possibilities explaining the disappearance.

“We have seen no evidence that there was any kind of foul play as the sheriff has determined,” Lizzi said. “My client still remains hopeful that his wife will be found alive.”

Much of the information the sheriff released during a news conference Wednesday confirmed stories that family members had relayed in the days immediately after the devout Baptist and valued Citadel employee was reported missing.

The couple had a disagreement on March 17. Relatives have said Bob McCaffrey received a telephone call from a woman during a St. Patrick’s Day meal, which upset his wife.

Later that evening, Bob McCaffrey left in his pickup truck for a whirlwind, overnight drive to northern Greenville County. That’s where he met with a woman he had been exchanging text messages and telephone calls with, the sheriff said.

Relatives previously have said that Gayle McCaffrey discovered conversations between the two through an email account that the McCaffreys shared.

“He certainly had interest in (this woman),” Cannon said, declining to name her. “But I don’t think the feelings that he had for her were returned by her.”

And whatever Bob McCaffrey hoped to accomplish that night with the woman didn’t happen, the sheriff said. He left and was driving back to the Lowcountry when he was stopped for speeding in Traveler’s Rest around 2:15 a.m.

Hours later, after arriving at his Limestone Boulevard home, he reported finding a wedding band and a typed note saying that his wife had left, possibly to be with another man.

The message also suggested that Bob McCaffrey would be a better parent to their two children, who were alone and sleeping when Bob McCaffrey returned.

Relatives have said Gayle McCaffrey would never abandon her children or use a computer to draft a personal letter.

The sheriff added that technological analysis of the note, along with interviews with those family members, led investigators to believe that it’s fake.

“We have learned a great deal about Gayle McCaffrey,” he said. “She left her vehicle. More importantly, she left her children.”

The deputies’ mission now becomes one of recovering the woman’s body, Cannon said, even though several searches of areas near the family’s home have revealed nothing.

Today, deputies will return to a private property across S.C. Highway 61 from Drayton Hall. Information gleaned from cellphone records led them back to the industrial land, the sheriff said.

“Cell tower activity suggests that the area is an important one, and we need to search it,” Cannon said. “The nature of the property is very challenging. ... It’s an area that’s used for dumping materials.”

The sheriff reiterated that Bob McCaffrey hasn’t cooperated with authorities since he was first interviewed for more than five hours in mid-March.

Lizzi said he offered Wednesday morning during a telephone conversation with Cannon to submit his client for further questioning.

Bob McCaffrey has returned to life in his rural West Ashley home and to his carpentry work, neighbors said.

He has regular weekend visits with his 5- and 10-year-old children, who are staying with their aunt. Lizzi described the youngsters as “loving, never apprehensive that their dad did something.”

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.