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1999 cold case baffles detectives in two counties

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FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Two innocent men were gunned down in surprise attacks at work back in November of 1999, and it's a cold case that still baffles investigators.

WMBF News Anchor David Klugh opened those files in hopes that our viewers could provide detectives with the one lead that can close this case, a cold case unlike any other, which is now haunting homicide detectives from Conway to Florence.

40-year-old Kent Williams was a brother, husband and father to a beautiful 12-year-old daughter. He was doing his job, showing a mobile home for Clayton Homes on November 12, 1999. He was one of the best salesmen, and he was convinced that night he'd met his next customer. Instead, he met his killer.

"The persons that showed up that killed him got him back in the lot area away from the highway, away from the office where he was shot," said Detective Allen Large of the Horry County Police Department. "He was shot at multiple times, suffered a mortal wound. The person who did this or persons made sure he was dead. That was the means of their crime that day."

Karen Curl is Kent's sister. "It was terrible. I mean, I got the call about 5 o'clock in the morning from my sister-in-law," she said. "I remember it like it was yesterday."

Immediate theories included robbery, but nothing was taken. Was it a domestic or business vendetta? Williams had no enemies. Could it have been a drug issue? Not this clean-cut 40-year-old.

There were no leads, no witnesses, and no motive. This case had already gone cold. Then about three weeks later, Horry County Detectives get an interesting call from the Florence County Sheriff's Office.

They were told a salesman from the Clayton Homes lot in Florence has been shot and killed. Same weapon, same circumstances and according to detectives in both counties, same shooter.

Once again, the victim was a salesman, and this time 37-year old Corey Chernin was working alone just before dark.

Keith von Lutcken was the lead detective in the case back then. He's now the Florence County Coroner. "He'd been shot multiple times. He'd been shot to his anterior and posterior sides. Posterior sides seemed to be a secondary thing in an attempt to get away from the perpetrator. And basically he laid there and hemorrhaged."

"I believe it was somebody he was relaxed with going to show the trailer," von Lutcken said, adding it "could have been a customer."

Ballistics confirmed the gun used in both murders was a Highpoint 9-millimeter, known as the poor man's semi-automatic.

Von Lutcken remembers the gun well. "We did searches of all weapons coming into our evidence room at that time," he recalled. "We did searches for years, sending those weapons to the state laboratories."

Just like Williams, Chernin had no enemies. Nothing was taken from him or the business, and like Williams, the shooter made sure Chernin would not survive the attack.

Detectives in both counties know someone, somewhere in the area knows something about this case.

"I'm pretty confident of that - somebody knows. Somebody has knowledge of it in this area or in the Horry County area. People always talk," said von Lutcken. "Somebody always tells somebody."

Until that person is found, a hole remains in the soul of everyone these men touched. Survivors of violent crime will tell you that kind of loss is different.

Kent's sister Karen Curls admits it's hard losing anyone you love. But when that person is the victim of a violent crime, she said, it's different. "I guess the difference is it's just frustrating because he didn't deserve to die and we still don't know why he died or why he had to die. It's hard."

"We're always looking for that lead," said Detective Large. "We do not forget these families. Kent Williams is not forgotten and that there is a killer or killers on the loose that have not been punished for murdering two people.

Once again, these murders happened in November and December of 1999, and while that was a long time ago, investigators are confident the shooter, or someone the shooter talked to about this crime, is still in the Grand Strand or Pee Dee area. If you know anything about this crime, please contact either Horry County Police or the Florence Sheriff's Office.

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