MARLBORO COUNTY, S.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) — Sara Boling didn’t really know what she’d find when she hit the home button on her uncle Hollis Slade’s cell phone and slowly entered his six-digit passcode.
She was hunting for the app that stored videos from his outdoor security cameras. Sara and her mother, Beth, started going through thousands of videos captured outside his Bennettsville home over the course of the previous week.
The women had made the trip to South Carolina from Indiana just three days before after Beth was notified her brother, Hollis, died. Hollis did not have children and lived in Bennettsville with his wife, Joyce. He installed the cameras to help keep watch on Joyce who needed around the clock care over the past few years as her dementia worsened.
Neither Beth nor Sara had any reason to watch the videos until they met with Marlboro County Deputy Probate Judge Tammy Bullock and Charlotte Green in a Laurinburg, NC hotel conference room a few days before.
Boling said the group was confrontational with her from the start.
“They began to make accusations that my relationship with my brother was estranged and I didn’t know my brother. And I was I was hurt by that,” Boling told FOX 46 Chief Investigator Jody Barr during an interview in August.
“Tammy, who was the person who told me that she was the probate judge, indicated that she had been my brother’s secretary for 26 years, and that he had never ever mentioned my name. And so that was just one comment after another, they became more and more hurtful. And after that comment, I said, ‘That’s offensive to me, because I did have a relationship with my brother. And I, in fact, just talked to him on Friday night before he passed away on Saturday,’” Boling said.
The recordings captured Bullock and the group planning how to deal with Boling and discussed concealing financial information the group found in Slade’s home from Boling. The discussion happened just before Boling arrived at her brother’s home on Jan. 24. Bullock, at the time, wasn’t the county’s probate judge; she was the appointed deputy probate judge.
Bullock also wasn’t administered the oath of office granting her judicial authority until March 15, several weeks after her encounter with the Slade family.
“So that evening, as things got more heated in the conversation. I said to them, ‘Okay, I’m going to end the meeting now. I’d hope to sit down with you guys and try and make a plan. And I will take into consideration, still, the things that you want, as far as the funeral goes, but I’m not going to continue to have this conversation that feels like an attack,” Boling recalled of that meeting in the hotel conference room.
When Boling and her daughter pulled up to her brother’s home on Jan. 24, video recordings show both Bullock and Green met them at the top of Slade’s driveway. Bullock introduced herself to Boling, then told her she was the Marlboro County probate judge. Boling said she was relieved to know someone was there who may be able to help guide her through her brother’s probate process.
After the hotel meeting, Boling said she then wondered if there was something more to Bullock’s claims about her status in the county’s judicial system.
“I felt like everything was a threat. In addition to that, that same night, they had indicated what nursing home they wanted me to put Joyce in and I said, ‘Well, I’ll take that into consideration. I’m still trying to decide what to do.’ And Tammy said, ‘Or I could just call adult protection and have it taken out of your hands.’ And I said, ‘What, abuse or neglect have I done that would indicate a call to adult protective services? I’m a therapist I deal with this stuff, there’s no indicator for that,” Boling recalled of her conversation with Bullock.
“But that still was the threat. It was like that – my interactions with her – starting from that point. And even the night before might have been some threat I just didn’t pick up on it,” Boling told FOX 46.
After that meeting, Sara Boling went through her uncle’s phone, saving what turned out to be more than 1,500 videos recorded on her uncle’s security cameras. Those recordings showed Bullock – the day after Slade’s death – going in and out of Slade’s home searching for his will while others carried property from the home to Gardner’s pickup truck.
“We began to watch after that, because that began to make us suspicious of what’s really going on here,” Boling said.
SHERIFF ‘ASSURED US’ HE’D INVESTIGATE
The security camera videos also showed Will Adams, a man Slade worked with at the paper mill in town, arriving with Ricky Gardner, Charlotte Green, and Green’s son, Matthew Tomlinson within a few hours of Slade’s death. The recordings show Adams made calls to coroners, trying to get Hollis Slade’s body removed from Marlboro County Coroner Tim Brown’s custody.
Brown said he spoke with Adams that day by phone and that Adams told the coroner Slade did not have any surviving family. The coroner said he told Adams he’d wait at least 24 hours to see if family – who Adams might be unaware of – show up.
The recordings also captured portions of recordings where Adams discusses trying to unlock Slade’s cell phone with Adams telling the group, “My Verizon guy, he’s probably about to call me to see if we can get into his phone.
Neither Will Adams, Ricky Gardner, Charlotte Green, Tammy Bullock, nor Matthew Tomlinson would respond to messages seeking interviews for this investigative series.
