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The offender responsible for five murders in less than a week in Cherokee County, South Carolina, has been described in the media as a “serial killer” (see news report below).

By definition, a serial killer murders multiple victims over a period of more than a month (sometimes many months or years, until captured), with a so-called “cooling-off” period between offenses. The killings are typically sexually motivated and the victims usually are of the same sex and similar age (most often young adults or children).

Clearly, that does not fit the MO or profile of the South Carolina killer, whose victims include both males and females and range in age from 15 to 83 years of age.

Technically, the South Carolina offender appears to be a spree killer, defined as someone who murders multiple victims in a short period of time, without an emotional “cooling-off” period and typically without an explicit sexual motive.

Click here for more detailed discussion of the distinctions among serial killers, spree killers, and mass murderers.

Whereas serial killers are usually captured alive, mass murderers and spree killers usually take their own life when apprehension is imminent or die in a standoff with law enforcement officers when cornered.


South Carolina Town Terrorized by 5 Killings in Past Week


Murders leave S.C. town on edge (NBC Nightly News, July 4, 2009) — Fourth of July celebrations in Gaffney, S.C., took on a somber tone amid a desperate search for a killer believed to be responsible for at least five murders. NBC’s Ron Mott reports. (02:00)

July 4, 2009

GAFFNEY, S.C. — 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. …

Image: Possible suspect
Updated drawing of the suspected serial killer in Cherokee County, S.C.

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. …

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.


7/6/09 Updates

South Carolina Sheriff: Deputies Searching for Killer of 5


Manhunt for South Carolina serial killer (NBC Today, July 6, 2009) — Residents of a South Carolina town are terrorized after five people are shot to death in 10 days. The police are on the hunt for the killer. NBC’s Ron Mott reports. (02:01)

July 6, 2009

GAFFNEY, S.C. — Deputies were searching to find the man they believe has killed five people in a week, a South Carolina sheriff said on Monday.

Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Blanton told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the three separate shootings were linked through evidence. …

Blanton, the sheriff, 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 community of 54,000 people set amid peach orchards and farms some 50 miles west of Charlotte, N.C. …


S.C. Serial Killer Suspect ‘Polite,’ Witness Says

By Lee Ferran and Jeffrey Kofman
ABC \'Good Morning America\' logo
July 6, 2009

Two witnesses spoke to the alleged South Carolina serial killer moments before some of the murders and called the man an “average person” and “polite,” Gaffney County Sheriff Bill Blanton told “Good Morning America” today.

Police have been circulating a sketch of the man based on those of other eyewitness descriptions but have not named any suspects in the “spree killings” of five people since June 27 in Gaffney, S.C. “Physical evidence” links all three scenes, Blanton said.

In addition to the two witnesses who spoke to the alleged killer, Blanton said several others saw him but did not talk to him prior to two of the slayings. The suspect waited until the witnesses left the area before committing the murders, Blanton said. …

Watch ABC News video: “Serial killer on the loose” (04:50)


Link between North Carolina shootout and Gaffney spree killer?
Investigators from Gaffney, S.C., and the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division were at the scene of a standoff in Gaston County, N.C.,  Monday, July 6, 2009 to rule out the possibility that the fatal shooting of an unidentified man who had wounded a police officer is related to the Gaffney murders.


7/6/09 Late update

Police May Have Killed Suspect in South Carolina Slayings

The Associated Press and NBC via
July 6, 2009

Authorities were investigating whether a man who was shot and killed Monday morning by police in North Carolina may be linked to the slayings of five people in South Carolina in a week.

South Carolina law enforcement officers were in Gaston County, N.C., near Charlotte, after county police shot and killed the man, who they said opened fire on them Monday morning, NBC News’ Ron Mott reported.

Investigators told NBC station WCNC of Charlotte that a gray or champagne Ford Explorer was found outside the house in Gaston County, about 30 miles north of Cherokee County, S.C., where five people were found shot to death in three incidents over eight days bridging last week.

Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Blanton said Monday that a gray Ford Explorer was believed to link all five of the South Carolina killings.

“The physical evidence, the evidence that we have, the eyewitnesses that we have, puts the same person, we think the same vehicle, at all three locations,” Blanton said in an interview on NBC’s TODAY.

Questioning three people

Gaston County police were questioning three people who were reported to have entered a house about 2:40 a.m. when they discovered that one of them had an outstanding warrant. The man, whose identity was not released, fired a single shot when officers tried to serve the warrant, injuring one of the officers in the leg. Police fired four shots, killing the man at the scene, they said. …


Suspected S.C. Serial Killer Shot to Death in N.C.

Photo added to accompanying AP report

July 6, 2009

The serial killer who terrorized a South Carolina community by shooting five people to death before police killed him Monday was a career criminal paroled just two months ago, authorities said.

Patrick Burris, 41, was shot to death by officers investigating a burglary complaint at a home in Gastonia, N.C., 30 miles from where the killing spree started June 27. Bullets in his gun matched those that killed residents in and around Gaffney over six days last week, said State Law Enforcement Division Chief Reggie Lloyd.

Investigators did not have an address for Burris. While evidence left no doubt he was the killer, they still had no idea why he did it. …

Long rap sheet

Burris had a long rap sheet filled with charges such as larceny, forgery and breaking and entering from states across the Southeast, including Florida, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. He had been paroled from a North Carolina prison in April after serving nearly eight years.

“Look at this,” Lloyd said, waiving a stapled copy of Burris’ criminal record. “This is like 25 pages. At some point the criminal justice system is going to need to explain why this suspect was out on the street.” …

The killing spree ended in Gastonia early Monday after a couple called police to report a suspicious sport utility vehicle in their neighborhood.

Mike and Terri Valentine were on edge because the Gaffney serial killer was just a short drive away.

They watched two people who sometimes visit the neighboring home get out of the vehicle, followed by a third man who matched the description of the killer: tall, heavyset, unshaven and wearing a baseball cap. The man appeared to be very drunk, Mike Valentine said.

When officers went inside, Terri Valentine said she heard someone yell “put it down” and heard a gunshot.

Gaston County police said the other two people were in custody, but did not indicate whether they were facing charges. …

The investigation isn’t over, and Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Blanton said investigators will trace the suspect’s recent activities and trying to figure out if he has killed other people in other places. …

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