Anger and jealousy played a key role in murders from 1988 and 2012, Union County authorities said Tuesday, as they announced the arrest of a New Salem man in connection with crimes nearly a quarter-century apart.
Eddie “Clyde” Helms, 61, was arrested without incident at 6:30 a.m. outside his home in the 6900 block of Fountain Hill Church Road, Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said.
In both cases, the victims never saw their attacker, who sneaked up behind them and killed them with a shotgun blast to the back in the dark. “Both cases were very cowardly acts,” Cathey said.
He declined to discuss motive. But in the 2012 case, Helms also was charged with stalking the victim and a female acquaintance.
Helms remains in Union County Jail without bond and faces court dates in September.
The arrest shocked neighbors, who described Helms as a friendly, easygoing man who spent his entire life in the tight-knit New Salem community northeast of Marshville near Anson County.
Investigators accused Helms of being responsible for the Nov. 10, 1988, shooting of John Terow Griffin III, in the Anson County town of Peachland, and the Aug. 30, 2012, slaying of Charles Ronald Godwin in eastern Union County outside Marshville.
During the investigation of the 2012 slaying, officials heard “rumor and general information” that led them to look at Helms for the 1988 case, Cathey said. But he declined to say what led them to the older case.
Brandon Blackman, an SBI agent assigned to Union County, reopened the Griffin case, and authorities in both Union and Anson counties continued the parallel investigations.
Without getting into specifics, Cathey said Helms also has been charged in the Godwin case with stalking Godwin and a female acquaintance.
Helms was charged in Union County with murder, shooting into an occupied dwelling and two counts of stalking. An additional murder warrant from Anson County also was served.
When asked whether Helms could be connected to other unsolved cases, Cathey said that was one of the things investigators will follow up on, although they are not looking at additional cases at the moment.
Godwin’s family filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit against Helms on Tuesday, according to Union County court records.
Godwin, 60, was shot through a window at his house, according to the civil suit. He was found at his home in the 3600 block of Holly School Road, off Olive Branch Road in the New Salem area.
Jerry Leak, who worked with Godwin at Austin Grading and Farm Services in Wingate, expressed relief that an arrest had been made.
Leak called Godwin one of the nicest people he knew. “It tore us up” when Godwin was killed, Leak said. “It broke my heart.”
The Anson case
Griffin, 39, was “shot off the roof” of his home while working on an antenna, Anson County Sheriff Tommy Allen said.
Helms was one of the people authorities talked to at the time, Allen said, before the case ultimately hit a dead end.
“When I heard (of the arrest), I shouted ‘Thank you, God! Hallelujah. Hallelujah.’ I was so glad,” said Griffin’s oldest sister, Dimple Treadaway. She said hearing the news from authorities was bittersweet, especially because her mother died not knowing how her youngest son had died.
Treadaway said Griffin was the youngest boy in the family and was especially sweet to his mother and sisters. He dropped out of middle school but was a successful pipe fitter.
Treadaway said she’d suspected Helms in the killing for decades – and had told investigators of her suspicions. She said her brother told her his estranged wife had an affair with Helms.
Allen expressed satisfaction with clearing the case shortly before he is to retire after 28 years as sheriff, and bringing some closure to the family.
The arrest stunned Rick Freeman, who described himself as a decadeslong friend and neighbor of Helms. He said his wife is Helms’ first cousin.
“He’s a good guy. He’d do anything for anybody,” Freeman said, recalling, for instance, a time when Helms helped him fix his well.
Freeman said he didn’t think Helms had a temper, adding, “He’s just a pretty calm guy.”
Another neighbor, Marvin Medley, said Helms was “easygoing” and “real friendly.”
As Medley spoke Tuesday morning, sheriff’s deputies went in and out of Helms’ brick one-story house, passing a white “Welcome” flag with butterflies printed on it near his front porch. Union County authorities said they retrieved more than 15 weapons, including shotguns, pistols and rifles.
Parked near the house were several pieces of landscaping equipment. Helms operated Prograde Professional Grading and Landscaping from his home.
Godwin’s killing was the sixth in two months in eastern Union County in 2012. Suspects have been arrested in all those cases now.
Other stalking claims
Two women got temporary restraining orders against Helms – one in August 2012 and the other in December 2013, Union County civil court records show. Neither could be reached for comment Tuesday.
Authorities declined to say whether either woman was connected to the current charge of stalking.
In 2012, one woman stated that after she broke up with Helms, he “refused to take no for an answer.” The woman claimed she was bruised in a struggle and that Helms later followed her around town, including to church, and showed up at her house uninvited numerous times.
The woman said Helms also called her mother and her best friend and went by her daughter’s house. But she voluntarily filed to dismiss the charges in December 2012.
In the 2013 case, another woman claimed she and Helms had broken up in February 2013, three days after his birthday on Valentine’s Day. The protection order was eventually lifted by the court for not meeting the burden of proof.
She claimed Helms continued to drive by her house, came to her workplace and texted her 108 times within a two- to four-week period.
She wrote him a letter last October begging him to leave her alone.
“I don’t know how to say this any more direct: A snowball has a better chance in hell than you do with me,” she wrote. “You have a terrible temper that gets the best of you. If your life depended on the truth, you would not see tomorrow. … Again, stay away from me!!” The Observer’s Maria David contributed.