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Jan. 6, 1980
Shortly after midnight
Off Old Salem Road
Just outside Beaufort
Beaufort County Sheriff’s Deputy David Collins was the first to respond.
As he would soon learn, two teenagers had been on a date and were parked on a dirt road a few miles from downtown Beaufort at what was then a secluded spot well known to the young and amorous.
The couple had been spending the last moments of curfew listening to music and snuggling when an unknown man came out of the darkness.
But dispatch didn’t give Collins many details.
He was told only that there was a “gunshot and rape victim.”
He had no idea who had been shot, who had been raped, and, according to his handwritten report about the events that precipitated his actions that night, he had absolutely no clue who had done the shooting.
He knew only what was in front of his face.
The facts, as he understood them at the time, were these:
A silver van was pulled onto a side road.
The van’s dome light was on.
The radio was still playing.
A woman was there.
A man too.
The man had a shotgun.
And when the man with the shotgun saw Collins, he started to yell at him.
“Call an ambulance!”
After radioing in the request, Collins got out of his car and made one more observation.
The man was extraordinarily angry and using his weapon to punctuate his ranting.
“Where’s the victim?” Collins asked.
The man continued to rave.
“In the van,” the woman said.
Collins could see a person slumped in the driver’s seat.
The man turned to Collins.
“I’LL KILL THE SON OF A BITCH.”
Then he started cursing the deputy.
Collins ordered him to calm down.
“Put the gun away!”
This agitated the man more.
He grabbed Collins by the arm and tried to throw the deputy against his own patrol car.
Collins fought the man and disarmed him.
“You’re under arrest!”
In the meantime, two more deputies had arrived.
Deputy Lee Harris ran over to help Collins.
The man raged, and the three struggled.
Finally the two deputies subdued him.
They got him into the back of a patrol car, and Harris carted the man off to the Beaufort County Jail.
Collins stayed at the scene.
It was only then, according to his report, that he learned the man’s name.
“That was Johnny Weed,” Sgt. Dan Courtney told him.
“The rape victim’s father.”
Johnny Weed had aged ruggedly in the Beaufort air.
By 1980, at 44 years old, he bore a premature likeness to Ernest Hemingway well beyond his “Old Man and the Sea” days.
But Johnny’s countenance at a glance was warmer, softer, less prone to grandiosity.
He and his wife, Marie, had come to Beaufort in 1959 from the outskirts of Columbia, by way of Charleston.
With just $500 and a pickup truck, they opened Carolina Moving and Storage, off Robert Smalls Parkway in Beaufort, and lived in a small trailer until business grew.
Johnny, having grown up with not a dime, took pride in his business’ success and in being able to provide for his family.
As such, he was prone to spoiling his two daughters.
They attended Beaufort Academy. They had a roomy but modest waterfront home, a swimming pool, a horse named Monkey that Susan rode on the weekends and extra money for annual trips to Florida in the family’s motor home.
Most importantly, though, Marie and the girls felt cared for; they felt safe.
It was that last part Johnny would spend the rest of his life trying to restore.
In the months after an unknown man raped Johnny’s youngest girl, 15-year-old Susan, and killed Susan’s boyfriend on Old Salem Road, Johnny did what he could to lessen his family’s fears by whatever measure he could.
Day after day kept passing without an arrest.
Did the man know Susan had gone to the police after she said she wouldn’t? Did he know who the Weeds were? Would he come for them?
Susan hadn’t gotten a good look at the man. Among the few details she could give deputies were that he was black, in his 20s and about 5’7” with a short afro. He was calm and collected. He wore a shiny dark coat and dark-colored pants. He smoked Kool cigarettes.
Over the next year, Johnny took out more than a dozen ads in The Beaufort Gazette, promising a $3,000 reward to anyone who had information that would lead investigators to the man.
Johnny gave Susan a pistol to keep in the glove compartment of her car. She kept it closer, under her seat.
He also had most of the windows in their home covered with lined curtains so Susan could roam freely in the house after sunset — so the unknown man could not watch her from the inky darkness beyond the glass.