The next morning Slade’s sister and niece were on their way to South Carolina.
Adams also conveyed legal advice he’d received from Jason Luck, an attorney who recently relocated from Charleston to Bennettsville, in one of the calls. The recordings showed Adams relaying Luck’s legal advice to the group, but because the cameras record only when triggered by movement, the recordings did not capture the entirety of the conservations between Luck and Adams.
Luck would later become Joyce Slade’s guardianship attorney.
On January 28, Beth Boling called Brown. Brown was the only Marlboro County official Slade’s family knew at the time. Boling described what she saw in the videos and asked Brown for guidance on who she could trust to file a police report and investigate.
“We thought – initially – that Tammy was a probate judge and just because of small town politics and that sort of thing, we just didn’t want to go to somebody who was not going to listen to us,” Sara Boling told FOX 46. “We had not contacted anyone or spoken to the police in any sort of way. We were, frankly, a little bit nervous to go talk to anybody,” Sara said.
Brown asked the Bolings to meet him at the Marlboro County Sheriff’s Office.
Armed with the videos and a stack of criminal allegations and video recordings, the Bolings, the coroner, Marlboro County Sheriff Charles Lemon, and the sheriff’s lead investigator met inside a conference room. The Bolings described to the sheriff what they believed were committed in the recordings.
Slade’s home wasn’t in Sheriff Lemon’s jurisdiction. Joyce Drive is a few hundred yards inside the Bennettsville city limits. Lemon was aware of that fact during the meeting, according to Boling and Brown, “When we met with the sheriff, somebody made comment that they asked was my brother’s house in the city limits. And I said, ‘Should I contact the city police?’ Because my brother’s house is in the city limits. Now, some of the property that was taken was outside the city limits and Sheriff Lemon told me, ‘You can call the city police if you want to, but my jurisdiction is over the whole county. And if I need to include the city police I will,’” Boling recalled.
Lemon’s investigator also informed the sheriff the Slade case was not in the sheriff’s jurisdiction and that the State Law Enforcement Division should handle the case since Bullock worked in the county’s judicial system. The conversation between the sheriff and the investigator happened within earshot of the meeting room.
Despite the warnings, the Bolings said Lemon assured them a thorough investigation would happen.
“In fact, the sheriff explained to me that what they would do would be call all the parties that were in the videotapes, interview them separately and that somebody would break and tell them the honest truth about what was going on. And that they would then pursue all the others with that information,” Boling told FOX 46.
Slade’s funeral was set for the following day and Boling left the meeting with the sheriff with one last request,” I asked him if he would wait to do that; pulling people in until I left town on Saturday because I didn’t want any conflict with the people that were there.”
The sheriff waited, as Boling requested, but never opened a case file into the Slade family’s allegations.
NO EVIDENCE OF AN INVESTIGATION
When Beth and Sara Boling left Marlboro County, SC on Jan. 30, Hollis Slade had been dead exactly one week. The women were under the impression the allegations they disclosed to Sheriff Charles Lemon were being pursued.
The allegations contained a serious charge against Bullock, accusing her of impersonating a public official. The Bolings believed the videos said it all.
On Feb. 18, Boling provided Marlboro County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Trevor Murphy a link to an online storage drive with the videos from Slade’s cameras. Boling said she waited to hear something from the sheriff’s investigators.
On March 9, Boling texted both Sheriff Lemon and Lt. Murphy asking for an update. Neither responded, she said. Weeks passed and Boling messaged and called the sheriff’s office, hoping to find out where the sheriff was in his investigation.
Boling said she spoke with Murphy about a month later and was told the sheriff’s office was “working on it.” After that call, Boling said she never got a response until she wrote to Murphy in an April 30 email asking where she could take the case to have it investigated, “At this time, it seems that my fears of Bennettsville politics, has come into play. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure how to proceed in dealing with the criminal behavior and theft if you are not going to deal with the situation.”
Murphy replied to Boling’s email saying he didn’t have any messages from her, writing, “If you have any suspicions that I’ve been influenced or persuaded by any unethical means please contact SLED at 843.737.9000 to file a formal complaint on me and request an investigation. If you don’t deem that sufficient, please contact the Florence FBI location for an investigation. Have a happy and safe weekend.”
Boiling’s next contact with Murphy happened on May 4 when the investigator wrote, “The file is being presented to the Solicitor’s Office today for review.” Boling said she never heard from the Marlboro County Sheriff’s Office again on the investigation.
