On the evening of July 25th, 2018, Andrya DeGhelder failed to show up for her shift at a VA hospital. Coworkers contacted a friend, who asked police to perform a wellness check on Andrya. Inside her home, police found a chaotic crime scene, which pointed to an abduction. Over the next few weeks, police would find evidence pointing to a shocking crime...
On the morning of Monday, July 30th, 2018, I was taking my dog, Rocky, for a walk.
Rocky is a decent-sized dog - he's about 85 pounds, and he's a big mutt. He's about two years old, and - I always joke, he's just as stubborn as his mother is. He likes to stop constantly during our walks, always sniffing around for something to pee on or something disgusting to roll in. Often times, when he finds something he REALLY wants to investigate, he'll square up and refuse to move an inch.
It was on this morning - an overcast, humid Georgia morning - that we walked through our neighborhood. I live in a very suburban community, set back from any major roads. There's a lot of coming-and-going in the early morning hours: lots of people leaving for work, and now, kids walking to one of the nearby schools or waiting for a bus to pick them up.
So, as I'm walking with Rocky, he stops for one of his prolonged bathroom breaks. We're on a street corner, preparing to cross, when I notice a loose sheet of paper taped to the stop sign. I had somehow missed it; subconsciously thinking it was a garage sale notification, or something like that. But it catches my eye.
People who dabble in true crime storytelling (podcasters, authors, reporters, etc.) won't tell you this, but there are certain words that catch our eye. Missing. Murdered. Vanished. Mystery. These words pop out at us.
So, on this cloudy, overcast, humid Georgia morning - as I'm walking my sweet, naive, ignorant mutt, having ingested zero coffee as of yet - I see this sheet of paper. The word "MISSING" is displayed in big, blocky letters, set up against a black backdrop.
On the sheet of paper, I see three pictures of a woman. Her name and characteristics are displayed just below:
Andrya Pauline DeGhelder
Weight: 140 lbs.
Missing From: Grovetown, GA (Columbia Co.)
Last Seen: Wed, July 25th, leaving her shift at the Charlie Norwood VA hospital
So, I take a picture of this missing persons flyer. I've lived in this neighborhood, in particular, for about a year. I've lived in the community for roughly two years now.
This is the first missing persons flyer I've seen in this neighborhood.
You hear it all the time: "this never happens here." "This is a nice community."
This truly does never happen here. This IS a nice community.
This is the area I take regular walks with my dog. This is the area where my wife goes jogging. This is the area we're hoping to start a family.
Now, I discover that a woman from the community has gone missing.
I take a picture of the flyer, and it enters my long-term memory. I think nothing of it until later that evening, when my wife and I are in our upstairs office. Our cat, Bullwinkle, is doing something really goofy, and I try to take a picture of it. As I'm about to hit the button on my phone to take a picture, I see a tiny reminder in the bottom right of the last photo I took: the missing persons poster from earlier that day.
I bring it up in conversation to my wife, telling her how creepy it is to have something like this happen so close-to-home. I often talk to her about the stories I cover on this podcast, and it's usually always in other cities, other towns... sometimes, even other states and countries.
But this happened here, in the very neighborhood we live in. As I will later learn, Andrya DeGhelder lived just a few blocks away from my wife and I. She was a recently-divorced mother of one, who had overcome adversity which reared its ugly head in the form of a debilitating illness. She had struggled through so much pain and suffering, and had begun to rebuild her life in this quaint little suburb on the outskirts of Augusta, Georgia.
This is the story of Andrya DeGhelder.
Andrya Paulina DeGarmo was born on March 23rd, 1979 - a Friday - in Peoria, Illinois. Her parents were William and Donna DeGarmo, now Donna Morrison. Her mother would remarry, but Andrya would remain close to her siblings, Amy and Logan.
Andrya grew up in Salisbury, Missouri, graduating from Salisbury High School in 1997. She then moved on to college.
A few years later, in 2000, Andrya met a young man that would have a significant impact on the rest of her life. Ryan DeGhelder was a member of the United States Navy, and the two fell in love, beginning a relationship that culminated in marriage in July of 2002.