Just as he had done outside her boyfriend’s van that night.
One day after school, Susan got a call from her sister, who was at the warehouse.
“Come by here,” Deborah said. “Dad wants to talk to you.”
“I don’t really want to,” Susan said.
“You need to come down here,” Deborah said. “Now. Come down now.”
There, in the parking lot, Susan was greeted by a new sports car — a year-old blue Trans-Am with a T-top that Johnny had bought her to cheer her up.
The car was cool and Susan had great fun tooling around Beaufort in it, Kobi riding shotgun — a reminder of what had happened and a warning not to get too close.
Johnny’s generosity extended beyond his family, as well, something his future son-in-law would find out time and again whenever people in Beaufort learned he was related to the Weed family.
“Everybody thought a lot of him,” Rob Neal, Susan’s husband, said recently. “They’d tell me how good a guy he was and how he’d do just about anything for you.”
Johnny was known to walk around his warehouse and randomly hand out hundred dollar bills to employees or give them loans, not really keeping track of when — or if — they repaid the money.
When a friend down the road hit a rough patch and wasn’t sure his mobile home business would survive the year, Johnny assured him, “As long as I’m alive, that won’t happen.”
On the night of Jan. 5, 1980, after he had been jarred awake by his wife to find that his daughter had been raped, Johnny told Marie to call the sheriff’s department and take Susan — crying and out of breath from sprinting home to get help for her dying boyfriend — to the hospital.
He pulled on pants and, with his shotgun, drove the seven-tenths of a mile to the spot on Old Salem Road where it had happened.
“He was going to kill the guy who killed David,” Marie said recently. “I’m sure of it.”
On that dirt road, frantic and wild with anger, Johnny yelled at a deputy to act faster.
Get an ambulance out here.
Put up roadblocks.
Surround the city and get the guy who did this.
On that dirt road and utterly helpless, Johnny’s life had changed completely. He was now a father whose child had been inexplicably and profoundly harmed.
After his arrest that night and for the next three years — as he was slowly wasting away from the cancer that had taken up residence in his bones in 1979 — he trusted that Sheriff Morgan McCutcheon and Beaufort County investigators would find the man.
Then on Jan. 16, 1983, at age 47, Johnny died.
The mystery of who had done this to his daughter had outlived him.
Also surviving him was the theory that he, Johnny Weed, was the one who had murdered 18-year-old David Krulewicz.
That Johnny didn’t like David.
That David was too poor and hardly good enough for Johnny’s daughter.
That Johnny had caught David having sex with Susan in that van.
That Johnny had lost his temper.
That Susan was lying about all of it to protect her father.
And that the sheriff was covering this up for a friend.
‘David is dead’
Jan. 6, 1980
Sometime after 4 a.m.
A trailer on Coosaw Island
Robert Rutland searched for his son’s car keys.
He knew what he was about to tell the 18-year-old would change things forever.
He knew the grief would be tremendous.
That it would likely send Carl, blind from sadness and still hazy from last night’s partying, straight into the woods, armed and on a hunt for revenge.
David Krulewicz had been Carl Rutland’s very best friend since elementary school.
The two were always up for an adventure.
They hitchhiked home from school. They once rode brakeless bicycles all the way to Savannah and back. They had matching silver shark tooth necklaces from Avon. When they grew older, they fixed up cars together and survived flipping David’s Mustang convertible while testing it on an open dirt road. They went to see Ted Nugent and Lynyrd Skynyrd together. They worked as shrimpers. They worked for Carl’s father at Rutland Heating and Air. For a little while, they even lived together in Carl’s grandmother’s old trailer.
Carl was usually where David was. David was usually where Carl was.
“They were two peas in a pod,” Susan said of the teenagers. “They were crazy. Oh God!”
Carl and David knew each other so well, she said, that one time, when she and David were driving on Sams Point Road near Beaufort Academy — back when it was nothing more than a two-lane country road — David spotted a car up ahead coming toward them in the other lane.