On June 3, Boling emailed Marlboro County Solicitor Will Rogers asking for an update on the sheriff’s investigation. Rogers didn’t immediately respond to Boling’s June 3 email. Rogers would likely have decided whether the sheriff’s investigation contained evidence of a crime committed, or if Rogers determined he held a conflict of interest, he could have sent the case to another solicitor’s office or the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office for prosecutorial review.
But an email chain between Rogers and his deputy solicitor, Elizabeth Munnerlyn, dated June 3 shows the Marlboro County Sheriff’s Office never presented anything to the solicitor related to the Slade investigation.
It took Rogers another 25 days to respond to Boling. In a June 28 email, Rogers cited a “potential conflict of interest” with any investigation or prosecution of Bullock.
“It was my understanding from Investigator Murphy that he was going to contact the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) for assistance in the case. Once the investigation is complete, the investigative file will be submitted to a prosecutor (probably the Attorney General’s Office) for review. At that time a decision will be made as to whether the facts support prosecution under South Carolina law,” Rogers wrote in the June 28 email to Boling.
On July 5, Boling forwarded Rogers’ email to Murphy asking for a contact at SLED. Boling said Murphy provided her a name: Lt. Tina Carter with the State Law Enforcement Division.
BE THE FIRST TO KNOW: Sign up here for QC News Alerts and get breaking news sent straight to your inbox
SLED records show the agency didn’t receive a request from the Marlboro County Sheriff’s Office until July 8, more than five months after the Slade family said Sheriff Charles Lemon promised to investigate the criminal allegations involving Tammy Bullock and the others captured on Hollis Slade’s security cameras.
SHERIFF: “There was not an investigation”
We filed multiple South Carolina Freedom of Information Act requests with the Marlboro County Sheriff’s Office seeking records related to Tammy Bullock and the Jan. 28 meeting between the sheriff’s office and the Bolings.
The sheriff’s office initially denied the existence of a police report naming Tammy Bullock in an August 25, 2021 response to FOX 46. We filed two more FOIA requests with the sheriff, asking for the incident report from Jan. 28 and for security camera recordings from the Marlboro County Courthouse.
The sheriff’s office ignored those requests.
In September, we submitted multiple letters to the sheriff’s office demanding compliance with the SCFOIA law and detailing what we believed were flagrant violations of the state’s open records law. After threatening legal action over the violations, on Oct. 8 the sheriff’s office released an incident report naming Tammy Bullock.
The report was from the Jan. 28 meeting; a report the sheriff’s office claimed didn’t exist when we asked for it in August.
On Oct. 19, the sheriff’s office notified FOX 46 it had the remaining responsive records prepared for release. That day, FOX 46 Chief Investigator Jody Barr went to the sheriff’s office to retrieve the records. The sheriff’s records custodian, Sandi Wilkes, handed over an envelope containing a letter from Sheriff Charles Lemon, the Jan. 28 incident report, and a computer aided dispatch report for the medical call to Slade’s home.
The sheriff’s letter, dated Oct. 15, 2021, confirmed the Marlboro County Sheriff’s Office did nothing with the Slade family allegations between Jan. 28 and July 8.
“As such, there was not an investigation done by the Marlboro County Sheriff’s Office, no incident report done on the investigation, no interviews, no bodycams [sic], no tickets, no photos, no recordings, no warrants, no witness/victim statements,” Lemon wrote in the letter.
The sheriff listed his reasons for not ordering an investigation, despite not turning the criminal allegations over to SLED for more than five months.
“Mrs. Boling advised she was “not happy” with the Bennettsville Police Dept and wanted us to investigate the incident that occurred,” Lemon wrote. “We were advised of potential wrongdoing done by Deputy Probate Judge Tammy Bullock.”
Boling said she never contacted the Bennettsville Police Department when her brother died and that Lemon’s claims concerning the city police department were untrue. Sara Boling, who was with her mother in Marlboro County the week of her uncle’s death, also refutes Lemon’s claims the family filed a report with the city police.
“We had not contacted anyone or spoken to the police in any sort of way. We were, frankly, a little bit nervous to go talk to anybody and that was who the coroner we were talking to recommended we go see. So, we were talking to the sheriff first,” Sara Boling told FOX 46.
“We specifically discussed; do we need to additionally need to go to the city police or would you guys (the sheriff’s office) coordinate and handle that? The sheriff assured us the city of Bennettsville was in Marlboro County, but he was over all of it and that we could just leave the matter in his hands and he would take care of it,” Sara said.
We asked Bennettsville Police Chief Kevin Miller to check the department’s files for any evidence the Bolings reported criminal allegations concerning Slade’s estate.
“When did Beth Boling contact the Bennettsville Police Department to file a report,” Barr asked Miller during an interview last week, “Never.” Miller replied.
