Three unsolved murders in as many decades in such a large and fast-growing area as Columbia County is a good statistic.
But for the families and friends of the victims, three is three too many.
“We’re not going to give up,” Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said. “We don’t forget the victims of these heinous crimes or the families. We will continue to pursue these investigations in hopes of bringing them closure and the (perpetrator) to justice.”
Columbia County sheriff’s Investigator Jimmy Edmunds is working to crack the county’s three unsolved murders: Craig Fallaw in 1978, Monty McAvoy in 1983 and Wanda Huggins in 1987.
The unsolved cases are routinely reassigned to different investigators or to those who express an interest, Morris said. Different investigators provide fresh insight and fresh perspective.
It’s not about finding mistakes made by previous investigators, Edmunds said. “It’s just pulling something out that might have been overlooked or hasn’t been looked at yet. We don’t care, as long as it gets solved.”
Time sometimes can help investigators through the development of new investigative techniques or scientific advances, Morris said. Other times, guilt plagues witnesses or suspects who haven’t previously been talked to or told the truth to authorities.
“These three cases, the reason why they are still cold and still haven’t been solved, there really is no smoking gun,” said Edmunds, who has read every page of each case file many times. “The older they get, the harder they get.”
Technology can often help solve cold cases by processing evidence collected at the scenes, such as DNA and fingerprints. The ability to share information with other law enforcement agencies also has expanded greatly since the crimes. But the three cold cases don’t have any unprocessed evidence.
“There’s no scientific evidence that can lead to somebody,” Edmunds said. “Old-fashioned police work is the only thing that is going to get these solved.”
The passage of time also has its down side. The longer it’s been since the crime, the harder it is to track down suspects and witnesses, Edmunds said.
“It gets really frustrating,” Edmunds said. “You think you’re getting somewhere and you try to find this person or that person and they are all dead.”
But Edmunds, who volunteered to look into the cold cases, is using his nine years of experience as an investigator to chase down every lead and search for new angles.
“You definitely want to get closure for the families,” Edmunds said. “Being an investigator, that’s what we do. We don’t like to have any case left open up here, it doesn’t matter what it is, especially a murder. It eats at you. It’s always there.”
Wanda Darlene Huggins
The hunt for Wanda Huggins’ killer is difficult because she had no reason to be in Columbia County on Dec. 31, 1987, when her body was found on the side of Scott’s Ferry Road in Appling.
The 27-year-old from Newborn, Ga., was found with small-caliber gunshot wounds to her head.
“She had no ties to this area whatsoever,” Edmunds said. “No family here, no reason for her to be here. Just a random place for her to be dumped.”
Twenty years after Huggins’ death, Edmunds said investigators got new information from the man who found her body. He said he was traveling Scott’s Ferry Road and came upon and passed a large tan 1970s or 1980s model GMC car. He couldn’t see inside, so he continued to South Carolina with his wife to buy fireworks. He discovered her body an hour later in the same area he saw the car.
He was never interviewed before 2007.
“That’s why we go back and try to re-interview witnesses and re-interview people,” Edmunds said.
Edmunds said there were rumors that Huggins used drugs and was involved in transporting them for a dealer in Newton County. That meant lots of traveling for investigators to talk to people who were leery of law enforcement.
“There were so many suspects up there,” Edmunds said. “People were talking left and right blaming everybody else.”
Rumor is that Huggins stole drugs and that a particular woman was going to “take care of it.”
Less than two years ago, new information surfaced in the case. Someone claimed that the woman, who also was involved in the same drug culture, gave a deathbed confession to killing Huggins.
“I’ve been trying and chasing my tail and everybody I can find to confirm that this lady said she killed (Huggins),” Edmunds said.
Holice Montgomery “Monty” McAvoy
The search for Monty McAvoy’s killer is the most promising of the three cold cases.
“I know who did it, it’s just a matter of proving it,” Edmunds said.
McAvoy, 29, was killed June 28, 1983, inside the Appling mobile home he previously shared with his estranged wife. Coworkers, concerned because McAvoy didn’t show up for work, found him a couple of days later, dead from a gunshot wound to the back of his head.
Edmunds said he was able to recreate McAvoy’s last hours. He had purchased a set of stereo speakers from a pawn shop and was on his knees hooking up the speakers when he was shot.
“There were not any signs of a scuffle or struggle in the house,” Edmunds said. “It was like he knew who killed him. It was somebody he was comfortable with being in the house, turning his back to.”
The murder weapon was never recovered. Edmunds said several people have been ruled out as suspects over the years, but only one remains in his mind.
New information and a statement from a neighbor who previously hadn’t been interviewed gave Edmunds hope that he can nab McAvoy’s killer.
“There’s too many coincidences,” said Edmunds, who didn’t want to divulge details.
Edmunds, who keeps in touch with McAvoy’s mother and brother, is eager to re-interview some people. He’s hoping that guilt has built over time and someone will have something to get off their conscience.
“I’m trying to get the family some closure,” Edmunds said, specifically referencing McAvoy’s aging mother. “That’s her child at 29 years old. Not to know what happened to your child, that’s got to be rough.”
Craig Stephen Fallaw
The death of West Lake security guard Craig Fallaw is the most frustrating of the cold cases, Edmunds said.
It appears Fallaw’s killer “just disappeared” after shooting Fallaw as he prepared to make a routine patrol about 2 a.m. on Oct. 6, 1978.
Edmunds believes a transient might be responsible.
“Those are the difficult ones. Those are the cases that most of the time are never solved,” Edmunds said. “If they don’t leave anything behind, leave any DNA evidence or anything like that behind, then get caught somewhere else, it’s almost impossible to find them.”
Fallaw was headed to his patrol vehicle when his partner heard him shout, “Hey! What are you doing?” Two shots rang out and Fallaw’s partner, who has since died, saw someone running.
“He saw someone running away and he emptied his revolver shooting at the guy,” Edmunds said.
The killer left a knit cap with eye holes cut out and bag of burglary tools, but no weapon. In 1982, workers clearing land in West Lake unearthed a military duffel bag and an ammunition can containing the revolver used to kill Fallaw.
The gun was a dead end as it had been sold from a pawn shop in Augusta to a man who, by 1982, was long dead. The military equipment led to a retired veteran with no ties to the area.
“Everything about that case is like a dead end,” Edmunds said.
It doesn’t make sense that a burglar would approach an armed guard instead of hiding or sneaking past, so Edmunds is considering other motives.
“Was here there to kill Craig?” Edmunds said. “Why is he going to sneak up behind his car, an armed guard coming to his car? Was it an execution?”
Available information just doesn’t point to a suspect or motive, Edmunds said, which is frustrating. But he’ll keep reviewing the details and interviewing anyone he can to connect the dots and find Fallaw’s killer.
“You don’t ever want to give up on it,” Edmunds said.