Police: Suspect in Hollywood disappearance being investigated for Bluffton homicide

rlurye@islandpacket.comMay 14, 2014 

Police are investigating whether forensic evidence connects a man in custody in Charleston to the homicide of a 70-year-old Bluffton woman.

Capt. Joseph Manning of the Bluffton Police Department said authorities are "looking very hard" at Jerry Lee Manigault, 53, of Hollywood in the death of Polly Ann Mitchell, who was found in her home at 168 Buck Island Road at about 3 p.m. Monday.

Manigault is a suspect in the disappearance of 77-year-old Julia Mudgett of Hollywood, whose car was found submerged Monday in Ridgeland, according to a Charleston County Sheriff's Office news release.

Manning said investigators have compared notes on the Bluffton woman's killing and the Hollywood woman's disappearance and determined the cases are linked.

Several witnesses told police they saw Manigault near Mitchell's home Monday morning, and Mudgett's 2002 Hyundai Elantra was spotted on Buck Island Road just before Mitchell's death, Manning said. The car was found about 4:30 p.m. underwater near a boat landing on Tuten Landing Road.

Manigault was arrested Monday in Bluffton near Buck Island and Tower roads, by the Charleston County Sheriff's Office and U.S. Marshals Service, Manning said. He was picked up on a charge of failure to re-register as a sex offender, according to the jail log, a status Manigault gained after he was convicted of the kidnapping of a 20-year-old woman in 1997, according to the registry.

Manigault is from Hollywood, a small town near Charleston and about an 80-mile drive northeast of Bluffton. He has relatives on Simmonsville Road and Buck Island Road and frequents Bluffton, Manning said.

"We're looking very hard at him," Manning said. "But if through investigation and forensics, we find he's not our suspect, we're going to keep looking. We're not solely focusing on him."

Manigault was transported Monday from Beaufort County to a jail in Charleston, where he remained Wednesday, according to the jail log.

He has not been charged in connection with Mudgett's May 6 disappearance. Charleston County deputies renewed their search near her Hollywood home Wednesday, department spokesman Eric Watson said.

"We don't have any indication she's out there, but we're just back-tracking our steps," Watson said.

Watson declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.

Manning said he could not provide additional information, including Mitchell's cause of death, though he said Tuesday there were signs of a struggle in her home.

Mitchell's homicide saddened friends and relatives, many of whom were also neighbors. Shontelle Black, 40, said her great-aunt was a giving woman who "wouldn't hurt a fly."

"Words can't even express," Black said. "Will justice be served for her death? No, it won't. It won't bring her back. It won't change anything.

"Buck Island Road will never be the same."

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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