A tip to Macon police this week gave investigators brief moments of hope Friday morning in the search for the remains of slain Mercer University law graduate Lauren Giddings.
A cadaver dog alerted in the woods near the border of Bibb and Houston counties where a woman remembered seeing a man resembling Stephen McDaniel.
The anonymous tipster knows it was about two years ago, because she had just gotten a new car in early June of 2011, just a couple of weeks before Giddings’ torso was found outside the apartment complex where she and McDaniel lived on Georgia Avenue.
Macon police Maj. Charles Stone said they follow every lead in the Giddings case and all crimes.
“What we want is closure for the family and if it’s more evidence for our case, that is icing on the cake,” Stone said.
Just before 10:30 a.m. Friday, investigators and a cadaver dog gathered in the Hilltop region where Houston Road meets Ga. 49.
Within 20 minutes, the dog indicated there could be remains in a string of thick brush.
Officers strung yellow crime scene tape across the lot on what is now a dead-end street near an adult video store.
Authorities called out the Macon Crime Lab to gather any potential evidence at the scene.
Technicians armed with pickaxes and shovels headed into the woods.
The GBI crime scene truck arrived about an hour later to assist if any human remains were uncovered.
Officers took a bone sifter into the woods to make sure they didn’t miss any fragments or clues.
The woman who called CrimeStoppers said this week’s discovery of two male bodies across Ga. 49 in Houston County jogged her memory of that day in 2011.
She told officers a man with long, dark, curly hair had his car parked in the bushes off the side of the old Ga. 49.
The personal care worker had seen courtroom images of a clean-shaven McDaniel with his hair pulled back, so it didn’t occur to her it could be the same person.
When she looked on her phone and found a photograph of him taken at the time of his arrest, she realized the suspicious person looked just like the man accused of killing and dismembering the tall blonde.
“I looked at that picture and I thought, that’s that boy,” she said in a phone interview with The Telegraph. “His pictures looked just like he was wild.”
The man was quickly coming out of the woods and went straight for his car, which she thought was strange.
Being nosy, she turned around and went back to try to get his tag number, she said, but he turned back toward Macon and she was headed to Byron.
By about 3:30 p.m. Friday, the lead investigators on the Giddings case emerged from the woods with the forensic technicians carrying only their tools.
“I has hoping it was her, but we haven’t found anything,” investigator David Patterson said as he took down the crime tape.
Sgt. Scott Chapman said the police take all their cases and tips seriously.
“We worked until we feel like we exhausted all leads at this location,” Chapman said after spending more than five hours in the hot sun.
Upon hearing officers came out empty-handed Friday afternoon, the tipster wonders whether road construction in the past two years tampered with potential evidence.
She is now convinced she saw McDaniel that day and wants authorities to keep searching that area.
“I looked right in his face. When you look in somebody’s eyes, you know,” she said. “I’m an eye-watcher.”