Two weeks ago, sometime around 6:30 on Saturday evening, someone who authorities believe was Lauren Giddings, alone in her car, pulled up to the drive-through window at a Zaxby’s restaurant in downtown Macon. The eatery’s surveillance camera captured a clip of her arm reaching out to grab her order.
Investigators say it is the last known sighting of the 27-year-old Mercer University law school graduate alive. Her meal receipt and a food bag from the restaurant were found in her Georgia Avenue apartment. Police have said an e-mail she apparently sent to a friend about four hours later is the last anyone who knew her ever heard from the Laurel, Md., native.
Her torso was found five days later near her apartment building, a few blocks southwest of the restaurant in the city’s historic Coleman Hill area.
Now, two weeks after what may have been the last night of her life, police anxiously await forensic test results in what has been a painstaking hunt for clues her killer may have left behind.
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Macon police Maj. Charles Stone likened the status of the probe to a poker hand.
“We’re waiting for that last card,” Stone told The Telegraph on Friday. “That last card is either gonna give us a full house or we’re gonna end up moving on to other things.”
Police had hoped that some word on the 74 pieces of evidence they have sent to FBI forensics experts in Quantico, Va., would come in Friday, but as of the end of the business day, it hadn’t. The results are expected early next week.
Some of the items sent for testing include plumbing drain traps from Giddings’ apartment and the apartment next door to hers where 25-year-old Stephen McDaniel, a fellow May law school graduate, lived.
McDaniel, whom police have termed a “person of interest” in the case, is in the Bibb County jail on unrelated burglary charges stemming from alleged incidents more than a year ago at the apartment complex. He has been segregated from the jail’s general population. McDaniel has a bail hearing scheduled for Thursday.
Detectives have also collected clothing and apparent blood evidence that will be used to check for possible DNA matches.
Police Chief Mike Burns declined to elaborate further on the items sent to Virginia, noting that doing so could jeopardize the investigation.
“The only other person that would know would be the person that did it,” Burns said.
In their methodical combing of the apartments, investigators used so much of a blue-glowing chemical known as luminol, which can help detect trace amounts of blood, that they had to borrow some from the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.
“This is a forensic investigation. It’s not a crime scene where everything is obvious,” Stone said. “Right now we’re at a tipping point ... waiting for forensic evidence to come in.”
Earlier in the probe, detectives used DNA from Giddings’ toothbrush and a hairbrush to identify her body.
Friday morning, Giddings’ family went back inside her apartment, going through her belongings.
Meanwhile, two teams of search dogs, including a unit from Dooly County, were at the apartment complex Friday, helping look for clues. Among the areas searched have been Giddings’ apartment, McDaniel’s apartment, the exterior of the apartment complex and areas around the apartments, Rose Hill Cemetery, and along the Ocmulgee River and the railroad tracks along it -- an area where Giddings often jogged.
Police also have searched the Macon landfill and in drains and sewer lines, but they have found no new evidence, Burns said.
The chief said investigators are still interviewing people who might have information in the case or who have a connection to Giddings in hopes of advancing the investigation.
Although Giddings’ body was dismembered, police have not recovered any of the missing pieces or found evidence leading them to other body parts, Burns said. Police have asked for the public’s help in finding those parts.
Burns declined to answer whether he thought Giddings’ killing was a random act of violence or whether it was perpetrated by someone she knew. He did say officers have received tips from the community and numerous e-mails from college students.
Burns also told The Telegraph that the department has been contacted about the case by representatives from the true-crime television show “Dateline NBC.”
Police stood watch at the complex Friday as Giddings’ family sorted through her things. On at least two occasions, a police officer retrieved items from the apartment and placed them in brown paper bags.
Burns said family members are turning items over to police that they find that appear to be out of place. Police are then processing the items to determine if they are of use to the investigation.
Boni Bush, co-owner of the apartments, said Giddings’ apartment will not be rented out to another student for the year. Giddings was scheduled to move out the day her body was discovered.
Bush said either she or a police officer will live in the space. The complex soon will be outfitted with video cameras, she said.
Giddings’ mother, Karen Giddings, went for a jog through the Mercer University campus Friday while other family members packed the slain woman’s belongings.
“Running is my medicine,” Karen Giddings said.
Like her mother, Lauren Giddings, one of three sisters, was also was an avid runner -- a member of the Hash House Harriers running club.
Sitting at a table outside her daughter’s apartment, Karen Giddings spoke of her eldest daughter’s “infectious smile,” how she adored her family and phoned her grandmother every weekend.
Giddings said Lauren loved her Pekingese-poodle mix named Butterbean.
“She’s been kicked out of every supermarket” for trying to carry her “purse dog” in stores, Karen Giddings said.
Sifting through her daughter’s belongings, she found a prayer book on her bed. Some prayer books in the apartment had highlighted sections.
Although she knew that Lauren attended St. Joseph Catholic Church on Poplar Street, she didn’t know until after her daughter’s death that she often attended daily Mass.
“That’s unusual” for a young person, she said.
In Lauren’s office, family members found two cards related to St. Therese in a prominent position, Karen Giddings said.
She said her daughter chose St. Therese as her saint in eighth grade when she was confirmed in the Catholic faith.
Giddings speculates the choice had something to do with her daughter’s middle name -- Teresa -- a family name on her mother’s side.
She noted the similarity in that both her daughter and the saint died young.
“I hope nobody’s hiding anything from me, but from what we’re finding out, Lauren didn’t really know what hit her,” Karen Giddings said, pausing to hold back tears. “Hopefully there wasn’t a lot of suffering, so she might have been in the midst of doing something she was loving ... and she never saw what was happening.”
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Oby Brown, call 744-4396.