The North Augusta Huddle House Shooting
On November 22nd, 2005, a group of retirees - who jokingly referred to themselves as the “Board of Directors” - met up at a Huddle House for coffee. When they separated for the day, two of their members would be assaulted by a madman with an assault rifle…
North Augusta is a small town in the American southeast, which rests right along the border between South Carolina and Georgia. It earns its name due to it being the northern chunk of the Augusta metropolitan area, which stretches out from Georgia's Richmond County into South Carolina's Aiken and Edgefield Counties.
North Augusta is the more rural part of the Augusta metropolitan area. The Savannah River separates not only North Augusta from its southern counterpart, but it also separates Georgia from South Carolina.
Augusta, Georgia may sound familiar to some of you. It has been the setting of some prior episodes of Unresolved, including that of the Millbrook Twins, Tiffany Nelson, and even the unknown serial offender I gave a moniker to, the Shaw Creek Killer.
It is North Augusta which provides the setting for today's bonus episode, although this story bears no similarities to the prior Augusta-based episodes.
This is the story of the North Augusta Huddle House shooting.
Huddle House is a 24-hour, diner-style restaurant, which is regional to the East Coast. It is known for serving greasy, fast food; which, were I live, makes it a good hot-spot for night owls and those that might be a little intoxicated.
Being an outsider to the area, Huddle House has been explained to me as a sort-of alternative to Waffle House, another regional institution.
In addition to serving as a late night destination for college kids, Huddle House is also a go-to breakfast hot-spot.
In North Augusta, South Carolina, a group of old retirees who called themselves the "Board of Directors" met up at Huddle House on most mornings, to grab coffee and talk among themselves.
The Huddle House destination they met up at, which was off of Interstate 20's Exit 5, was located along Highway 25. It was in a busy area, full of fast food restaurants and tiny shopping centers, so it wasn't exactly isolated.
Among this group of friends - the so-called "Board of Directors" - were two men named Earl Carter and William Powell.
Earl Carter - Reverend Earl Carter, I should say - was a family man who served as the clergy of the rural Little Horse Creek Baptist Church.
William Powell was a 61-year old father of two. He and his wife, Mary Alice Powell, had been married for decades, and had two daughters - Laura and Beth - who had both grown to adulthood and were now married.
William Powell had worked as an engineer for the Georgia Department of Transportation for over 34 years. He had retired in 1996, and - at this point in 2005 - was enjoying his free time.
Reverend Carter and William Powell had long been friends. Best friends, if you ask them. They enjoyed meeting up on most mornings with their group of friends, and enjoying a cup of coffee to catch up on each others' lives. It had become a common part of their routine, and more often than not, they met up at this quaint little Huddle House location, where they were well-liked and well-regarded.
All of that changed in November of 2005.
It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving - November 22nd - when the group of retirees that jokingly referred to themselves as the "Board of Directors" sat together inside the North Augusta Huddle House location.
It was a cold morning - in particular, a cold morning for the area. Falls in Georgia and South Carolina are usually pretty warm, but this morning carried a max temperature of 58. So this morning, before the sun rose, temperatures were just above freezing, and the skies were overcast.
Reverend Earl Carter, who sat with his friends inside the Huddle House, later recalled:
"I had an uneasy feeling about that morning."
At around 6:00 that morning - some time after the group of retirees had gathered inside - trouble was brewing at a nearby establishment.
A woman named Constance Davidson was on her way to work, and was waiting in the drive-thru lane of a nearby Burger King. While she was waiting to pull forward and get her food, a strange man walked up to her car. He was holding a gun.
The man, who looked ragged, pointed the weapon at Constance and demanded her car. Immediately, she was hit with a fight-or-flight reaction, and she stepped on the gas pedal. Her vehicle sped forward, and - knowing that the strange man had a gun - Constance did her best to duck down as her vehicle pulled away.
As she moved, she could hear a couple of gunshots behind her.
"When he fired the first shot, I remember thinking, 'He's shooting at me.' Then when he fired the second shot, I felt it hit me."
The second gunshot the unknown man fired hit Constance in the back, but she continued driving until she got to a gas station down the street. There, she was able to call for emergency assistance, and informed authorities that a gunman had opened fire in the parking lot of this North Augusta Burger King.
Constance Davidson would survive her gunshot, and would later be taken to the Medical College of Georgia, where she was admitted in stable condition. However, the gunman that had wounded her didn't give up after his failed carjacking attempt. He simply moved from the parking lot of Burger King to another nearby establishment... the Huddle House where the "Board Of Directors" were just finishing up.
