Arrest made in 1976 cold case

Woman Found Murdered in Fairfield

CHESTER – Agents from the S.C. Law Enforcement Division Thursday arrested a Union County man in connection with the 1976 murder of Elizabeth Ann Howell Wilson of Chester.

Ann Wilson

Charles Ugvine Coleman, 65, was charged with Murder and Rape. On March 20, 1976, Ann Wilson, 45, went missing during her shift while working as a spinner at the Eureka Plant of Spring Mills in Chester. Her body and stolen vehicle were located later in Fairfield County near the intersection of Ashford Ferry Road and Dave Jenkins Road in Blair. She had been sexually assaulted, strangled and beaten.

SLED, in partnership with the Chester County Sheriff’s Office and the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office, continued to work the case for years in hopes of solving the case and bringing closure for the Wilson family. A recent forensics breakthrough identified through DNA that Coleman was involved in the crime.

According to a SLED spokesman, Coleman was arrested on a more recent charge and his DNA was uploaded into the CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) national DNA database maintained by the FBI and the DNA came back with a match with evidence from this crime from 1976.

Found Murdered

The March 22, 1976 edition of The News & Reporter detailed Wilson’s disappearance and the discovery of her body. According to the story, Wilson was working third shift at the Eureka plant and was seen in the cafeteria at approximately 3:45 a.m. She was said to have resumed work at about 4 a.m. and was last seen in a green and white Chevrolet as it left the parking lot of the plant. The gatekeeper did not question the persons in the car because it was recognized as belonging to “the plant boss.” An anonymous source told the paper it was not uncommon for the supervisor’s car to be used to transport employees home in the event of sickness or emergency. The vehicle was registered to James Porter, the overseer of the department where Wilson worked. It was not until later that he discovered the car was missing from the mill parking lot and reported it as stolen to law enforcement.

The car was found abandoned near the Chester County line in Fairfield County. Officials there said it was spotted by a motorist at 5:45 the following morning. That motorist drove to the home of a Fairfield County sheriff’s deputy to report what they’d seen. They reported that there appeared to be someone under the vehicle. That officer found a partially clothed body under the car (of Wilson) that was “mutilated.” There was actually thought at some point that Wilson had been struck by the car. The body was sent to Charleston for an autopsy. Wilson’s murder was the second within a week in Chester and there were many similarities in the two deaths. Another woman was found, partially clothed, strangled in an alleyway just days before, but there was apparently no connection, with a city sanitation employee having been arrested in that killing shortly thereafter.

Coleman was booked at the Fairfield County Detention Center. The case will be prosecuted by the 6th Circuit Solicitor’s Office. He did make a brief appearance in front of a magistrate, but a magistrate is not able to set a bond on a murder case.

History of Arrests

Coleman had a long record of arrests dating back to 1976 (just six months after Wilson’s murder) for incidents ranging from drunk driving and shoplifting to more serious crimes including assault and battery with intent to kill.

“Our Agents and forensics experts work hard and are dedicated to bringing justice to those who commit crimes against our citizens,” said SLED Chief Mark Keel.

“Whether the crime was recent or happened more than 40 years ago, we will not stop in trying to solve the case. I appreciate the teamwork showed by everyone in helping bring closure for the Wilson family.”

Chester County Sheriff Max Dorsey said breaking this cold case involved cooperation from multiple agencies.

“We would like to thank SLED for their invaluable assistance in solving this case. Their investigative and forensic resources were absolutely essential in identifying Ms. Wilson’s killer” Dorsey said.

The foundation of the case starting being built eight years ago. In 2012, then-Chester County Sheriff Richard Smith began taking a look at some unsolved murders in Chester County, including that of Wilson. In the department evidence room there was some DNA evidence collected in relation to the case.

“But DNA evidence wasn’t even a thing back then when it happened,” Smith said. “With modern technology, though, you’ve got a lot of new ways of solving stuff.”

Even with the advent of DNA being used in criminal investigations, for whatever reason, the evidence in the Wilson case continued to sit in the evidence room for 36 years. Smith submitted it to the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) in hopes for “a hit.” At the time he did so, he discussed his decision with a member of Wilson’s family. He said he is thinking about that family now on a couple of levels.

“I’m pleased for the family that they have some closure and know what happened, but I also pray for the family because now they have to re-live what happened,” he said.

Anyone who has information that can further assist in this investigation should contact SLED at (803) 896-2605.

Reporter Brian Garner contributed to this story.