Investigators in South Carolina have made a breakthrough in an unusual homicide case involving a man who they believe killed a woman in his backyard — then suffered a heart attack and died as he attempted to bury her.
Local sheriff's deputies and paramedics say they were initially called to the house in Trenton, S.C., after receiving a report of an unresponsive man lying in his yard. When they arrived at the scene, they found the collapsed body of Joseph McKinnon, 60. Also nearby: the body of Patricia Ruth Dent, 65, wrapped in trash bags, lying in a freshly dug pit.
While investigators believed McKinnon may have died of natural causes, they immediately suspected foul play in Dent's death. That scenario was confirmed this week by the coroner, whose autopsy report found that McKinnon had suffered a cardiac arrest and Dent had been strangled.
The pair had been living together at the address in a rural area of Trenton, the sheriff's office said.
"Evidence gathered at the scene, along with statements from witnesses aided investigators to build a timeline, leading us to believe that Mr. McKinnon attacked Ms. Dent while inside their home," Sheriff Jody Rowland and Coroner David Burnett of Edgefield County said in a joint statement sent to NPR.
"Mr. McKinnon then bound her and wrapped her in trash bags before putting her in the previously dug pit," the statement said. "The pit was then partially filled in by Mr. McKinnon. While covering the pit, Mr. McKinnon had the cardiac event, causing his death."
Dent's twin sister, Pamela Briggs, told local TV station WRDW that she was shocked by her sister's death.
"Everybody who ever met her liked her. She was just full of energy. She was 65 and working," she said.
Dent worked at the nearby Mount Vintage Golf Club, according to the incident report. Her body wasn't immediately discovered when first responders were called about McKinnon.
Deputies began looking for Dent after a deputy coroner found her wallet at her home on Saturday. At the time, they were starting the process of investigating and notifying loved ones of McKinnon's death.
But then the golf course confirmed that Dent hadn't come to work or called in on Saturday, prompting investigators to take a closer look at the large hole dug in the garden area of the yard, where Dent's body was found.