State News

Suspected S.C. serial killer was recently paroled in N.C.

Posted July 7, 2009 4:13 a.m. EDT
Updated July 7, 2009 7:21 p.m. EDT

— People terrorized by a serial killer who shot five people to death in their small community were relieved after police said they killed the man responsible.

But with his death, an answer to the bloody spree could be lost.

Suspected killer Patrick Burris, 41, was a career criminal paroled in North Carolina just two months ago, authorities said.

He 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.

Investigators did not have an address for Burris and said they had no idea why he did it.

"He was unpredictable. He was scary. He was weird," said Neil Dolan, deputy director of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

Ballistics tests showed Burris's gun matched the one that killed residents in and around Gaffney over six days last week, SLED Chief Reggie Lloyd said.

Burris had a long rap sheet filled with convictions for larceny, forgery and breaking and entering in states across the Southeast, including Florida, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina.

He had been paroled from a North Carolina prison in April after serving almost eight years.

"At some point, the criminal justice system is going to need to explain why this suspect was out on the street," Lloyd said. "We owe that to the victims in this case. We owe it to the community who lived in terror for days."

George Dudley, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Correction, said Tuesday that there were no red flags that would indicate Burris was inclined to violent behavior and that all parole procedures were properly followed.

Burris was serving time in prison for a 2001 theft spree in which he stole a number of items, including firearms, TVs and lawn equipment from homes and storage buildings.

His parole officer, Angela Merrill, made initial contact with him when he was released from prison in April, Dudley said. Afterward, there were several office visits, and Merrill made 10 attempts over a six-week period to visit him at his home in Rockingham County.

Eight of those attempts were unsuccessful, Dudley said.

On June 4, Merrill began the process to revoke his parole, Dudley said. It wasn't until June 15 that an arrest warrant was filed in the statewide computer system, which Dudley said was the normal process.

Meanwhile, according to the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office, Burris was arrested June 12 on two misdemeanor driving while license revoked charges. He posted a $2,000 secured bond and was released the same day.

The Gaffney killings happened in a 10-mile area over six days. Peach farmer Kline Cash, 63, was killed June 27, and Hazel Linder, 83, and her daughter, Gena Linder Parker, 50, were found bound and shot in the older woman's home four days later. The next day, Stephen Tyler and his 15-year-old daughter, Abby were found shot in their family's furniture store.

The investigation isn't over, and Cherokee County, S.C., 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 hoped the resolution calmed the fears of 54,000 people in the county 50 miles west of Charlotte known for its peach orchards and mills.

"We feel the victims' pain," Blanton said. "This isn't over. We're just changing gears."