HomeNewsAnalysisNews Analysis: Unsolved Murders Soar in Augusta-Richmond County

News Analysis: Unsolved Murders Soar in Augusta-Richmond County



Modern forensics have made it virtually impossible to commit a murder and get away with the crime. Compared with neighboring counties, Augusta-Richmond County has a high unsolved murder rate.

Unlike the popular television crime shows, murders are not solved quickly. With cameras on every corner, cell phone locators, computer tracking and DNA databases, criminal investigators have the tools to solve most criminal acts, including murders.

MORE: Unsolved Murders Augusta-Richmond County.

More: Unsolved Murders City of North Augusta, SC.

Currently, there are no open murder cases in either Columbia or Burke Counties. The city of North Augusta, S.C. reports six unsolved cases since the year 2000.That doesn’t mean that murders do not occur in those counties or across the river– they just do not go unsolved.

Meanwhile, Augusta-Richmond County has one unsolved, open case this year and seven from last year. Over the past five years, that number swells to 22, and 63 open and unsolved murder cases date back to 2001.

Augusta’s most recent unsolved murder is from February of this year. Elderly couple Hilton and Jeanette Turner were found shot to death inside their Hale Street home. By all accounts, the Turners were upstanding citizens. Mr. Turner retired from the Augusta Housing Authority after 42 years and was a former volunteer firefighter.

MORE: Seven Augusta Murders Go Unsolved as Killings Keep Climbing

Mrs. Turner was very active with their church, Liberty Baptist, and was a “Red Hat Lady,” a sister of the Jazz Berry Reds of Augusta.

Hilton and Jeanette Turner. Photo courtesy AugustaCrime.com

The Turners had been married for 55 years when they were murdered inside their own home. Since the crimes occurred, it appears that the case has gone cold. The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has not issued any updates nor asked the public to help identify a suspect.

Whoever ambushed and murdered the couple is still unknown.

The Augusta Sheriff’s Office has a long history of stalled murder investigations, and in at least one instance, it appears officials purposely let the prime suspect go free.

In 1973, the lifeless body of 24-year-old Paine College professor Carol Gregg was found in her Faith Village home. Gregg had been strangled to death, and her body was posed to look like she had been sexually assaulted. However, an autopsy concluded that Gregg had not been attacked.

The murder was discovered in the early morning hours on a Sunday by Gregg’s estranged boyfriend, Grady Abrams. Investigators found notes written on Gregg’s incoming mail that were from Abrams, begging her to return to him. Some of the notes they found appeared to be somewhat threatening and suggested that, at the least, Abrams may have been stalking her.

A window next to Gregg’s back door had been broken, and Abrams admitted to breaking the window the day prior so that he could enter and retrieve his belongings from the home.

Nothing in the English professor’s lifestyle seemed to put her at risk of being a murder victim. She was known for her volunteerism, particularly in the Neighborhood Youth Corps. At that time of Gregg’s death, the neighborhood of Faith Village was a quiet community with a very low crime rate.

Abrams was never charged with in in Gregg’s murder. An investigator who worked for city law enforcement at the time, and who asked not to be named, said the reason was simple. Abrams was a city councilman and was widely credited with helping stop the 1971 race riots.

No one, the investigator said, wanted to light the fuse of another possible riot, despite the evidence.

Later, the records were classified as “lost” when the basement of the old jail flooded.

Photo copies of the evidence, long hidden away, resurfaced in 2010. They included the notes Abrams had written on Gregg’s mail. At the time, Sheriff Ron Strength declined to pursue the case because photocopies of evidence are generally not admissible in court.

Any secrets Abrams may have had in regards to the case died with him in 2018. In a 2012 interview with the Augusta Chronicle, Abrams said he still hoped whomever killed his former girlfriend would be brought to justice.

Decades after Gregg’s murder, mishandled records in several other murder cases resulted in then-investigator Sgt. Richard Roundtree being demoted, suspended for five days and transferred out of the violent crimes division of the Sheriff’s Office.

That incident occurred in 2008 when Roundtree, the current Richmond County sheriff, moved out of his Telfair Street apartment and left behind a personal firearm and a stack of police files. The ensuing investigation determined no open cases were impacted by the files being left in Roundtree’s apartment.

One of the files Roundtree left in his apartment was the open murder investigation of a victim: 87-year-old Pauline McCoy. Upon the return of the file, Investigator Ashley Pletcher applied modern fingerprint technology to the 26-year-old case and was able to make an arrest. McCoy’s rapist/murderer, Jimmy Riley, was an initial suspect and was sentenced to life in prison.

The family of at least one Richmond County murder victim believe Roundtree brought a lax attitude into the county’s top law enforcement post.

MORE: Richmond County Booking Highlights

“It goes all the way to the top. (Roundtree) doesn’t care, and so his investigators don’t care either,” said Tanya Rowland, whose brother James Bartell Smiley was murdered in 2017. His case remains open and unsolved.

Rowland said that her family tried to follow up on almost a daily basis and cooperated fully with the Sheriff’s Office. She said she was finally told not to call again and that investigators would call her if there was a break in the case.

“My brother was killed in broad daylight, but it is just another murder to them. They don’t care, none of them care. They treat us like we are a bother to them,” she said. “He was my brother. I loved him, and he had a loving family, but the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t care about any of that.”

Smiley’s case remains unsolved.

Scott Hudson is the Managing Editor of The Augusta Press. Reach him at [email protected].

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