It was just after 6:00 AM when Reverend Earl Carter and William Powell finished up their morning conversation, and prepared to part ways for the day.
They stepped out into the crisp morning air, and began heading to their cars, when William Powell pointed out the young man heading in their directions. Reverend Carter later recalled:
"(Powell) said, 'Preacher, that man right there has a gun.' I turned and looked and I saw him raise the gun and then the next thing I know, I'm talking to the chief of police.
"He never said a word. He just ran up and started shooting."
The gunman, who had sprinted over to the Huddle House parking lot from the nearby Burger King lot, fired off at least two gunshots. One of the two hit the Reverend in the throat, while another hit his friend, William Powell, directly in the head.
It is unknown why the gunman attacked these two men, as he didn't try to steal anything from them. Neither did they pose a threat to the man, who sprinted towards them.
After shooting both Powell and Carter, the gunman ran over to the parking lot of a nearby Circle K and Bojangles, where he carjacked a woman named Ida Mae Heath. Her vehicle, a 1991 Oldsmobile four-door sedan, would become the key component of a major manhunt, which was spreading out from this suburban location.
Authorities were alerted to the multiple gunshots a minute or so later, noting in their logs that the first call was received at 6:12 AM.
"We had additional reports that shots were being fired at both Burger King and the Huddle House."
When authorities arrived, they discovered that William Powell had already expired. He was pronounced dead at the scene, while his friend, Reverend Earl Carter, barely clung to life. He was unconscious but breathing.
"They said on the way to the hospital, they lost me twice."
Later that day, when Reverend Carter came back to his senses, he discovered that his friend - his best friend - William Powell, had died at the scene of the shooting.
With this tragic and sudden loss happening just days before Thanksgiving, the family of William Powell noted his absence at their dinner table. He was buried later that week, on Friday, November 25th - the day after Thanksgiving. The memorial service was held at the First Baptist Church, in North Augusta.
Both Reverend Earl Carter and Constance Davidson would recover from their injuries, but the damage done to them - and the family of William Powell - would never truly heal. At least, not while the crazed gunman continued to elude investigators.
The investigation into the North Augusta Huddle House shooting became one of the area's leading stories. After all, this had not happened in an isolated location in the dead of night - this was right out in the open, as the sun was rising.
North Augusta Police Chief Lee Wetherington told the press:
"Everything we can see about this crime at this point is that it is totally random, which makes this individual extremely dangerous."
After shooting three people in the parking lots of Burger King and Huddle House, the gunman had set his sights on another vehicle nearby. The vehicle, which belonged to a woman named Ida Mae Heath, was taken from her at gunpoint in the parking lot of a conjoined Circle K convenience store and Bojangles restaurant.
This was a 1991 Oldsmobile, which had four doors and looked like your everyday, regular sedan. It was a very normal vehicle, which is perhaps what the culprit was looking for.
Roughly six hours after the shooting was reported to police, this vehicle was found in the parking lot of a local hotel, called the Sleep Inn. This is less than a mile away from the scene of the shooting, along Edgefield Road.
When the vehicle was found and reported to police that afternoon, they responded immediately. By the time they got to the Sleep Inn to examine the car, they noticed that the engine was still warm to the touch. This caused them to perform a panicked, hurried search of the immediate around around the hotel.
Unfortunately, they were able to find no discernible sign of the crazed gunman in the vicinity. It was as-if he had dropped off the car and vanished into thin air.
The 1991 Oldsmobile showed signs of having been drive a good distance in the interim six hours. Investigators would theorize that the violent carjacker had driven the car anywhere between 100 and 300 miles, only to return it back to the area of the crime scene.
North Augusta Police Chief Lee Wetherington said that authorities had come to this suspicion - that the vehicle had been driven upwards of a hundred miles - based on the gas usage. Before being stolen, the car had just been filled up with gas, and the gas tank was now close to empty.
Investigators began to focus in on the possibilities presented by this carjacking. By their calculations, the entire ordeal had been caused by the gunman's desire to get a vehicle. He had first attempted to carjack Constance Davidson in the parking lot of Burger King, before lashing out and shooting her, in addition to William Powell and Earl Carter. At that point, he had carried on his original goal: to obtain a vehicle. He then ran to yet another parking lot, and stole a vehicle at gunpoint.
Police Chief Wetherington noted that the gunman's behavior seemed to temporarily escalate after he was thwarted by his first target, Ms. Davidson, and stated that the gunman was probably:
"... jacked up on something and mad that she did not give in to his demands. He was the big guy with the big gun."
