Beating suspect caught in extensive 3-day manhunt



Of The Post and Courier Staff

Originally Published on: 06/15/02

A suspect in the savage beating of a North Charleston cleaning woman is in custody in North Carolina following a sprawling, three-day manhunt that stretched from the Palmetto State to the Canadian border and involved the efforts of more than a dozen law enforcement agencies.
Following a trail of credit card purchases, phone calls and sightings, North Charleston police tracked the 26-year-old suspect as he made his way up and down the eastern seaboard in the station wagon stolen from the victim Monday night, said Detective Sgt. Ken Hagge. Along the way, 14 other police agencies helped to look for the car, interview witnesses and track down leads.

Investigators caught up with Hugh Bolin III Thursday outside a Fayetteville, N.C., supermarket. He now awaits an extradition hearing Monday to determine if he will be sent back to South Carolina to face charges of assault and battery with intent to kill and armed robbery, Hagge said.
"This was just an excellent display of teamwork between law enforcement agencies up and down the coast," said Capt. William Barfield.

The case began shortly before 7 a.m. Tuesday when 37-year-old Carol Armstrong was found beaten and disoriented in front of a Tricom Street medical office building she had been hired to clean. Police determined she had been attacked and robbed about eight hours earlier as she walked to her car after finishing work.

The attack was especially brutal. Her attacker broke nearly every bone in her head before driving off with her Ford Taurus station wagon and her purse. Armstrong, a former Cub Scout den mother with two children, remains hospitalized in critical condition.

Initially, all police had to work with was information that Armstrong had been attacked by one or two white men, one of whom may or may not have had red hair.

Police thought they caught a break when Charleston County sheriff's deputies found Armstrong's purse on James Island Tuesday morning. They had hoped Armstrong's attacker was still in the Lowcountry. That hope was short-lived.

At about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, an area bank alerted North Charleston police that one of Armstrong's credit cards was used at a store in Augusta County, Va., nearly 500 miles away, Hagge said. Police contacted the Augusta County Sheriff's Office, who sent deputies to the store. The man was gone, but the store's video surveillance camera caught his image, he said.
Investigators met in Gastonia, N.C., the halfway point between their departments, to hand off the tape. North Charleston police could now put a face on a suspect, but they still had no name.
Concern grew as word arrived that Armstrong's credit card had been used again Tuesday, first at a store in Pennsylvania and later in Watertown, N.Y., Hagge said. The suspect was still heading north and was now just 20 miles from the Canadian border.

North Charleston police quickly spread the word, and soon Watertown police, New York state police, the FBI, the INS, U.S. Customs agents, and the U.S. and Canadian border patrols all joined the hunt. Across the border in Ottawa, police checked with local motels for any sign of the fugitive. Then, more charges to Armstrong's account were made in Watertown Wednesday morning, Hagge said.  "We figured this was either his destination, or he was trying to formulate some sort of plan to get across the border," he said.

Investigators in Watertown found a witness who had seen a Ford Taurus station wagon with South Carolina plates and recognized the man driving it, Hagge said. Investigators now had a name, but as it turned out, the man was on the move again and heading back the way he came. "We seemed to be one step behind him and, obviously, we wanted to find a way to get one step ahead," Hagge said.

Armstrong's credit card was used again Wednesday afternoon at a store in Binghamton, N.Y., 143 miles south of Watertown. This time, a clerk wrote down the name of the man using the card and the license plates of the car he was driving. The car was Armstrong's. And the name, Hugh Bolin, matched the information they received in Watertown, Hagge said. "Now we could start investigating his background and branch out from there," he said.

Police learned Bolin was an unemployed salesman with a prior weapons conviction who had been living in North Charleston for an undetermined amount of time. They also found acquaintances Bolin had called from the road. Indications were that Bolin was headed back toward South Carolina, he said.

At about 11 p.m. Wednesday, North Charleston police sent detectives to all the major roads leading into the state to watch for Armstrong's burgundy Taurus. The S.C. Highway Patrol and the State Law Enforcement Division also joined the hunt.

Then, at about 4 p.m. Thursday, police received word that Bolin had just placed some calls from a pay phone outside a Fayetteville, N.C., supermarket, Hagge said. Fayetteville police rolled up, arrested Bolin and recovered Armstrong's station wagon. Three North Charleston detectives were immediately sent to Fayetteville to claim the car and try to interview the suspect, he said. Bolin put up no struggle, but "he seemed extremely surprised," said Fayetteville Detective Michael Murphy.

Bolin is being held as a fugitive at the Cumberland County, N.C., jail. There were indications that he would not fight extradition to South Carolina, Murphy said.

While the arrest was a boon for police, the investigation is by no means closed, Hagge said. Police have not yet determined if Bolin is the only suspect.