Patrick Burris, 41, was shot to death by officers investigating a burglary complaint at a home in Gastonia, N.C., 30 miles from where the killing spree started June 27. Bullets in his gun matched those that killed residents in and around Gaffney over six days last week, said State Law Enforcement Division Chief Reggie Lloyd.
Investigators did not have an address for Burris. While evidence left no doubt he was the killer, they still had no idea why he did it.
"He was unpredictable. He was scary. He was weird," said SLED Deputy Director Neil Dolan.
Burris had a long rap sheet filled with charges such as larceny, forgery and breaking and entering from states across the Southeast, including Florida, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. He had been paroled from a North Carolina prison in April after serving nearly eight years.
"Look at this," Lloyd said, waiving a stapled copy of Burris' criminal record. "This is like 25 pages. At some point the criminal justice system is going to need to explain why this suspect was out on the street."
Gaffney farmer Sam Howell, 61, was among dozens of people from Cherokee County who came to the news conference where authorities identified Burris.
"My prayers were answered. He got what he deserved," Howell said. "He scared the hell out of everyone. I guess we can feel better but we've lost some of our innocence."
The mystery ended in Gastonia early Monday after a couple called police to report a suspicious sport utility vehicle in their neighborhood.
Mike and Terri Valentine were on edge because the Gaffney serial killer was just a short drive away.
They watched two people who sometimes visit the neighboring home get out of the vehicle, followed by a third man who matched the description of the killer: tall, heavyset, unshaven and wearing a baseball cap. The man appeared to be very drunk, Mike Valentine said.
When officers went inside, Terri Valentine said she heard someone yell "put it down" and heard a gunshot.
Then "bam, bam, bam, bam. Next thing I know, all of Gaston County was here," she said.
Gaston County police said the other two people were in custody, but did not indicate whether they were facing charges.
The Gaffney killings happened in a 10-mile area over six days. A peach farmer was killed June 27, an 83-year-old woman and her daughter were found bound and shot four days later, and the next day a father and his teen daughter were shot in their family's furniture store.
The investigation isn't over, and Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Blanton said investigators will trace the suspect's recent activities and trying to figure out if he has killed other people in other places.
"Now we have someone we can focus on," Blanton said.
He said he hopes the arrest calms the fears of 54,000 people in the county 50 miles west of Charlotte, N.C., known for its peach orchards and mills.
"We feel the victims' pain," Blanton said. "This isn't over. We're just changing gears."