Blood traces turned up in a refrigerator police seized from the apartment of a downstairs neighbor of slain Mercer University law graduate Lauren Giddings, according to a letter demanding $1 million from the company insuring owners of the Georgia Avenue apartment complex where she lived.
Strands of hair that looked like they might have come from Giddings’ accused killer also were found in the otherwise “thoroughly cleaned” refrigerator, according to a letter from the apartment complex owners to their insurance company’s lawyer.
Atlanta attorneys wrote the April 9 demand letter on behalf of the Lauren Giddings estate to try and resolve issues of alleged civil liability out of court.
“Given the horrific nature of this matter and the monumental potential damages,” the apartments and their insurance company “are subject to serious exposure if this case is litigated and tried to a jury,” the letter states.
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Reached by phone Tuesday, an attorney who signed the letter declined comment.
Lawyers for the Giddings estate criticize security at the apartments and contend that Giddings’ accused killer, Stephen McDaniel, “could not have pulled off murdering and discarding Ms. Giddings’ remains in the manner he did without the master key.”
But the apartment owners, Boni and Marty Bush, say a master key wasn’t necessary to get into Giddings’ apartment and kill her, or to buy the hacksaw allegedly used for dismembering Giddings, then hiding the saw and disposing of her body.
“Absent possession of a master key, there would merely be two less pieces of evidence connecting Stephen to the murder,” the Barristers Hall apartment owners wrote.
Authorities have said police found a hacksaw with Giddings’ DNA on it in a locked storage closet.
In the Bushes’ response letter, they questioned how attorneys representing the Giddings estate know that traces of blood were found in the seized refrigerator.
“I was present when the officers opened the refrigerator and there was no blood visible,” the letter states.
The letter goes on to say that the appliance had been “thoroughly cleaned and was in pristine condition with the exception of two relatively long hairs caught on the side. Because these hairs appeared to match Stephen’s in color, length and consistency, the refrigerator was removed for testing.”
Authorities have not said publicly whether blood or hair was found.
Attorneys representing the Giddings estate claim police found Giddings’ door locked and her key inside on her key ring. Her spare key, kept outside, was still in its place when her friends launched a search for her June 29, the night before her dismembered torso was found in an outdoor trash can.
Authorities have said police found a key to Giddings’ door and a master key inside McDaniel’s apartment.
The attorneys also allege that Boni Bush lost a master key while gardening and didn’t replace locks at the complex.
Bush wrote in an e-mail that a new master key system was installed the summer Giddings and McDaniel moved into Barristers Hall.
Neither she, nor her brother, know of a lost master key, and there is no evidence one was lost.
“We did not know that Stephen had a master key, or even access to one, prior to the investigation,” she wrote.
Antoine Bostic, a law graduate who lived in the apartment where the refrigerator was seized, said he started moving out of his apartment, located directly below Giddings’, soon after his May graduation.
He moved his belongings, a little at a time, to another apartment in north Macon and had not completely moved out by the time Giddings’ remains turned up June 30.
He declined comment about his refrigerator, saying Mercer University and Macon police had instructed him not to talk to reporters.
Bostic said he was not concerned about security while living at Barristers Hall, which sits across Georgia Avenue from the law school.
“I never really thought about it,” he said Tuesday.
Attorneys representing Giddings’ estate contend that she reported security problems regarding her windows and locks, but that her calls and e-mails were ignored.
Giddings did have a problem with her door, but it was fixed, the Barristers landlords said.
They said Giddings didn’t report the problems to them, and that the windows and locks “were, and are in good working condition.”
Other security concerns noted in the letter from lawyers for Giddings’ estate include: alarms with no monitoring systems, inoperable surveillance cameras, and improperly installed deadbolt locks.
All leases state that the alarm system installed in each apartment is functional, but isn’t monitored. It’s the tenant’s responsibility to arrange for monitoring, the landlords said.
The Barristers owners go on to say tenants knew the cameras weren’t real, that video surveillance was not part of their leases when Giddings moved in.
“We were under no obligation to provide monitored cameras,” they wrote. “The law school didn’t even have cameras, nor do other area complexes.”
The landlords acknowledge that a locksmith removed a deadbolt at one apartment after the installation of a new master key system in July 2011, after Giddings’ death.
Giddings estate attorneys contend that McDaniel downloaded child pornography, that Barristers Hall owners were aware of Internet abuse at the complex and chose not to investigate.
The Bushes say the complex’s Internet provider has contacted them twice regarding illegal downloads of movies.
Attorneys representing the apartments’ insurance company have until May 11 to respond to the letter from the Giddings estate attorneys.
In recent months, Boni Bush has planted flowers and built a garden next to the apartment building where Giddings and McDaniel lived.
A memorial bench sits in a shady, pine-strawed area, not far from where Giddings’ torso was found.
A few months back, Bush buried her pet parrot, Gonzo, there after the bird was killed by a hawk that swooped down from a powerline out front.
Nearby, there is a cream-white, flip-top garbage can.
On it, there’s a peace symbol and painted beneath it is the quote, “Make Love Not Law Review.”
The can is also marked: “Our Law Student Community.”
On the side of the can are names of all the apartment residents who were members of the 2011 Mercer law class. Giddings’ name is at the top.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.