After marrying Ryan, Andrya moved out to California, where she would spend the next handful of years. The young couple originally lived in the San Diego area for about a year or so, before moving up to Central California. There, they would move around a little bit, moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Seaside, just north of Monterey.
Because of how difficult it can be to keep steady employment as a military spouse, Andrya struggled to maintain consistency. She had worked in the nursing field following her graduation from high school, and was able to obtain employment as a CRC and CRA; a title she would maintain for about ten years, while the couple continued to move around the state of California.
Eventually, in the mid-2000's, Andrya's husband received orders that moved them from California out to Georgia; a trek and culture shift that I have become personally familiar with. However, this stay in Georgia was short-lived, as the couple was then moved out to Hawaii just a couple of years later.
Ryan and Andrya DeGhelder lived in Honolulu, and Andrya began working for the East West Medical Research Institute as a research coordinator. She worked there from 2010 to 2011, with 2011 being the year that Andrya's life was changed forever.
At the tail end of 2010, Andrya became pregnant with what would become her first and only child, Kellan. However, when she was just five months pregnant, she would become diagnosed with aplastic anemia.
Aplastic anemia is a blood disorder where the body stops producing new blood cells. I won't pretend to be a medical expert, but this can lead to all kinds of side effects, and is a very rare disease with an undetermined cause.
The condition seemed to worsen throughout her pregnancy, but she gave birth to her son, Kellan, in March of 2011. Shortly thereafter, she started a blog, titled "Surviving Aplastic Anemia," which detailed her struggle to recover from this illness.
Just months after giving birth, Andrya had to prepare for a number of treatments, including radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which led to a need for platelet transfusions. Thankfully, she was able to find a match for bone marrow - her brother, Logan - but she would have to go through a full, nightmarish treatment plan before that surgery could take place.
Andrya moved back to Missouri to be closer to her family and her doctors, but because of her husband's military orders, he had to remain in Hawaii. He would come and visit whenever allowed - including a month-long stint as she readied for the bone marrow transplant - but had to return to their home 5,000 miles away.
The aplastic anemia eventually led to an additional diagnosis of Myalodysplastic Syndrome - better abbreviated as MDS - which complicated things somewhat. This further diagnosis carried with it a five-year survival rate of 50 - 60%, and a need for continued chemotherapy and similar treatments.
While undergoing these treatments, Andrya was - essentially - quarantined. The aplastic anemia and other conditions that developed as a result gave her a very fragile immune system, and she essentially had to live in isolation for a time being. She couldn't risk being exposed to other airborne illnesses, and that meant that contact with her husband and even her newborn son were very limited.
However, some good developed as a result of this hospitalization: Andrya's health scare had reinvigorated her interest in nursing, and she was looking beyond her limited timeline to graduate school. She began studying for her GRE, and was hoping to learn more about her illness, in the hopes of helping others like her.
On July 27th, 2011 - which just-so-happened to be Andrya and Ryan DeGhelder's nine-year wedding anniversary - Andrya received a bone marrow transplant from her brother, Logan.
The surgery went well, and what followed was a lengthy treatment program. For the next four or so months, Andrya went through a number of chemotherapy and radiation therapy programs, which brought all kinds of side effects with them: nausea, migraines, depression, sore throats, hair loss, the works. As Andrya detailed on her blog, the first month or two was absolute hell, but the following couple of months weren't that much better.
She had to stay pretty isolated, and could only spend limited time with her own son, who was still less than a year old. She was missing out on many of his first moments because of this, and had to live a vicarious relationship with both him and her husband, who was an entire continent and ocean away.
She kept up with her blog, "Surviving Aplastic Anemia," for the next six months or so, until the tide began to turn. Andrya continued her recovery from the disorder, and soon enough, the threat of any setbacks disappeared. The bone marrow transplant had gone as well as could-be, and she was now looking forward to a happy life free of at least this health issue.
In the first half of 2012, Andrya stopped contributing to her blog; at around the same time that her family was reunited, and moved to the Washington, DC area. Andrya was now living near Fort Meade with her husband, Ryan, and her infant son, Kellan.
In 2014, Andrya began attending the University of Maryland, in College Park. She began to focus in on Laboratory Science, and planned to learn more about the blood disorder that had afflicted her; she wanted to learn not only the cause of it, but how to prevent it in others.
