DARLINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - A wooded area at a truck stop on Interstate 20 in Darlington County was a crime scene 14 years ago when a woman's body was discovered. For more than a decade, this woman lay in a Darlington County cemetery without anyone knowing her name.
Former Darlington County Coroner Eldridge Norton gave her a funeral, but for 11 years, he had no name on the marker. Norton said the woman died by asphyxia due to strangulation.
Norton was the coroner when Lee County dispatchers got a 911 call from an anonymous trucker that he found the woman's body at a rest area on the westbound side of the interstate.
"She was probably 150 yards off a park where people pulled into a rest stop, and she was lying face down and has been there for 30 days, at least," Norton said.
Former Darlington County Sheriff's Capt. Andy Locklair, who was a rookie at the time, was the lead investigator in the case.
"I got handed the case," Locklair said. "I was working this area at the time."
Locklair said it was the biggest case of his career. In August 2000, Locklair was sitting inside the sheriff's office when the call came out about the body.
"Heard the call come over the radio and you hear they've got a body in the woods," Locklair said. "A lot of people show up and you know it's going to be a major crime scene."
Investigators taped off the crime scene, and S.C. Law Enforcement Division agents processed evidence. The woman was faced down and partially covered in pine straw. Investigators say her bra and a wire were twisted around her neck.
As investigators cleared the scene, Locklair was left to piece it all together.
"At the end of the first 48 hours, we didn't have anything," Locklair said. "We didn't have any fingerprints because of the decomposition of the body. We didn't have any identifying marks of anything of such that would help us. We were behind the 8-ball with this case early on."
Investigators dubbed the case: The I-20 girl. SLED agents used the woman's skull to reconstruct her face, then sat back and waited for a break to find out who this woman was. But they knew early on, it would take something short of a miracle to solve the case.
"No. 1, you've got to find out who you're dealing with," Locklair said. "How did that person get here and how did that person die? And, trying to figure all that out, you start asking questions in your head. You're thinking like you would in any other case – it's all going to fall into place, and we'll start getting information coming in and it just didn't happen in this case."
The county coroner also strived to find answers to the case.
"I always felt like she belonged to somebody," Norton said. "I just took interest in it and wanted to keep looking."
Norton spent the next 11 years working to put a name with the file he still holds on to. In 2001, Norton decided not to seek re-election, and on his last day in office, he buried the unidentified woman. She was the only mystery from Norton's two decades in office.
The wire used to strangle the woman was unidentified. A pathologist took DNA samples from the woman after investigators concluded that might be the only way to get a positive ID on the woman.
"She could have been from anywhere," Norton said. "When you're talking about finding her in a wooded area off of any interstate, it doesn't mean that they're local, and by chance, she probably would not be local."
SLED's composite went public, hoping someone would recognize the face. Years went by, and there were no leads. The I-20 girl's case went cold.
"Four years into this deal, the information slowly ceases and you start to get one every six months – an inquiry – and someone will run across a missing persons website," Locklair explained. "And they'll have somebody on there, and you'll start getting a little bit at a time, then that's it."
The leads slowed to nothing and investigators still had someone they were looking for to question. The anonymous trucker who called 911 to report finding the woman's body didn't hang around to show officers what he found or where the woman was. Investigators tried to find the trucker and even called him a person of interest, but to this day, Darlington County investigators haven't found that man.
"It was suspicious to us when it first happened to the point where we looked to try to find who he was – it was the first thing we did," Locklair said. "For a long time, he was a person of interest – trying to figure out who this person was."
Identifying the body
After Locklair got the case in August 2000, he has more questions than answers. He had a body, a potential murder weapon, DNA evidence and not much more.
WIS' investigation found delays in the case from the start.
A letter from investigators in 2011 shows Darlington County didn't submit DNA from the woman's body until 2005 – five years after her murder. That sample sat in a Texas DNA lab for six more years waiting on deputies to find a match.
While detectives waited, a call from the Brunswick County Sheriff's Office gave Darlington County its first potential break. Investigators there told Locklair a trucker named John Wayne Boyer could be the killer. Boyer was serving time in a North Carolina prison on a second-degree murder conviction. He pleaded guilty to killing a woman he knew.
"They had already suspected this guy and what he had done, so with what he had done, I started explaining my crime scene down here," Locklair said. "And it's like – dude, that's the same thing we have here. So this guy could be the same guy, and we went from there."
Brunswick County went through missing persons files, and in 2008, ran across the cold case file of Michelle Haggadone. Investigators thought she could be a match based on the SLED composite. Locklair located Haggadone's mother Cathleen Applegate and asked for DNA to compare to the sample collected from the woman.
Applegate said it took more than two years to hear anything from investigators after they took the DNA sample.
"They kept it a secret the whole time," Applegate said. "From the time they did the DNA, I never knew they had the results back, and I would ask and I would get no answer."
Applegate gave DNA in 2008, but her family had to resubmit DNA. Applegate's grandson submitted a second sample the following year.
Then in 2010, Haggadone's sister, Tuesday, gave her DNA to investigators. One year later, the lab sent investigators notice that the body was Haggadone. Applegate's family's DNA was a perfect match.
Applegate knew her daughter was no longer alive.
"In my heart, I knew she was dead," Applegate said. "A mother knows. I felt she had been dead for quite a few years."
