Devon Epps: Scene of the Crime?
This lonely place is so close to the interstate, it’s not even an afterthought of a county planner’s pen. It’s like that space in your yard you forgot to landscape, shaded and covered in leaves, grassless, and out of the way of your attention. No one ever looks at it and no one would go looking for it. It’s a place where nothing would ever happen, and if it did, it would be something bad.
The place where Amanda Smith says she was jumped by a maniacal knife-wielding murderer is an illustration of nowhere. If you’re there, it’s only because you’re lost or going somewhere else. Seconds off Interstate 85, to get there takes a turn at the Whitehorse Road McDonalds and rounding a curve on the unimaginatively named Frontage Road. The intersection with Jacobs Road gives a driver two choices. If you turn left, it looks like it might take you somewhere worth going. If you turn right, it’s pretty obvious you’re going nowhere. It’s a dead end and even the most respectful minds can’t help but consider the bad pun.
I decided to go and I’m still not sure why. Going there is not on the way to anywhere for me. Going there serves no purpose. In the past, it would’ve been my job. Now, I figure most people would label it as sick curiosity. I know that it’s neither of the two, but I’m still not sure what it is. A local writer with whom I’m friends e-mailed me while I was out of town and said he, too, felt some sort of compulsion to write about the ongoing case of Devon Epps’ death. For me, since I can’t get the case out of my head, writing about it is somewhat cathartic. Writing is what I can do when I can’t make sense of things. I’d hoped that the two posts I’d written up to this point would do something, anything to make me feel better about this. I’ve covered and studied some of the most heinous crimes, but for the first time since Tiffany Souers was strangled in her Central, SC apartment, I find myself caring an inordinate amount about a crime in my adopted hometown.
I don’t know why I went, but I did.
When I rounded the corner on Frontage Road, my first instinct was to slam on my brakes. A marked Greenville County Sheriff’s cruiser sat in the middle of the road about 150 yards from the intersection with Jacobs Road. My wife was riding with me and quietly said, “Mmmm hmmm.” I looked to the side at the uniformed deputy as I drove by. He didn’t look at me.
Because I had no reason to be there, I almost felt guilty when I pulled up to the intersection. My instinct was to turn left, but when my wife spotted Epps’ memorial on the right, I swerved and made the turn. Again, it was something that looked more than a little suspicious. Again, the deputy did nothing.
And, so there we sat, in front of the little memorial. A framed tribute sat among balloons, boxed toys, flowers, and burned candles. It all sat at the dusty roadside on the edge of what could barely be called a grove of trees. Up a worn out path about twenty feet stood a giant tree wrapped in a red ribbon. Tacked to both of them were the composite sketch put together by deputies based on Amanda Epps’ reported recollection of the man she says killed her seven-year-old son.
Again, I don’t know what I was looking for. This is a place that has been picked over by deputies, mourned over by family and friends, and visited by amateur sleuths from all over the area. It is a nothing place and the saddest of places to find the memorial to a child. Less than 300 yards down the road–a distance that could be run by even a heavy person in less than two minutes–is civilization. A few trees may block the actual building, but at night the Waffle House sign would almost be impossible to miss. The place Amanda Smith says her son died is a shadow. Shadows, I’ve found, are rarely home to happy times.
There was no reason to stay more than a couple of minutes. I turned around in the parking lot of what looked like a trucking company and headed back out the way I came. As I drove by again, the deputy was on his cell phone and didn’t seem to pay me much mind. I didn’t bother to wave. His presence there was not surveillance in the traditional sense. If the cops were really staking out the scene, it seems pretty obvious they wouldn’t be sitting in plain view in a marked car. The deputy spending his time there is more than likely a signal to the community that the Sheriff’s Office is still diligently working on the crime (a fact in which I still have the utmost faith) and a signal to anyone who might wander by the scene that they are being watched. As I was not driving a white town car, small civic, or look like the man Smith says killed her son, I was mercifully ignored. I’m not sure exactly what I would’ve said if the deputy had actually asked.
I’ve never really known how to feel about the concept of The First 48. I think a lot of cops–especially the dedicated ones–will tell you that the clock isn’t nearly as important as the evidence and even if they don’t make their arrest in the first 48 hours, they will still maintain a decent confidence they can nail their criminal. Around these parts, the cases that remain cold for too long tend to remain that way. I have entire files on cases that plagued the local cops for way too long. When the Blue Ridge Bank triple murders happened, I heard a lot of quiet talk among the investigators about who they believed was responsible. When Dale Fetner was stabbed outside his apartment, I heard a lot of the same talk. Both of those cases remain open. The Devon Epps death, though, is not like those cases. Though there is quite a bit of hand wringing about the lack of an arrest, this one doesn’t at all feel like a case that will go cold. No, this case feels familiar for an entirely different reason. So familiar, in fact, that it goes without saying.
Tonight, as I try to figure out why I keep writing about this case instead of my normal silliness, I wonder. Did I visit the scene of the crime tonight? Or did I visit the place where the county coroner found him dead? Because there may be a difference and, if there is, the answer will make a lot of difference in how this story ends.