A well-known Pritchardville woman was killed Wednesday morning by a man she and her family had been helping, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
Melanie Lowther, 60, was found dead in her business, which is operated out of a home on Barefoot Alley. She was discovered at about 8 a.m. by her daughter.
Officers believe Lowther caught the man burglarizing the business, and he hit her on the head with a metal object. He was living in a nearby camper the Lowther family had helped him obtain, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Walter William Glass, 41, was arrested at the camper he was living in at Stoney Crest Campground on charges of murder, armed robbery and burglary soon after Lowther's body was discovered, Sheriff's Office Capt. Bob Bromage said. Deputies also recovered money and jewelry believed to be owned by the Lowthers.
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Bromage said the murder weapon appears to be a nail remover, which resembles a small crowbar, that was found in the camper.
Glass was identified as a suspect after a witness spotted him on May River Road at about the time of the killing, which occurred between 7 and 8 a.m.
"It would appear that she caught him in the commission of a burglary," Bromage said. Bromage said Lowther did not live at the home/business.
Sheriff P.J. Tanner, who grew up near the victim and knew her most of his life, called the crime a "very tragic, brutal homicide" and a "sad day for Pritchardville."
Lowther helped run Collins Septic Tank Service with her husband, Barry, and her extended family. In a 2009 profile of Barry Lowther in The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, he said his wife wasn't afraid to lend a hand, even on night calls.
"She's a good wife," Barry Lowther was quoted as saying. "She doesn't mind helping me."
Tanner said the Lowthers knew the "down-on-his-luck" suspect and tried to help him by setting him up in a camper so he could live in the campground.
"They were trying to do what Barry and Melanie have always done, which is trying to help people," said Tanner, who spent much of the day at the crime scene. "Both of them have hearts the size of Beaufort County, and they are always trying to reach out and help people, and this guy took advantage of it."
Friends, family and neighbors gathered Wednesday morning near the entrance of Barefoot Alley, which intersects May River Road, after news of the crime spread. They consoled one another and spoke with investigators who gathered evidence.
Early Wednesday afternoon, a female neighbor who stopped to ask what had happened left the scene in tears.
Postal worker Molly Merritt also broke down upon hearing the news. She came to know Lowther from delivering her mail.
"She was always so kind," Merritt said, "just a pleasant spirit."
Bromage said the investigation continues and did not rule out additional charges.
"There is a possibility someone else is involved, but it is believed he acted alone in the burglary and robbery and murder. It does not appear anybody else was actually at the incident location," he said.
Bromage would not say if Glass had confessed to the crime.
Lowther's body has been taken to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. The cause of death appears to be blunt-force trauma to the head with a metal object, according to a Sheriff's Office news release. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday.
Glass is being held at Beaufort County Detention Center without bail.
A bond hearing on the burglary and armed robbery charges is expected at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, according to 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone. However, magistrates cannot set bond for murder charges, which must be set by circuit court judges.
Stone said he does not expect a circuit court hearing to occur Thursday. Glass will be held in the jail at least until the bond hearing on the murder charge.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.