As the cars approached each other, and without a word to Susan, David switched lanes.
The other driver did the same thing at that exact moment.
When the two cars passed each other and returned to their proper lanes, Susan realized it had been Carl in the other car.
“That really freaked me out. Those idiots!” Susan laughed remembering it.
Carl Rutland’s heart was about to be broken.
He had planned to meet up with David after Susan’s curfew. The two were going to hang out at The Looking Glass, a club on Ribaut Road where they used to laugh at the drunks and newbies who occasionally crashed into the reflection of a door on the back mirrored wall.
But Carl had tapped out early.
When Carl’s father found the car keys, he hid them.
Then he awakened his son and said the words that to this day renew Carl’s anguish.
David had been shot three times, in the head, neck and arm, with a .32 caliber handgun.
He was pronounced dead at 12:18 a.m. at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, where he had been taken by EMS.
Susan was at the hospital when she found out.
In her head, though, she had already known.
She had seen her boyfriend struggle through breaths. She had seen his eyelids drooping, his body seizing.
But in her heart, she had hoped help had gotten to him in time.
She was devastated.
“If there was any life in him at all, I wanted them to find it,” she said recently. “I was just so in love with him and I just wanted him to be OK.”
At the hospital, Dr. John Fontana examined Susan and collected evidence from her.
Too shaken to hold a pen, she sat on the exam table with David’s blood still on her face and body, a sheet pulled over her and her knees drawn to her chin while Faye Heslin, the sheriff’s department’s sole female deputy at the time, took her statement, writing down what had happened as if she, Heslin, were Susan.
“He layed the gun down on the ground about 5 feet from us but I didn’t try to reach for it because I was afraid he was going to kill me.”
A few miles from the hospital and sometime around 2:30 a.m., Diane Larsen, one of David’s two older sisters, was receiving the news.
She had stayed up late watching “Orca” and had been sitting in the dark by her window when she saw their brother Danny, who lived across from Diane and her husband on Lady’s Island, get into a deputy’s car.
She saw her sister-in-law walking toward her.
Diane, just 20 at the time, went to the door.
Her sister-in-law delivered the news.
“David’s been shot. He didn’t—. He’s dead. He’s dead.”
Everything after that went blank for Diane.
She hardly remembers the funeral.
“There were a lot of people. “
Or the days after when friends and neighbors filtered into her mother and stepfather’s home.
Or sitting around the kitchen table, crying as a Gazette reporter interviewed her family.
“I just kind of shut down,” she said.
Diane remembers the pain.
She also remembers feeling kept in the dark about the investigation.
And like no one cared about catching her younger brother’s killer.
“David would have never done this to anybody or anything,” she said recently from her Bluffton home. “He wasn’t shot because he was trying to steal from somebody or trying to rape somebody. He was shot because he was in the way of a monster.”
‘Nobody gives a damn’
Just outside Beaufort
Carl Rutland drove down Old Salem Road.
He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he scanned the woods and the road anyway.
The killer himself returning to the scene?
Every day for a long time after David’s murder, David’s best friend traveled down that road — on his way to a job, on his way home from a job.
“For anything I could find,” Carl said recently.
He wasn’t the only one who wanted to help police catch the killer.
Calls poured in from the community.
A man came into the Pantry Store tonight covered in blood and saying he needed a beer. He didn’t even seem distraught.
Was that the killer?
This guy Chris has been talking about white women and he wears dark-colored clothing all the time.
Was it him?
A neighbor walking a dog found a pillowcase with a stain on it near the scene.
Is this blood? Does this have anything to do with the murder?
Danny Krulewicz, David’s older brother, searched the area too.
He found a hypodermic needle and a T-shirt.
How about these? Do they hold the answer as to who killed David and raped Susan?
Less than a week after the crime, the sheriff’s department received a break in two other murders, of Jack and Mable Hollis in Burton, that had occurred on Christmas Eve.
Someone had responded to The Beaufort Gazette’s offer of a $1,000 reward for information, and deputies were tipped off. They arrested three suspects, two of whom later pleaded guilty to the crime.