Miller said he didn’t know anything about the allegations concerning Bullock and the Slade estate until we contacted him in August. Miller’s department was prosecuting Bullock on a pointing and presenting gun charge at the time; a charge filed in a separate incident involving Bullock’s roommate 10 days after Slade’s death.
We provided Miller a copy of the sheriff’s letter.
“I’m completely floored by this. I can’t even believe this is in writing,” Miller said holding the sheriff’s letter in his hands Nov. 9. “This is really shocking that someone would put this in writing when there is no evidence to support this. Nothing.”
Miller said he believed the sheriff was “deflecting” his failure to investigate by blaming the Bennettsville Police Department for something it was never involved in.
“I’m completely shocked because we were never advised of anything to do with this case initially. This is the first time in my career where I’ve had something like this happen where we were mentioned in a report and we didn’t even have anything to do with it,” Miller told Barr.
Lemon also claims he “contacted” Solicitor Rogers and that he and Rogers “came to the decision to ask SLED to investigate,” according to Lemon’s Oct. 15 letter to FOX 46. Rogers’ June 2021 email exchange with his deputy solicitor appears to confirm Rogers didn’t know about the estate allegations as of June 3, 2021.
The solicitor also confirmed he never had a conversation with Sheriff Lemon concerning the Slade estate or the Bullock allegations, “I don’t recall having a conversation like that,” Rogers told Barr in a phone call last week.
“The sheriff’s office does not investigate cases already investigated by other agencies, that is a job for SLED,” Lemon wrote in the letter.
The sheriff’s office did take possession of 14 guns that belonged to Slade for “safekeeping” until the family could return to South Carolina to take them back to Indiana. A property receipt dated Jan. 28, 2021 shows the description of each gun and is filed under case number 2021-000390. The case number is different from the incident report number listed on the incident report where the Slade family met to file a criminal complaint on Bullock and the others.
The sheriff’s office listed the incident report as “General Information.” The sheriff’s report also noted the date the report was filed as Jan. 25, which is three days before Boling and her daughter met with the sheriff.
The report also indicated the sheriff’s office was opening an investigation. Lt. Murphy wrote, “Ms. [sic] Boling was advised to send us all the video recordings she possessed, and that Inv. Hendrix would be investigating this incident further.”
The sheriff’s Oct. 15 letter shows that investigation never happened.
SHERIFF WON’T RESPOND
We attempted many times to provide Marlboro County Sheriff Charles Lemon an opportunity to explain the inconsistencies in his letter. Lemon never responded to any of our messages.
In fact, Lemon’s staff informed him of our interview requests, but the sheriff would not respond.
On Nov. 9, we found the sheriff’s patrol truck parked under a tree outside the McColl Police Department and city hall. Lemon wasn’t in the truck, but he was in town.
We found the sheriff slowly cruising Mill Street. When we spotted the sheriff again, he was sitting on the passenger side of a black Ford F-150 while he and the deputy driving him around were stopped in the middle of Peach Tree Street talking with a man driving a black Chevrolet SUV.
The deputy chauffeuring the sheriff around McColl is Fred Knight – the former Marlboro County Sheriff. Lemon worked for Knight as his chief deputy. When Lemon was elected sheriff in 2016, he hired Knight and listed Knight’s position as “field agent.”
We spent nearly four hours surveilling the two sheriffs around McColl. The did not appear to be answering police calls and would occasionally stop their truck and talk to people along the way.
At around 5:35 p.m., Knight pulled up behind Lemon’s patrol truck and drove away. We met Lemon as he rounded the back of Knight’s truck, “Sheriff, good evening,” Barr said to Lemon. “How you doing,” Lemon asked. “Can I talk to you about this letter you sent us,” Barr asked as the sheriff continued walking toward his truck door.
“Uh, I’m good,” Lemon said as he reached for the door handle. “Why did you not investigate the Hollis Slade case,” Barr asked. Lemon said nothing as he opened his door, shut it, then drove away.
We found Lemon about 30 minutes later sitting in the back of the Marlboro County Council meeting in downtown Bennettsville. Lemon, still dressed in a black hoodie with “SHERIFF” emblazoned across the back and down the arms, sat without saying anything as we recorded video of him in the meeting.
At one point, Lemon used his cell phone camera to record video of Barr and photojournalist Tim Mullican.
Before leaving the meeting, Barr asked Lemon for a phone call. The sheriff nodded in agreement, but as of this report, the sheriff has not contacted FOX 46.
Download the FOX 46 Charlotte app for breaking news and weather alerts