Gaffney, SC

This 70's Serial Killer Strangled His Victims With His Own Belt - The Story of The Gaffney Strangler

The Lantern
Lee Roy Martin autopsy PhotoPhoto byGaffney Coronor Autopsy Photo

“We’re going to find this guy,” the sheriff said to Bill Gibbons, the news editor of the Gaffney Ledger. Bill was worried. He didn’t ask for this. Out of everything he wasn’t sure about, Gibbons was sure about this: “I just never want to hear that voice on my phone again,” He replied. They went back and forth about the upcoming rumors from the little town of Gaffney, South Carolina. The killer called once already, speaking directly to Bill about the coordinates of three different bodies that he placed around town. The people of Gaffney didn’t fully buy into the idea that he got this information for free. No, they had their own beliefs.

“I can’t even leave my house,” Gibbons continued. “Every time I walk outside the neighbors give me these looks. How am I supposed to take being looked at like that?”

“I believe you. I know you didn’t do it,” replied the sheriff. “People… they’re gonna talk. People around town are starting to say, ‘Hey you got the phone calls. Maybe that’s made up!’ They’ll begin to take it seriously. We gotta find this guy, and find him fast - put these stupid rumors to rest.”

Just then, the phone rang.

Roger Dedmond was serving an 18-year sentence for the murder of his wife Ann Lucille. She was found lying in a rural road in Union County, SC on May 20th, 1967. The spouse is almost always the primary suspect. And due to the fact that he and his wife were fighting just the night before in a bar, it didn’t look good for Dedmond. He told the police everything, but he had nothing to hide. Roger explained that despite them having a fight, they reconciled their differences and went to go grab some doughnuts together. Lucille waited in the car while Roger went inside. When he came back, she was gone. Despite witnesses testifying that Roger was nowhere near Union County during the time that Ann’s body was recovered, it wasn’t enough. On December 12, 1967, Roger Dedmond was convicted of the manslaughter of Ann Lucille Dedmond.

So here Roger sat in prison, for something that he swore he didn’t do. Police claimed that Roger confessed to the crime. But Dedmond testified in court that he never made such a confession and that police questioned him for two straight days despite telling them that he had zero knowledge about his wife’s death. Surprisingly, Dedmond was exonerated within the first year of his sentence. Little did Dedmond know, his wife was the first of many victims at the hands of a man who would be later known as the Gaffney Strangler.

“Hello, this is Bill,” Gibbons answered, phone in hand.

“Hello Mr. Gibbons. It’s me again.”

“... it’s you again,” Bill responded. He knew exactly who this was. As he continued the call he quickly signaled to the sheriff across from him that this was the mysterious murderer that had just tipped them both off a few days prior. The authorities had bugged the Gaffney Ledger in hopes that the killer would call back and they could trace the call back to his location. But he clearly thought a few steps ahead. How unnerving it must be to have such a menacing phone call within the comfort of your home.

“We’re gonna have to do something about that man down there in Union County serving my sentence,” said the killer. “I told y'all - y'all arrested the wrong man. It was me that killed that dead woman.”

Both the sheriff and Bill lowered the phone for just a moment, exchanging looks of shock.

The first body they discovered lying by what is known today as People’s Creek was in fact not the first victim. When Gibbons received the first call he had written it off as a joke. But it doesn’t negate the fact that he wrote what he was told to.

“On the first sheet write Nancy Christine. Now take down these directions.” The killer had proceeded to give Gibbons two additional names with their own locations. The other two names were Nancy Parris and Ann Dedmond.

If only Bill had taken that first call more seriously.

“What do you want with me?!” Gibbons asked angrily. The sheriff stayed silent while staying near the phone so that they could both hear.

“You tell the sheriff his boys better catch me real soon or I’m gonna take me another one.”

“Why don’t you just turn yourself in?” Gibbons asked.

“Nah. Ya’ll are gonna have to hunt me down and shoot me dead like the dog I am.”


The national news didn’t catch up just yet. Lines were forming daily outside the Gaffney Ledger in hopes of getting the latest scoop on who the killer was, where the killer was, or worse - if another body had been uncovered. The majority of Gaffney began carrying a gun everywhere they went. One of those residents was 41-year-old Henry Transou. He had been working at the Cherokee National Country Club when the news broke out about a 14-year-old girl being abducted near the local golf course at her bus stop. This was just a week after investigators were officially caught up on the three victims. In response to the abduction, he decided to take his friend Lester Skinner with him. Armed and ready to go, Henry’s plan was to go by what the Gaffney Ledger had explained in the newspaper. The killer was known for taking his victims to the woods and hiding them. They stuck to SC Highway 11, and then from there, he would turn off onto a dirt road.

And then another.

And another.

After countless attempts at making their rounds, something caught Henry’s eye. In the distance on just another empty dirt road stood a suspicious young-looking man next to a black 1957 Chevrolet near the Cowpens National Battlefield. The reason it was suspicious was because it appeared this man had his car off to the side of the road, half hidden by the woods. In a matter of seconds, the pair’s suspicions were correct. The mysterious man darted back into his car, which prompted Henry to hit the gas. After some minutes of the high-speed chase, it was evident that this man knew his way around the windy dirt roads. Henry and Lester lost him. Thankfully, they had something to go off of. They reported back to the authorities and gave a detailed description of the car.

Investigators were certain they would find something near the spot the mysterious man had abandoned. After an exhaustive search, they found Opal Buckson, dead. This was the same girl who had been abducted just recently. The Gaffney Strangler was right. He warned Gibbons that he would kill again if they didn’t catch him fast enough.

When the FBI picked up the case they had re-examined the evidence. They discovered a common murder weapon. And this is ultimately what gave rise to the killer’s name. He never shot his victims, he never stabbed them, he strangled them - with his own belt that he wore regularly around his waist. At this point, the national news was involved, and the story began to spread. It also didn’t take long before the description of the car led authorities back to the mysterious man. The man who had been calling Gibbons. The man who had killed four different women - two being young teenagers. They found him. His name was Lee Roy Martin. A charming-looking fellow who worked at one of the textile mills in town. When police arrested Martin in the middle of his shift, word spread quickly among the employees. People were shocked. At least one of the female workers had fainted. The reason? Many of the men volunteered to escort their female coworkers to their cars when the sun went down in case the killer was nearby. One of those men was Martin.

It would be discovered later that Martin didn’t have complete control over himself at times. There was speculation about Martin having DID or dissociative identity disorder. I have another name for it: Martin’s dark passenger. Like HBO’s Dexter, or the film Mr. Brooks - Martin wasn’t alone in his head. And his dark passenger didn’t enjoy riding shotgun all the time.

“It was like standing on a mountain watching myself do these things down in the valley but I couldn’t stop myself.” - Lee Roy Martin

Martin was convicted for the murder of all four women and sentenced to life in prison. On May 31, 1972, he was stabbed to death by inmate Kenneth Rumsey.

As a resident of Gaffney myself, I pray his dark passenger is long gone, or best case scenario is dead in the ground with Martin. I believe in angels - and demons. And if that dark passenger was a demon, God forbid someone come across that thing. But somewhere between heaven and hell lies a dark mystery right off the now-labeled Leeroy’s Bridge where the lifeless Nancy Parris was dropped off at. Many residents have claimed that they have heard wailing and crying at night by that bridge.

What a horrifying and tragic thought. I can’t even imagine. Or maybe I can. It doesn’t help that the bridge is only eight minutes away from my apartment.

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