John Wayne Boyer – No charges
Locklair said it was a deal of sex for cash that investigators say paired Haggadone up with convicted killer John Wayne Boyer. Investigators think Boyer strangled the I-20 girl and dragged her into the woods.
WIS' investigation found that investigators haven't even taken the first steps to file charges.
Haggadone was 34 years old when investigators say she was working as a prostitute at an Interstate 95 truck stop in Dillon County where she met Boyer and got into a truck with him. Locklair said he got a confession from Boyer weeks before he held a press conference in September 2011, where he said Boyer admitted to everything.
"You could just sense the narcissistic attitude that he had," Locklair said. "So I've always been a good interviewer, and I just let him talk. Let him brag and let him do what he was going to do and go from there."
During the interview, Locklair realized he had nothing else on Boyer – no physical evidence, no witnesses, no video – nothing to put Boyer with the victim. A confession was his only hope.
"When I first walked in, it was almost like – what girl do you want to talk about now?" Locklair explained. "Or what woman do you want to talk about now. He used explicit language there."
Darlington County's top investigator told us Boyer tried to provoke detectives and tried to get the upper hand. But Locklair had a plan and decided to trick Boyer.
"I have two cards in my hand, but I'm going to do better than that," Locklair said. "I'm going to show you two of them. And, it's a pure bluff like you would have in a game of Texas Hold'em, and I said, 'Why would your DNA be on this wire, which was what was used to strangle this person?' And, he looked, sat back in his chair and he actually said, 'My DNA ain't on that wire because I strangled her with my shirt.' To one up me, he actually confessed to killing her."
But the alleged confession did not match the documented crime scene evidence. The coroner's report showed the woman was strangled with a wire, not a shirt.
Columbia defense attorney Jack Swerling said it's a problem when the information investigators have doesn't match a confession.
"The fact that somebody's admitting to doing something, but saying it was done a whole different way than, you know, evidence and you know forensic evidence that supports it, that's a clear contradiction," Swerling said.
With that confession, Locklair gathered the I-20 girl's family, called reporters and announced the sheriff's office had the woman's killer. That was in September 2011, and Locklair went as far to call Boyer a serial killer. At the time, Boyer only pleaded guilty to one murder and was indicted in a second. At that same time, Locklair said he was getting a murder warrant for Boyer and preparing the case for trial.
It was a relief for Applegate – she found her daughter and the man who's accused of killing her would soon pay. Based on what the sheriff's office told her, she was certain Boyer was behind bars and prepared to face justice in the case.
When WIS went to the Darlington County courthouse last month – two years and seven months after Locklair said he promised charges in the case – to look for an arrest warrant for Boyer, it didn't exist. WIS searched every file from 2011 in the county's file room and found nothing on Boyer. Locklair did not keep his promise made to Haggadone's family in 2011.
Applegate said she would be devastated to learn that no charges were filed against Boyer for her daughter's murder.
"No, that would not be right," she said, adding "the police are not doing their job."
WIS went back to Locklair two weeks ago to find out what happened. Locklair admitted that Boyer has not been indicted in Darlington County.
"The accused killer is charged," Locklair said. "It's just not a formal charge."
The investigator was telling the truth, but he did something one week before WIS' interview that no one knew about.
The next business day after Locklair found out WIS interviewed Applegate, he went to a county judge and swore out a murder warrant on Boyer. Locklair told the judge he had new information in the case and was ready to charge the man.
Last week, Locklair resigned after the sheriff found out WIS was investigating what Locklair did to get the warrant. Darlington County Sheriff Wayne Byrd wrote in a statement that Locklair "failed to follow procedure" and was "attempting to cover up that fact."
The day after WIS' interview, Locklair turned in his gun, badge and cleaned out his police truck, which is now sitting in a county impound lot.
Solicitor steps in
Before calling the Fourth Circuit Solicitor for an interview about the prosecution of the I-20 girl's case, Solicitor Will Rogers admitted he knew very little about it. WIS discovered after 14 years, Rogers' office never got the case file from the Darlington County Sheriff's Office.
"We never received any charging documents from law enforcement," Rogers said.
He admitted his office didn't follow up on charges after Locklair's 2011 press conference, identifying Boyer as the killer. Rogers was the chief prosecutor at the time, which is a job he still holds today.
"I've been aware of the case," Rogers said. "I can't sit here and say I'm aware of the circumstances of the press conference and all that, but I've been aware of the case."
When asked if Rogers or anyone in his office ever asked where the file is, he said, "Well, we try to let law enforcement do their job."
Applegate was angry with Darlington County investigators after finding out a promise for justice wasn't kept.
"It's a cold case. Why would they care?" Applegate said. "They're busy doing people who are doing drugs, killing people in the gangs and stuff, so she wasn't important to them. They would review the missing person file one time a year."
This was unacceptable to Applegate, who spent 11 years wondering what happened to her daughter. She finds relief in knowing her daughter is home and that once unnamed headstone finally has a name.
"I think the not knowing is the worst because now I know where she's at," Applegate said. "I know she's buried. I know I can go there anytime I want. Not knowing is tough."
The solicitor reopened the file and assigned an assistant solicitor to the case. Rogers said he plans to make a decision on whether they'll charge Boyer once prosecutors finish reviewing the file. An answer could come by the end of the week.