A year after John and Elizabeth Calvert disappeared, an acquaintance of the man thought to have killed the Hilton Head Island couple remembered an important detail.
The woman had been interviewed by Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigators shortly after March 4, 2008, when the Calverts were reported missing. She was a close friend of Dennis Gerwing, the Calverts' business partner who committed suicide a week after the Calverts were last seen and hours after the Sheriff's Office identified him as a person of interest in the case.
When first interviewed, the woman, who was not identified in the reports, was asked whether Gerwing owned a firearm. She told deputies she didn't think so.
But a year later, she remembered she had given Gerwing a .22-caliber pistol that once belonged to her grandfather and asked him to sell it for her.
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But the two never spoke of the gun again.
The woman's recollection, a year after that initial interview, fit with what investigators already knew. When they had searched Gerwing's Hilton Head Plantation home in March 2008, they found a holster but no pistol.
The witness confirmed the holster was the one that went with the gun she'd given Gerwing.
"That little piece of information was helpful in better coming to some idea of what happened to the Calverts," Sheriff's Office Capt. Bob Bromage said last week. "Little details like that may not seem important to witnesses, but they can lead to something."
COLD CASES HEAT UP
The Calverts' disappearance is among 30 Beaufort County "cold cases" -- active cases in which all leads have been exhausted.
A new effort to jog memories that might help investigators solve old crimes -- or at least get them closer to cracking cases -- was started in August. The Sheriff's Office is focusing on cold cases on the anniversary of the suspected crimes, using email notifications and social media to get the word out.
"Cold cases are challenging and frustrating," Bromage said. "You don't hear (about) a lot of cold cases being solved."
Sheriff P.J. Tanner was first elected in 1998, and his campaign included a pledge to revisit cold cases using new technology and investigative methods. He appointed Bromage to be the office's traumatic-death investigator the following year.
Since then, two cold-case murders have been solved and two offenders convicted.
The first was a murder from 1988.
On March 15 of that year, Bluffton resident Bertha Neaman, 63, was fatally shot three times during a robbery while she was delivering newspapers on Hilton Head. Her body was found behind a church on Spanish Wells Road.
The case quickly went cold.
Bromage reopened it in 1999.
Interviews with three witnesses, all of whom were prison inmates, uncovered new information.
Eckerin Frazier, originally a person of interest in the murder, had told two of those witnesses that he was the killer, Bromage said.
Subsequent interviews with Frazier led police to charge him with murder, Bromage said in 2001. On May 23 of that year, Frazier pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The second case involved the 1995 murder of Charles Godley.
The St. Helena Island resident was clubbed to death in his home Jan. 15 of that year.
In 2004, the State Law Enforcement Division began an undercover investigation in Columbia, where Richard Simmons Jr., a person of interest, was living on the streets.
A SLED agent befriended Simmons and gained his confidence, leading to a video-taped confession in which Simmons described killing a man with a hammer, a detail only the killer would know.
"It was textbook undercover work that had a one-in-a-million shot of working," Bromage said. "But it did."
On Nov. 17, 2006, Simmons was found guilty of murder by a jury and sentenced to life in prison by Beaufort County Circuit Court Judge Roger Young.
'OUTSIDE THE BOX'
Another cold-case effort continues.
In 2010, the volunteer Cold Case Committee -- made up of retired lawyers, medical pathologists and detectives -- was created to review cold cases and offer investigative suggestions.
"They're thinking outside of the box," Bromage said. "It's always good to get an extra set of eyes on a case. It's a check and balance to ensure all possibilities are put forward."
The Calvert case was the first the committee reviewed. The group confirmed that all leads had been exhausted.
"It just reassures that the best foot was put forward, and we covered all the possible leads we could have," Bromage said.
The Calverts were declared dead in 2009, though their bodies have not been found. Investigators believe Gerwing, an accountant, killed them in a dispute over financial irregularities.
But that's not enough to close the case, and the Sheriff's Office will continue investigating it along with the other 29 cold cases.
"No case is closed until we solve it," Bromage said.
Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.