BARNWELL - Barnwell County authorities are seeking clues in a baffling case that looked like a natural death until embalmers found a bullet hole in the dead man's head.
That bullet, recovered in an autopsy, is the only evidence that Deacon Charlie Evan Burroughs ever made an enemy in the 78 years he lived, Sheriff Joey Zorn said Friday.
"He was a good man, well respected in the community," said the sheriff, who is so frustrated by the lack of leads that he is digging into his own pocket to offer a reward for information that leads to the killer.
"I haven't decided how much it will be, but I am willing to make it worth somebody's while," he said.
James Burroughs found his father dead in bed Monday morning and called 911. Emergency medical technicians asked for a coroner. As routine procedure, a sheriff's deputy and investigator also went to the house in Wingo Estates, about two miles outside Barnwell.
There was no sign of forced entry, no disarray, no suggestion of violence or struggle, no weapon, nothing out of the ordinary. There was some blood, but Coroner Lloyd Ward said it was not inconsistent with Mr. Burroughs' medical history. He had cancer, Mr. Ward said, and it looked to those gathered around the body that he'd hemorrhaged and died in the night.
Investigators had to regroup after embalmers at Cave Funeral Service in Allendale called to say they'd found what looked like a bullet wound as they prepared Mr. Burroughs for the funeral.
Sheriff Zorn and his chief deputy, Tom Gantt, went to the funeral home and looked. They had to agree: It looked like a bullet hole all right. And an autopsy confirmed it.
Since the case became an active homicide investigation, it's grown to be more of a puzzle, Sheriff Zorn said. The Burroughs house is one of about 50 in a rural setting with yards large enough to grow vegetable gardens. Mr. Burroughs was hoping he'd feel like putting one in this year, as he always had. His wife, Mable, planted flowers every spring until she died 11 years ago, said Vivian Workman, one of the Burroughs' seven children.
Officers have found no one who saw or heard anything unusual after midnight Sunday. Officials say they think Mr. Burroughs died between midnight and 6 a.m. and are asking people to search their memories for anything that might be a motive for the killing. Perhaps someone was talking about needing money to pay a debt over the weekend then didn't need it anymore, Sheriff Zorn said. Maybe somebody will remember a stranger's face or an unfamiliar car in the area.
"We're pretty much having to hope for a break," the sheriff said.
Mrs. Workman said her father would have been the least likely murder victim anyone could think of - a deacon at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, a dedicated Mason, father of four daughters and three sons, grandfather of 15 and great-grandfather of 11.
"He was friendly. He had a kind word for everybody," she said. "He was a hard-working man, retired from the highway department. And he was a singing man. Every church he ever went to, people would ask him to sing."
He had a voice that had not aged with him, she said, and he would sing while weeding his garden or hum as he sat in his favorite chair. Among his favorite songs were two his daughter said defined his life: Children, Get Ready, and May the Work I've Done Speak for Me.
Mr. Burroughs will be buried today in Hoover Cemetery after services at Mount Calvary Baptist Church.
Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.
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