A teenage girl shot while helping her father in their family's small furniture and appliance store died Saturday, becoming the fifth victim of a suspected serial killer terrorizing a small South Carolina community, authorities said.
Abby Tyler, 15, died about 11:15 a.m. at a Spartanburg hospital after fighting for her life for two days, Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler said.
Tyler was wounded and her father was killed Thursday as they worked to close the Tyler Home Center near downtown Gaffney.
County Sheriff Bill Blanton said investigators believe the killings are linked and the search is on for a suspected male serial killer. An 83-year-old mother and her daughter were shot to death Wednesday, and a 63-year-old peach farmer was found dead at his home a week ago.
Blanton said all the victims were shot, but he would not say how the deaths were linked. The shootings all occurred within about 10 miles of each other in Cherokee County, a rural community of 54,000 people set amid peach orchards and farms some 50 miles west of Charlotte, N.C.
Killings have terrorized community
The spree had alarmed residents canceling Independence Day holiday plans and arming themselves. The sheriff has warned door-to-door salesmen to stop knocking and anyone who breaks down on the county's rural roads to wait instead of walking to a house for help because he worries "people are going to start shooting at shadows."
The killings began a week ago Saturday when the wife of 63-year-old peach farmer Kline Cash found him dead in their home. Then last Wednesday, relatives found 83-year-old Hazel Linder and her 50-year-old daughter, Gena Linder Parker, bound and shot to death in a separate shooting at Linder's home.
Dozens of local, state and federal investigators were assigned to the case when the killings were linked. But a day later, the killer struck again, less than a half-mile from the sheriff's office serving as the headquarters for the investigation, killing 48-year-old Stephen Tyler and his daughter.
"We're knee-deep in the investigation," Blanton said Sunday. "There's fear and concern here and there should be concern."
Investigators have released a sketch of the suspect, saying he is in his 40s, with salt and pepper hair, about 6-foot-2, and roughly 200 pounds. They think he is driving a silver 1991-1994 Ford Explorer.
The last time the town was this threatened like this was 1968, when the "Gaffney Strangler" killed four women over 10 days and vowed to kill more. The town banded together, despite racial prejudice, to find the man who was killing white and black women.
The strangler, Lee Roy Martin, called the editor of a local newspaper on Feb. 8, 1968, and told him where to find the bodies of two women he'd dumped in the woods. He threatened to kill even more women until he was "shot down like the dog I am."
People started to comb the community for clues, which led to Martin's arrest. He was convicted of four murders and sentenced to four life terms. In 1972, he was stabbed to death in his cell.
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