More charges filed against man in Hollywood woman's killing


HOLLYWOOD, S.C. (WCIV) - The Charleston County Coroner confirmed Saturday afternoon that the body found by deputies is the body of a missing elderly woman who disappeared almost two weeks ago.

The coroner said 77-year-old Julia Mudgett was beat to death with a blunt object, but did not say what object was used. Affidavits released Saturday morning show Mudgett was hit repeatedly and sustained major blood loss before her death.

Charleston County deputies already have one man in custody and charged with Mudgett's murder. Jerry Lee Manigault was denied bond Saturday morning.

On Monday, deputies added two more charges against Manigault for kidnapping and strong arm robbery.

According to the affidavits, Manigault between May 4 and May 6 broke into Mudgett's home and attacked her. The home "appeared to be ransacked, kitchen cabinets open and a large amount of blood spatter on the floor and walls," the affidavit reads.

After the break-in and attack, the affidavit states Manigault forced Mudgett from her home to another area. During a forensics search of Mudgett's car, they found blood evidence in the trunk, according to the affidavit.

Officials at the State Law Enforcement Division are processing the blood and comparing it to Mudgett, but investigators believe it will be positively identified as the missing woman's blood.

On Friday afternoon, Charleston County deputies responded to reports of a body found on the same road where Mudgett was reported missing.

Manigault has been in the Charleston County Detention Center since Monday on an unrelated charge, but officials upgraded the charge Friday night after a body was found near the missing woman's home.

Deputies said reports of a body being found came in just after 5 p.m. Friday and crews responded to an area off Toogoodoo Road, the same place from where Mudgett disappeared nearly two weeks ago. The body is located about a half-mile from Mudgett's home, officials said.

Officials have not confirmed whether the body was connected to Mudgett's disappearance.

Officials had regrouped Friday morning and began a new widespread search that day, Sheriff Al Cannon said. Two Charleston County deputies and one State Law Enforcement Division agent located the body about 20 yards from Toogoodoo Road, Cannon said.

"As we said yesterday, when we took the individual in to custody, that we were going to refocus in this area. That's why we had folks back out here today," Cannon said.

Cannon said the body had been wrapped in a towel, quilt or blanket.

Since the find, the body has gone untouched while officials secured the area. At 7 p.m., deputies were working to shut down Toogoodoo Road. The coroner arrived shortly before 7 p.m. to examine the body.

Cannon said he hoped that this would provide some closure to the people in the community who had spent the last two weeks worried about Mudgett.

"Given the circumstances, [there was] a concern we were not going to find her alive. I think to the extent that, it's a bit early, I think they will be somewhat relieved if this turns out to be her," Cannon said.

Mudgett's friends reported her missing after she did not show up for Bible study class. When they got to her home, they found a window had been broken, Mudgett and her car were gone, and there was blood covering a wall inside.

Earlier this week, Mudgett's car was found at a boat landing in Jasper County.

Since then, Charleston County deputies said they suspected foul play in her disappearance.

Manigault, a 53-year-old man who also lived in Hollywood, was arrested Monday on charges he failed to re-register as a sex offender after he moved to Jasper County, but deputies say he is connected to Mudgett's disappearance and a person of interest in the death of a Bluffton woman.

"We spent a lot of time and effort on this, as have other agencies. We worked closely with Jasper County, SLED, Beaufort County and Bluffton Police. It really had been a joint effort. We sent people down to the Bluffton area for a couple days looking at what they found down there," Cannon said.

Hours before deputies responded to Toogoodoo Road for the reported body, investigators wrapped up their search for evidence in Mudgett's car.

Her car sits in deputies' custody, covered in fingerprint powder. The car was reported missing on May 6. On May 12, it was found at Tuten's Landing in Ridgeland. Since then, investigators have searched the car from top to bottom for clues.

"First step we look for is visible evidence, which would be patent fingerprints, hairs, and fibers, or bodily fluids. After that we'll start looking for the evidence that's a little bit more difficult to see. And we'll have to process that vehicle in order to get that evidence," said Carl McManigal, the forensics supervisor at the sheriff's office.

McManigal says he can't go into details in the search for Mudgett, but he did say the process can take several days.

"It could take us several days depending on the type of evidence we're looking for. Trace evidence is very small and hidden in almost any part of the vehicles, so it will take us a great deal of time to carefully go through the whole vehicle," he said.

Residents who lived near the boat landing where Mudgett's car was found said it was an area known for criminal activity.

"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 Jimmy Varn, who lives near the dock.

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