Patricia Henke, one of Andrya's friends, described her as her "super smart sciency friend."
"She fought for the pregnancy. She fought for her life afterwards. She fights for Aplastic Anemia. I think that's what motivates her to do so much in the biochemistry, lab area."
Eventually, the small DeGhelder family moved back to the area of Augusta, Georgia; more specifically, the area of Grovetown - a small suburb on the outskirts of the Augusta metropolitan area.
Located in neighboring Columbia County, Grovetown is an area that has exploded over the last two decades, due to the growth of Fort Gordon, a military base just south of Augusta. While Augusta itself is an older town, Grovetown has become one of the young upstarts in the surrounding area. Once a little more than a dirt town, Grovetown has grown up significantly in a short period of time.
Many military members sent to Fort Gordon have been drawn to Grovetown because of its cheap housing costs, and the fact that it doesn't carry with it many of the issues that Augusta has: namely, the economic decline from decades prior, and the high crime rate.
Some point to Grovetown as a town which has been completely gentrified over the past fifteen or so years, and it's really hard to argue with them. However, a friend of mine - a native to the area - said that Grovetown wasn't much of a town before its takeover by military families, so there wasn't much to gentrify. He described it as a little more than a stopgap between Augusta and other towns to the west, so... I'll let you be the judge.
Grovetown was in the beginning of its most recent popularity surge when the DeGhelders moved back to the area.
Andrya continued her education at the nearby Augusta University, eventually obtaining a graduate degree in Clinical Laboratory Sciences. She even won the school's 2017 Excellence in Research Award for Allied Health... no easy feat.
However, as Andrya's life had shown, every step forward was another step back.
In June of 2017, after a fifteen-year-long marriage, Ryan DeGhelder filed for divorce. The divorce was finalized four months later, and Andrya found herself single for the first time in nearly two decades.
Following her divorce, Andrya DeGhelder began to rebuild her life, piece-by-piece.
She continued to live in Grovetown, moving to a small subdivision named Ivy Falls. Ivy Falls is about as suburban as it can get: many brick houses, nearby a couple of small ponds with walking trails, and it is just down the road from a couple of local schools. Some homes literally even have the white picket fence.
In the latter half of 2017, Andrya moved into a small home at 518 Great Falls, on the corners of Wichita Falls and Great Falls roads. It is a small brick home, with a one-car garage and a small, fenced backyard.
Neighbors say that she was just about as quiet a neighbor as you could hope for.
Those that live in the neighborhood say that Andrya was quiet and kept to herself, with very few exceptions. She often stayed indoors when at-home, only coming out for random spurts of yard-work. Some of her neighbors recall only seeing her as she was leaving to or coming home from work, but others would see her come out from time-to-time to visit with her ex-husband when he was dropping off or picking up their son.
These habits carried on for the last year or so, leading up to July of this year, 2018.
Andrya went on a brief vacation in the middle of July, returning on the weekend of July 21st. When exactly she returned is up for debate, but she immediately resumed working, with at least one neighbor seeing her return from work on the morning of Tuesday, July 24th.
For the past year or so - following her graduation from Augusta University - Andrya had been working as a Medical Technologist for the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, over in downtown Augusta. More often than not, Andrya worked overnights, between the hours of 11:00 PM to 7:00 AM. So, as people left for work, Andrya was usually returning home and preparing for bed.
On July 24th, 2018 - a Tuesday - things proceeded as usual. Andrya's son, Kellan - now seven years old - was staying with his father, and Andrya - back from vacation - decided to cover a shift for her coworker, Marsha. This shift went off without a hitch, and Andrya left work at approximately 7:00 that Wednesday morning.
She had apparently made dinner plans with a friend for later that evening, the 25th of July, but those plans had been cancelled. So it seems like Andrya had the afternoon and early evening to herself, last speaking to the friend-in-question at around 4:15 PM.
This would be Andrya's last known contact with any of her loved ones.
On the evening of Wednesday, July 25th, Andrya DeGhelder was scheduled to work at 11:00 PM, but was a no-show. This was very unusual and out-of-the-ordinary for Andrya, who was a very reliable and punctual person. At the very least, she would have called; as guaranteed by her friend and coworker Marsha Maldonado, who stated:
"When I heard that she didn't call and didn't show up to work, immediately I was concerned because she just wouldn't have done that."