Was one of them David’s killer too?
That there was another murderer on the loose in Beaufort County sent the community over the edge.
Local gun shops reported an immediate increase in weapons sales, and there were so many people seeking help from local law enforcement to set up watch groups that there was a waiting list.
In one neighborhood on Lady’s Island, 11 retired generals took shifts patrolling the streets.
The Gazette, in an editorial at the time, sought to keep pressure firmly applied on the sheriff’s department: “Now that the suspects in the Hollis murders are behind bars, awaiting trial, the department can concentrate more on solving the Saturday night murder of young David Krulewicz and the rape of his girlfriend.”
“He got real tired of that,” Polson said of Wagner, chuckling.
Weeks passed with no credible leads.
Then more weeks passed.
“I just didn’t want things to fade away,” Fortenberry, who left the paper later that year, said recently.
In May, Wagner, head of the sheriff’s department’s eight-man detective squad, said he would have an outside police agency look at the case if the evidence came back from the state lab without providing a break.
“It’s sort of the forest and the tree approach. We may have been so close to it that there’s something we’ve missed,” he said.
Nearly eight months after the crime, Wagner told the Gazette that the department had interviewed more than 100 people in connection with the case — some more than eight times.
He was puzzled by something, though: Why had the suspect released Susan?
Why did he kill David but not her?
It wasn’t just a curiosity that a detective would naturally ponder in an investigation, it was a question on the minds of town gossips who saw Susan’s survival as proof that Johnny Weed was the real killer and that he had, of course, spared his own child in his murderous rage.
The Krulewicz family was aware of that rumor.
So were detectives.
“Until the day I retired, I had rumors,” Wagner, one of the only surviving sheriff’s department detectives from that time, said recently from his home in Alabama.
Right away, investigators had ruled out Johnny as a suspect. In May of that year, Wagner, perhaps speaking to the dozens of callers who continued to urge the department to investigate Johnny, told the paper, “There is no evidence whatsoever to indicate at this time that any relatives of any of the families of the victims committed the murder of Krulewicz.”
On Aug. 26, 1980, however, the department paid $150 to David M. Renzelman of Professional Polygraph Services on Parris Island to administer the test to Susan and perhaps attempt to end any lingering internal speculation that she was covering for her father.
Did you lie when you said that black man forced you to have sex with him?
Do you know for sure who shot David?
Did you lie when you said you gave that black man $50?
Did you intentionally lie about any of the events that happened that night?
Do you suspect anyone in particular of shooting David?
Do you know for sure who shot David?
Did you shoot David?
“It is my opinion that she was truthful in her answers,” Renzelman wrote to Wagner a few days later.
The sheriff’s department continued to be stumped.
“We are no further today in identifying the suspect that committed this heinous crime than the day it happened,” Wagner told the Gazette on Sept. 1, 1980.
Around that same time, Polson had visited David’s family.
David’s mother, Betty McKenzie, and David’s stepfather, Hank, were frustrated.
“Each time detectives make arrests for lesser crimes like armed robbery or theft of an outboard motor, they become more so,” Polson wrote in the Gazette.
Betty was especially upset about a robbery that had occurred at SCE&G in Columbia two months after her son was killed.
“They called in the bloodhounds,” she told Polson. “A child gets killed and they don’t. They seem to have such funny priorities in this town. (They) said there was nothing there to give them a scent, but surely there must have been a scent on the ground. Surely the girl must have had the scent of the man on her.”
Betty told the reporter that her family felt truly alone in this.
“I just don’t feel they’re doing anything,” she said of the sheriff’s department. “If they are, they’re not letting me know. It seems my son has been murdered and nobody gives a damn but me and my family.”
Sheriff McCutcheon denied any such a notion.
The detectives, he said at the time, were handling 80 to 110 cases a month. Victims of grand larcenies, he told the paper, deserve his department’s attention too.
