Friday, May 29, 2015
On April 30, 1995, Mark White called his mother, Gail Dill, to tell her he wouldn’t be able to make it to her house in Bamberg for his grandfather’s birthday party.
Even though Mark wasn’t in the habit of telling people that he loved them, during that phone call, Gail said, he told her three times.
The rest of Mark’s family — including his sister, Amy Watford, his aunt, Linda Powell, and his 5-year-old son, Korey — all managed to attend the party. Although most of the family was in attendance, Gail said, her father, the Rev. Marvin Wilson, stopped to recognize Mark’s absence, saying, Gail recalled, “We are not complete. We’re like a wagon wheel when a spoke is out. ... When one is missing, we’re not complete.”
As it turned out, the family would never be complete again.
On May 1, 1995, Mark’s body was found lying in front of his neighbor’s trailer in Andrews, across the street from his own Jessamine Street residence. According to South Carolina Law Enforcement Division reports, he died after bleeding out from a shotgun wound to the area around his hips and groin area. He was 26 years old.
Although every member of Mark’s family felt his loss, his death took a harsh toll on his mother, with whom he shared a special bond.
“For the next however-many years, I lost my mind,” Gail said. “A part of me died when Mark died. I’ve never been the same.”
For much of his adulthood, wherever Gail went, Mark went, too. Even though Gail said Mark always considered Andrews his home, he followed her and her ex-husband to work in places like Richmond, Virginia, Davenport, Iowa, and Bamberg.
“He was a mama’s boy,” she said. “I was his best, best friend. He was my heart.”
While Gail may have been hit the hardest by Mark’s death, his passing was felt by his entire family. His aunt — Linda, Gail’s sister — remembers Mark as an energetic boy who grew to become a loving, caring man.
“When he and my son, Roger, would play in the yard ... Roger would come back in and look OK, but Mark would look like a ragamuffin,” Linda said. “As an adult, Mark had a loving heart and a forgiving spirit. But above anything else in the whole world, he loved his mama.”
Although Mark shared a special bond with his mother, Amy added that spending time with his son was one of his favorite pastimes.
“He was everybody’s friend,” Amy said. “Then he had Korey, and he was a wonderful daddy for the few years he got to be one.”
Korey — who has since grown up and fathered his own son, Harmon — said he doesn’t remember much about spending time with his father, but added that he still feels the loss.
“It’s hard for me around this time of year,” he said. “I had to grow up without a dad. Now I’m a daddy, and my son has to grow up without a granddaddy.”
For more than 20 years, Mark’s family has endured the loss of a son, a brother, a father and a nephew. In addition to his absence, however, the family has also had to endure the absence of justice.
The Andrews Police Department was the first agency to respond to Mark’s death and, within the next 36 hours, the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office and SLED had been contacted to assist in the investigation. Despite the involvement of those three agencies, there have been no criminal charges filed, no warrants issued, no arrests made and no trials conducted.
The closest thing to a trial that ever took place was a coroner’s inquest, which, according to Carter Weaver — the SLED agent who investigated Mark’s death — was conducted as a sort of last-ditch effort to elicit some form of confession or admission of guilt from those he and other investigations believed were responsible.
“What I was trying to do was create hysteria in and amongst our suspects,” Weaver said. “The light shining on them was not going to go out.”
Along with the inquest, Weaver — who now serves as the assistant sheriff for Georgetown County — said he also asked the suspects’ preacher to give a church sermon on the subject of murder. Despite those and other efforts, however, Weaver said he and other investigators were unable to build a case against them.
“There was never enough probable cause generated to formulate a warrant,” Weaver said. “That’s what it really came down to.”
The SLED investigation reports named two people as suspects in Mark’s death. Although those same two people would later be identified at the coroner’s inquest, and then remanded into custody for a weekend, because no criminal charges were filed against them, they will not be identified.
While the inquest may have been an effort to advance the case, for Mark’s family, it also represented a last, fleeting hope that their loved one might receive justice.
“I thought for sure when we went through the coroner’s inquest and they spent that (weekend) in jail ... they were going to come back and say there was enough evidence,” Amy said. “We just knew we’d have a trial and find out what the story was. When we didn’t, we just kept hoping somebody would come forward.
“But, 20 years later, no one else seems to know anything.”
Though more than two decades have passed since Mark’s death, Weaver said that, at times, his thoughts return to the case, and to Mark’s family.
“It’s always a solemn time when you think back on it,” Weaver said. “You hate it for the family, and you hate it for the victim. It’s never really closed in anyone’s mind.”
For Korey, the hardest reconciliation is knowing the case is still open and that his father’s killer or killers may never see justice.
“That’s what bothers me the most — that the people who killed my daddy are walking the streets,” Korey said. “... There was never any justice.”
Although Gail said she thinks Weaver and other investigators did “everything in their power” to do Mark justice, she added that, for years, she was distraught that her son’s death went unpunished.
After years of prayer and healing, however, she said she has let go of her bitterness and has instead chosen to focus on her son’s life, rather than his death.
“I’m not angry and bitter anymore,” she said. “I am sorry that justice was never served ... and that they’ve got to go on with their lives ... as if nothing happened.
“But we’ve not forgotten Mark. We still love him and miss him. And I know I’ll see him again in heaven.”
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