Eventually, her coworkers at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center contacted a friend of her's, who made the effort to try and find out if something happened. Naturally, one of the fears might have been related to Andrya's prior illnesses, but this friend of Andrya's tried calling her and made a house call, to no avail.
This friend then contacted authorities, hoping that they would be able to perform a welfare check on Andrya.
It was that day - Thursday, July 26th, 2018 - that deputies with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office responded to the call of a welfare check, and entered the home of Andrya DeGhelder. There, they found a scene that raised many red flags.
The front door to Andrya's home was locked; as were the other various windows and doors leading into the house. There seemed to be no damage to any entrance point, with there being no sign of forced entry. However, in addition to her garage being closed and locked, her car was still parked in the garage; indicating that she had not gone anywhere.
However, deputies quickly discovered that Andrya was not in her home. However, a chaotic scene had been left behind, which pointed to some significant foul play.
A responding deputy found blood along the walls and floor of the kitchen, as well as more blood leading down the hallway towards the master bedroom. There, there were more traces of blood found on some items of clothing, which were lying on the floor, as well as on the bed itself.
In addition, several of the rooms inside the home seemed to be in disarray. The contents of Andrya's purse were scattered across the kitchen floor, and the home seemed to be a far cry from the way Andrya usually kept things.
It was clear that something violent had happened inside the home of Andrya DeGhelder. Now, investigators had to figure out what had happened... and who was involved.
The news of Andrya's disappearance broke on the Thursday that police responded to the wellness check, but it wasn't until the following day - Friday, July 27th - that more details were shared with the public.
Police announced that they believed Andrya DeGhelder had not just gone missing, but they publicly stated their belief that Andrya had been taken against her will.
Columbia County Sheriff's Major Steve Morris stated that, based on evidence collected - including no sign of forced entry - that investigators believed Andrya knew the person responsible.
"Based on what we discovered from the residence yesterday and today, we're confident she left unwillingly.
"We have a large group of investigators working on this case. They have conducted many interviews these past 24 hours - interviewed friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and even persons-of-interest."
Jim Zeiler, one of Andrya's neighbors, echoed what the investigators had told him and others in the community about the case.
"From what I understand, there was no sign of breaking in as far as the house is concerned. I mean she opened her door to somebody who treated her poorly after she opened the door.
"I think it was someone who knew her personally and had a hell of [a lot of] hate in his heart for her."
That Friday - July 27th - saw the true beginning of the investigation to find Andrya DeGhelder.
Police removed boxes of potential evidence from Andrya's home throughout the day, and Andrya's vehicle was towed away from the scene for further examination.
Police had stated that they believed someone who knew Andrya was behind her suspicious disappearance, with the responsible party being a likely friend or acquaintance. A police official was even quoted as saying this was a 99% possibility. As such, they began reaching out to everyone they could find that had some connection to Andrya, including associates from work, her friends and family, and those in the neighborhood.
By far, the most intriguing clue left behind was Andrya's pink iPhone 7, which had been left in her living room. It was locked behind a pass-code, but at a simple examination, investigators could see that there were multiple notifications for unread text messages and emails, as well as several missed calls from worried friends and coworkers.
The Thursday that police entered Andrya's home and found the bloody, chaotic scene left behind, a search warrant was obtained to gain access to the phone's records and call logs; in particular, the phone records from the week prior, July 19th to July 26th. The language from the search warrant made it clear that police believed at least two crimes had been committed, including battery.
It is unknown what kind of information police were able to glean from Andrya's iPhone, but investigators did publicly state that Andrya was active on a number of dating apps and sites, including Tinder, Bumble, and Plenty of Fish. Investigators floated this information, and made it clear that they were looking into those she communicated with through those apps as potential persons-of-interest.
For many that lived in the community, this was an immediate cause-for-concern. You see, just weeks before Andrya had gone missing, a woman living in the same neighborhood as she - a single mother that lived in Ivy Falls - had met a man through Bumble. That man, 37-year old Mitchell McCracken, had expressed some odd behavior after going on a few dates with this mother, and she had obtained a protective order against her. About a week before Andrya's disappearance - on July 19th - McCracken was arrested on aggravated stalking charges, and the single mother at the heart of that story was now moving out of the area entirely.