“Until we catch the culprit, convict him and sentence him to jail, she’ll never believe we’ve done anything,” he told Polson. “This case isn’t dead. It’s never going to be dead. Just this week there was some effort expended on it. But we won’t stand and beat our heads against a wall. We need something to go on. Patience is the name of the game.”
For Betty, however, the call for patience was nothing more than an excuse.
Or maybe it was a cover-up.
The man who had killed her child was out there and he was probably right under all their noses.
“Somebody has to know something,” she told Polson.
“He couldn’t have materialized out of thin air and disappeared.”
The birthday party
April 19, 1980
Valerie Lincoln* was at a birthday party for a friend when her sisters and cousins decided they wanted to go to the Disco Club at Waterama, a motel on Robert Trask Parkway in Grays Hill, now long-closed and reclaimed by nature.
Though Valerie was just 15 years old at the time, she went along with them.
A man in his 20s whom the older girls knew, drove them there.
“I want to go home,” she said.
The man who had driven them there said he was leaving too.
“I can take her.”
Valerie lived with her mother and sister in Laurel Bay, about 6 miles from the club.
But the man drove right past the entrance to the development.
“I’m hungry,” he told Valerie. “I’m going to get me something at Burger King.”
The man ordered his food and then drove around Burton with the frightened girl in his car.
He went down a dirt road.
He closed his eyes and sat there for a while — just like that, as if going to sleep.
Then, without explanation, he started the car again.
He took Valerie to another dirt road, this one off Broad River Boulevard, near where the school bus depot is, 3 miles from Old Salem Road.
He parked again.
This time, he pulled out a silver revolver.
He put it on the center console. Then he jumped on the teenager.
He kissed and pawed at her.
She fought him.
She opened the car door.
The man chased her. He grabbed her. He forced her into the back of his car. He pulled off her pants. He pulled off her underwear.
He raped her.
Around 4:20 a.m., the man brought the teenager back to her house.
As they pulled through the security gate and passed the military police at Laurel Bay, Valerie remembers being scared that something would happen.
But the man took her home without incident — dropping her off as one might do after a date.
Valerie’s sister took her to Beaufort Memorial Hospital, where Valerie told deputies the name of the man who had raped her.
In the three months that had passed since David Krulewicz was murdered and Susan Weed raped, the sheriff’s department had looked at 17 possible suspects, according to the nearly 400-page investigation.
One was a man known to drive around with a .38 in his glove box. One was among three unknown black men who had laughed and pointed a gun at a white drunk driver at a stop sign. Another was a man who was “neat and clean and talks like he has a good education.” Another had gotten fired from Revco Drug Store for touching women after getting fired from Burger King for stealing.
Yet another was reported by his fellow students at Beaufort Technical School because he “stared and gazed which gave them a creepy feeling.”
According to a witness statement, this particular man, a Marine, could very well be the killer/rapist based on these clues: “He sits in class flipping pages loudly and has very loudly once asked a question about a subject that everyone had finished discussing. That scared or shocked everyone into nervous laughter and for a second even the teacher didn’t know what to say. But he hardly ever comes to class, and although most people carry quite a load of books I have never seen him with more than one book at a time.”
All told, the sheriff’s department would develop at least 34 possible suspects over two years — just about every one of them prompted by outside tips.
The man who Valerie Lincoln had identified as her rapist in April 1980, however, was not among the men they ever questioned.
He should have been.
* The name Valerie Lincoln is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the victim.
Click here to read the next installment of “Monster Unknown.”
Reporter Liz Farrell began following the Beaufort County cold case after Isaiah Gadson was arrested for the 1980 murder and rape in 2016. The resulting series, “Monster Unknown,” is the culmination of more than 100 interviews, dozens of hours of archival research, a year of attending cold case committee presentations at the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, as well as shadowing Maj. Bob Bromage, a cold case detective with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, and Hunter Swanson, the lead prosecutor of the special victims unit at the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, as they prepared for Gadson’s trial. Dialog is based on the reporter’s firsthand observations, primary accounts of past events, video, audio, newspaper articles, letters, text messages, as well as sheriff’s office investigators’ reports and written statements from the original case files.