‘Perfect murder’ talk may figure large in Giddings case

Telegraph staffOctober 27, 2013 

The slain, dismembered law school graduate’s classmate and next-door neighbor was in jail, but there were loose ends to run down.

Among them, the murder suspect’s background. More precisely, things he might have said.

Detectives were doing their best to probe the psyche of Stephen Mark McDaniel. The plan was to speak to people in his small circle of acquaintances from four or so years earlier when McDaniel, before entering law school there, was an undergraduate at Mercer University.

A couple of months after the June 2011 killing of Lauren Giddings, a Macon homicide cop on the case called a potential prosecution witness and said the police were looking to “dot (our) I’s and cross (our) T’s.”

William Ingram of Barnesville told the cop, sure, he’d known McDaniel.

“I remember he was odd,” Ingram said.

Ingram, then in his late 20s, went on to tell detective Charles Whitaker that McDaniel, who 18 days earlier had been charged with Giddings’ slaying, viewed serial murderers Ted Bundy and the Zodiac Killer “like they were movie stars.”

Ingram, who was friends with McDaniel’s roommate, said the “oddball” McDaniel seemed obsessed with a pair of hypotheticals: how to survive a zombie invasion, and how to commit “the perfect murder.”

As McDaniel’s January murder trial approaches, a judge will soon decide if jurors will hear Ingram’s recollections -- along with those of other McDaniel acquaintances -- of “perfect murder” scenarios.

* * *

In his August 2011 interview with the detective, which The Telegraph obtained a transcript of early this year, Ingram talked about McDaniel for half an hour.

Ingram said that growing up, he himself “kind of was the black sheep, a different kid.”

He had recently returned from seminary when he met McDaniel.

After hearing McDaniel’s ramblings about killers and murder, Ingram said, “I was worried about Stephen’s soul.”

Ingram said that on visits to his friend’s Mercer Hall dorm room, he made sure to look in on McDaniel “to make sure he’d at least have one friend.”

Ingram also recalled an over-the-top spiel from McDaniel about cutting a body apart and scattering the pieces and, in doing so, concealing a murder:

“I remember I was sitting on the couch watching TV and I’m trying my best to ignore him, and he had got so wound up that he was yelling this thing out, like, and I mean just making the situation extremely uncomfortable. ... I don’t know the exact details, but it would always be about the same thing. ... He would end up knocking a person out, then he would drag them to the bathroom because bathrooms are sanitary and also because most bathrooms are either covered in linoleum or tile.”

Ingram said he looked into the dorm suite’s bathroom as McDaniel pointed to the side of the tub and said “that’s what you would use to cut up this person’s body.”

Giddings’ torso is the only part of her that has been found. It turned up in black trash bags in a garbage can beside her apartment June 30, 2011 -- hours, maybe minutes, before it would have been hauled to the dump.

Her bathtub was later dislodged, its edge sealed with tape, and carted away for forensic testing.

* * *

Were McDaniel’s supposed rantings the brainstorms of an aspiring killer?

Or were his tirades, if they happened, the empty boasts of a social misfit?

Among the issues that will be hashed out before McDaniel’s trial is whether anything he said a few years before Giddings’ slaying is pertinent. Prosecutors, in a motion filed last month, said they think it is. They aim to introduce testimony that McDaniel, 28, had previously explained “in detail how he would commit ... the perfect murder.”

Prosecutors contend McDaniel’s words are “highly probative of his guilt,” showing “motive, intent, preparation, and plan,” and that he “discussed the killing of human beings without compassion or any outwardly apparent signs of conscience.”

Their motion notes that McDaniel told acquaintances of “cutting up a body, concealing it in plastic bags, and dumping the body parts in different locations.”

McDaniel’s attorneys argue, in part, that the “perfect murder” remarks are unrelated to the facts of the Giddings case. They deem conversations he might have had “irrelevant and highly prejudicial.”