You may be wondering why I'm telling you this, but - as someone who's been looking into this story as it unfolds - the investigative lead brought by dating apps has consumed a lot of the conversation regarding theories. In fact, when neighbors first heard about a woman going missing with a connection to a dating app, they believed it was this mother.
And, for the record, I am not accusing Mitchell McCracken - the 37-year old man accused of aggravated stalking - of having any involvement in the disappearance of Andrya DeGhelder. I just hope that this story fills you in on that aspect of the story, which has been covered extensively in the media's reporting of Andrya's disappearance.
In addition to finding Andrya's phone in her living room, investigators have remained pretty confident that they were able to obtain DNA from inside the home; DNA which, they believe, may belong to a suspect or a person-of-interest.
This DNA has been submitted to crime labs of both the Georgia and the Federal Bureaus of Investigation, but... more on that later.
Surveillance footage was also taken by authorities, from some of the houses in Andrya's neighborhood. Police have stated that they were able to get footage from at least eight cameras nearby Andrya's home, including doorbell footage from one of her neighbors, which constantly monitors outdoor movement and activity.
Following the disappearance of Andrya DeGhelder, the community she lived in was on high alarm.
As I've stated, this community is a very ho-hum, suburban area. Things are quiet, with most families moving to the area in recent years, due to some involvement with the local military base. The area, which is just down the road from the large and scenic Patriots Park, is also just a short walk away from the nearest elementary, middle, and high schools.
No matter what time you go outside - even in the early morning hours or at sunset - you're bound to see at least one person walking around, making use of the walking trails nearby the area's ponds, or working on a vehicle or doing yard-work.
Iteago Felton, one of Andrya's neighbors, told a local reporter that:
"Everybody is kind of nervous. I was at church yesterday and people who don't live in this neighborhood, people who live in Tudor Branch... they're even nervous now."
Just for reference, Tudor Branch is a housing development a couple of miles away. News of Andrya's disappearance was sending shock waves through the entire community... even there.
Felton continued, stating:
"I have a 14-year old and I see a lot of young ladies walking around. Everybody walks this neighborhood. But now, things have changed."
That was a very valid point. It's not often that I pick on social cues, but even I noticed the change in the community. The neighbors I usually saw on my morning walks were noticeably absent, and it took me a few days until I understood why.
On Sunday, July 29th - less than a week after Andrya's disappearance, a group of volunteers hung up flyers throughout the area. It was a rainy, overcast, muggy day, but these volunteers persevered through the conditions, hanging up the missing persons posters that I would eventually stumble upon the following day.
That Monday - July 30th, 2018 - saw the publication of a letter from Donna Morrison, Andrya's mother.
"To the perpetrators who have taken my daughter, this is my plea to you. To please release her or return her to us safe and sound.
"She has a young son who needs her. Our family is heartbroken that this has happened to her. We need to know why you would do this to our precious little girl.
"She fought long and hard to survive a potentially fatal condition, aplastic anemia, so that she could survive long enough to give birth to her son. She lived through all of that and went on to get her Master's Degree in biology so that she could research blood disorders like hers and help save lives.
"She is a research scientist and her life is especially valuable for this reason, if not for the fact that she is loved by her family and friends.
"Please, please return her to us. Have mercy, please."
The letter was then signed by Donna, as well as Andrya's stepfather, Welden; her brother, Logan; and her sister, Amy.
On August 1st, 2018 - a Wednesday - approximately a week after Andrya DeGhelder disappeared from her Grovetown home, a press conference was scheduled by the Columbia County Sheriff's office.
That morning, the press conference was led by Major Sharif Chochol, who stood beside over a dozen other Sheriff's officials.
It was believed that a body found behind a local shopping center was that of Andrya Pauline DeGhelder.
The Gateway Shopping Center, where the body was found, was a little under four miles away from Andrya's home. The shopping center, which is just off of Interstate 20, is a busy area, with a lot of traffic throughout the day and night. After all, the shopping center contains multiple shops, including a large Wal-Mart, which is open 24 hours a day.