But after getting this vehicle... where had he gone with it? Estimates put the distance anywhere between 100 and 300 miles, which could take him to a number of populated cities: he could have gone nearly anywhere in Georgia, South Carolina, or even North Carolina, and then back again. Did he need a vehicle for an illegal or nefarious purpose?
Then, there's the last possibility presented by this: that the culprit had returned to the area because he was a local. He had dropped off the car at the Sleep Inn parking lot because it was close to where he lived or was staying, and then disappeared into the surrounding area.
In addition to questions posed by the vehicle, police had their hands full trying to identify the weapon used by the crazed gunman.
Police were able to determine that the ammunition fired was 7.62x39mm "Wolf" brand shells. At least five shell casings were recovered from the scene, which showed that the culprit had used this very cheap form of ammo.
Based off of the ammunition and the descriptions of the weapon provided by the survivors and witnesses of the shootings, it was believed that the gunman had used a SKS assault rifle: a type of short-barreled gun which came with a fold-down stock.
This weapon was a semi-automatic rifle, which had a capacity of ten bullets in its magazine.
John Lewis, the owner of Carolina Precision Rifles, said that this was a very "ugly" gun which had likely been imported from China. He said that it was an easy gun to get a hold of, and was popular with drug dealers (and other such delinquents).
"A lot of people buy them because it's just an inexpensive gun.
"It's very possible he stole it. He may have bought it, but if he was crazy enough to buy it to do what he did, he probably couldn't have passed the background check."
North Augusta Police Chief Lee Wetherington said that this weapon wasn't seen all-that-often in Aiken County; that it was usually found in larger, more metropolitan areas.
"... it's the weapon of choice for people who rob banks."
Very little about the suspect could be determined by investigators, who struggled to find the identity of the gunman. Most of the evidence they had on him, specifically, was little more than speculation.
Security footage of the locations didn't show any glimpse of the man, and no witnesses got a good look at him; other than those that had been shot and survived.
A wanted poster carried the man's face, which had been created using police sketches offered up by the few eyewitnesses. This poster carried the first description of the gunman, stating that he was a white male, between 20 and 25 years old, who stood anywhere between 5'4" and 5'8", and weighed around 180 pounds. He had brown eyes, with dark eyebrows, sandy brown hair, and he was wearing a heavy multicolored jacket, as well as a black or dark blue ski mask, in addition to heavy brogan shoes.
Unfortunately, the police were less-than-positive about the wanted poster being enough to obtain the identity of the gunman. After all, the only two witnesses to the shooting - the victims themselves - had gone through a traumatic and painful ordeal with the culprit. They had been shot by the gunman just moments after seeing him for the first time, and their recollection was spotty at best.
About the wanted poster and the suspect description, Chief Wetherington stated:
"I wouldn't rely totally on it, no."
In addition, shooting survivor Reverend Earl Carter stated:
"I have no idea who got shot first (me or Powell). It happened so fast. If the guy [responsible] was standing next to me, I wouldn't recognize him."
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, it was theorized that the gunman who might have found himself in the area on a temporary basis. After all, the shooting happened nearby a major intersection - right where Interstate 20 and Highway 25 intersect - and there were several thousands of vehicles that traveled through the area on any given day.
This transient theory - which I found in at least two different publications in the aftermath of the violent incident - stated that the gunman might have jumped into the back of a tractor trailer headed out-of-town, perhaps at a nearby truck stop.
This theory, though, was just a theory, and it seems to have been abandoned by investigators entirely.
A few months after the shooting, a psychological profile was created by SLED - the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division - with assistance from the FBI.
This profile stated that the gunman likely lived, worked in, or frequented the area that the shooting took place. This is how he was able to get in and out at least twice, without being noticed by anyone.
This profile also stated that the killer likely had a history of conflict with others, that he had an unpredictable behavior and an explosive temper, that he likely had a criminal history - including possible charges of domestic violence, assault, and/or drug offenses - and that he likely kept up on the case through the media. In which case, he probably tried to deflect blame, or rationalize his crimes, by blaming the victims.
It is also worth noting that police officials stated that they were able to recover forensic evidence from the scene: a DNA sample which they believe belongs to the killer. This sample was submitted to the national database, where it has yet to score a hit.
The investigation into the North Augusta shooting would carry on through the end of 2005, and has continued on for over a decade.
The investigation, which has consumed the time of North Augusta police officers and officials in the North Augusta Department of Public Safety, has received over 300 tips from concerned citizens in the area. At least 12 suspects were thoroughly investigated by detectives; an exhaustive search that led investigators as far away as Delaware and throughout the Midwest.
