Sheriff: Man suspected of murdering Alice Tollision recently released from NJ prison

Published: Oct. 13, 2015 at 6:45 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 23, 2015 at 6:54 PM EDT
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James Heyward (Source: Richland County)
James Heyward (Source: Richland County)

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced the arrest of 42-year-old James Heyward in connection to a murder Sunday.

The Sheriff said Heyward's fingerprints were found in the Edgewater Drive home where Deputies found an 8-year-old girl who had been tied up, but managed to get a cell phone and called 911.

Heyward, who was called "a career criminal" by the Sheriff, allegedly forced himself into the home. Investigators stated that Heyward tied up the 8-year-old, and then strangled 76-year-old Alice Tollison in the home, per Richland County Coroner Gary Watts.

The Sheriff said Heyward then ransacked the home and stole jewelry before leaving the scene. Lott also said Heyward's criminal history includes strong armed robberies, possession of a weapon, drugs, and stealing.

He has been charged with murder, two counts of kidnapping, and burglary.

Heyward is being held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.

Sheriff Lott said Tollison met Heyward a couple weeks ago while she was helping out in the community and Sunday afternoon he took advantage of her kindness. He said Tollison's murder took a personal toll on the department.

"We've had a lot that's hit the Columbia area and we focused on the disaster and that but this was something that hit us hard on Sunday," said Lott. "She was dear to our heart. Last Thursday we checked on her and she seemed a little down and we asked her why and she said 'I see all this going on with the flood and see people suffering and it makes me sad.'"

Tollison was a part of Richland County's Project HOPE, which stands for Helping Our Precious Elderly, where retired deputies frequently check on senior citizens to make sure they're okay. A deputy last visited Tollison Sunday morning after church, just a few hours before she was murdered.

"Very sweet lady. Sweet spirit," said Bill Brown, a retired captain for the Richland County Sheriff's Department. "A lot of times we think we're going over to her home to check on her but looking back on it you can see very easily that often times she was checking on us."

Brown said Tollison recently knitted 100 blankets to be given to area senior citizens this Christmas. She also helped raise money for the Boys and Girls Club and was active in church.

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