“These conversations were the casual conversations of young college students based on curious musings, not deep criminal confessions,” the attorneys wrote in a motion late last year.

The motion, however, does not refer to Ingram’s statement to police, which had yet to be turned over to McDaniel’s lawyers. McDaniel’s attorneys were responding to similar recollections from McDaniel’s roommate, a man named Thad Money.

Prosecutors have since agreed to let the defense motion cover Ingram’s statement and those of other college associates of McDaniel’s.

If those acquaintances are allowed to testify, the pictures they paint of McDaniel could prove troublesome for the defense.

McDaniel’s own words could be seen, as Ingram put it upon learning the details of Giddings’ death and of McDaniel’s arrest, as “a nightmare coming true.”

* * *

Ingram hadn’t taken McDaniel’s apparent obsession seriously.

“College is full of bull----, you know,” Ingram told detective Whitaker. “He’d ask me, he said, ‘Now hypothetically, how would you commit the perfect murder?’ And he would even slow down his tone inflections about it and he’d kind of give us like little evil grins.”

Ingram said he shared with McDaniel his own idea for a perfect murder. Ingram said he would put a body in a barrel and melt it with chemicals.

“Stephen would tell me ... ‘No, that’s not the right reply,’” Ingram said.

Asked if McDaniel explained how he might knock someone out, Ingram said, “He said he would ... inject them with some type of chemical. ... He would just walk up to someone, stab them with a syringe, put it down and then they would be out.”

Whitaker wanted to know if McDaniel had ever explained how he would go about dismembering someone.

“I don’t have anything in my memory that’s quite that vivid,” Ingram said, “but I do remember that it was more than quartering (the body).”

He said McDaniel told him, “No, you’d wanna break it up into small pieces and you’ll wanna put it in black plastic bags, and then he said you’d throw the black plastic bags in with your laundry and you’d sneak them out of the building. ... He said then you’d go and you would distribute it ... throw it out for anyone to spread the pieces throughout the surrounding areas.

“That way the body would never be found, the full body would never be found and that the murder would stay within circumstantial evidence. ... Then if it was a girl it would always be looked upon as ... a lover’s feud. ... Someone lost their head and then, you know, they’d cut up this person.”

Ingram told the detective that he and his friend, Thad Money, figured McDaniel was “just full of s---, and we just thought he had a real weird, you know, affixation on murders or deaths.”

Ingram brought up McDaniel’s supposed admiration of serial killers.

“He said that they have power,” Ingram recalled. “They created a situation in which they are in total control, and they made it famous and they have made an impact on every single person’s life that they have touched.”

* * *

In late June 2012, almost a year after Giddings’ death, district attorney’s investigator James MacDonald drove to Atlanta to meet another of McDaniel’s Mercer roommates.

Matthew Garrison had lived with McDaniel their junior year.

Garrison recalled that McDaniel was into video games, not women, and “didn’t have very good hygiene.”

Garrison also mentioned that McDaniel had a hunting knife and a “staff stick that McDaniel used to often swing at him and come about 3 inches from his face,” MacDonald wrote in a report.

The report was included in motions that prosecutors filed last month to refute defense arguments on the relevance of McDaniel’s “perfect murder” discussions.

“McDaniel would then say something like, ‘You never know when the attack could come,’ ” MacDonald noted. “Garrison also said that while he was at graduation rehearsal that the suspect McDaniel came from behind him and put a pencil in his neck and said that he never paid attention.”

“Garrison,” the report went on, “said that over the two semesters that he lived with him that they had some odd conversations, and that one was about ... the perfect murder. Garrison said that McDaniel said that he would dismember the body in order to conceal the identification of the body.”

Garrison also recalled McDaniel wanting to know what Garrison would do if zombies attacked.

Garrison said he would let the zombies bite him and take his chances.

“This made McDaniel upset,” MacDonald wrote, “and he left, going back to his room and not coming out for the rest of the night.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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