Originally created 09/18/02

TV crew visits Augusta to recreate 1998 slaying



A scene of smoke and death from a bizarre 1998 Augusta murder was relived Tuesday on Henderson Drive for filmmakers from the cable TV show The New Detectives.

Using smoke machines and Augusta firefighters, a crew working for the Discovery Channel recreated the events of Aug. 15, 1998, when firefighters were called to a burning home on Elizabeth Drive. That is where investigators say convicted killer Rodney Richardson torched the victim's house to conceal evidence of a bloody murder.

Police never found the body of victim William "Al" Hamilton, but they were able to secure a conviction in 1999 without it.

That is the topic of an upcoming show, said Howard Swartz, a producer for New Dominion Pictures, the Virginia-based company that films The New Detectives.

"This particular episode, we are focusing on murder cases that were prosecuted, even though the victim's body was never found. For law enforcement, these are the hardest cases to solve," Mr. Swartz said.

This week, the TV crew has been traveling throughout Augusta, interviewing Investigator DeWayne Piper of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office and recreating the events of the murder and resulting investigation.

With the help of the mayor's office, the show's producers secured the use of Kathryn Rogers' home in the 500 block of Henderson Drive, where fake smoke caused more than one neighbor to worry about a real fire.

"Everything OK?" a man asked Ms. Rogers as he drove by the house and the fire truck.

"Yeah. They're just filming something for TV," she answered.

Sgt. Willie Brigham of the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department and firefighters Anthony Moody and Frankie Hall put on their gear Tuesday and acted as if they were rushing to an actual fire.

"OK, guys," director Craig Sexton said. "It's a real fire. So, real speed, OK?"

Mr. Swartz said the flames will be digitally added to the footage.

The New Detectives has filmed more than 100 episodes in eight seasons on the Discovery Channel. The hourlong show airs Tuesday nights and is one of prime time's top 10 programs on cable, Mr. Swartz said. This episode will air some time in the spring.

Investigator Piper was surprised when the show called him, but said he understands their interest in the case.

"This is a case where there was no eyewitnesses, no body and a great deal of the evidence consumed in the fire," he said Tuesday.

Detectives, led by Investigator Piper, found physical evidence and witnesses to show a jury that Mr. Richardson broke into the victim's home, jumped him and beat him on the head hard enough to leave blood splatters on the walls and ceiling. Then Mr. Richardson stole money from the dead man and used Mr. Hamilton's vehicle to move the body before trying to burn the house down to hide evidence.

Mr. Richardson received two life sentences and an additional 50 years for the murder after a jury convicted him in 1999.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.