Suicide notes left by Dennis Gerwing acknowledge that he stole money from John and Elizabeth Calvert, the missing Hilton Head Island couple, according to law enforcement sources.
But Gerwing's notes are silent on whether he played any role in the disappearance of the couple, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke to The (Columbia) State newspaper on the condition of anonymity. They were last seen leaving a business meeting with Gerwing the evening of March 3.
Reached late Thursday, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner declined to comment on the new information. A press conference already had been scheduled for 11 a.m. today.
Authorities believe the couple is dead, but have found no physical evidence confirming that, one source told The State.
Investigators here used a cadaver-sniffing dog to search several storage units on Hilton Head on Thursday.
An owner of one of the storage companies said deputies told him they were searching every storage facility on the
island, and an Island Packet reporter later saw the K-9 unit searching another
mid-island storage facility.
Tanner said at a press conference earlier Thursday that investigators have to consider a "worst-case scenario" relating to the disappearance, but it's still classified as a missing persons case. Aerial, K-9 and dive searches are continuing, he said.
John Calvert, 47, and Elizabeth Calvert, 45, met with Gerwing last week to discuss suspicions about business transactions Gerwing was involved in. Gerwing was chief financial officer of The Club Group, which formerly handled some administrative and financial duties for John Calvert's companies. John Calvert owns the company that operates Harbour Town Yacht Basin and another that rents 125 vacation properties.
Elizabeth Calvert, a Savannah business attorney, made notes about her concerns and discussed them with at least one other person, one source told The State.
Investigators have those notes.
The Calverts' cell phones were turned off shortly after their meeting with Gerwing, the sources said.
Gerwing's body was found in a locked bathroom of a villa in Sea Pines at about 4 p.m. Tuesday, some two hours after the Sheriff's Office announced he was a "person of interest" in the case. He'd been staying in the villa because his Hilton Head Plantation home was disheveled after a search by police last weekend. His cars and office were also searched.
An autopsy report said Gerwing had been dead about 12 hours when he was found. His body had a gash across his inner thigh, according to the Sheriff's Office, and multiple knife wounds to the chest, a source told The State.
Authorities are treating it as a self-inflicted death, though they acknowledge the circumstances of the apparent suicide are odd, The State reported.
Thursday's search by the cadaver dog was the latest effort to uncover clues on what Tanner dubbed an "extremely complicated" case that has become a heart-wrenching mystery for the community and captured the attention of the national media.
Bubba Gillis, owner of Cardinal Court Storage, said deputies came to his business Thursday morning. Gillis said the deputies told him they had already checked two other facilities. They asked if Gillis had done any business with the Calverts, Gerwing, The Club Group or its president, Mark King.
Gillis told them he hadn't.
At the press conference, Tanner confirmed some details about Gerwing's apparent suicide, verifying that a knife was used on his inner thigh.
He did not mention the chest wounds.
Tanner said Gerwing had been questioned once, and investigators had tried to set up another interview for last Thursday. Gerwing had retained a lawyer by then and the interview never happened. The Sheriff's Office said Gerwing wasn't cooperating with the investigation, but Tom Gardo, who is handling public relations for The Club Group, called that characterization inaccurate.
"Dennis was cooperating," Gardo said. "All he did was exercise his constitutional right" to an attorney.
Another friend said Gerwing's one interview lasted four or five hours.
Representatives of The Club Group said they had no knowledge of storage units being searched, but that deputies could have done so without first informing them.
Gillis said deputies told him they had searched storage facilities belonging to The Club Group and its associates Wednesday. While deputies waited Thursday at Public Storage on Yacht Cove Drive, a white pickup belonging to The Club Group arrived. After the truck left, a deputy took his leashed Belgian malinois out of his SUV, and the dog began sniffing around.
The Club Group and its president, King, have been cooperating with authorities, said Charles Scarminach, an attorney for the company.
"Anything they've asked for, if they've asked for it, he's given it to them," Scarminach said.
Tanner, at the press conference, also said the company and other people being interviewed are cooperating.
FEW OFFICIAL DETAILS
Thursday was the first time the Sheriff's Office has held a formal press conference about the case.Tanner plans to hold daily briefings from now on. The conference was held mainly to clear up several rumors about the case and to allow the throng of national and local media representatives to ask questions, Tanner said.
Tanner began by saying: "I don't have any additional information to give you other than what has been released in press releases."
The Sheriff's Office has issued three such releases since the Calverts were reported missing March 4 by Elizabeth Calvert's only sibling, brother David White of Decatur, Ga.
Tanner declined to divulge the contents of Gerwing's notes during the press conference.
"All of the evidence is being analyzed and the notes are part of that evidence," he said. "They're being analyzed for content ... as well as fingerprinting and all of the other stuff that needs to be done. I cannot comment on that until we complete the task."
He said Gerwing's death created "challenges, but on the other hand, answers." He did not elaborate.
Investigators, including those with the State Law Enforcement Division and the FBI, are casting a wide net, Tanner said, in the hope of using the process of elimination to solve the case. The FBI was specifically brought in because "it has a longer arm," said Tanner, at one point alluding to the agency's ability to sort through financial information.
"Everyone's of interest," Tanner said. "We have to look at everyone and we have to suspect everything."
Reporters peppered Tanner with questions about the rumors. Among them:
• Reports that Gerwing made a suspicious drug store purchase the night the couple vanished.
• The Calverts were fighting with someone who looked like Gerwing in the parking lot of the Marriott in Palmetto Dunes, where their Mercedes E320 was found.
"It's all part of the investigation," he said in several responses, neither confirming or denying the stories.
Clif LeBlanc of the (Columbia) State contributed to this report.