Originally created 11/19/96

Millworker suspected of killing his son and three stepchildren



LAURENS, S.C. - A millworker suspected of murdering his son and three stepchildren left a profane note to his estranged wife before apparently killing himself on Monday, police said.

"Basically it told her to have a Merry Christmas, used some profanity and said she would be alone in '97," Laurens Police Chief Robin Morse said.

Johnny Satterwhite, 37, also asked his employer Friday to remove Bertha Satterwhite as beneficiary of his life insurance policy, Chief Morse said.

A county worker came across Mr. Satterwhite's truck near a dump about 9 a.m. Monday. His body was pulled from a pond just after 2 p.m., less than 24 hours after the children's bodies were discovered by Mrs. Satterwhite in the family's home just north of Laurens, Laurens County Coroner Zack Seymour said.

Mr. Seymour said Mr. Satterwhite died early Monday, although no cause of death had been determined. Chief Morse said there were no apparent wounds on the body and nothing indicated foul play. An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday.

The bodies of Mr. Satterwhite's son, 10-year-old Christopher, and his three stepchildren, 13-year-old Johnny Gary, 14-year-old Terrance Gary and 16-year-old Mary Gary, were found late Sunday after Mrs. Satterwhite was called by a mutual friend of the couple, Chief Morse said.

The friend told her Mr. Satterwhite had left four packages for her to pick up at home, Chief Morse said.

The boys had each been shot twice in the head and the girl was shot three times, Chief Morse said. They were found lying in their beds, he said.

Chief Morse did not know an exact time of death but said the children could have been killed as early as Thursday since they were not at school Friday.

After searching the house, State Law Enforcement Division agents found a .22-caliber revolver, which was bought Thursday at a local pawn shop, along with a box of low-noise bullets.

Authorities also found Mr. Satterwhite's note to his wife in the living room of their small one-story brick and wood house.

Chief Morse said a preliminary investigation indicated the couple had been having marital problems, but officers had never been called to the home.

The couple, married about 12 years, had been separated at least a week, Chief Morse said.

Neighbors remember seeing Mr. Satterwhite often playing sports with his sons and tussling with his children in their yard.

"It's unbelievable, because you see them all the time," said Helen Turner, who lives next door.

"That man would get out there in that yard over there and wrestle with those little boys. You couldn't ask for a better father," Ms. Turner said.

She said she heard shots Thursday or Friday night, but thought nothing of it because many neighbors own guns and often target shoot.

Mr. Satterwhite was last seen Friday when he met with the personnel director at the nearby mill where he worked.

Mr. Satterwhite's father, Luther Evans, 62, said he last saw his son two weeks ago, but said Mr. Satterwhite did not indicate he was having any family problems.

"I seen the children with him all the time," Mr. Evans said. "He's a great father to those children."

Mr. Evans said the children spent more time with Mr. Satterwhite than with their mother.