The body, which police believed was Andrya DeGhelder, had been found in a recycling dumpster behind this Wal-Mart. More specifically, the dumpster was behind a neighboring pet store, where there were no cameras present. In fact, the entire area behind the stores was devoid of any cameras, making the identity of the person who dumped Andrya a total mystery.
Police announced that the body was being sent for an autopsy to determine the identity and the cause-of-death, but police felt confident enough to change the status of Andrya's case from a missing person to a homicide. And in addition to the body being sent to a nearby GBI lab for examination, the dumpster was also seized and sent off for an examination of its own.
Investigators now had a lot of evidence to work and sift through, but they remained confident that they had all of the clues needed to solve the case.
Columbia County Sheriff's Major Sharif Chochol, who led the press conference, told reporters who asked about a potential timeline for the case to be solved:
"We don't think it's a matter of if, it's a matter of when."
Major Chochol also told reporters, in an ominous statement aimed at the responsible party:
"We would encourage that person to come turn themselves in before we have to track them down."
On Thursday, August 2nd, Major Steve Morris with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office confirmed that the identity of the body was none other than Andrya Pauline DeGhelder. He also stated that she was identified via fingerprints, which police were able to obtain through a records request.
Vernon Collins, the Columbia County Coroner, conducted the autopsy of the body, and confirmed Andrya's cause-of-death as strangulation. This confirmed was investigators had theorized, but made them question the state of the crime scene at her home, which contained many traces of blood.
Collins, the coroner, also stated that - due to the decomposition of the body - that it was possible that the body of Andrya had been in that dumpster for close to a week. Perhaps she had even been left there shortly after she went missing, on July 25th.
This was hard to verify, because - as I said - the area behind the Gateway Shopping Center had no security cameras.
Just the fact that Andrya had been killed was enough to shatter the spirits of those that knew her, but the idea of her being left in a dumpster for close to a week... that was too much to bear for those that loved Andrya. This included Marsha Maldonado, her co-worker and friend, whose shift Andrya had covered on the Tuesday before her disappearance.
"That's what I keep thinking [about], that she was just discarded like a piece of trash. And I think that's just hard to imagine. You just want to hug her and take care of her and say it's okay."
Following the news that Andrya's case had turned from a missing persons story to a homicide, signs began to pop up around the community. "# Justice For Andrya" signs began to crop up throughout the neighborhood, and a plethora of the signs littered Andrya's yard.
On August 3rd, 2018 - a Friday - the family of Andrya arrived to Grovetown, and were in-attendance at a vigil in Andrya's front yard, which had been put together by other loved ones.
During the vigil, the press were allowed to come, but expressed to keep a sincere distance, and not pester grieving loved ones during the ceremony.
A poem was read by one of Andrya's friends, while another led the group in prayer just moments later. This prayer asked for healing, as well as requesting God's assistance in helping the investigators obtain justice for Andrya and a life lost too soon. This prayer also including a small mention for Andrya's neighbors, whose illusion of safety had been forcefully - and perhaps irrevocably- shattered.
At the end of this small gathering, a pair of balloons - one pink and one red - were lifted off into the evening sky.
A local church had donated a collection of candles to the vigil's organizers, and a candlielight vigil was held later that night, which brought together many more of Andrya's loved ones in solemn remembrance of her life.
About a week later, Andrya's older sister, Amy DeGarmo-Bowen, spoke to local news station WRDW News 12, stating about her beloved younger sibling:
"We need something to make us feel like her life wasn't a waste and a homicide, it's terrible.
"She was important to us, and she's leaving people behind that need those answers, need peace. Our day-to-day functioning is just a mess.
"We need justice. I mean we'll lay her to rest, yes, and we'll have a place to go and grieve, but we don't have any peace in our hearts."
Andrya Pauling DeGhelder - formerly known as Andrya Pauline DeGarmo - was laid to rest on Saturday, August 18th, 2018. She was buried in her hometown of Salisbury, Missouri, with her funeral taking place at the Salisbury Funeral Home.
She was just 39 years old.
Columbia County officials remain confident that this case will wrap up pretty quickly. They have obtained cooperation from the FBI and the GBI, and remain hopeful that the suspect will come forward in due time.
