AIKEN -- The macadam road that is Kedron Church Road stretches to nowhere in particular, ending in a dirt road just beyond the highway overpass.
The rutted drive that leads off this rural road to Janice Wessinger's now, padlocked, blue clapboard house eases and dips through the woods. A car would bump and scrape along for a bit longer than a tenth of a mile.
Quiet, rustic and isolated, the home is a surprise in the woodsy clearing. A small rivulet of water rolls down rocks in a pond off the back porch. There are a handful of rusted farm implements decorating the property, bird houses and a weathered, gray swing hooked between two trees. An azalea bush is in bloom.
In the winter months when the foliage is sparse, the Rev. Bill Archer said glimpses of his former friend's house can be seen from the road, which is off Wire Road about 12 miles or so from Aiken. Other times it's not visible at all, tucked away out of sight.
It was near Thanksgiving when Mrs. Wessinger's partially clad body was found by two deacons of the Central Baptist Church. They were part of a search party scouring the area for signs of the 47-year-old church pianist.
Police said she was stabbed to death. She was found a little before 9 a.m. within less than a mile from her home, not far from her driveway.
Her hair was in curlers, something that surprised the Rev. Archer, who said he remembered Mrs. Wessinger being very careful of her appearance at all times.
His wife, Shirley, said, "She never wanted anyone to see her when she wasn't pretty and had make-up."
The Rev. Archer said many times when he phoned about a visit, she would say, "Oh, can you give me a minute to get the curlers out of my hair."
Where her body was found was so close to home it would be hard to know if she had just set off on her morning jog or was coming back, the Rev. Archer said.
Relatives told him that Mrs. Wessinger was getting in shape for a family ski trip to Colorado. He identified the body with family members, an experience he can't shake.
"I know she had to go through Hell to get to Heaven," the Rev. Archer said.
More than four months later, no arrest has been made. A trust fund set up to collect donations for a reward is far short of the $10,000 friends and neighbors hoped to get.
To date the Palmetto Federal Savings Bank is holding $2,038.60, the Rev. Archer said.
"We don't have nearly what we thought we'd get," said Hazel Robinson, who suggested the trust fund.
The idea that with enough money a private investigator might be hired is fading. But Mrs. Robinson said she is still hopeful the police can solve the case.
"We don't need to criticize," Mrs. Robinson said. "But I think people in the neighborhood are just baffled that it's taken so long to get results."
The Rev. Archer said people haven't stopped thinking about the murder.
"It was something traumatic here," he said. "They haven't talked about it much but they haven't gotten over it."
He said he catches glimpses of what worries neighbors in occasional comments from his church members. Like that from a woman who has been widowed for 20 years and tells him now that for the first time she has to look over her shoulder, fearing the unexpected.
The Rev. Archer still remembers the day he met Mrs. Wessinger. It was Jan. 1, 1995.
Gene Seigler, former music director for Central Baptist, told him that Mrs. Wessinger, a petite, neatly groomed woman, looked exactly like a pianist.
Indeed she was.
And, the Rev. Archer said she began playing the piano for the church in February of that year. She was an excellent pianist, he said, one of the best Central Baptist has had.
Recently, the church dedicated a new electronic piano in memory of Mrs. Wessinger, Mr. Seigler and church member Jordan Seigler.
"She was always a lady," the Rev. Archer said.
Four years ago Diane Pollin was styling hair on a Thursday at the New Attitude Beauty Salon when a customer came in and asked her about a shooting in the graveyard behind her house. The customer said she heard they found someone dead.
Ms. Pollin hadn't seen her son since Wednesday morning, which was unusual, she said.
"I called (his brother) Allan and asked if he'd seen him. He said no. I called my mother and asked if she'd seen him. She said no," recalled Ms. Pollin, a single mother. "The next thing I remember is I was driving to the hospital."
She found her 20-year-old son at Aiken Regional Medical Centers on life support. He had been shot once in the head and found by a maintenance worker in Bethany Cemetery.
Ms. Pollin decided to take him off life support, and he died Oct. 6, 1994.
Christopher sang tenor in the church choir and often played basketball in the neighborhood. He was finishing his high school diploma and considering a career in the Army, following in the footsteps of his grandfather.
Christopher had been convicted of simple larceny in December '93 and discharging a firearm within city limits in January '94, but police don't describe him as a troublemaker.
"It was shocking to everybody," Ms. Pollin said. "Now they don't mention it unless I do."
Police still give her updates and ask for information, but these days she usually has to call them. She provides them with tips when she can find them. A month after the shooting, she went through the woods near where her son was found looking for clues, even though she knew the police already scoured them.
Two weeks after she buried her oldest son, Ms. Pollin received a phone call from a woman claiming to be mother of Christopher's son. It took her another two weeks to get over the shock and see the child, she said.
When she first met her grandson DuShon, she thought he was "a big old fat baby," bearing little resemblance to her son. His mother was a woman Christopher had been seeing but was not close to when he was killed. It wasn't until she saw some of DuShon's early baby pictures that Ms. Pollin began to see a resemblance.
"With the way he looked and the poses he made, I began to see Chris in that baby," she said.
Today, DuShon is 4 years old and a darling of the Pollin family. Christopher's brother Allan is finishing high school and considering going to Aiken Tech. And Ms. Pollin, after working as a beautician for 12 years, starts her new career as a truck driver this week. Since her son died, she has needed to keep busy, she said. She remains optimistic about her son's case.
"I know it's gonna break eventually. I don't know why I feel it, I just feel it," she said.
-- Oswald Strachan, 34, was found shot to death near Bettis Academy and Fields Cemetery roads in north Aiken County by a group of horseback riders Feb. 28. Mr. Strachan, a native of the Bahamas, had lived at several locations in the United States including the Washington area. Police haven't given a motive or reason why Mr. Strachan was in the area.
-- Janice Mixson Wessinger, 47, was found stabbed to death Nov. 23 in a wooded area near her Kedron Church road home by two deacons of her church as they helped in a search for the missing woman. Relatives reported she went for an early morning jog Nov. 22. A trust fund was established by concerned friends and neighborhoods at Palmetto Federal Savings Bank to collect money for a reward. Donations may still be sent.
-- Christopher Pollin, 20, of the 100 block of Chesterfield Street, was found Oct. 4, 1994. He had been shot in the head in the Jewish Cemetery adjacent to Bethany Cemetery on Hampton Avenue. He later died at Aiken Regional Medical Centers.
-- Mary Fields, 51, of the College Acres neighborhood, was found beaten to death in a shallow grave in a field in Montmorenci on July 29, 1993. Byron Barnes, a neighbor, was arrested and charged with murder in connection with her death days later. However, Mr. Barnes, who has maintained his innocence, was never indicted, and charges were dropped against him for lack of evidence in 1997. Mrs. Fields' family offered a $2,000 reward in October for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Mrs. Fields' killer.
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