Charges filed in 37-year-old murder | Crime | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | December 2, 2015 3:35 pm
Last Updated: December 7, 2015 at 4:23 pm
Wednesday morning, Walterboro Police Chief Wade Marvin announced that the decades-old investigation into the murder of Gwendolyn Elaine Fogle had reached a conclusion.
Marvin reported that on Monday, Walterboro Police Department Corporal Gean Johnson of the city’s detective bureau had served warrants on charges of murder, first-degree criminal sexual conduct and first-degree burglary against James Willie Butterfield, 59, in connection with the May 28, 1978 rape and murder of Fogle, who was generally known throughout the community by her middle name, Elaine.
In the early hours of that May morning, Fogle’s roommate and her male friend raced to the city’s police station.
The roommate had returned late from a trip to another part of the state to find Fogle, a 26-year-old nurse, covered in blood on the floor of their small home on South Lemacks Street home. Officers went to the home and found Fogle dead; she had been beaten and then strangled with a fire poker.
The crime scene was processed by agents from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and numerous people interviewed.
Despite the mammoth amount of information amassed, investigators could not identify a suspect.
For the next 37 years, members of the city police department and agents with SLED periodically revisited the case with fresh eyes, but the killer continued to elude them. That pursuit ended Monday.
Marvin said that Butterfield was currently incarcerated in another part of the state, but said he could not identify the location or the charges that had led to his incarceration.
Marvin said in a prepared news release that shortly after he had been named the city’s police chief, the department was contacted by Fogle’s family inquiring about new leads in the case.
“They were also her biggest advocate over the years and their knowledge of the case was better than any case file we had,” the chief said.
A few months after taking office, Marvin hired Gean Johnson to work as an investigator. Johnson came to the department with 14 years’ experience in investigations and 23 years’ experience as a police officer. Marvin said Johnson told him, “If you want to reopen it, I would love to work it.”
Johnson was assigned to review the massive case file in May of this year, near the anniversary date of the killing 37 years ago.
“He began making headway with new leads,” Marvin said in the press release.
Johnson began looking into the original case file and years of follow-ups concerning the homicide and other criminal activity around the time of the homicide. Johnson reviewed the persons of interest, interviews and resubmitted original evidence from the crime scene to SLED for analysis.
Over the course of the investigation, James Willie Butterfield, an original person of interest, became the primary suspect.
Numerous interviews and extensive hours of investigative tactics were conducted to exclude other persons of interest: it was through evidence collected from the original crime scene that Johnson was able to determine Butterfield was the suspect.
Following the announcement, Marvin said, “We are 100 percent sure of the match.” The information leading to identifying Butterfield as the suspect had been double- and triple-checked, he added.
Marvin, following the announcement, suggested that Johnson “took this to heart. He spent time with the family — his investigation was just above and beyond. It was good, hard police work.”
“It took someone who was as passionate about the case as the family,” Marvin said.
But, he added, the officers who had handled the initial investigation of the homicide also deserved recognition. If those involved in the initial investigation had not done a thorough job, we would not be here today. There was an unbelievable amount of evidence for this case,” he said.
“We have had an overwhelming amount of support from the original case workers, family members, and outside agencies,” Marvin added. The chief reported that current and former members of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and members of the cold case bureau of the Beaufort Sheriff’s Office had been involved in the work leading up to the arrest.
“The closure of this case would not be possible without the hard work and investigative skills of the original case officers and SLED agents who assisted in processing the scene and preserving evidence over time,” Marvin said in the release. “If those involved in the initial investigation had not done a thorough job, we would not be here today. There was an unbelievable amount of evidence for this case.”
“We would like to thank everyone who has played a role in helping to bring closure to Ms. Fogle’s family, who have endured years of unrest from this tragedy,” Marvin said.
“Our police department has done some outstanding work over the last few months. We are proud of the work they have done, this is something our citizens will be glad to hear,” said Mayor Bill Young as the announcement was made.
“Gean did a great work on this but the guys at the top and the city manager had to be on board,” he added.