They have stated repeatedly that evidence, via DNA found at the crime scene, has been submitted to the GBI crime lab. Investigators are awaiting results from this DNA testing, remaining cautiously optimistic that the results will come in just weeks.
However, some remain more pessimistic about that likelihood.
Austin Rhodes, an Augusta-based radio host and correspondent for Metro Spirit, wrote an article detailing the inefficiencies of Georgia's crime labs. His piece, titled "Christmas May Arrive Before Crime Lab Results Are In Hand," goes on to highlight how under-funded and under-staffed Georgia's testing facilities are, with the backlog for Columbia County investigators totaling 14 cases, dating back to April of this year, 2018.
Neighboring Richmond County has 40 cases in this testing backlog, dating back to March.
Andrya's cause-of-death was determined at her initial autopsy, but more thorough testing will likely take months. The estimate by Austin Rhodes - that Christmas may come before the results from her tests arrive - isn't too outlandish of an estimate.
However, some remain more optimistic that the truth will present itself before long.
On August 21st, 2018 - just days ago, for some of you listening to this - investigators began searching the home of one of Andrya's neighbors. Local journalists staked out in the neighborhood, filming the location past 11:00 PM, while investigators sporadically carried out boxes and bags of evidence.
The home, which is directly next to Andrya's house, belongs to a 55-year old named Christopher Gibson. Gibson has been named a "person of interest" in Andrya's case, and he has a long and storied history of various crimes, including shoplifting. Most recently, he was arrested again for shoplifting in May of this year, 2018, although the location varies.
Some publications report that he was arrested at a Dollar General, and others report that he was arrested at a Wal-Mart. This would be noteworthy because there is a Dollar General just down the street, at the entrance to the Ivy Falls community both Andrya and he lived in. However, the closest Wal-Mart would be the one where Andrya's body was found at, potentially tying him to that location.
More recently, Gibson has reportedly been in legal trouble for alleged harassment and stalking of an eighteen-year-old girl that lives in the same neighborhood as him, but that is nothing more than an allegation at this point.
Christopher Gibson is currently in the Columbia County Detention Center, awaiting trial for his shoplifting charge. As of this moment, he has been labelled a "person of interest" in the disappearance of Andrya DeGhelder, but I will keep you all informed as I learn more.
Throughout every episode of this podcast, I try to keep myself out of it as much as possible. After all, this story is not about me. This pain, this sorrow, this anguish... it's not mine. It doesn't belong to me, and I don't get to claim any of it.
The story you have heard today is that of Andrya DeGhelder, a 39-year old mother, sister, daughter, colleague, neighbor, and friend to many.
The only reason I included the introduction of this episode - the long, drawn-out story of me finding her missing persons poster, that whole spiel - is because I wanted it to serve as a reminder. A reminder that these stories are real. The stories I cover on Unresolved are true tales, which revolve around real people. Despite whatever storytelling flair I may put behind certain aspects, the story you have heard is an ongoing saga of grief and tragedy, and I only ever include my perspective to make that really sink in.
I feel like, a lot of times, the true crime genre tends to forget that. I'm no exception to that critique. I try to keep that in-focus throughout the podcast, but even I lose sight of that at times.
Stories like this, though, just remind me how real all of this is. I often talk about people I've never met, and discuss places I've never been. But the story of this setting is my everyday life. It's the world I love in. Despite never meeting her, Andrya DeGhelder lived just blocks away from me. The setting of this investigation is a reminder that these stories don't happen in a vacuum... they happen every day, to people just like you and I.
I'd like that to be the note I end on, as I wrap up this season of Unresolved: that these stories are real, and there are always real-world ramifications. Yeah, it can be cool and interesting to learn about how a criminal investigation unfolded, and it can be intriguing to learn all of the gory details, but just remember... at the end of the day, there are real people at the end of this podcast, who are still hurting with the loss of Andrya DeGhelder. All of the people that knew her - that loved her - now have a gap in their lives where she once was.
Please remember that, and keep her loved ones in your thoughts.
If you know anything about this case, please contact the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. They can be reached at 706-541-2800.
I hope to have an update for this case soon, but until then, the story of Andrya Pauline DeGhelder remains unresolved.