Missing woman's car found; foul play suspected

JASPER COUNTY, S.C. (WCIV) -- A missing elderly woman's car was found Monday afternoon in the town of Ridgeland and officials suspect foul play in the woman's disappearance.

According to the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, 77-year-old Julia Ann Mudgett's car was found around 4:30 p.m. Monday near a boat landing on Tuten Landing Road. Officers say a tip lead them to Tuten's Boat Landing where the missing car was recovered.

Charleston County deputies said they are still looking for Mudgett as a missing person, but they now believe that foul play is involved in her disappearance. Officials said they do not have a suspect in custody.

Officials said Mudgett's car was towed back to the Charleston County Sheriff's Office so that it could be processed as part of the investigation into her disappearance.

Deputies said the car was in good condition.

The find came less than a day after the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office issued a "be on the lookout" order for Mudgett's car, a burgundy 2002 Hyundai with South Carolina license plate HHC-851. Deputies said the car had been stolen from her home in Hollywood.

Residents who live near the boat landing say the areaisw known for its criminal activity.

"It was a lot of activity going on, some yellow tape and neighbors were talking but nobody knew anything really. I thought somebody might have dumped the body, but thank God, it wasn't that, you know," said Jimmy Varn, who lives near the dock.

He says it was almost dark when the car was put on the wrecker.

"It seems like this landing, there's something about this landing that sometimes some bad things happen down here. All the neighbors have been really concerned about it even before this happened," said Varn.

Varn recalls that people have dumped cars in the water and even set cars on fire at the landing. He says the landing is supposed to be used for canoeing and kayaking, but the small landing is in a remote location.

"I just pray that she's okay, you know. I heard it was an elderly lady. I can't imagine anyone hurting an elderly lady like that. Hopefully she's alright," said Varn.

Charleston County officials said Monday that they sent deputies to Beaufort County to follow up on leads in the Mudgett case. Officials are also working with Jasper County deputies and police in Beaufort and Bluffton.

Searches lasted until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in three counties, officials said.

Mudgett disappeared a week ago. Friends say she failed to show up for a Bible study class and they went by to check on her. When they got there, they found that Mudgett and her car were gone, but her oxygen tanks and three dogs were left behind.

Friends said Mudgett had to have the oxygen to survive and she never traveled without her dogs.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Charleston County Sheriff's Office at 843-202-1700 of Crime Stoppers at 554-1111.

A vigil has been planned for Mudgett at her church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in West Ashley for 8 p.m. Wednesday.