However, all of these suspects have one thing in common: they were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing by investigators, as their searches always ended up shy of the end-zone.
Detective Tim Thornton told the media:
"It's disappointing. When you're that close and you think you're on to something, but then an alibi comes up that's airtight, it doesn't matter what kind of gut feeling you have, you have to move on.
"Case 2005-2742 will be on my tombstone."
Following the shooting, Reverend Earl Carter struggled to deal with the loss of his good friend, William Powell.
The loss was sudden and tragic, and - like many victims of violent crime - Powell had not been given time to say his goodbyes.
In addition to the emotional toll the shooting took on him, Reverend Carter struggled with his own wound. After all, he had been shot in the throat by the same gunman that killed his friend, and he had to go through several surgeries before he could be discharged from the hospital.
When that day finally came - weeks after the shooting - Carter continued to suffer from nerve damage. He still does, to this day. He constantly struggles to speak, since he lost his tracheotomy, and has to rely on one vocal chord when he talks.
In addition, he also lost half of his eyesight in his right eye.
Despite all of this - the emotional pain and anguish, the countless hours spent in surgery and therapy, etc. - Reverend Carter continues to hold on to his faith. He says that he holds no ill will towards the shooter; in fact, he encourages him to come forward to help relieve his own conscience, and to get right with God. He says that he:
"Never had any animosity, never had any hatred. But the first thing I want to say is that I forgive him, and if he'll repent of his sins, the Lord Jesus Christ will forgive him too."
Reverend Earl Carter continues to work for the clergy, spending his time at the church and working for several charitable causes in the area. He has also spoken out at a number of rallies and religious functions in the community, including in a 2012 anti-violence rally held at Lions Memorial Field, in North Augusta.
Constance Davidson, the first victim to be accosted and shot at by the crazed gunman - on the cold Tuesday morning so many years ago - refused to speak to the press following her release from the hospital. She survived all of her injuries, thankfully, but simply felt like keeping quiet about her ordeal.
Likewise, when it came to the family of murder victim William Powell. His wife of several decades, and his adult daughters - as well as other members of his family - chose not to talk to the press, following the tragic loss of the family's patriarch.
The group of friends that met at the Huddle House every morning - the batch of retirees that jokingly nicknamed themselves the "Board of Directors" - continued to meet up for coffee. According to North Augusta Police Chief Lee Wetherington, these men weren't going to let a shooting get in the way of routine.
"They've been doing this for about 20 years."
However, following the tragic loss of William Powell, this "Board of Directors" decided to move their meetings to another location: at a nearby S&S Truck Stop. They never really spoke much about the tragic loss of their friend, accepting it as a tragic loss that went unspoken.
In 2008, a bridge in Augusta was named after Powell. He had worked for the Department of Transportation for over half of his life, and his former colleagues felt like it was within their power to honor him in some small way. The State Route 104 bridge, which overlooked the scenic Augusta Canal, was named after William "Billy" Powell.
Police officials continued to chase down leads, in what was becoming one of the most high-profile cold cases from the area, but as 2008 came to a close, investigators were less-than-enthusiastic about their future prospects. As Lieutenant Tim Thornton stated:
"One year after it happened, we could continue to ask potential suspects where they were last Thanksgiving. But three years later... it becomes more difficult to say where you were. It's a little more difficult to establish an alibi or even to combat a suspect's alibi now."
The following year - 2009 - saw a modicum of national interest drawn to the story, after it was featured on an episode of "America's Most Wanted." This is when the North Augusta Department of Public Safety - who had been working on the case alongside the local police - reiterated their interest in finding the gunman responsible. John Thomas, the North Augusta Public Safety Chief, said as much.
"When I got here eight months ago, one of the priorities was the Huddle House case.
"We're not going to stop until we solve this thing."
2015 marked the ten-year anniversary of the case. Unlike most anniversaries, this one carried with it a morbid reminder that the crime was still unsolved. Both Earl Carter and Constance Davidson had to live with daily reminders of the terrifying incident they had been a part of, and the family of William Powell remembered the day with a somber reflection of his life.
Lieutenant Tim Thornton, often seen as the driving force of the investigation, told the media that investigators were continuing to follow up leads. He remained hopeful that they would be able to find justice for the victims and their loved ones.
"(The murder) rocked North Augusta. It was a big deal, people still talk to me about it, they want to know what's the latest. I would love for somebody to give me the information that I need."
As of this episodes's recording, a $10,000 reward exists for information that may lead to the apprehension of a suspect. The story of the North Augusta Huddle House Shooting remains unresolved.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Originally published on Patreon on August 10th, 2018
Published on December 30th, 2018