Reading between the lines of Devon Epps’ death

It’s late, or at least late enough for a seven-year-old boy to be in bed. You’ve got a pillow in the car, so maybe you’re on the road somewhere. Regardless, it’s late and you’re on a dark road near a major interstate. You love your son and you know you should be getting him in bed soon, but maybe circumstances don’t quite allow it right now. Who knows where you’re going, as long as you get there safely.

Your son is sitting in the front seat when you pull up to a traffic light. Maybe you’re naive or distracted, but your doors are unlocked. Really, the city you’re in isn’t one splitting at the seams with crime, so you might be forgiven this indiscretion. Still, you’re a young woman by yourself with a young boy who can’t defend himself.

You can’t even remember which direction you were looking when the passenger door opens and a man with a bushy beard jumps in with a knife. Later, to people reading the story, it must seem all a blur, because before reason can take over, you’re outside of the car, the doors are locked, and the man is on top of your son. He’s got that pillow over his face and he’s smothering him. People reading later will wonder why the injury on your arm doesn’t look that bad. Mothers all over the area will speculate about whether the man with the knife could’ve forced them out of the car and what they would’ve done if they’d seen the man holding the pillow over their son’s face. More often than not, they talk about breaking the window with anything they could find.

By the time the cops arrive, your son is dead. Your car is still there, but your son is dead. The man you say killed him inexplicably ran off into the woods, leaving your car and all your possessions behind. By all appearances, it looks like bushy-bearded killer was on a mission to kill and nothing more.


If you’re a parent, pet-owner, or even particularly fond of your car, this story just won’t fit in your head. If true, it’s the most confounding and terrifying story you could conceive. Random man jumps into your car at a traffic light with seemingly no other motive but to asphyxiate your son? On the list of Things That Don’t Make Sense, this story sits at the top of the list.

Devon Epps’ mother faces a serious burden tonight because that’s her story. What you read above is the nuts and bolts of her story. She even went as far as to give the cops a great description of the killer. She sat down with enough information to put together a composite sketch.

I spent a long time looking at the picture, wondering where I had seen the guy before.

Devon Epps’ mother has a second burden. It took me two days but I finally figured it out. The man she described to county deputies is Ted Kaczynski, aka The Unabomber. I don’t mean to be glib, but Mother Epps has described the man who is sitting in Colorado in one of the highest security lockups in the world. The chances he sprang from the woods and randomly killed a young boy are relative small, not to mention being completely against his MO. Okay, that does sounds a little glib, if completely true.

The final burden is a tough one. A decade ago, in a town less than an hour away, Susan Smith killed her two sons and told local cops she had been carjacked by a man who stole her kids with the vehicle. It was a story that cut a gash in the heart of a nation–a gash stitched up with vengeance when we learned Smith actually killed her own children. It taught us as a country that we have boundless sympathy when a mother is hurting and ruthless vengeance when a mother hurts.

You might wonder why I chose to write about this subject, other than the fact that it’s happening in my adopted hometown. The reason is simple. You probably haven’t heard about it yet. There is a disconnect here, obviously. I don’t care where it happens–if a maniacal killer randomly kills a seven year old boy and then goes on the run, it’s going to be national news. The networks would descend on our idyllic little community and set-up UnaSmotherer Watch. That’s not happening.

Normally, I would blame the networks’ absence on a fairly well-documented regional bias against the South. In this case, though, the networks’ decision to not cover this story is justified. As a casual news consumer, you might not see why. However, as a guy who worked in news for a decade and covered the cop shop for more than half of that time, I can tell you why.

There is not a person in the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office or any of the local news outlets that believes the mother’s story. Speculation has run in just about every direction, but most of the time it circles back around to the mom (left).

If there was even a 40% chance this mother was telling the truth, here’s what Greenville, South Carolina would look like right now: The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office would have a command post running 24/7. Other agencies from the state and neighboring counties would be helping conduct the manhunt under Sheriff Steve Loftis’ direction. Every news outlet would be leading with the story in every newscast. The composite photo would be on the door of every business in the area. Finally, based on the Sheriff’s Office’s reputation, I’d venture to say the killer would have been caught by now. There are a couple of homicide investigators within the department who I have the utmost respect for (Paul Silvaggio being the best, in my opinion) and, if I were still working the beat, I suspect these guys would be telling me off the record that they think…

Well, what do you figure they think? Indeed, it’s pretty clear that if you read between the lines, you’ll see that the cops and, by extension, media, believe the mom killed her own kid then made up an elaborate story in a sad effort to cover her madness. Right now, the cops and media are going through the motions of reporting the nuts and bolts of the story and making it appear as though they are giving the mother’s story some credit. However, every single step they take makes it clear to the trained eye that they are ready to arrest her today.

I was fortunate in my career. While I covered more child deaths and murders than I would’ve liked, I never had to see a dead kid’s body. Since that time, I’ve become a parent and the idea of hurting a child turns my stomach. The idea that a parent could actually kill their child is so foreign to me that I can barely conceive of it. So, tonight I’m hoping that my intuition and the gut feeling of every cop and reporter in town are wrong. I am actually hoping a madman killed Devon Epps.

Otherwise, Devon Epps’ mother will face an even greater burden than those mentioned above. She will have to face the fact she murdered her child.

Other resources:

Cached version of Devon Epps’ mother’s MySpace page can be found here.

Revised version of Devon Epp’s mother’s MySpace page can be found here (since set to private).

Other coverage

Amanda Smith, Devon Epps, and the difficulties of reporting crime news

Devon Epps: Scene of the crime?

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Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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9 Responses

  1. Anonymous Anonymous says:

    He actually DOES look like the unabomber. But that’s NOT who she was describing. Turns out (Check the local news website for conformation) the sketch IS A DEAD RINGER for the woman’s ex-husband.

    Myra interviewed the guy a day or two ago. The resemblance, for a sketch, is uncanny.

    Of course, the ex-husband didn’t do it. Unbeknown to the mom, he was IN JAIL at the time of the murder on a misdemeanor charge!


    PS You’re right about the rest.

  2. Excuse me while I vomit, then I’ll think about my own kids and shed a tear or two of thankfulness that they are all okay for now.

    How is it possible a mother can do this to her own child? How is it possible a stranger can do this to a child? Both questions have no answer.

  3. Anonymous Anonymous says:

    I have to agree, I don’t believe the mother’s story at all. I had a guy try to car jack me with my then two kids in my car. I was determined he wasn’t getting in and tried to run him over in order to save my kids. He could have had the car, but NOT my kids, and I made the choice to take my chances running the guy over and not looking back until I found safety. I went to some place I felt safe and called the cops. Thank God the guy was caught a few weeks later after car jacking another lady. Amanda could have drove somewhere and took her chances on saving her childs life but choose not to.

  4. The story doesn’t add up. No doubt about it. Carjacker with a knife – who uses a pillow and leaves the car?



  5. Anonymous Anonymous says:

    Are the cops stupid enough to believe that crap? I don’t think it took this long to get Susan Smith. Maybe they need to call in the Union County sheriff to help them figure it out!

  6. Anonymous Anonymous says:

    good blog! just did a word search to see update on this story. from get go though hokiness of the whole thing.

    do agree, would think evidence would result in action by now.

  7. Anonymous Anonymous says:

    oops! thought hokiness of the whole thing.

  8. Anonymous Anonymous says:

    You need to have a current BLS (first aid)card to start ANY nursing program. How could she be a former ‘nursing’ (is that nursing assistant,LPN, or RN? I’m an RN and I’m sick of seeing them all lumped together by the media)student AND NOT KNOW CPR!!!!!

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