As the Ten Commandments suggest, it’s important to love thy neighbors—and this goes double in small Southern towns, where everyone knows your name. You see them just about every day, after all! Unfortunately, love is blind, so they say… and one South Carolina couple found that out the hard way.
Before they were married, Reggie and Carol Sumner endured lives of hardship and struggle. So when they tied the knot in their late fifties, they hoped it would mark a turning point where it’d be nothing but a peaceful ride into the proverbial sunset. And it very well could have been, had they never met the Girl Scout down the street…
By all accounts, South Carolina’s Reggie and Carol Sumner’s love story was an unlikely one. They’d met in a North Charleston high school in the late 1950s, but life took them in separate ways for over 40 years. After so long, they never thought they’d see each other again.
Matthew Jenkins / Find a Grave
Those four decades weren’t easy. Early on, Reggie joined the Navy, and later, he did hard work for the railroad. Meanwhile, Carol escaped an abusive relationship in which she survived gunshots from her former husband.
Matthew Jenkins / Find A Grave
Reggie and Carol reunited by chance in their late fifties, and following a short love affair, they married. After years of struggles, violence, and hard work, they finally found happiness in each other. Their union should have been a thing of peace.
Matthew Jenkins / Find A Grave
And it was… right up until they met Tiffany Cole, who lived just a few houses away on their quiet South Carolina street. Right away, the Sumners took a liking to her. She just had that “Southern charm.”
The stepdaughter of the Sumners’ friend and neighbor, Tiffany was a Girl Scout, a high school cheerleader, and she played the flute. The Sumners even sold her a car when she reached her twenties, which turned into the biggest mistake of their lives.
Not long after selling Tiffany their Chevy Lumina, the couple moved south to Jacksonville, Florida. As Reggie’s health was deteriorating, they figured the warmer climate would be easier on him.
Tiffany, meanwhile, frequently drove down to the Sumners’ Florida home to make payments on the car they’d sold her. Sometimes, she’d even spend the night with her old neighbors. In 2005, though, she brought a special guest with her…
Tiffany brought her boyfriend, a 24-year-old named Michael Jackson, along with her on a visit to the Sumner family’s house in Florida. He ate with Reggie and Carol. He sat on their couch. And, ultimately, he realized something.
The older couple had some money. Reggie worked for CSX Railroad, and he and Carol had just made, according to Tiffany, a $100,000 profit on the sale of their South Carolina home. So Michael hatched a scheme.
Enlisting in the help of Alan Wade (pictured), as well as 19-year-old Bruce Nixon, Tiffany and Michael concocted a plan to rob the Sumners of their savings. Somehow, the little girl the Sumners had known so well was now trying to do them wrong…
On one July evening in 2005, Reggie and Carol had just settled in to enjoy a dinner of fried chicken when they heard a sudden knock at the front door. Curious, Carol headed over to see who it was.
Alan and Bruce—who were unfamiliar faces to the Sumners—were waiting on the doorstep. When greeted by Carol, they asked if they could use the telephone. Being a kind and unsuspecting soul, Carol let them inside.
Once inside, they pulled out a toy gun. They easily overpowered Reggie and Carol, bound their hands, and gagged them. Wasting no time at all, Alan and Bruce threw them into the trunk of a parked Lincoln Town Car.
kengikat40 / Flickr
Down the road, Tiffany and Michael were waiting in a rented Mazda. When their partners drove off—with Reggie and Carol in the trunk—they followed. If police happened to get too close to the Town Car, they were supposed to speed by, grabbing the cops’ attention.
The plan to thwart a tail by the cops wasn’t necessary, though. Both cars made it with ease to their destination, a remote part of Georgia just over the state line. It was a spot Tiffany and Michael had visited earlier that same day…
See, earlier that day, Michael, Tiffany, and their two accomplices had undertaken some manual labor. Tiffany later claimed she believed they were digging a hole to hide stolen goods, but the reality was far more sinister.
The quartet had been digging a grave. Once they reached the hole that night, they moved Reggie and Carol to its edge. Michael then offered them an ultimatum: hand over their account information or be buried alive.
This was not, as Tiffany claimed, the plan she’d signed up for. These people were once her friends—they were like grandparents. They’d sold her a car. She’d eaten dinner with them. To her relief, the Sumners agreed to pass over their account information, but it wasn’t enough…
The four pushed Reggie and Carol into the grave anyway. The elderly couple, bound and gagged, couldn’t fight back or flee as the group piled loose dirt into the grave. Soon, they were completely buried. Afterward, the group made a trip to the ATM.
Whether Tiffany truly didn’t know the Sumners would be buried alive may never be known. Not long after she and Michael drove away from the ATM, however, she did take a celebratory picture. Still, their crime spree wasn’t finished.
The next day, Michael and Tiffany returned to the Sumner home with bleach. They stole and pawned all of Carol’s jewelry. They also continued to make dozens of small withdrawals from the Sumners’ accounts around $200 and $300 each.
What they hadn’t planned for, however, was that someone might miss the Sumners. After her mother hadn’t checked in for several days, Rhonda Alford—Carol’s daughter from her first relationship—filed a missing person’s report.
Will Dickey / The Florida-Times Union
After noticing the odd spending, the police wisely left the Sumners’ accounts open. In doing so, they were able to track the group’s location. Authorities followed the criminals to a hotel room where they’d stashed stolen items—and promptly arrested them.
Bruce cooperated with the investigation, showing police the location where the Sumners had been buried. He also revealed a heartbreaking detail: while in the trunk of the Town Car, the Sumners managed to slip out of their bonds so they could hug each other. They were tied up again, but it was clear their love couldn’t be broken.
Matthew Jenkins / Find A Grave
Alan Wade, Michael Jackson, and Tiffany Cole all received the death penalty for their roles in the Sumners’ murders. Bruce received 45 years for cooperating. While nothing could bring Reggie and Carol back, at least justice was done.
Reggie and Carol Sumner demonstrated remarkable strength and kindness throughout their lives. It’s a shame two wonderful and beloved people were taken so cruelly.
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