In his 30 years of law enforcement, about the largest illegal stash of weapons Chesterfield County, S.C., Sheriff Jay Brooks ever investigated was 50 guns.
“And that was considered an arsenal,” Brooks said.
Saturday, his deputies arrested 51-year-old Brent Nicholson of Pageland after they found thousands – their best estimate is 7,000 to 10,000 – of handguns and rifles stacked at his house and in a nearby storage building. They found hundreds more at a liquor store Nicholson runs with his father and at his parents’ home, Brooks said.
“There were so many guns we quit counting after a while,” the sheriff said.
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Deputies also found hunting crossbows; ammunition; taxidermed deer, elk and alligator heads; hunting mounts; tools; air compressors and more than 500 chainsaws – most of it, Brooks said, stolen. There was “so much stuff” that by 3 p.m. Saturday authorities had filled four 40-foot tractor-trailers and taken it to an armory near the sheriff’s office in Chesterfield where the thousands of items will be processed.
Nicholson, picked up by police in Monroe about 1:30 p.m. Saturday, arrived in Chesterfield County about an hour later and was in the county jail charged with possession of stolen property, Brooks said. “There’s much more to come,” he added.
He said others may be arrested in the matter in Pageland, a town of 2,800 about 15 miles south of Monroe otherwise known for its yearly watermelon festival.
Monday, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division plans to send 20 agents to help process the stash and determine what has been stolen.
The discovery was made when deputies arrived at Nicholson’s house Friday about 3 p.m. to serve a subpoena for an unrelated matter, Brooks said.
They found chainsaws and a welder “in plain sight” on the front lawn that had been reported stolen, he said. “They went to a judge and got a search warrant and went back to the house and found literally thousands of guns,” Brooks said. “They secured the scene and called everybody in. We’ve been there ever since and we’ll probably be working on this into next week.
“This investigation is far from over.”
The sheriff said many of the guns looked like they’d been stored for years.
“There’s no evidence that he even used them,” Brooks said. “There’s no evidence that he was selling them – he just wanted them. His house looked like that hoarders program on TV.”
The sheriff said Nicholson may have stolen some of the merchandise, but he likely bought most of it from other thieves. “They steal this stuff from homes, or hunting lodges or cabins, and sell it for $100 a pistol,” he said.
Brooks said Nicholson has a “lengthy record” and has lived in Pageland most his life. He was living there when Brooks arrived in Chesterfield County 30 years ago.
Saturday, sheriffs from neighboring counties – including Union and Anson – were invited to Chesterfield to get a look at the stash. Many of the items, Brooks said, appear to have been stolen from North Carolina homes and hunting cabins.
“There were five sheriffs standing around – all of us with at least 25 years of experience – and none of us have ever seen anything like this,” Brooks said. “The SLED agents had never seen anything like this.”